America Fights in World War I: Connecting the National to the Personal


U.S. doughboys marching in World War I.

It came as a shock to the system. In 1914 Europe had enjoyed just about 100 years of relative peace, what has been appropriately termed the “Pax‑Brittanica.” There had been brush‑fire wars periodically, but since the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 no general wars had taken place. The British, serving as the “policemen of the world” throughout the rest of the century, exerted their influence to ensure wars were contained.

Then, suddenly and without apparent warning, in August 1914 the world tried to commit suicide (or so it seemed) as the most far‑reaching and devastating war in recorded history began to be fought on fields throughout Europe and in the outposts of European civilization. Germany and her allies engaged in a war of complete annihilation against France and Great Britain and their allies.

After the initial shock, the Americans quickly chose sides. Because of the historic bonds to Great Britain, most Americans favored the British and French alliance; however, a minority of Americans—particularly those with a German heritage—leaned more toward Germany. Although each set of supporters sought to influence public opinion and obtain government support for its side, this favoritism was of only moderate consequence while the United States remained neutral. President Woodrow Wilson, however, vowed to remain neutral “in word and deed” and refused to support either belligerent.

As the war progressed, a stalemate developed on the battlefield, one that drained resources and bankrupted national treasuries. Both sets of belligerents sought unsuccessfully to find a quick way to defeat the other until April 1917 when the United States entered the “Great War” on the allies’ side. Without question, the military power and economic might of the United States was a central factor in breaking the stalemate in Europe.

With the declaration of war against Germany, America began an all‑out mobilization effort. Vast quantities of resources went into this war, and this size of investment in war had not been seen the Civil War of the 1860s. For example, Governor Frank O. Lowden of Illinois immediately created on 2 May 1917 a State Council of Defense to oversee the activities in support of the war. Consisting of fifteen members representing business, labor, and other large interest groups, this council organized all of Illinois’ resources for victory. Chaired by Chicago businessman Samuel Insull, it served as a liaison between the state and the federal mobilization agencies and cooperated with such organizations as the American Red Cross, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the National Defense Council.

From its base in Springfield, this council created auxiliary committees to function in each Illinois county. These county organizations, in turn created subcommittees in virtually every community in Illinois. Among some of its activities, this agency implemented a voluntary food conservation program, directed a Liberty bond campaign which collected $1.3 billion in the state, and collected $42.5 million for the Red Cross. Other states did likewise.

In addition to other critical activities of the governors of various states upon constituents to volunteer to serve in the military. Many in the state National Guards were mobilized immediately and sent to training camps around the nation. One of the largest, in Logan, Texas, undertook refresher training on guard units and meshed them into the 33d Infantry Division, also known as the Prairie Division because its recruits hailed from prairie states. The 33d was sent to France in the summer of 1917. Other guardsmen were incorporated into the famous Rainbow Division, named thus because of the diversity of nationalities and locations of its members. This division was the most famous of the war.

Responding to the need for more soldiers, state governments undertook a drive to swell the ranks of the U.S. Army through a series of recruiting rallies. These rallies were held at the county seats during the spring and summer of 1917. Bands played, audiences sang, and speakers whipped up the crowd to a fever‑pitch of patriotism. At the height of the rally the speakers appealed to the eligible men to heed their country’s call and join the army. Amid such festivities literally thousands answered the call and signed up for military service. In all, more than half a million men volunteered for active service in the military.

There was an incredible spirit about the whole effort that bespoke a complete confidence and a certain innocence about Illinois’ ability to persevere and be victorious against a powerful enemy. There was, most importantly, a feeling that the United States was the savior of civilization and that it would be unquestionably successful. Perhaps, this spirit was best captured in a rousing war song by George M. Cohan, a Broadway playwright, called simply “Over There.” The refrain of this “fight song” announced with complete self‑assurance that the Americans were on their way to Europe, the “over there” of the title, and that “We won’t come back till its over, over there.” There was no doubt, no hesitation, no fear of defeat.

Although the volunteer efforts were useful, the Selective Service System was the method accounting for most of the men entering the military. In three major drives during 1917 and 1918 more than 1.5 million men were registered as potential draftees in the army. Only a few of these men ever saw active military service. Probably many shared an experience similar to that of my grandfather, Jeff Launius, from McLeansboro, Illinois. Launius dutifully registered for the draft but had a deferment throughout 1917 and the first part of 1918 because he was an independent farmer and had a wife and children. Then, in the summer of 1918 he received word from his local draft board that he should report to a recruiting station for a physical examination and possible induction into the army.

My grandfather reported in September 1918. Pronounced fit for service, he was told to return home and await his draft instructions. Before his draft notice arrived the belligerents had signed an armistice, 11 November 1918, and the United States began demobilization. Launius, in the end, never went into the army. He would have been willing to serve, but he did not believe he should volunteer because of his family. His experience was like many others of his time, place, and circumstance.

 

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son”


Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son. By Paul Dickson. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.

No doubt, Leo Durocher was a talented baseball player, coach, and manager. He was also MLB’s bad boy before Billy Martin took that title from him in the 1970s. Over a managerial career of more than three decades he oversaw five teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros. He won pennants with both the Dodgers and the Giants, and in 1954 he led the Giants to the only World Series championship of his lengthy career, when they beat a heavily-favored Cleveland Indians team in a four-game sweep.

Paul Dickson’s biography of baseball’s stormy petrel is one of the best books on baseball to appear this year, and one that will be remembered for years to come. Dickson does an excellent job of bringing Durocher to life.

Throughout his managerial career, Durocher was famous for his in-your-face, punch-your-lights-out style of play. He ordered pitchers to deck batters, sometimes to hit them, and often fought with umpires over virtually any play one could imagine. In 1948 Durocher was the centerpiece of one of the most unusual trades in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB). Branch Rickey, general manager of the Dodgers, could not abide Durocher’s antics and engineered in the middle of season a deal with the cross-town Giants to let him take over management of that team.

Durocher had his greatest success with the Giants, winning the National League pennant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954. Inevitably, of course, the Giants fired Durocher and he found success in show business in the latter 1950s and early 1960s. He returned to the MLB in 1966 as the skipper for the Chicago Cubs. He should have had remarkable success there as well. During his tenure one of the best teams ever assembled played in the friendly confines of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The Cubs during those years were perennial favorites to make the postseason. Anchored by three Hall of Fame players—Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ferguson Jenkins—Durocher’s team should have dominated the league. A late arrival to the Hall of Fame, Ron Santo, also played for them. But they never even made the playoffs.

During a stretch between 1967 and 1972 the Cubs had a record of 515 victories versus 449 losses. During that time, the Cubs finished second three times and third three times. They did not take a single flag, not a World Series, league championship, or division title.  A core question is why the Cubs failed during that six-year period when it looked like on-field talent was in the team’s favor?

It becomes obvious from reading this book that Durocher was a key reason for these near misses. Let’s take the Cubs collapse of 1969 as an instance. In April 1969 the Cubs burst out of the gate and no one believed they could be caught. On September 3, the Cubs led the second-place New York Mets by five games, with 26 left to play and more than half of them at Wrigley Field. The Mets caught them, taking 23 of their last 30 games, and won the National League East by eight games. Meantime, the Cubs went 8 and 18. It was a stupendous collapse, one worthy of memorialization in song and story. In the end the Cubs finished second in the National League Central with a 92-70 record, but they were still a distant eight games behind the Miracle Mets.

So why did the Cubs collapse in 1969? Durocher deserves major credit for the debacle. He refused to rest his stars, and rode his veterans until they were ready to drop. He also feuded with everyone—many of the players, virtually all the sportswriters, and even the fans. In one famous incident, he nearly came to blows with Cubs star Ron Santo in what could only be called clubhouse riot.

Unsurprisingly, Durocher wore out his welcome in Chicago, eventually being fired early in the 1972 season. He latched on with the hapless Astros at the end of the 1972 season and managed them through 1973, finishing with a slightly better than .500 record.

Dickson make’s clear that Durocher was a talented manager, but too often a reprehensible human being. He died in 1991, and was inducted in the MLB Hall of Fame in 1994. Two questions about that induction. First, why would baseball writers so honor such a person? Second, why couldn’t they have done it earlier so I could have heard his induction speech. I bet it would have been a doozy.

Regardless, Paul Dickson’s Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodical Son is a most welcome baseball biography. Enjoy!

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Robert Gilruth and the NACA’s Entry into Space Technology


Robert Gilruth during an Apollo mission.

Robert Gilruth during an Apollo mission.

During the latter part of World War II leaders of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor to NASA, had become interested in the possibilities of high-speed guided missiles and the future of spaceflight. It created at the end of World War II the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD), under the leadership of a young and promising engineer at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Robert R. Gilruth.

Gilruth, as much as anyone, served as the godfather of human spaceflight in the United States. After his central role in PARD, he went on to lead the Space Task Group for NASA that accomplished Project Mercury, and then served as director of the Manned Spacecraft Center—renamed the Johnson Space Center in 1973—which had suzerainty over Gemini and Apollo. His organization recruited, trained, and oversaw the astronauts and the human spaceflight program throughout the heroic age of spaceflight. Yet, his name is much less well known than many others associated with these projects. He was a contemporary on a par with Wernher von Braun and a host of other NASA officials, and he certainly contributed as much to human spaceflight as any of them.

Gilruth was a representative of the engineering entrepreneur, a developer and manager of complex technological and organizational systems, accomplishing remarkably difficult tasks through excellent oversight of the technical, fiscal, cultural, and social reins of the effort. Johnson Space Center director George W.S. Abbey appropriately commented at the time of Gilruth’s death in 2000: “Robert Gilruth was a true pioneer in every sense of the word and the father of human space flight. His vision, energy and dedication helped define the American space program. His leadership turned the fledgling Manned Spacecraft Center into what it is today, the leader in humanity’s exploration of outer space.”

Gilruth established Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore as a test-launching facility under the control of Langley on July 4, 1945. From this site they launched between 1947 and 1949 at least 386 models, leading to the publication of the NACA’s first technical report on rocketry, “Aerodynamic Problems of Guided Missiles,” in 1947. From this, Gilruth and the PARD filled in the gaps in the knowledge of space flight. As historian James R. Hansen writes: “the early years of the rocket-model program at Wallops (1945-1951) showed that Langley was able to tackle an enormously difficult new field of research with innovation and imagination.”

Discussing the scrub of the Gemini VI space flight are (from left), Christopher C. Kraft Jr., Red Team flight director; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, center director; and George M. Low, deputy director. The three officials monitored the countdown on NASA's Gemini VI from their positions in the MSC Mission Control Center on December 12, 1965. The Gemini VI flight was subsequently rescheduled and launched on December 15, 1965.

Discussing the scrub of the Gemini VI space flight are (from left), Christopher C. Kraft Jr., Red Team flight director; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, Manned Spacecraft Center director; and George M. Low, deputy director. The three officials monitored the countdown on NASA’s Gemini VI from their positions in the MSC Mission Control Center on December 12, 1965. The Gemini VI flight was subsequently rescheduled and launched on December 15, 1965.

Gilruth served as an active promoter of the idea of human spaceflight within the NACA and helped to engineer the creation of an interagency board to review “research on space flight and associated problems” toward that end. “When you think about putting a man up there, that’s a different thing,” he recalled. “There are a lot of things you can do with men up in orbit.” This led to concerted efforts to develop the technology necessary to make it a reality. In 1952, for example, PARD started the development of multistage, hypersonic, solid-fuel, rocket vehicles. These vehicles were used primarily in aerodynamic heating tests at first and were then directed toward a reentry physics research program. On October 14, 1954, the first American four-stage rocket was launched by the PARD, and in August 1956 it launched a five-stage, solid-fuel rocket test vehicle, the world’s first, that reached a speed of Mach 15.

These strides in the development of rocket technology positioned the NACA as a quintessential agency in the quest for space becoming important in the 1950s. And it enjoyed renewed attention and funding once the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957. “I can recall watching the sunlight reflect off of Sputnik as it passed over my home on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia,” Gilruth commented in 1972. “It put a new sense of value and urgency on things we had been doing. When one month later the dog Laika was placed in orbit in Sputnik II, I was sure that the Russians were planning for man-in-space.”

In the aftermath of the Sputnik crisis Gilruth and other NACA engineers ramped up efforts to advance human spaceflight:

Proposals fell into two rough categories: (a) a blunt‑nose cone or near‑spherical zero‑lift high‑drag vehicle of a ton to a ton‑and-a‑half weight, and (b) a hypersonic glider of the ROBO or Dyna‑Soar type. The first category of vehicles used existing ICBM vehicles as boosters; the second used more complex and arbitrary multiplex arrangements of existing large-thrust rocket engines. A number of contractors looked at the zero‑lift high‑drag minimum weight vehicle as the obvious expedient for beating the Russians and the Army into space. Others, notably Bell, Northrup, and Republic Aviation, set this idea aside as a stunt and consequently these contractors stressed the more elaborate recoverable hypersonic glider vehicle as the practical approach to the problems of flight in space.

By April 1958, they had concluded that the first of these options should become the basis for NACA planning for an initial human space flight.

Technician Durwood Dereng measures elevation of double Deacon booster prior to launch of RM-10 research model at Wallops, February 6, 1951.

PARD technician Durwood Dereng measures elevation of double Deacon booster prior to launch of RM-10 research model at Wallops, February 6, 1951.

It soon became obvious to all that an early opportunity to launch human spacecraft into orbit would require the development of blunt-body capsules launched on modified multistage ICBMs. Robert Gilruth recalled of these decisions:

Because of its great simplicity, the non-lifting, ballistic-type of vehicle was the front runner of all proposed manned satellites, in my judgment. There were many variations of this and other concepts under study by both government and industry groups at that time. The choice involved considerations of weight, launch vehicle, reentry body design, and to be honest, gut feelings. Some people felt that man-in-space was only a stunt. The ballistic approach, in particular, was under fire since it was such a radical departure from the airplane. It was called by its opponents “the man in the can,” and the pilot was termed only a “medical specimen.” Others thought it was just too undignified a way to fly.

While initially criticized as an inelegant, impractical solution to the challenge of human spaceflight, the ballistic concept gained momentum as NACA engineers, led by Gilruth lieutenant Maxime A. Faget, championed this approach. At a meeting on human spaceflight held at Ames on March 18, 1958, the ballistic approach gained official support. By April 1958 the NACA had completed several studies “on the general problems of manned‑satellite vehicles,” finding that they could build in the near term “a basic drag‑reentry capsule” of approximately 2,000 pounds and sufficient volume for a passenger.

In August 1958 the NACA developed preliminary specifications that then went to industry, especially the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, for a ballistic capsule. Gilruth emphasized the simplicity if not the elegance of a ballistic capsule for the effort:

The ballistic reentry vehicle also has certain attractive operational aspects which should be mentioned. Since it follows a ballistic path there is a minimum requirement for autopilot, guidance, or control equipment. This condition not only results in a weight saving but also eliminates the hazard of malfunction. In order to return to the earth from orbit, the ballistic reentry vehicle must properly perform only one maneuver. This maneuver is the initiation of reentry by firing the retrograde rocket. Once this maneuver is completed (and from a safety standpoint alone it need not be done with a great deal of precision), the vehicle will enter the earth’s atmosphere. The success of the reentry is then dependent only upon the inherent stability and structural integrity of the vehicle. These are things of a passive nature and should be thoroughly checked out prior to the first man-carrying flight. Against these advantages the disadvantage of large area landing by parachute with no corrective control during the reentry must be considered.

The Mercury spacecraft that flew in 1961-1963 emerged from these early conceptual studies by Gilruth’s team at the NACA.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Ward Montgomery”


A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Ward Montgomery. By Bryan Di Salvatore. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.

Between 1878 and 1894 John Ward Montgomery amazed major league baseball fans on the field and exasperated owners off of it. As a pitcher for the then major league team in Providence, Rhode Island, he won 87 games in the two seasons of 1879 and 1880. He also pitched only the second perfect game in National League history. He later moved to shortstop and led the New York Giants to pennants in 1888-1889.

His natural leadership skills also ensured he had a future as team captain and manager. But Ward infuriated the owners by bucking their system of control over the players. The National League had established a “reserve clause” binding a player to his team for life by “reserving” his services for the next season even without a signed contract. This clause was dreamed up by coal baron William A. Hulbert, whose intent was to ensure that the power in MLB resided with the owners rather than the players. The “reserve clause”  stated that the club had the right to renew a player’s contract following each season—effectively making the player’s contract the property of the team that first acquired him for the rest of the player’s career.

While the contract and hence the player could be traded, a player could not unilaterally choose to play for another team. The manner in which owners erected this legal means of controlling players amounts to some of the most interesting sections of this book. It was not until the 1970s that the players finally overturned the “reserve clause” and entered the current age of “free agency.”

The owners hired players, in essence treating them like other labor groups in the United States. Like other workingmen, the players sought to maximize their salaries and benefits, and confrontation resulted. In virtually all instances, these disputes ended with the owners gaining greater authority over their employees, and the players gained resentment at these developments.

The “reserve clause” infuriated Ward, who was also a lawyer. He believed players should be allowed to ply their trade wherever someone was willing to pay them. Accordingly, he organized the Brotherhood of National League Players in 1885 as a fraternal order not unlike the Grange and other secret societies of the Gilded Age. In effect, this was the first union of professional baseball players.

When Ward learned in 1889 that the owners had established a fixed scale of salaries, setting the upper limit at $2,500 for each season, he led a walkout and established the Player’s League controlled by ballplayers. It was a good idea but it failed after only a year because the competition ensured a financial disaster for both leagues.

Bryan Di Salvatore’s fine book is largely the story of Ward’s efforts to overcome the “plantation-style” rule of baseball owners. He was never able to do so, and he finally retired at age 34 after a 17 year career to undertake a lucrative law practice. This is very much a “life and times” biography and one will learn much about the milieu of the latter nineteenth century as well as about Ward and his baseball career. Di Salvatore’s broadening of the story helps significantly in understanding the development of the business of baseball. It places in context the larger owner/labor dynamics that have shaped Major League Baseball to the present.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Bad Call: Technology’s Attack on Referees and Umpires and How to Fix It”


Bad Call: Technology’s Attack on Referees and Umpires and How to Fix It. By Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Christopher Higgins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

There is no question but that technology has changed the way in which fan consume sports. Sometimes the intervention is modest and at other times it is profound. Always it is present. This book deals largely with team sports in Europe; a disproportionate amount of attention is given to soccer.

A critical component of this book is that it focuses on the use of technology to second guess umpires and referees. We have all seen them, a video replay in slow-motion from many different angles immediately after the completion of a play. Always we see them if we are watching the sporting event on television. Sometimes we see them in the stadium on a big scoreboard. Never do the referees or umpires have access to them before they make a call; they do it in real time and then are second guessed by everyone if they are in error. The instant replay that I have seen throughout my life, has been replaced by many newer technologies even more impressive. The authors spend time discussing the Hawk-Eye system used in tennis and cricket, and the goal-line and other precise technologies used in football, soccer, and a host of other fast moving sports.

Authors Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Christopher Higgins make the case in Bad Call that these technologies, designed to help the quality of the games have become over burdensome, calling into question the quality of the work of the referees and umpires, to the extent that they have undermined the integrity of the actions on the field. We can all point to episodes of ineptitude in the sports we follow. My personal favorite is the Royals/Cardinals game six of the 1985 World Series in which first base umpire Don Denkinger blew a call that everyone saw on replay by calling Royal Jorge Orta safe at first. An argument ensued, but the umpires stood their ground. It so rattled the Cardinals that they lost this game and the Series. Reviewing the call using technology would have allowed the umpires to reverse the decision; this is a positive result of what might result, but the authors state that too much reliance on this technology has reduced the authority of the referees and umpires, compromised the joy of the game, stopped play too often, and generally lessoned the fan experience.

The authors make the case, repeatedly and with declining wit as the book progresses, that there are errors in the system regardless of whether humans or machines referee the games. Doing anything in real-time compounds the issue. Replays can help, but only when humans provide the interpretation. OK, that’s fine as far as it goes, but tell me something I didn’t know. They seek to do just that by analyzing in detail several seasons of English Premier League Football (soccer). They found that the use of technology did not significantly reduce the number of errors in calling the matches.

Of course, I’m not much interested in major league soccer, so these discussions were of less relevance to me than other examples. My passion, baseball, made it into the discussion as ancillary examples in only a few short sections. Most especially, the authors discuss the blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce in the top of the ninth inning with two outs that ended a perfect game pitched by Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga in 2010. Both men recognized the error—Joyce immediately apologized and Galarraga accepted it with dignity—but there was nothing that could be down about since Major League Baseball had no provision at the time for review of controversial plays. That changed afterward, and there are often challenges on the field reviewed by staff and changed as appropriate. It has been a positive development, but one that has extended the times of games.

Finally, the authors are less interested in history than in what they contend is the erosion of the authority of referees and umpires by the technology. The technology certainly points out the flaws in calling games in real-time, and the authors insist that its use has not really made a difference in the quality of the outcomes. What the human eye sees is the critical component, per Collins, Evans, and Higgins.

When I started reading this book, I had hoped that this would offer a history of technology’s use in improving the play of various sports. There is an excellent book yet to be written on that subject, but Bad Call is not it. I would challenge anyone to research and write a history of how technology has changed the fan’s perceptions of sporting events. This would include the descriptions of radio announcers, television broadcasts moving from one to several camera angles, and the use of special effects, slow motion, stop action, etc., in analyzing the games. Anyway, it is a fruitful field for any historian of technology.

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Washington Nationals Home Opener Game Results


The opening ceremonies of the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins in 2013.

Today is the home opener for the Washington Nationals. After a long winter, and a deeply disturbing political season, I’m ready to get back to something a bit more uplifting. The Nationals are well positioned to win the National League East Division again in 2017, and I hope they will go deep into the playoffs. Perhaps they will even take the World Series. There’s long way to go yet before that becomes a possibility, but at this time of year most fans have visions of a flag flying over their stadium announcing a championship. I’m no different.

Every team has to play 162 regular season games, make the playoffs, and then win a minimum of three series to claim the victory. It’s a grueling effort. And while it is not a given that the home opener is a measure of the success, or failure, that will follow, here is the list of results for opening day for the Nationals since they came to Washington 2005, along with their record for the year. Not a stellar opening day performance for the Nats, but I’m hoping for better things in 2017.

Date of Opener Visiting Team Score Won/Lost Season Final Record Division Finish
4/14/2005 vs Arizona Diamondbacks 3-5 W 81-81 5th
4/11/2006 vs New York Mets 1-7 L 71-91 5th
4/2/2007 vs Florida Marlins 2-9 L 73-89 4th
3/30/2008 vs Atlanta Braves 3-2 W 59-102 5th
4/13/2009 vs Philadelphia Phillies 8-9 L 59-103 5th
4/5/2010 vs Philadelphia Phillies 1-11 L 69-93 5th
3/31/2011 vs Atlanta Braves 0-2 L 80-81 3rd
4/12/2012 vs Cincinnati Reds 3-2 W 98-64 1st (Lost NLDS to Cardinals 2-3)
4/1/2013 vs Miami Marlins 2-0 W 86-76 2nd
4/4/2014 vs Atlanta Braves 1-2 L 96-66 1st (Lost NLDS to Giants 1-3)
4/6/2015 vs New York Mets 1-3 L 83-79 2nd
4/7/2016 vs Miami Marlins 4-6 L 95-67 1st (Lost NLDS to Dodgers 2-3)
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Mormon Militancy and the Conflict in 1840s Nauvoo?


This lithograph depicts Joseph Smith as the head of the Nauvoo Legion. The Nauvoo Temple is in the background.

The non-Mormons of Hancock County, Illinois, in the early 1840s probably disliked the Mormons from the first, in the same way that most Americans have generally disliked what they have viewed as religious fanaticism, but they were initially disposed toward toleration because they sympathized with its members as refugees from oppression in Missouri. That view, however, soon began to change. Some of the Mormons, embittered against “Gentiles” (non-Mormons) because of their recent experience and impoverished because of their forced abandonment of homes in Missouri, stole food, livestock, and other things from farms in the Nauvoo area. And non-Mormons soon learned that trips to Nauvoo in search of stolen goods, or to seek payment for items sold to the Mormons, were fruitless—and even frightening.

The highly unified, separatist community did not cooperate with outsiders, and some of the Saints resorted to intimidation. For example the “whistling and whittling brigade” of young ruffians made unwelcome visitors fear for their lives as they encircled them during their visits to the Mormon stronghold. Nauvoo quickly developed a reputation among western Illinois residents as a place where lawbreakers friendly to the church were shielded from arrest.

Historic rendering of Nauvoo Temple from the 1840s.

The amount of Mormon theft is impossible to determine, since some stealing by others was undoubtedly blamed on the Saints, nor can Joseph Smith’s involvement be established with any certainty, despite what some memoirs fron older residents imply. Certain Mormon raiders may have felt they had Smith’s approval when in fact they did not. In any case, the evidence of Mormon theft is substantial, and that activity caused some non-Mormons in townships near Nauvoo to oppose the Saints.

But of far greater importance to the development of non-Mormon animosity and to the eventual eruption of mobocratic violence was the perceived threat to democratic government posed by Smith and his theocratic community. That view was expressed as far away as Macomb, Quincy, Alton, and other Illinois communities, but it was centered in Hancock County, where the Mormons dominated local politics by 1842.

Warsaw, a town of about 500 people in the early 1840s, spearheaded the opposition to Smith and political Mormonism. Founded in 1834 as a place for shipping and commerce, Warsaw was something of a microcosm of pluralistic America, an open, ambitious, progressive community where residents did not hold the religious preconceptions that made Nauvoo’s theocracy possible. Instead, local residents firmly subscribed to republicanism, the ill-defined civil religion of the Jacksonian era. Common democratic ideals lashed the people together, and the rituals of self-government affirmed the community’s ideological bond.

To the people of Warsaw, the nation had transcendent value, and republicanism was the operative faith of their town. So, it is not surprising that residents there objected to Smith’s theocratic domination of government at Nauvoo, his encouragement of bloc voting for candidates he supported, his use of the Nauvoo Charter to avoid prosecution, and, eventually, his violation of the civil rights of his critics.

The last address of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.

That Joseph Smith also headed a huge militia, the Nauvoo Legion, made the threat of despotism seem all the more real. When a united political effort, the Anti-Mormon Party of 1841-1842, failed to curb Smith’s secular power, non-Mormons became increasingly frustrated, and there was talk of mobocratic measures to stop the threat of political Mormonism.

At the same time, after two arrest attempts by Missouri officials, the Mormon prophet became increasingly fearful of the authorities in that state, whom he regarded as thoroughly evil. He drew his supporters more closely around him by depicting the Saints as innocent chosen people and himself as their champion fighting the enemies of God. Critics and opponents in Illinois were associated with those enemies, and thus fear and intolerance increased among the Mormons and governmental authority at Nauvoo became centered in Smith. Apparently unaware of the contradiction between real democratic government and his theocratic control of Nauvoo, the prophet placed the church on a collision course with the non-Mormons in Hancock County—and, ultimately, with America.

No question, the conflict between the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo and the residents surrounding Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s is one of the most important aspects of early Mormon history. Controversies between the Mormon and non-Mormon population began almost immediately when the Latter -day Saints arrived in Illinois in 1839 and grew in intensity and violence by the middle-1840s. The assassination of Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844 and a Mormon war that only ended with the members’ removal from Illinois 1846 are only the two most visible aspects of this struggle.

By taking violent action the citizens of Hancock County reasserted fundamental direction over local government whether for good or ill. Political scientist Jurgen Habermas has suggested that when the “instrumental rationality” of the bureaucratic state intrudes too precipitously into the “lifeworld” of its citizenry, they rise up in some form to correct its course or to cast it off altogether. The “lifeworld” is evident in the ways in which language creates the contexts of interpretations of everyday circumstances, decisions, and actions. He argued that the “lifeworld” is “represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretive patterns.”

Artist’s depiction of the assassination of Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844.

For a sizable proportion of the citizens of Hancock County, the activities of the Mormons intruded into their “lifeworld,” as their expressions of discontent demonstrated, and they could obtain no resolution through the “instrumental rationality” residing in the state. Accordingly, they took direct and violent action and justified it without a tinge of conscience for the rest of their lives.

By doing so, they violated the very democratic ideals to which they subscribed and committed the most notorious acts of the Mormon conflict—the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June 1844 and the expulsion of the remaining Mormons from Nauvoo in September 1846.

With regard to the Mormons, they can be praised for their religious idealism, hard work, and personal sacrifice, but the anti-democratic tendencies of their dogmatic, crusading spirit are equally apparent. Conflict with their neighbors in Illinois was inevitable because their myth of identity made community with other Americans impossible. Their experience at Nauvoo demonstrated the dangers of theocratic government, the danger of demonizing other people, and the deceptions fostered by the illusion of innocence.

A map of Nauvoo, Illinois, at the time of the Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s.

These same three dangers—theocratic government, demonizing other people, and the illusion of innocence—should be persistent issues in studying the history of Mormonism.

They are not largely because the Mormon conflict is viewed as part of the sacred history of the church—a church whose mission was, and remains, to restore erring humanity’s true relationship to God, build the kingdom of God, and bring salvation to the peoples of the Earth. While honest in intent and sound in methodology, historians have seldom explored beyond the safe boundaries of the Latter-day Saint faith story to analyze the Mormon war for what it was, a clash of world views.

From the very earliest history of the Latter Day Saint movement, the sense that Joseph Smith and his followers were being unjustly persecuted by a sinister group conspiring to destroy the gospel was a persistent theme. The vision of a widespread and sinister conspiracy seeking to destroy Joseph Smith personally and the Mormon Church collectively represented a paranoia about the way in which the world worked. This is not a particularly unusual occurrence in history, but the logical conclusion of this mindset was that Mormonism went to war with American society.

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

Interpreting the Nauvoo experience in this manner makes impossible a larger exploration, one that I believe would lead historians to appreciate that the conflict was an ideological struggle between two civilizations with differing social, political, and institutional visions.

Conflict of some kind seems inevitable in this context, and when Smith condemned his Mormon critics as enemies of the people and suppressed their civil rights through institutionalized violence, the non-Mormons—politically frustrated and fearing despotism—resorted to mobocratic measures. Other causes, such as lawlessness by some Mormons aimed at the Gentiles economic and social strife, contributed to the outbreak of violence, but in my view this ideological struggle was central.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball”


the-road-to-madnessThe Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball. By J. Samuel Walker and Randy Roberts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

If you are even a moderate college basketball fan you cannot go wrong by reading this book. It is a well-researched and well-written history of the 1973-1974 NCAA basketball season and the beginnings of the expansion of the NCAA tournament and its transition into full-blown “March Madness.” It tells the story of legendary coaches and teams, including one in his twilight, John Wooden and his UCLA team that had won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (including seven in a row). It discusses the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which had several great teams—UNC, NC State, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia—but only one of which could participate in the limited NCAA tournament as conference champion.

This was the last year in which that would be the case, and the expansion of the NCAA tournament the next year began the process whereby rivalries and even grudges became common themes of March Madness, as the “Final Four” showdown developed. This is a narrative history, and a very fine one, but also one which asks a significant question, how does a cultural touchstone—in this case the NCAA basketball tournament—emerge from what went before. It pursues the answer with verve and style.

The scholarship is excellent; I especially appreciated the insights offered by the authors’ efforts to blend oral history with scholarly reflection. This is not surprising coming from two very fine historians with a wealth of experience in crafting fine historical narratives. Enjoy.

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NACA and Documenting of Progress in Aerodynamics


NACA LogoThe aeronautical research that the NACA between 1915 and 1958 undertook found dissemination in a complex set of technical publications that the agency made available to all on an equal basis. Most NACA research was accomplished “in-house” by scientists or engineers on the federal payroll. Work conducted under research authorizations might be of short-duration or could be years in the accomplishment. Short-duration work was often aimed at resolving a specific technical problem, many being tied to the development of a military aircraft prototype. One example of this approach was the effort to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of aircraft, an especially important activity in World War II as the NACA performed worked on drag cleanup for 23 different military aircraft.

Especially when the research was of long duration the NACA issued “Technical Notes” partway through containing interim results and “Technical Reports” with major research conclusions at the end of the effort. No one and no political issue, old NACA hands recollected, infringed upon the presentation of their findings in the most evenhanded manner possible. Thus they believed that partly for this reason the organization became the premier aeronautical research institution in the world during the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of the longer research projects took years to complete and were redefined and given additional monies repeatedly to pursue technological questions. A good example of a longer-term effort was Research Authorization 201, “Investigation of Various Methods of Improving Wing Characteristics by Control of the Boundary Layer,” signed on January 21, 1927. It provided for broad-based research at NACA on methods for either blowing or sucking the boundary layer along the upper surface of the wings, thus maintaining laminar flow and preventing airflow separation. Research took place between 1927 and 1944, taking a variety of twists and turns. Those efforts were channeled at first toward immediate practical objectives that could be used by industry and other clients. Later the NACA staff pursued other avenues of exploration, and the result was that the NACA was able to greatly advance boundary layer control through modification of airfoil shape, demonstrating the serendipitous nature of research. The boundary layer research by NACA engineers is still being used as the foundation for current research efforts.

As research was being conducted the NACA printed its findings, and this proved to be the most significant output from the agency’s activities. Beginning in the 1920s the NACA issued several types of reports describing research findings:

  • Technical Reports (TR): the most prestigious, most polished, most important, and most widely distributed report, TRs described the final results of a research effort and made “lasting contributions to the body of aeronautical knowledge.”
  • Technical Notes (TN): TNs reported on work in progress, offered interim findings, or served as final reports for less significant research activities.
  • Research Memorandum (RM): introduced in 1946, RMs reported on research undertaken as classified work for the military.
  • Advanced Confidential Reports (ACR): also introduced after World War II, ACRs reported on sensitive military aeronautical subjects such as jet engines, low-drag wings, or investigations of specific military aircraft types.
  • Bulletins: were short progress reports on limited phases of larger research projects.
  • Memorandum Reports (MR): reported on pieces of aeronautical research of interest to a very small group of clients, generally on a specific type of aircraft or engine design.
  • Technical Memoranda (TM): reported on aeronautical research conducted somewhere other than at NACA, often these were translations of technical articles published in a foreign language.

During the existence of NACA, it printed more than 16,000 research reports of one type or another. TRs were publicly available, readily accessible to anyone with a need to know the information. They were distributed to a huge mailing list that included laboratories, libraries, factories, and military installations around the world. They became famous for their thoroughness and accuracy, and became the rock upon which NACA built its reputation as one of the best aeronautical research institutions in the world. Other reports were less widely distributed, but unless classified for security purposes, were available to anyone with an interest.

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Pearl I. Young

The architect of the technical reporting was Pearl I. Young (1895-1968), who came to work at the NACA’s Langley Laboratory in 1922 after graduating with a physics degree from the University of North Dakota. After working in the instrumentation division for a few years she suggested that Langley required someone to oversee the technical reports system, which at that time was in disarray. Young took on that responsibility and led the effort until World War II. She created the multitude of documents issued by the NACA, enforced the NACA style of presentation on authors, ensured technical verisimilitude, and handled document distribution far and wide.

Young preached that knowledge is the end product of a research laboratory, and that accordingly the preparation of the research report must receive special emphasis. He insisted that these documents present their data “tactfully, strategically, and with telling force.” She ensured that all publications were accurate, well organized, and effectively structured. Not to give appropriate attention to the presentation of research would ensure that the report would be neither read nor used. She enforced a harsh clarity on the technical reports process at the NACA, one that quickly paid dividends as the results of the agency’s researchers gained stature around the globe for both their path-breaking results and their effective communication.

Young’s oversight of the technical report program was always exacting, sometimes to the consternation both of NACA engineers who wanted to see their work disseminated promptly and viewed Young’s efforts as bogging down the process, and to industry or military clients who wanted prompt answers to aeronautical problems. She argued that the quality of the final product was more important than the speed with which it appeared; Young had all documents extensively vetted by a panel of engineering peers but as a means of speeding the process she also allowed preliminary reports to circulate to key users. Before a report was final, however, authors made revisions, sometimes extensive revisions, before editorial work was completed on the publication. Young insisted that all reports be “checked and rechecked for consistency, logical analysis, and absolute accuracy.”

Pearl Young went on to other responsibilities during World War II at the NACA’s Cleveland, Ohio, Aircraft Engine Research Center. She eventually moved to Pennsylvania State University to teach engineering physics but returned to NASA in 1958 before retiring in 1961. She commented on many occasions about the noble effort they were engaged in—separating the real from the imagined in flight—adding that “There are just as many aeronautical research problems for you to solve by the application of brains and hard work as there were on the day Orville Wright piloted the first airplane at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley's 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers' Conference. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley’s 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers’ Conference. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

The research reported in these technical publications was never presented quickly enough to satisfy clients, although Young always defended the deliberate process she followed to ensure the best possible product. This, however, was nothing compared to the more difficult challenge of remaining an honest broker on research projects. Industry forever wanted to use the NACA as its private R&D facility. Accordingly, the agency had to establish a policy of not working on a specific type of aircraft design, because it smacked of catering to one particular company. Instead, it agreed to work on problems common to all aspects of flight, such as the engine cowling problem for which it received its first Collier Trophy in 1929. It also published research results and distributed reports on an equal basis to all. The NACA often violated these policies when dealing with its principal client, the military services.

Beginning in the 1930s, because of pressure to cut the federal budget, the NACA also established a table of fees for charging private companies, usually those involved in the aeronautical industry, when it pursued research problems they suggested. In this scenario the requestor paid all costs of research. In return, the NACA agreed to give the requestor the results of the research, but also retained the right to release findings it deemed in the national interest. This approach had two negative effects: (1) it allowed larger aircraft firms with money to spend on these problems an opportunity to squeeze out weaker firms who could not compete with cutting edge technology; and (2) it dissuaded some industry leaders from asking the NACA to work on pressing aeronautical problems because of both lack of money and a fear that their investment in the research would be lost when the findings were distributed to the world.

naca-pulsejet-22-tests-coverDuring the course of the NACA’s history between 1915 and 1958 it did very little “project” work of its own, at least as this term has come to be known at NASA. The NACA’s emphasis was on research for the use of outside entities. The principal means of transferring this research knowledge was through a series of reports which could be used as the clients saw fit. An important secondary means of transferring this information was through the annual conferences sponsored by NACA after 1926.

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Announcing “Ad Astra” Play Reading, April 3, 2017


I think a lot of those in the space community will enjoy this opportunity to see a reading of a new play about Wernher von Braun.

Featuring a special post-show conversation with Michael J. Neufeld, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and author of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War.

About the play

Epic Theatre Ensemble presents a special reading of James Wallert’s new play Ad Astra.

What are we willing to sacrifice to take one giant leap for mankind?

A new play based on the true story of Wernher von Braun, Chief Rocket Engineer of the Third Reich and one of the fathers of the U.S. Space program.

Directed by Ron Russell with Melissa Friedman, Devin E. Haqq, Sanjit De Silva, and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr.

Registering for the play

The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. You may do so by clicking here.

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