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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Screw the Rich

[Note to my sensitive readers: there’s some pretty strong language in this post, just thought I’d warn ya. Also, this post is not meant to insult or demean the NPS or the fine staff & volunteers at Hampton NHS. They were friendly & terrific and I thank them for the job they do. — Barky]

In the tony suburbs north of Baltimore sits the magnificent mansion and grounds of a wealthy, “old money” family: the Ridgleys. Tourists traipse through the buildings, marvel at the architecture and rare collectibles (like Chinese pottery, Swiss grandfather clocks, silk-upholstered Queen Anne furniture, and ivory-handled cutlery). They meander through the grounds and ogle the symmetrical gardens and flowering shrubs, oohing and aahing all the way. If they’re feeling adventurous, they may trundle to the old farmhouse and sigh “oh dear, slaves once lived here”, followed shortly by “let’s get to Denny’s before the Early Bird Special expires”.

Who gives a fuck.

Seriously, I couldn’t give a rabid rat’s ass about fawning over treasures or discussing “the history of wealth in America”. Why? Because that history is a nasty, sordid one. By and large, the truly wealthy are nothing but a pack of leeches and have been for most of our history. From human traffickers to slave owners to Civil War profiteers to robber barons to market speculators to environmental rapists to “offshorers” to Bernie Madoff to the Koch brothers, these soulless bastards have screwed over this country time and time again, and continue to do so to this day.

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in the beginning, many of the wealthiest people on the continent gathered together to overthrow the yoke of British imperialism. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, entrepreneur, and visionary businessman. To this day, adjusted for inflation, he solidly sits amongst the 50 wealthiest men in America. John Hancock also sits on this list, he ran one of the most powerful trading companies on the Atlantic coast. Many of the other signers of the Declaration of Independence, the crafters of the Constitution, and the financial backers of the Continental Army were wealthy businessmen and landowners. These folks risked their fortunes, put their necks in the metaphorical noose, and stood up to oppression for the good of all.

The rich don’t have to be jerks today, either. There are all sorts of good guys in business, folks who provide good value for a fair price, use innovation and provide quality products and services to the public and turn a tidy yet fair profit. There are business people who support noble causes, stand up against injustice, and work as much for their employees as they do for them. Sadly, though, these people will never become one of the “uber wealthy”, that gaggle of cocksuckers who connive and conspire to screw over the country for the sole purpose of lining their own pockets and stroking their own ego.

Folks like those have been here since the beginning of the country. Shortly after we gained our independence, the wealthy began to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. A mere 35 years later, wealthy merchantmen pressured James Madison and Congress to declare war on Great Britain. Publicly, they wanted “honor”, but in reality, their businesses were in jeopardy due to the British execution of naval power. In the eyes of these rich Americans, war was a small price to pay to return to profitability.

Wealthy Southerners prevented the nation from handling the slave issue. Slaves were dirt-cheap labor, the source of Southern wealth, and the foundation for the entire Southern economy. Of course, it was a double-edge sword, for the slave economy also prevented entrepreneurism, invention, and advancement in the South. But it was what gave the wealthied gentry their power, their prestige, their income, and therefore they influenced Congress for decades to ignore their “peculiar institution” until 600,000 Americans died horribly painful deaths to end the barbaric practice. Of course, some folks became wealthy as war profiteers, which I guess proves the point that the rich almost always prosper at the hands of the rest of us, one way or another.

The rest of our history is equally sordid. Railroad magnates paid pseudo-slave wages, cared little for the safety of workers, used well-practiced fraud to steal millions from the government, and influenced the pace of the near-annihilation of the native Americans. Oil magnates displaced homeowners, despoiled huge tracts of land, crafted vertical monopolies to control the nation’s commerce, and formed holding companies to hide their tracks. In the industrial age, the rich burned people alive in shoddy New York City garment factories, flooded the entire city of Johnstown because they didn’t maintain the dam at their country club, violently cracked down on mine safety protests and spread cancer and misery across the land by polluting the air we breath and the water we drink.

Nowadays, they don’t act in nearly as bloody a manner as in the past. Instead, they use scam after scam to steal from the common man and bribe and cajole lawmakers to let them do so. They’ve moved far from simply convincing lawmakers to look the other way. They’re packing the courts so they can have free reign, paying off Congress to legalize their schemes, and use phony “grass roots” organizations to convince the voting public to support more scams intended to fatten their wallets and enable the continuing screwing of America. Oh, and occasionally they rape the maid.

So here’s the question: what good does the rich do for America today? None. Do they create jobs? Yeah, overseas, where they can (again) get cheap labor and work the local population so hard they jump to their deaths from high windows. Do they provide quality products and services to the public? Yeah, as if: the richest men in the country today sell technology so weak and treat our personal privacy so poorly, I’d bet a Russian crime syndicate knows more about your private life than you do.

Do today’s fat cats even use their wealth to support charitable endeavors? Frankly, I’m not even convinced that’s true. Look at right-wing nonprofits like the Heritage Foundation, who preach the screwing of America. Who funds that? Not middle-American bake sales or bike-a-thons, those things are funded by rich fuckers trying to “prove” that screwing over America is good for America. I would love to see an honest study of charitable giving by the rich. I’d bet far more goes to private “shell game” foundations (set up to protect their trust funds) or supports  right-wing “foundations” preaching the Gospel of Screw-You and buying off Congressmen than goes towards curing cancer, buying ambulances, feeding the hungry or rebuilding communities devastated by tragedy.

This long-winded diatribe is not intended to encourage or condone another Bolshevik revolution. I fully understand that we are a nation that succeeds because we are allowed to succeed, and that becoming rich is one part of the American dream. What it is intended to do is call out the wealthy in America for their thoughtlessness and greed.

In that spirit, I will address the rest of this post directly to them, the top 1% of income earners who control 40% of the nation’s wealth: there is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to abuse your wealth and power. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to profit off the misery of others. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to scam millions off your customers whilst providing nothing of value or (even worse) causing harm to them. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to earn 300 times the income your employees earn while your bad decisions ruin the company.

What does exist is your responsibility to act as much in the good of the country as the next guy. It could even be said that because you have more wealth and power than the average man, you have more responsibility to contribute to the nation in which you live in a positive and constructive manner. You are rich and powerful because of the freedoms this nation affords (witness a certain oil executive living life in a Russian prison if you doubt what I am saying), and you owe this nation your honest and kind-hearted support.

Bottom line: you need to stop being douche bags. Not all of you are. You can be rich, you can be successful, you can have power, but you can also be  decent human beings.

[All pictures on this post, and the post itself, are mine and mine alone and are not to be copied without my express written permission. My other photos of Hampton are here.]

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Links:

Hampton National Historic Site

By the Numbers: Wealth in America

Warren Buffet on Taxes

Does Income Inequality Matter?

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The South: Not Just for Civil War Geeks

Yankees typically vacation in the South for two reasons. Most of the time, we cross the Potomac and head to the beautiful beaches and sea towns along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Once there, we race rented jet-skis, play golf, crowd ocean-view restaurants, soak in the sun, and make general drunken nuisances of ourselves. We likely complain a lot, occasionally tip well (but more likely not), and then scurry back to our cul-de-sacs in the suburbs and harp on “funny sounding southerners” while trying to figure out how to screw our neighbors out of something or other.

The other reason vacationers head south is to tour Civil War sites. The greater Fredericksburg area is popular, but Richmond,  Appomatox,  Fort Sumter, Chickamauga, and Vicksburg are on that list as well. This is pretty good for the southern states. Most of these sites are well away from the coast in areas that could use some tourist dollars. And I like to think “history tourists” are better behaved than their sunburned, drunken brethren (although I’m sure we’re annoying in our own special way).

But here’s what’s forgotten, even by the history tourist: the South was crucial to colonial victory in the Revolutionary War, and has a lot to offer for students of that conflict. North and South Carolina had special significance during the Revolution, perhaps even more so than they had in the Civil War. South Carolina was literally riddled with battles of all shapes and sizes, and North Carolina was the site of one of the most pivotal battles of that entire conflict: the seldom-discussed Battle of Guilford Court House.

The early stages of the war were fought in the troublesome northern colonies, home of the original irksome Tea Partiers and a certain troupe of rabble-rousers in Philadelphia and New York. Those battles are legendary and often-taught in schools and shown on the History Channel: Lexington and Concord, Ticonderoga, Bunker Hill, Trenton, Saratoga. Those sites get all the visitors and all the attention when it comes to Revolutionary War tourism. Little attention is paid to the Southern Theater of that war, except Yorktown of course. That’s really sad: what happened in the Carolinas actually assured victory for all the colonies and assured the new United States would be as big and bi-coastal as it is today. What started in the North concluded successfully in the South.

The battle had shifted in upstate New York. The battle of Saratoga was a huge victory for the Continental Army and colonial militias. General Horatio Gates defeated and surrounded General Burgoyne’s redcoat troops in a humiliating defeat for the British. It was quite a stunning victory, really, and not only cost the British dearly in men and arms but also encouraged the French and Spanish to enter the fray on the side of the fledgling Americans. The Brits were going down for a defeat, something that simply would not stand in the eyes of the landed gentry, Parliamentarians, and King George. So the Brits came up with a new strategy.

Their new goal became not subduing all the colonies, but weakening their power by attacking the supposedly “soft” underbelly: Georgia and the Carolinas. The Brits were convinced the lower colonies were full of Loyalists, unwilling to surrender the honor of being part of the Empire to join with a band of Puritanical misfits and wannabes. All the Brits had to do was get past the coastal defenses and move into the interior where the North American landed gentry would gladly join them. With the low colonies firmly in British hands, resource-rich Virginia would fall, and to hell with the miscreants in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. They could have their little country, firmly surrounded and contained by Britain and her loyal followers.

In March of 1780, they besieged and eventually conquered Charleston,  the biggest port south of the Chesapeake. They then moved inland, fighting and skirmishing all over interior South Carolina, picking up some Loyalists along the way but also (foolishly) stretching their supply lines and slowly whittling away at their core group of highly trained soldiers. But in their eyes, they were doing exactly what they wanted to do. Georgia was effectively out of the fray, South Carolina was theirs, and North Carolina (theoretically full of loyal British subjects) would be won. Then they could gather their strength and take back the Chesapeake Bay ports and the colony of Virginia.

After a series of mixed-result battles throughout South Carolina, bold Lord Cornwallis (descendant of barons and earls and nephew of archbishops and governors) lightened the load of his armies by abandoning equipment and supplies, and led them all into North Carolina in hot pursuit of the fleet-of-foot Continentals led by that much-beloved Quaker, General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island. A brave and very astute commander, Greene’s motto became “we fight, get beat, rise, and fight again”, directly copying a strategy made famous by Fabius Maximus centuries earlier: war through attrition.

Greene did that over and over in the southern campaign, and culminated that strategy at Guilford Courthouse near Greensboro. He met Cornwallis’ 1900 crack troops with over 4000 of is own. He knew his men didn’t have the skill or fortitude to defeat Cornwallis, but he’d have them pound the British as much as they could. Worked, too. Worked fabulously well. The Brits won the battle due to superior tactics and arms (and, supposedly, through the use of nasty friendly-fire tactics), but they paid a high price for their victory. Cornwallis lost a quarter of his men and (due to “lightening the load” weeks earlier) most of their supplies. Cornwallis had no choice but to retreat over inhospitable land to coastal Wilmington. The British lost their chance to split the Colonies forever, and were eventually met with defeat in Yorktown months later.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the history of our own country. We tend to remember a few key events (poorly), but miss the whole. It’s quite interesting, actually, how one event leads to another, how  a series of small defeats can lead to a great victory and the eventual redirection of history. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse is one such event.

Oh, and North Carolina is my favorite Southern state. Just thought I’d toss that out there. 🙂

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Guilford Courthouse, so no pictures. All illustrations & maps are public domain.]

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Links

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

The order of battle

Natty Green’s Brewing Company

Google map to Guilford Courthouse

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Mistakes Were Made

I really screwed up my trip to the Smokies. For some strange reason, I decided to stay at a resort named Fontana Village, south of the park boundary in North Carolina. It was close to the park, yet away from the tourist trap of Gatlinburg. It sounded nice enough: cabins, horses, kayaking, bike rentals, sports fields, etc. I thought it’d be a good place to unwind and enjoy nature without a lot of noise or nonsense. So I booked it and made my way down.

I had a light breakfast as usual, I get so nervous flying I try not to eat much beforehand. I flew into Charlotte, picked up a rental car and then drove all the way to Fontana. It’s pretty remote, about a four hour drive, didn’t stop for lunch, just grabbed some snacks from a Quik-E-Mart. Got to Fontana just as it was getting dark, and because it’s off the beaten path, it was really dark. Nice, windy roads as well. I knew that once I got there, that was it for the night. I arrived, check in and, well, the place was dead. Right away, I realized what a horrible mistake I made. It was October, way off-season. I was one of maybe 8 guests in the whole place, just about everything was closed. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was trucked in from God-knows-where, and it was lousy: some sort of overcooked chicken tetrazzini nightmare. Restaurants were hours away, I was beat, so I choked down what I could (not much) and went to bed.

Morning came, and there was not much available for breakfast, either. Single-serving corn flakes, 6-oz cups of OJ. Disastrous. But hey, I was near the park. Forget about the lousy accommodations, I didn’t travel all that way to sit in a hotel room anyway. So I grabbed my gear, and headed to the woods (the Twentymile Trail, to be specific).

Oh good God it was awful! The prior day’s malnutrition hit me like a sledgehammer to the sternum. I was so low on energy, I could only walk about 10 minutes before needing a breather. I was sitting on every stump, lump, rock and log I came across. It was torture. The peanut-butter crackers I brought weren’t doing the trick, either. Why, oh why, didn’t I swallow my pride and eat more tetrazzini? Why didn’t I grab a yogurt at the weak breakfast buffet (there was yogurt, wasn’t there)? I felt like I was on a forced march in Bataan or something, except it was a chilly autumn in North Carolina instead of summertime in the fetid tropics. Every step was agony. Every breath was labored. I could hear the pulse from my pounding heart in my eardrums. It was awful.

I met a man, 20 years my senior, trotting happily down the trail, not a care in the world. Definitely walking a faster pace than I. Cheerful and friendly, he piped up. “Good morning” he chirped. “Top of the trails just around the bend, wait till you see it!” “Thanks” I groaned, trying to conceal my fatigue through a hearty façade. I waited until he passed behind the trees, and continued the slow, painful, protein-deficient struggle to the top of the hill … and then I saw it.

Around a bend, a gap formed in the trees. The morning fog burned off, the sun started to peak through. I lifted my weary head, and looked out. The sight took whatever feeble breath I had clean away. I was overlooking a sunlit carpet of red, orange, and gold, as far as the eye could see. I was looking at the majestic, glorious tops of the great forest of Smoky Mountains National Park, and it was fabulous. I felt like Bilbo Baggins, poking his head from the gloominess of Mirkwood and seeing hope in the butterflies. It was spectacular, and awesome, and inspiring, and rewarding.

I turned back down the trail, and with gravity’s assistance, I made it back to the lodge. After a quick shower and nap, I hopped in the car and drove an hour or so to the nearest restaurant, sat down, and ate a steak the size of a toilet seat.

It’s a truly spectacular park, after this ill-fated hike I spent another 3 days in the area and it was wonderful. I only spent one night at Fontana Village, though :-P. Now before folks complain, let me just say I went off-season, and it was 15 years ago. Whether Fontana Village is any better in the summer, or has improved the place since then, I cannot say. But I can definitely say an autumn trip to the Smokies is well worth any lodging hassles.

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[I didn’t own a camera when I took my trip to the Smokies. Pictures are all in the public domain as far as I can tell. If you know of any copyrights that apply, please let me know. Bilbo’s image is copyright 1977 by Rankin/Bass Productions.]

Links:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fontana Village

The Story of the Fontana Dam

Google map of GSM NP

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Iconography and Foolishness

How incredibly iconic is this image?

This is a picture taken in 1869 at the joining of two great railroads — the Union and the Central Pacific — in 1869. Setting aside the poor quality of mid-19th century photography, this is terrific photo. How better to depict years of labor by hardworking Americans and immigrants, and the importance of joining the battle-scarred and reconstructing East to the Pacific Coast, a land of wealth and promise, than this image? You see the engineers and work crews of the two big railroads, sharing champagne and smiles at the importance of the moment. This event was celebrated with drink and fiddles, dance and jubilation, pomp and circumstance. The joining of the railroads, one of those moments that marked significant change for this nation, beautifully captured for all time in this great iconic image.

Important it was, too, for this country was made strong by the railroads. Like the Internet of today, the railroads meant everything to 19th century America. They expanded commerce. They enabled safe travel. Because the telegraph shared the right-of-way, they improved communications. Most importantly, they tied the country together, and they eventually did more to unite the country than the War Between the States. No longer would you have to spend weeks of misery traveling across the country on horseback or in wagon trains, subjected to the harshness of the elements and the dangers from bandits and natives. You could now board a train in Philadelphia and — depending on your fortitude — eventually disembark in San Francisco.

I am one of those folks who maintains romantic views of these old railroads. I find the whole history of the railroads wonderfully fascinating, and places like Golden Spike NHS enforce this fascination. They have two terrific, working replicas of the two locomotives: the Pacific Central’s Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119, sitting on rebuilt tracks on the original rail bed. The site itself is still remote, on the opposite side of the Great Salt Lake from Utah’s big metropolis. You can feel the winds of the plateau, smell the lake’s salt spray, and imagine yourself in this desolate land in 1869, laying the final tracks to unite a great nation.

Of course, our iconic and romantic imagery of these great railroads is not accurate. The railroads were not perfect. Because they were powered by burning coal, they were filthy. They were also noisy, uncomfortable, prone to breakdown and delay, and were occasionally assaulted and robbed. They gave rise to the Robber Barons, men of such wealth and influence they seemingly ran the nation from seats of financial power to the detriment of the nation and the ire of Teddy Roosevelt. Even the east-west joining of the railroads does not stand up to our romantic notions. In fact, this activity can be used to show how government interference into commerce and industry is inefficient and stupid.

You see, the government funded the creation of the transcontinental railroad, starting with the Pacific Railway Act of 1862. Through it and several other bills throughout the years, the government provided land grants across the vast unpopulated areas between Omaha and Sacramento. The government also paid railroads to lay track across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the inaccessible plateaus in between. To this day, this still sounds like a shining example of the types of investments the federal government should make, investments whose resulting projects would provide great benefit to the entire nation.

Of course, the implementation itself proved to be horrid. First of all, the railroad land grants were far larger than they needed for these railroads, so they were able to sell parcels at tremendous profit, none of which made it back to government coffers. This, coupled with other forms of corruption during construction, means the government basically enabled the robber barons to become those tyrants and puppet masters we hear of today.

Then there were the foolish reimbursement formulas. The government basically paid the railroads by the mile, and also paid extra for crossing difficult terrain. This inspired the railroads to create winding and inefficient railways, and multiple cases of crossing difficult terrain instead of taking a simpler path in order to earn more government reimbursement. This led to that great anathema to those of us with engineering and scientific mindsets: tremendous inefficiency, idiocy, and profiteering displacing sound design and technological competence. Maddening, ever so maddening, and it is still a process that continues today in the form of pork-barrel projects, unnecessary weapon systems, and bridges to nowhere.

Promontory, Utah itself represents this misdirected mindset of federal funding. It has been debated that, had the railroads concentrated on building efficient East-West connections instead of taking advantage of flaky federal reimbursement rules, the railroads wouldn’t have been anywhere near Promontory. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but it is definitely true that the spot was bypassed 35 years later, and hasn’t been a part of the transcontinental railroad since then. It is a dead, empty stretch of the Utah plateau, irrelevant except for a small plot of land celebrating the Golden Spike ceremony of 1869.

I still loved my short visit to this site. Regardless of the tainted history, it’s still an incredibly romantic, iconic moment in American history. And in an ironic way, the abandonment of Promontory by the transcontinental railroad has actually worked towards preserving the site as it was on a sunny day in May of 1869. Take a visit when you’re in the area, watch a steam engine demonstration, and imagine yourself in a bygone era, when a single moment changed the course of American history.

[The first two images are taken from the National Archives. The rest are my own photos and copyrighted as such.]

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Links:

Golden Spike National Historic Site

An essay on federal aid and the transcontinental railroad

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

Google map to Promontory, Utah

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Poor Old Upstate

It’s a shame what’s happened to Upstate New York. While the city and Westchester County prosper from the wealth (yes, it still exists) of our heady financial system, Upstate suffers. A trip through Upstate is a trip through a region in decline. Empty factories, empty homes, bankrupt farms, it’s sad really.

What’s really sad is it’s such a beautiful part of the country. You’ve got the Adirondacks, the largest state park in the country, with its dense forests and old, weathered mountains; microbreweries like Saranac, Ithaca, Ommegang, and Old Saratoga (to name but a few); the amazing Thousand Islands; the peaceful Finger Lakes region; and miles and miles of unspoiled farmland. But I guess that’s not enough in this age of globalization, financial ruin, the off-shoring of America’s industrial might and intellectual property, and perhaps the lousiest state government in the country.

The other thing New York has to offer is a storied past. It can be argued that New York is a state with greater historic significance than any other state in the Union. This state was a central battleground in the French & Indian War, the Revolution, and the War of 1812. It didn’t factor heavily in the Civil War (other than contributing thousands of troops and the famous NYC draft riots), but during WWI and WWII the city was the great port for the embarkation of millions of troops. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were seen by millions of immigrants, from which the majority of the population now descends. Three Presidents were born in the state, and one (William McKinley) was murdered there. There’s a lot of history in New York’s borders, and significant portions of that in Upstate.

Fort Stanwix is one of those historic spots in this great state. It’s smack-dab in the middle of Upstate, right outside Rome, NY. It, along with sister forts Ticonderoga and Saratoga, factored heavily in the Saratoga Campaign during the Revolutionary War. Today, it’s been reconstructed and is the sight of regular re-enactments and special events. Stop by next time you’re trucking across the state at 85 MPH, trying to get wherever you’re going in such a damned hurry. While you’re at it, stop by Howe Caverns, the Baseball Hall of Fame, any of the numerous covered bridges over the Hudson, Lake Placid’s Olympic training facility, the Herkimer Diamond Mines …

New York: much, much more than the Five Burroughs. Check it out. Tell ’em Barky sent ya. 🙂

[Sadly, I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Fort Stanwix, or the Adirondacks, or anywhere else I visited during my two-week swing/stay through the state. But I do have fond memories of the place. Pics & graphic from the National Park Service.]

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Links:

Fort Stanwix National Monument

The pretty ugly, but pretty complete, Adirondacks.com

Everything you wanted to know about Herkimer diamonds

The Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

Google map to Fort Stanwix

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Hazards of Time

There are a few problems with blogging about collections. One is the problem I’m having blogging about Fort Raleigh. I know I was there, I remember crossing the bridge to Roanoke Island and taking the detour to a beautiful patch of flora along the Albemarle Sound.

But other than that, I don’t remember anything.

I can imagine the same problem with other collectors. “Who gave me this alpaca Beanie Baby?” “How did this otaku manga get mixed in with my Marvel comics?” “Where did I get this train car covered with illegal aliens?” … hmmm, actually a model train car covered with illegal aliens sounds pretty nifty. 🙂

I guess it’s appropriate that the one site I seem to have forgotten is Fort Raleigh, for Fort Raleigh marks the site where a colony of 116 men, women & children simply disappeared while their captain sailed for supplies. To this day, it’s not known what happened. Some say they were slaughtered by nearby natives, others think they moved inland looking for food and died, others think a storm swept them all away. The truth, of course, is they were abducted by aliens.

Here’s what I really want to know: did I forget about Fort Raleigh because of time? Age? Maybe I was so giddy after visiting Kitty Hawk I didn’t absorb anything from Fort Raleigh. Or maybe Fort Raleigh doesn’t really have anything to teach us. The story of the Roanoke colony is taught in grade school (or at least it was, maybe it’s not on any No Child Left Behind test). One of the key reasons I travel to the parks is the opportunity for locational learning, where one can see and feel the space where an important event happened or a particular natural wonder is showcased.  But at Fort Raleigh, there’s really nothing to see. Yes, it’s a beautiful park, but other than that, there’s nothing really to connect one to the event it’s supposed to commemorate.

Without a connection, there’s no opportunity to learn and, for me at least, no reason to remember.

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Fort Raleigh. Pics are from Wikipedia Commons (see comments).]

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Links:

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

America’s Lost Colony

25 Strangest Collections on the Web

Google map to Fort Raleigh

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World War 0.1

I hate ignorance. I especially hate it in myself.

It’s one thing to not have all the facts, or to misinterpret the ones you have, or to not grasp the subtlety of a particularly complex situation. But to miss something important in its entirety, that’s ignorance. And to miss something important in your own chosen endeavor, that’s just negligence!

I went to Fort Necessity completely unaware of it’s significance. It was just a spot on a National Park Service map. I thought it had something to do with the Revolution or something. I was so undeniably, completely wrong, so utterly ignorant, it’s shameful. Fort Necessity, as it turns out, is probably the singular site in all the NPS that has truly global significance. This is a site that marks a minor event in American history, but a huge event in world history.

The events unfolded in this manner:

In the time before the American Revolution, England and France vied for the continent. England, of course, had the 13 original colonies along the Atlantic Ocean. France had her own territory, in the north along the Saint Lawrence Seaway and lakes Erie and Ontario, and a spot of land at the foot of the great Mississippi River known as Louisiana. England wanted to move into the interior, and France wanted to use the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to connect Quebec and New Orleans. For years, the two great powers, with centuries of enmity between them, would dance around each other in the New World.

In 1753, the governor of Virginia heard the French built forts on the south shores of the two big lakes, on land England thought was hers. The governor sent a small squad, led by a young lieutenant, George Washington, to warn the French of their trespass. Washington found himself rudely rebuffed by the French.

In 1754, newly promoted Lt. Col. Washington led a small regiment to help defend a small English fort near the Ohio River, only to find the French had taken over and built their own. Washington’s regiment made camp, and the young colonel thought to engage local Seneca chief Half-King and convince the French to depart. It was meant to be a parlay, backed by a subtle threat of superior numbers and a home-field advantage.

To this day, it is unsure who fired the first shot. It is often debated, but in reality, it doesn’t matter. What matters is a shot was fired. A skirmish erupted, and the young colonel was victorious. Thirteen Frenchmen lay dead, 21 were captured and led back to Williamsburg.

Here is where the tales diverge. In America, we are told that Washington, realizing a counterattack was imminent, led his regiment back into the wild and built a small palisade called Fort Necessity. Unable to solidify alliances with the local Seneca and other Indian tribes, Washington’s 300+ men fought and were defeated by 700 French and Indian troops. Washington had no choice but to surrender and take his men back to Virginia. It would be Washington’s only surrender of his entire career. The French and Indian War, as Americans would come to know it, would be fought, and the French would be pushed out of North America.

In Europe, however, a totally different story is told. There, that ill-fated shot would be used as propaganda by both France and England to ratchet up tensions between the two European powers. The resultant battle between relatively small forces in North America would ignite a massive conflict on the European continent known as the Seven Years War. It was truly the first actual World War, involving many countries across Europe. On the one side, England and her allies (Prussia, Portugal, and some German states) would fight Austria, Sweden, Saxony and France. Russia, in typical fashion, would switch sides in the middle of the thing. Even the Dutch were involved when one of their own colonies was attacked in modern-day India.

This is the tale that Americans aren’t told. Hell, we’re barely taught anything about the French & Indian War! But the Seven Years War cost almost one and a half million lives. It redrew the map, not only in Europe and North America but even in Africa, the Carribbean, and the Indian subcontinent. It severely weakened France, factored in their decision to assist America in their battle for independence, and set the stage for the French Revolution. It ended the Holy Roman Empire entirely, and rose Great Britain to the role of the dominant maritime and colonial power in the world. They would rule large tracts of land from the southern tip of Africa through the Middle East to India, Australia, and Canada for two hundred years until a later World War would undo the effects of this first one or, as I call it, World War 0.1.

Fort Necessity taught me a lot about this period of world history, more than high school or college taught me. Americans aren’t taught this at all, except those who study third-year world history. It’s forgotten, lost, or simply uninteresting. I wonder if it’s ignorance or arrogance. Our own involvement in the Seven Years War was small, and when it did happen, we weren’t really America at that point, so in our eyes, it didn’t even matter. But there are events that happen outside of our cloistered continent that are important, even without us. We need to pay heed, observe and learn of those things outside of our borders (both borders of space and of time).

We are not the center of the universe. We are not even the center of the world. We cannot afford to pay attention to only those things that revolve around us.

[Pics on this post are mine and thusly copyrighted. More are here.]

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Links:

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Seven Years War on Military History Online <– such an interesting site I added it to the blogroll

The British Empire Online

Google map to Fort Necessity

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