I am pleased and grateful that the fine folks at The Strategy Bridge published my very first historical book review. Click here to read what I think about Godfrey Hodgson’s JFK and LBJ: The Last Two Great Presidents.
My summer 2016 reading list was anchored by a fascinating micro pop-history treatment of the summer of 1927 in the United States. Although it’s a bit on the long side, Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 is a fascinating cross-section that bottles the culture, historical events, and personalities of a very short period of time, painting a context for the reader that so many histories fail to achieve.
Bryson regales readers with the achievement of Charles Lindbergh and his transatlantic flight, with Babe Ruth’s place on the Yankees’ Murderer’s Row, with Henry Ford’s failed venture in Brazil, with the idiosyncrasies of public figures like Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover (and the latter’s almost clinical handling of the great floods of 1927), with the rise of boxing as a nationwide spectacle, with the challenges of Prohibition, with the sentencing and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, and with so much more.
Given such a richly developed context, I couldn’t help but wonder what the U.S. Army was doing in 1927. Smack in the middle of the so-called “Interwar Years” and well before pre-WWII growth, one might assume that the Army was small and relatively dormant, but there was actually plenty going on.
Here are five things the United States Army was up to in 1927, further enriching the context of a very fascinating year:
If you’re looking for the perfect Memorial Day weekend drink, look no further. Whether you’re remembering the sacrifice of a fallen comrade or family member or celebrating their life with a stiff drink, this bourbon will do the trick:
Once upon a time while working on a history project about US Army casualty operations since World War II, I collected a bunch of old Adjutant General Corps-related documents. One of my favorite eBay scores was Technical Manual (TM) 12-250, the War Department Technical Manual for Administration, dated October 10, 1942.
In 334 BCE, just two years after being crowned king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great took his mighty army into modern-day Turkey and began his grand campaign. On a foray into inland Anatolia the next year, Alexander marched to Gordium, the capital of Phrygia, formerly a kingdom, but contemporarily a province of Persia.
It was there, legend has it, that a peasant named Gordias won the prophecy lottery, becoming king simply by being the next guy to drive an ox-cart into town.
Gordias (father of the famous King Midas) became ruler, and his ox-cart was later hitched to a post with a knot that was presumably the world’s first successful vehicle anti-theft device. (You can read more about that here.)
Well, successful for a while. Because, as more legend has it, whoever could untie the knot located at this so-called gateway to Asia would rule that land—this legend was probably developed by Alexander’s publicists ex post facto.
The AG Corps is supremely proud of Gates and his American Revolution fame. I’m proud of my branch, its steeped history, and the integral work we do. I am not, however, proud of the corps’ so-called founder. (As an aside, he’s sometimes called “Granny” Gates in historical accounts. The nickname has been refuted here and other places, but in at least one case, years later, Timothy Pickering called Gates “an old woman.”)
NOTE: This was originally published here on January 8, 2016.
Note: I’m taking some time working on a more “scholarly” article, so here’s something a little fluffier just for fun in the mean time.
It always troubles me when someone bemoans history as a boring school subject in which they were forced to memorize useless dates and names. I have a BA in history, and I’m certain I could not recite even basic so-called “important” historical dates. For me, the value of history is in its lessons and stories.
Putting aside the problem with unqualified or disinterested coaches dominating social science classes (granted, there are some phenomenal coach-teachers), too many teachers teach history wrong. Dates are important and useful, but they’ll never be as interesting as knowing the honest and unfiltered stories of our nation and world. (I highly recommend James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Mefor an introduction to the world of textbook-less history.)
Even with a disdain for the classroom version of history, anyone can find an interesting story in the branches of their own family tree.