Fist Of History

Alternative Versions of Christianity – Gnostics and More

June 29th, 2015

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_by_Constantinople_master_(early_14th_c.,_Pushkin_museum)

One of the fun things you learn when reading history is about unusual side paths and concepts that didn’t quite take off.  As it turns out there were several different versions of early Christian thought that battled for dominance in the growing faithful from the death of Christ till the early 700s or so.  Let’s begin with the winner:

Apostolic Christianity

  • Grounded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke, John, Paul)
  • Eventually support the idea that the divine is equally made up of three parts – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  • Christ was the divine manifest on Earth, who died for humanities sins on the cross, rose after three days, and ascended to Heaven after liberating the wrong condemned souls in Hell
  • Peter was the inheritor of the Church and the Papacy represented the ultimate authority on Earth for Christians.  (Note this tenant did not hold – see Orthodox/Catholic split and later Protestant movements)

Valentinus

Alternate Version #1 – Valentinianism

  • Created by leading early Christian theologian named Valentinus
  • Holds the same core tenant about the validity of the four primary gospels outlined above
  • Believe in traditional sacraments but also believe that behind the public rituals of the Christian faith were secret teachings Christ had shared with an elite and those teachings were passed on to a new elite
  • Potentially practiced a second baptism to welcome those with secret elite knowledge to the inner Christian faith

Alternative Version #2 – Basilidianism

  • Created by a Christian philosopher named Basilides
  • Believed Christ was entirely divine and could not die on the cross and instead switched places with Simon of Cyrene
  • Some accounts state faith believed Christ laughed at Simon of Cyrene’s death
  • Held a complex cosmology that believed in 365 separate heavenly paradises, one for each day of the year
  • Believed in two divine beings – Abrasas – the pious and divine deity that sent down Christ and Yahweh, an evil Jewish deity
  • Held that only a select few would be allowed to enter the divine paradises

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution

Alternative Version #3 – Carpocratianism

  • Believed that to attain salvation a soul must pass through every condition and experience of life
  • Supported sin and sexual indulgence on a grand scale
  • Was recorded historically as believers who “have intercourse where they will and with who they will”

Lion-faced_deityAlternate Version #4 – Sethiansim

  • Opposed to most aspects of Apostolic Christianity
  • Believed the Hebrew divinity, Yahweh, was evil
  • Honored Adam and Eve as good for eating the Fruit of Forbidden Knowledge
  • Honored the Serpent in the Garden of Eden for opposing the above evil deity
  • Believed the Eucharist was an abomination
  • Believed the Crucifixion was an abomination and on par with child sacrifice

Source:  Finding Jesus, David Gibson and Michael McKinley, chapter “The Gospel of Judas”

 

 

 

Irish Slaves – Bad History on Steroids [OPINION]

June 19th, 2015

white-slaves

One of the things I usually enjoy with this blog is smashing down a misuse of history, be it by politicians looking to score a soundbite or pundits trying to shroud their argument with the mantle of established precedent.  Unfortunately that job also requires diving into the unpleasant and racist elements of the misuse of history on occasion, and this is one of those unpleasant times:  the currently rising topic of “Irish Slavery” in the North American and Caribbean colonies from the 15th to (possibly) 19th centuries.

Let’s start from the top – I’m not an expert in Irish history, English history, Cromwell, or North American colonial history – I’m a well read amateur on these periods.  But, and I cannot overstate this, even for a well-read amateur like myself the idea of “Irish Slavery” is bullshit.  Absolute bullshit and if you come across this toxic meme I suggest you dismiss it from your mind immediately.

Cromwell

At its core this myth argues that Irish citizens were mass deported from Ireland starting in 1625 through the end of the English Civil War and beyond, roughly 1653, with Cromwell sending hundreds of thousands of Irish individuals to the New World as “slaves.”  An excellent article says it far better than I do, this myth rests upon conflating indentured servitude, prisoner labor, and forced labor with “chattel slavery.”  (Source here.)  From just a cursory review of basic articles on the English Civil War, Cromwell and the Irish, and Irish history I cannot find even the most basic evidence to back up the idea there was a mass cross-Atlantic trade in white Irish individuals to feed a growing labor demand in the colonies of North America and the Caribbean.

The articles I’ve found pushing this myth, of which several samples are included below in the sources, uniformly don’t list any academic or even non-academic sources.  They twist information, and they also stretch the limits of credible argument.  For example I did find mention in several sources in Google Docs that after the end of the English Civil War, Irish individuals who had supported the crown were forced from the land (mass deportations) and shoved by Cromwell onto a sort-of Irish preserve.  Key point though – that preserve was in Ireland.  Some Irish supporters of the Royalist cause were deported to the New World as forced labor, specifically to the Caribbean colonies held by England, but that number ranged from 6,000 to 30,000 at the most.

I’ve also found no links to bills of sale, dockets showing Irish chattel slaves for sale, nor special laws or controls limiting the Irish in the same way that African chattel slaves were limited.  In fact actual historical research shows that the Irish who were brought over as indentured servants often were recruited into colonial militias to protect the colonial structure of law and order.

Slaves_ruvuma

These myths rest on an argument that indentured servitude and chattel slavery were the same thing – they simply were not.  The core difference was chattel slavery was forever, a bondage upon the slave and their descendents.  Irish indentured servants were certainly cheated, worked hard, treated poorly, and labored in some cases in terrible situations, but legally, and practically, they were bond by a contract they entered into in the overwhelming majority of cases.  African chattel slaves were property, legally, from acquisition to death.  An African chattel slave in North America (and South America as well) was property, like a horse.

In fact to understand the position of a chattel slave in North America for most of history, simply replace the word “slave” with “horse” and you’ve got the legal fine points down nicely.  Can you kill a horse that defies you?  If it is yours, yes.  People might think you are cruel or overly violent, you might face social stigma, but you can do it.  Others may support you as the horse deserved it, was unproductive, or needed to be culled.  You can sell your horse if you wish, for whatever price you can command from the buyer.  You can beat your horse if it is unproductive.  Local laws might protect the horse, or not, but such protection is a voluntary agreement between horse owners.  The horse has no say in the matter.

All of that links to chattel slaves in the period quite neatly.  In fact, I believe I am on safe ground saying the only absolute legally allowed thing you could do to your horse, that you could not do to your slave, is you can eat the horse.  I feel 95% certain a slave owner having a dinner on the meat of a slaughtered slave would be nailed on cannibalism laws, if such were on the books.

KKK_Wants

This myth at its core is an attempt to strip African-Americans of their unique position in the history of the United States, the Caribbean, and South America – that of labor forcibly taken from their homes to an alien culture and made to work in perpetual bondage.  Chattel slavery is far too complex a topic here but let me say this – when I read articles about this topic they all seem to rest on the same underlying foundation – “See, white Irish people suffered like African slaves, it is history, and you don’t see the Irish whining about it.”

No, white Irish workers in the colonies did not suffer like African chattel slaves, and at its core, rests one simple difference.  For an Irish indentured servant, at some point, their contract legally ended.  For an African chattel slave, there was no contract, they were just property till their owner either freed them, worked them till their death, or they managed to escape.

Sources:  Blog post on Irish Slavery, another blog post on Irish Slavery, article on the myth of Irish Slavery

Knights of the Golden Circle

June 10th, 2015

Knights_Golden_Circle

The Knights of the Golden Circle was an organization that existed in the United States from the 1850s through the 1860s which espoused the idea of a radical expansion, and realignment, of the United States into an extremely “pro-slavery” nation.  Their major goal was to promote the idea of the seizure, as part of Manifest Destiny, of additional territory for the United States in Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, with the ultimate goal being that each of these new territories be added to the United States as “slave states” – those allowing slavery.  This planned goal also aimed at potentially creating a new super-Confederacy of states/republics, if necessary, encompassing the Southern states in the United States and the other new territories, with a capital centered in Havana, Cuba.

Golden_Circle_(Proposed_Country)

Now this new nation, (shown above in green), would have represented a major investment of military and cultural power by the United States to be achieved and probably was beyond the immediate capacity of the nation in the 1850s.  However the idea had many adherents in the American South and southern portions of middle states, mainly due to the economic possibilities it presented and concerns about the growing power of abolitionism as a political force in the United States.  The Knights of the Golden Circle were strongly pro-Southern as regional tensions increased in the United States and the organization supported the seceding states in 1861.  Many Democrats in the northern United States during the Civil War expressed support for some ideas purported by the Knights of the Golden Circle and members of the organization took part in some early military actions by the growing Confederate forces.

Knights_of_the_Golden_Circle_History_of_Seccession_book,_1862

The organization had less real impact during the American Civil War but it was a lightening rod for Northern concerns about Southern sympathizers acting as spies and saboteurs during the Civil War.  Members of the Knights of the Golden Circle were regularly targeted for arrest by United States law enforcement and its key leaders were expelled from northern territory when caught.  The image of the Knights of the Golden Circle in the United States as traitors was not helped by activities like the attempting to outfit a secret privateer boat in California to attack Pacific shipping by the United States.  The organization did not survive the defeat of the southern states in the American Civil War and its membership most likely dissolved after the war.

national-treasure

I say “most likely” because the Knights of the Golden Circle have become one of the darlings of conspiracy theorists who posit the group survived the end of the American Civil War and became a key player in efforts to prepare for a second American Civil War.  Such theories are grounded mostly in speculation than anything solid, but it does give the organization a lasting minor place even in modern United States history.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Golden Circle and the Knights of the Golden Circle

Dred Scott and the modern take on the Civil War [OPINION]

May 27th, 2015

DredScott

One of the modern threads you will find in United States history is the debate on the causes of the Civil War, which mainly hinges on two major points of contention:  first that states had the right to secede from the union legally and second that the Civil War was fought over states rights.  On the second point the counter-argument brought up is “indeed, the right to have slavery in a state” – which sparks another round of debate.  Honestly though I personally find the argument about states rights as the key issue disingenuous as an argument when discussing the Civil War due to the reaction of many Southern radicals to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision.  In that Supreme Court case an African-American sued for his freedom, claiming that because he had lived and worked in both a free-state and later free-territory, he and his family should be free individuals.  (A gross simplification but it will do for now.)

Roger_Taney_-_Healy

The United States Supreme Court, under Justice Taney, found that Scott was not freed, they also found that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to rule in the case technically and, as a “by the way”, Congress did not have the power to impose regulations in the territories regarding slavery.  Justice Taney had hoped his ruling would result in an end to the debates about the position of slavery within the United States, instead it sparked a massive uproar in the North and the South.

outrage

In the North it was felt that now the Supreme Court was only one ruling away from stating that individual states no longer had the right to outlaw slavery within the United States, on some vague notion it was “protected” in the Constitution.  In the South it was felt that Northern citizens should calm down and embrace the legal ruling of the Supreme Court on the matter.  It was also commonly felt that this ruling would open up the western territories to expanded slave ownership and create a new boom for economic development in the region, many Southern slaveholders after the ruling were excited about the idea of gaining access to cheap, productive land that could be tilled by slave labor.

Mini-BIO-Abraham-Lincoln-SF

Now to my eye the cornerstone problem with arguing states rights as a Civil War major cause occurs in this period, with Southern Radicals and their writing, whose ideas were upheld by many moderate Southern thinkers, that Dred Scott was the ruling that would pave the way towards a United States that allowed slavery to exist in every state, even those that had voted against it.  Some Southern Radicals called for the day that “slave auctions took place in Boston Commons” – ground zero for abolitionists.

To my eye, had the bulk of Southern opinion in response to those fears by the North been “What?  No, you have a right to not have slaves, we have a right to have slaves, calm down, lets pass a cross-sectional law that says as such.  We’ll hammer out the west out, the Supreme Court kind of pooped a biscuit here” – the Civil War would probably still have occurred but it might have been delayed or lessened in impact.  Certainly it would have sparked less paranoia in the North than the actual Southern reaction which could be summarized as “Hell yes!   Eat it North!  It’s SLAVING TIME”

The United States Civil War was a complex war, with roots resting in sectionalism, power balances within the nation, and economic impacts of slavery, along with the more common issues of property, role of national government, and states rights.  But as a common thread throughout all of that runs the solid line…of slavery.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Dred Scott Decision, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Slave Power

Operation Nickle Grass and the modern Middle East

May 8th, 2015

Nickel_Grass_M60_C-5

One of the nice moments in historical work is when you find a mundane picture, like the one above, and discover that it marks a profound shift in history.  In this case the image above is from 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced off against a simultaneous invasion by Syria and Egypt.  This was particularly unique in Israel’s history as it featured an initial few days of defeats inflicted upon the Israeli military and what the Israeli leadership considered an existential threat to Israel itself.  The war also represented a minor proxy war in the Cold War period, both Syria and Egypt had been equipped, and economically supported by, the Soviet Union while Israel was seen as a demi-client of the United States at the time.  The events of this war permanently shifted the position of the United States in the Middle East, tied the American government more closely to that of Israel, and exposed the vulnerability of the United States to external oil pressures.

Golda_Meir_03265u

Israel at the greatest point of danger during the war, under the overall leadership of its Prime Minister Golda Meir (pictured above), ordered the raising of short-range ballistic missiles to be prepared.  This was done in a very public and slow manner, to ensure the United States was aware of the fact that Israel was preparing its Jericho missile systems for possible launch.  This is particularly critical because these were the missiles that Israel was expected to use to launch nuclear weapons and, without nuclear tips, were kind of useless as weapons in the ongoing war.  Furthermore it was to send a signal to the United States government that Israel’s government considered the situation gravely dangerous to the nation and would use any means to prevent the collapse of Israel.

800px-Richard_M._Nixon,_ca._1935_-_1982_-_NARA_-_530679

Richard Nixon, the United States president at the time, under the advise of the United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, ordered that United States military equipment be transferred to Israel to replenish its diminished stockpiles and ensure Israel could continue fighting and go on the offensive.  The threat of nuclear escalation was only part of Nixon/Kissinger’s decision to intervene – the Soviet Union had declared its intention to resupply Syria and Egypt at roughly the same time, the need to stave off Soviet influence expansion in the Middle East, and Kissinger arguing that by supplying Israel the United States would have a stronger hand in the post-war settlement, all sparked the push for the United States to intervene.  But in doing so, although the war ended in an Israeli victory, a few other complications set in.

Country’s fuel shortage led to problems for motorists in findi

The Arab members of OPEC declared an oil embargo on the United States, the first of two such “oil shocks” to the United States economy.  Limitations in long range United States air power were exposed, sparking a stronger interest in the United States for establishing air bases around the world to extend the range, and decrease the response time, of its air forces.  But most critically it paved the way for the closer connection between Israel and the United States, which in turn led to the modern shape of the Middle East, including the successful efforts of the Camp David accords to broker peace between Egypt and Israel, regular United States military aid to Israel and Egypt, and the current close connection between these two states.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Yom Kippur War and Operation Nickle Grass, working paper on Israel’s probable nuclear weapons, New York Times editorial on Israel’s nuclear weapons potential and the Yom Kippur War.

1964 Presidential Election – Candidate Margaret Chase Smith

April 15th, 2015

Margaret_Chase_Smith

1964 was an interesting year in United States Presidential elections, Richard Nixon declined to seek the Republican nomination against the anticipated candidate for the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson, so the Republican party nomination was considered fairly open.  Many individuals tossed in their hats to run but one candidate in particular was unique, Margaret Chase Smith, who decided in January 1964 to make an attempt at the Republican nomination.  Senator Smith came from an established political career, she had begun serving in the House of Representatives in 1940 and served until 1948, when she successfully won a seat in the United States Senate.  Senator Smith remained in the Senate, as a Republican, from 1948 until 1972.  She represented the state of Maine and is particularly remembered as one of the few Senators who stood against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s – she gave a famous speech on the Senate floor denouncing McCarthyism and the Communist witch hunts of the ’50s.

Try_A_Pair_1964

Senator Smith was particularly critical in 1964 because she represented not only the first woman making a serious attempt at the nomination from a major political party but she also represented the moderate wing of the Republican party.  In 1964 that wing of the Republican party openly battled with the more conservative faction supporting Senator Goldwater from Arizona.  The actual nomination convention was highly contentious, with both sides resorting to screaming at each other as they battled for control of the Republican party.  Senator Smith had campaigned in only two states, Maine and Illinois, and in her campaign she had worked hard to avoid normal political activities.  She undertook no major political rallies, conducted no fundraising, and paid her expenses out of pocket.  Her goal was to meet with individuals and rely on direct personal connections.

Smith_Campaign_1964

Senator Smith came in fifth in the Maine primary but came in second in Illinois, which provided her with a total of sixteen delegates for the nomination.  Although her being selected for the candidacy against the Senator Goldwater juggernaut was considered impossible at the Republican convention, Senator Smith attended and stood in the running until Senator Goldwater was nominated successfully.  Senator Smith did break with tradition and refused to release her delegates to vote for Senator Goldwater in the final ballot, so that he would not receive a unanimous nomination from the Republican party.

Despite this she did campaign for him actively during his 1964 run for the Presidency, this period ad has her explaining the Goldwater is not going to chop up Social Security despite rumors to the contrary spreading during the election.

Chase_Smith_President_Button

Had she done the incredible and carried the Republican nomination in 1964, I cannot help but wonder if she might have been able to give Johnson more of a run than Goldwater did.  Goldwater was prone to making off-the-cuff remarks and was overly blunt when dealing with the press, this partially helped to equate Goldwater with extreme (and dangerous) views about United States foreign policy.   Could Smith have overcome popular perceptions of a “woman’s place” in society?  I think she might have been able to do so, when asked in 1948 if it was proper for a woman to run for the Senate, this was her response:

“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”

It may be framed in the words of the period but I like to think Smith might have had a chance in 1964.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Margaret Chase Smith, NPR segment on Margaret Chase Smith, Maine history entry on Margaret Chase Smith’s Presidential run

Presidential Election of 1892 and the People’s Party

April 8th, 2015

Populist-logoIt is 2015 and with several presidential candidates for the 2016 campaign announcing their intentions already in April, it is time to begin my irregular series of short articles this election season to outline moments in the 19th and 20th century when the United States was rocked by third party and independent candidates.  This is to show people that the modern view of politics in the United States, where two parties dominate the system and independent action cannot have any measurable impact, is inaccurate.  Third party political organizations have dominated local elections and been a presence with force in national politics repeatedly in United States history.  Furthermore history is replete with oddballs, independents, and mavericks that successfully tweaked the system.  My main goal in writing this irregular series is to provide a counter point to the idea that often circulates in social media that “a viable third party is needed but impossible to create/vote for/support because Awful Horrible Thing will happen instead.”  My only point in response to that is your predecessors in the past faced the same problem, often in worse political systems, and yet still managed to kick back.

James_Weaver_-_Brady-Handy

Meet James Weaver, third party Presidential Candidate in the 1892 election and nominated by the People’s Party.  The People’s Party was a progressive leftist political party that appeared in the late 1880s from an alliance of southern farmers with midwestern farmers who combined around the idea that gold-backed currency was bad, big business even worse, and tariff protection for industry the devil’s work.  They also rallied behind some other wacky ideas, like:  progressive income tax, the eight hour work day, the direct election of United States Senators, civil service reform, as well as nationalizing the telegraph industry and the railroads, and breaking up large banks.

Some of these crazy ideas you might recognize as now being the law of the land, and others as being concepts being bandied around today by modern leftist progressives.  (Although the idea of nationalizing the transportation industries appears to have fallen in favor in the 21st century, probably due in part to how cheap shipping of goods and personal travel are these days compared to the past.)  Weaver ended up doing surprisingly well in the election, capturing 8.5% of the popular vote, 22 electoral votes, and carrying five states in the election.  He was stomped by the other candidates solidly, but his turnout showed a strong sentiment against the viewpoints of the Democrats who gained an unexpected win in this election cycle.

William-Jennings-Bryan-speaking-c1896

In 1896 and 1900 the Democrats quietly began to absorb some of the platform goals of the People’s Party which, in turn, backed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896.  (Pictured above looking sexy mid-speech at 36 years of age.)

The People’s Party faded after the 1896 election but managed to place Representatives into national office successfully until 1902.  A total of 39 Representatives, 6 Senators, and 11 governors during its period of power served under the banner of the People’s Party.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the People’s Party, the United States Presidential Election of 1892, and James B. Weaver

Packing the Court – the Judical Procedures Reform Bill of 1937

April 6th, 2015

fdr_cigarette

So it is 1936 and you are President Roosevelt, you just won an incredible ass-kicking of a re-election campaign, the country is slowly lumbering towards something resembling economic recovery, but you want to do more.  Beyond that, several critical pieces of legislature that make up part of your legislative reform efforts, commonly known as the New Deal, were up for review by the Supreme Court only a year ago and they got significantly spanked, specifically the Court sharply limits your ability to remove people from appointed offices that disagree with you, shuts down a key piece of bankruptcy protection law that shields debtors from banks, and crushed your National Industrial Recovery Act.  To add further insult to injury all three rulings were read on the same day, 27 May 1935, to increase the public attention and humiliation factor.

Supreme_Court_1932

Now the first option would be to accept these setbacks with quiet dignity and attempt a new method of achieving the same legislative ends.  The problem with that is it would take time, the cooperation of Congress, and would still face the same Supreme Court that was hostile to your earlier efforts.  Alternatively you could take a new approach and attempt to exercise the power that Congress has over the Supreme Court, specifically its power to shape the Supreme Court, including defining how large it was.  Hence Roosevelt’s 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Act, which at its heart allowed the President of the United States to appoint additional judges to the Supreme Court, subject to Congressional approval, beyond the current nine, with a maximum allowable addition of six extra judges.  However there was a caveat, new judges could only be appointed at the rate of one per judge who was older then 70 years and six months of age – i.e. for every “old fuddy judge who doesn’t like the New Deal” you can appoint a new shiny younger judge who will probably be open to the new ideas of the New Deal.

roosevelt fireside

Roosevelt attempted to win the American public to his legislative reform ideas with a fireside chat on 9 March 1937 and Congress took up the legislation for debate, however from the start his idea was not warmly received.  Republican opponents referred to it as an effort to “pack the Court” and key members of the Democratic party, both party bosses and members of Congress, found the bill a distasteful effort by the President to exert undue influence on the Supreme Court.  It was killed in the House, in Committee, and also failed in the Senate due to vigorous opposition from the Republicans.

In the end, the effort failed, however later in 1937 the Court was more open to New Deal legislation and, in general, the Supreme Court’s justices stated that most of the problems with the New Deal legislation they dealt with was due to it being poorly written, and far too broad, rather than conceptual issues.

For those curious about applicability, if that bill was in force today the President would be able to appoint four additional justices, if those slots had not already been filled.

Sources:  Wikipedia article on the Judicial Procedure Reform Act of 1937

Operation Plowshare and Operation Gnome – Atoms for Peace!

March 30th, 2015

nuclear_blast

So it is the 1950s and for the United States the Cold War has been humming along fairly nicely, both the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are building an expanding collection of nuclear weapons, the first hydrogen bomb tests went well, but for the U.S. your government is running into a problem, the citizens are simply not accepting the awesome potential of atomic energy, and specifically atomic weapons, to remake the world into a better, more amazing place.  Instead they keep gripping about the possibility of utter devastation due to a potential nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  So it was decided to put on a series of demonstrations of the fantastic peaceful applications for atomic weapons, mainly in the field of “massive construction projects involving making huge holes suddenly appear in the ground.”  Hence the creation of Operation Plowshare, a major U.S. initiative to develop a series of projects to improve America through the use of controlled peaceful nuclear explosions.

Project_Chariot_plans

An example of an Operation Plowshare sub-project is the idea above, Project Chariot, a plan to use five carefully timed atomic blasts to create a brand new harbor in Alaska for use in trade and settlement.  Concerns about radioactive contamination and environmental damage did not deter this program, what did derail the plan was first concerns that setting of five nuclear weapons in close proximity to each other might be harmful to the local Alaskan native populations living nearby.  More critically though was the problem of cost, building this shiny new harbor would be expensive and the region in Alaska did not really need a new nuclear created harbor.  Most of the ideas considered were not actually tried, such as using atomic weapons to dig channels between underground aquifers in Arizona, or leveling off mountain tops in California for road construction, or my personal favorite, using multiple nuclear weapons to dig a huge trench for a new highway project.

Project_Gnome

However Project Gnome was implemented, a nuclear blast in New Mexico in 1961 aimed at the idea of detonating the weapon inside a huge salt dome.  The plan was the melted salt would retain a great deal of heat from the blast, allowing water to be bumped into the cavity, heated, and steam produced.  This in turn could be used to produce electrical energy from a constructed power plant on-site.  Ideally the system would provide a steady and regular source of extremely low-cost energy and the success could be duplicated in other eligible areas of the country.

The actual plan did not work out as well as hoped, when the weapon was detonated it failed to seal the shaft that had been dug down to get the weapon in position and cracks in the surface from the blast, along with the open shaft, vented radioactive steam into the atmosphere.  This turned off the U.S. population to the idea, although a year later a team sent down to check on the results of the blast confirmed the salt was still hot enough for use in steam production.  The idea though was abandoned, as was Operation Plowshare as a concept by 1977 after numerous additional test blasts to play with other ideas.  (Including an alternative to fracking as a means of natural gas production – rock shattered by water or rock shattered by the power of the ATOM!  What sounds cooler?)

Sources:  Wikipedia article on Project Plowshare and Project Gnome, io9 article on Operation Plowshare

The United States, Iceland, and World War II

March 27th, 2015

IBC_US_Army_Troops_Arriving_In_Reykjavik_January_1942

For the United States the year 1941 was an odd year diplomatically and politically, many within the nation felt that war was coming yet a large minority wished to remain neutral in any upcoming conflict.  As the Soviet Union, Germany, and Great Britain were embroiled in the war there was an odd twilight period when the United States remained effectively out of the conflict but indirectly assisted the Allied powers cause.  Franklin Roosevelt kept edging the United States closer to open conflict with Germany, as well as assisting in the resistance to Japanese expansion, through a series of clandestine activities.  These included an undeclared war with German submarines in the Atlantic and his support for the American Volunteer Group in China (otherwise known as the Flying Tigers.)  One particular activity though that stands out is the United States military occupation of Iceland in July 1941.

Iceland

On 10 May 1940, in an effort to ensure that Iceland did not end up falling to possible German invasion, Great Britain sent 746 Royal Marines to the island to secure it against potential German shenanigans.  The government of Iceland protested this and declared itself neutral in the war but tolerated the British presence and cooperated with it.  This was mainly due to the fact Iceland didn’t have the capacity to actually resist.  Great Britain increased its troop presence on the island, but by July 1941 Great Britain need its troops in Iceland for use in the war but still needed the island nation secured against the Germans.  So on 7 July 1941 the government of Iceland officially “agreed” that its defense should be transferred from Great Britain to the United States.

fdr_cigarette

Although the United States was neutral officially Marines were sent to Iceland to take up its defense.  Furthermore the United States maintained a garrison on the island throughout the war, only departing at the end of the war.  The occupation actually caused hardship for Iceland which had not been in the German war plans until the British intervened, after which point Icelandic ships became a regular target of German submarine attacks.

This intervention is an excellent example of the skill Franklin Roosevelt used in working to contain German aggression without pushing the United States actually into war.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Invasion of Iceland in World War II and the history of Iceland in World War II