Archive for March, 2007

History Books

BooksI’ve got a couple questions that I’ll hopefully have an answer for by this weekend.  Stay tuned for those.  In the meantime I thought I’d share a little secret for all you avid readers of history.  Its called the History Book Club.  Now, I know what you’re all thinking, “Great, he’s trying to rope me into the Columbia House of academia.  How many free books does he get if I sign my life away?”  But its not like that, honest.  If you sign up for the History Book Club you get four books, any in their catalog, for $1 each (plus S&H).  That’s right!  Just $1 each (plus S&H)!  But wait, if you buy a fifth book, you get it at 50% off (plus S&H).  But that’s not all!  You’ll also receive this handsome attache’ absolutely free!  And there’s nothing more to buy…ever!  That’s right folks, you get four books from our extensive catalog for $1 each, 50% off the regular club price of a fifth book, and a free attache’ tote (plus S&H) with nothing more to buy….ever!

This is a really good deal.  The only catch is that you need to be sure to cancel the monthly pick or it will show up in your mailbox and you’ll be charged.  But since there’s nothing more to buy….ever! you can simply cancel your membership as soon as your books arrive. I have been a member about four seperate times and have built quite a library, much of which I have not yet read.  I’ve become something of a book fiend which is ironic since in my younger days I was a master of passing classes without having read the material.  Weird how things work out.

Anyway, if you’re looking to expand your own library the History Book Club is a good way to do it.  If you need any suggestions on good history related books, I might have a few ideas.  Give me a topic, I’ll give you a book.  In case you were wondering, the four books I ordered this last time were as follows:

The Wizard of Menlo Park     Team of Rivals 

    The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid     The World Undone


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CincinnatusThis was question asked by my professor, not a reader.  A reader has proposed a question and I do intend to answer it soon, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime here is the answer to the above question, which was one of my assignments.

To me the greatest Roman was Cincinnatus. Not only for what he did for Rome, but for being the inspiration and role model of a great leader that would follow over 2000 years later.

In the very early days of the Republic, Cincinnatus had served as consul, but was really just a farmer at heart. He was known for his simplicity and virute and when crisis befell Rome, the Aequi and Volscians were threatening the city, the Senate pleaded with him to accept their appointment of him as dictator to save the city. Knowing this would mean the sacrifice of his farm and the possibility of starvation for his family, he answered duty’s call. The invaders were repelled and order restored.

With legally obtained dictatorial powers, he could have relatively easily refused to relinquish them. But being the quintessential virtuous Roman, he willingly gave up power and returned to his humble farm.

Similarly, in the late 18th century, George Washington would be the unanimous choice for President of the newly created United States. Many wanted to make him the king, but he refused such a title or its powers. He reluctantly left his farm at Mt. Vernon to do what he felt was his duty to lead the country through its crucial formative years. After two terms as President, there were no limits then, he more than willingly laid aside the mantle of power to return to his beloved Mt. Vernon. Cincinnattus was greatly admired by Washington and provided the model for a virtuous Republican leader 2000 years in the future.

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Any Questions?My first college (junior college) history professor would always end a discussion with today’s title.  And now I pose it to you, the reader.  Any questions?  I promise it won’t take me months to answer like Josh’s did.  Well, I don’t promise, but I’ll try real hard.  So…….?

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I’ve noticed something semi-interesting while checking out the stats for this blog.  WordPress tracks how many visits I get and how many times a particular post is viewed.  For a while my post on Hamilton vs. Jefferson was getting a lot of hits, and recently my Essentially What Ended the Cold War post has been a popular read.  This is kind of funny because that post was a joke.  Hopefully, I haven’t mislead some poor high school researcher into thinking Rocky Balboa won the Cold War with his dramatic defeat of Ivan Drago.  Of course, to deny that that had any impact on the outcome would be foolhardy, but won it single-handedly, they may be a slight overstatement.

WordPress also tracks words that were typed into a search engine that led to my site.  If my powers of deduction are as sharp as I think they are, it appears that someone somewhere in this great land had assigned a paper on the differences between the aforementioned Hamilton and Jefferson followed by an assignment on the final days of the Cold War.  I’ve even had a few commenters say they were going to use my blog as a source!  If you’re the one conemplating such an action, and you’re reading this right now, I would suggest you rethink this plan.  I don’t know how authoratative “Some Guys Blog” will look in your bibliography.  But otherwise, best of luck.

Anyway, just a couple of observations I’ve observed after careful analysis of this humble blogs vital stats.  Glad I could be helpful where I was and hopefully I’ll continue to provide useful and amusing historical facts and analysis.  If not, feel free to leave intelligently scathing comments, unlike the dude that commented on this post who apparently didn’t read the title before complaining.

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Ancient Rome: An Exam

Caesar AugustusAs you may have noticed, my current class on Ancient Rome has not been a goldmine of postable material.  I don’t have a lot of writing assignments, just a multiple choice weekly quiz.  That wouldn’t make for very compelling blogging.  However, I did have my mid-term last week, which consisted of four essay questions.  I present those to you now.

 But before I do, a funny, or at least mildly amusing, story about the exam.  I have until the end of each Sunday to finish my quizes and exams for the week.  I’ve found the texts for this class to be pretty dry and less than engaging, so I rarely complete the readings for each week.  All the quizes are open book and/or note, so on the Sunday the test is due to be finished, I’ll look at the questions and then skim the book and the internet for the answer.  I’ve gotten all B’s so far in this manner.  Well, Sunday I logged in and clicked on the exam link only to discover that this was the week of the mid-term.  Instead of about 25 multiple choice questions, there were four essay questions, each requiring an answer 300 to 500 words in length.  Long story short, the test took me a lot longer than I had expected as I had to cram some major research into a very short period of time.  A couple of the questions were pretty easy, as they dealt with one specific event.  Others called for me to discuss the developement of things over time, a much more difficult thing to research in the little time I had.  When I finished, I wasn’t too confident.  I didn’t think I’d completely bombed it, but wasn’t sure if I had pulled off the B which is crucial since my work will only pay for my classes if I finish with at least a B.  I got my results today.  I got a 94 out of 100.  That’s an A in case you didn’t know. This is not going to be good for my study habits.  Anyway, here’s the exam, my answers, and the professors responses.

Question 1 (Worth 25 points)

Discuss the development of Roman religious and family values and how they were impacted by the introduction of Greek culture and philosophy into Roman society after 200 BC.

ESSAY SUBMISSION:  Family and religious life was very important to the Roman. Marriage was primarily an institution which had as its purpose the continuing of the family line, the passing on of moral characteristics and the honoring of the ancestors. The family was ruled by the paterfamilias, the oldest living male of the family, who headed the household and had absolute authority of everyone in it, including that of life and death. The household would include the paterfamilias’ sons and their wives and children. The sons of the paterfamilias’ sons would marry, but it was rarely for love. Marriages were typically arranged affairs and a loving relationship was believed best to be cultivated over time afterward. The wife was subordinate to the husband. The husband had control over his own family only, not all members of the household, which was the right reserved for the paterfamilias. Divorce, adultery and other practices that damaged the family were looked down upon, as was infertility. However, as Helleniztion of the culture increased, the family unit began to deteriorate. Divorce became more acceptable and marriages without children became increasingly more common and acceptable.In addition to the worship of ancestors in the home, Roman religion was varied. In the early days of the Republic it owed much of its tradition to Etruscan mythology. The gods of this mythology were not personified like those of the Greeks and there worship involved many ceremonies and sacrifices. After the conquest of Greece, as Rome became more Hellenized, the Greek gods began to be integrated into Roman religion, not in a direct sense, but in syncretization to Roman gods. For example, the Roman ruler of the gods Jupiter is associated with the Greek ruler of gods, Zeus.


Good answer.

Points earned on this question: 25

Question 2 (Worth 25 points)Describe and discuss the factors that lead to the Roman Revolution of 133-31 BC.

ESSAY SUBMISSION:  The Roman Revolution of 133-31 BC was the beginning of the end for the Republic. Economic problems had been plaguing the Republic for years due to the almost constant war-making and conquests that had taken place in prior centuries. The Republics borders were burgeoning, but at what cost? At that time peasants had made up most of the foot soldiers in the Roman army. As the wars continued to rage and they were kept from their homes, those homes and farms would often fall into the hands of others, usually the wealthy. Upon returning from battle, they would find themselves landless and without work. The economic landscape was becoming increasingly unbalanced and without a thrifty peasantry from which to form an army, the Republic was in danger of weakening what had been one of its greatest strengths, the army. Reforms were needed.In 133 Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune and though he did not fit the profile of a revolutionary, having come from a very wealthy and prestigious family, he would set in motion reforms that would foster jubilation among the poorer classes, and anger among the wealthy. He proposed land reforms that would put a cap on the amount of public land a person or family could possess. The superfluous land would than be parceled and distributed to the lower classes. Since many Senators were the ones who now possessed these disputed public lands, Tiberius knew that his measure would have difficulty getting voted through the Senate, so he took it directly to the people. The Senate tried to get Marcus Octavius, a fellow tribune with Tiberius, to block its passage, but Tiberius had him deposed. Tiberius then angered the Senate even more when he ran for the tribune for a second consecutive time, breaking the annual tradition. This act coupled with the fact that the three-man commission to administer the land reforms consisted of Tiberius, his brother Gaius, and his father-in-law lead the Senate to call a meeting to discuss Tiberius’ attempt for a second tribune run. At the meeting factions for and against Tiberius broke into a fist fight. Soon the anti-Tiberius faction, lead by Publius Scipio Nasica, marched to where Tiberius was and killed him and 300 of his followers.


The death of the Gracchi introduced violence into the Roman political process that would eventually lead to the fall of the Republic.

Points earned on this question: 22

Question 3 (Worth 25 points)Discuss the causes, conduct and results of the Second Punic War.

ESSAY SUBMISSION:  The Second Punic War officially began with Hannibal’s sacking of the city of Saguntum. The city was far south of what even Rome declared as its northern most border, in Hispania, but was under the protection of Rome. This was probably due to the fact that the area was rich in silver. Rome had sent an envoy to Hannibal warning him to leave the city alone. Hannibal was insulted by this Roman meddling in his sphere of influence. Add to this that the Romans and Carthaginians had been at war no more than twenty-three years before this and that, according to legend, Hannibal had pledged to his farther, Hamilcar Barca, an undying hatred for Rome and the tensions were clearly high between the two sides. Hannibal attacked Saguntum in 218, but it wasn’t until about a year later that Rome finally responded demanding Hannibal’s surrender. He refused.His first move was the now famous trek across the Alps, with his war elephants, to invade Italy on their doorstep in hopes of fracturing Rome’s allies away from her. Hannibal lost many of his men and most of his elephants on the journey, but still won tremendous victories in Italy, most notably at Cannae where his army killed over 50,000 Romans while losing only 6,000 of his own men. Despite this and other major victories, Hannibal lacked the men and equipment to force surrender from Rome itself and the war dragged on for sixteen years.While doing well in Italy, Carthage was having more difficulty in other theaters. Rome had expanded the war into Hispania which prevented Hasdrubal Barca, Hannibal’s brother, from sending reinforcements. Eventually, Hasdrubal was forced to retreat into Italy and was finally killed in battle. Fighting also went on in Sicily where the Romans held sway with relative little difficulty.

After forcing Hasdrubal out of Hispania, a Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio, better known as Scipio Africanus, took the fight to Carthage. He invaded the African coast which forced Hannibal, still unable to decisively defeat Rome or splinter her allies, to return home. Scipio and Hannibal faced off in the Battle of Zama where Hannibal was defeated.

The war ended Carthage as a significant threat to Rome. It had military limits imposed on it and when it did try to raise an army fifty years later to defend itself from Numidian encroachments on its land, Rome once again crushed it. The results were quite the opposite for the victor. Rome would become the undisputed ruler of the Mediterranean and would continue to grow in power.


Good answer.

Points earned on this question: 25

Question 4 (Worth 25 points)Discuss the development of the Roman Army from its early days as a citizen militia to the professional armies of the 1st century BC.

ESSAY SUBMISSION:  The Roman army at its peak was one of the most powerful military forces the world has ever known. Though it was always a cornerstone of the Roman way of life and political culture, it was not static in its makeup or constitution. It changed with the times, just as Rome itself underwent changes. Before the Republic the legio were conscripted and the Greek phalanx was the preferred method of battle. From the earliest days of the Republic, the army was made up only of Roman citizens who could afford to purchase their own equipment, much like the hoplites of Greece. Servius Tullius instituted a census in the 5th Century and the people of Rome were divided into classes during that time period, according to wealth, and it stands to reason that the army was divided into corresponding “classes” also. The wealthiest had the best equipment, armor, shields, spears, and so forth, while the lowest class might be armed with only a sling. Serving was an honor and a duty and the wealthiest often served the most as they had the most to lose if Rome were to be conquered. Enlistments were usually shorter than they would be in the late Republic. An army would be raised for a campaign, and then released to go back home for the growing season. As the wars of the Republic began to expand and the borders began to widen, longer enlistments were required and men would sometimes be in service for twenty years or more.At the end of the second century BC, Gaius Marius would institute reforms that would transform the army into a large standing professional army. There were many poor and unemployed citizens who likely had served in the army before, only to return home from a years long campaign to find their land had been usurped. The Marian reforms looked to make this group into a standing professional army whose equipment could be provided by the state. In addition, all Italian provinces were granted full citizenship, which created a larger pool of men from which to create a large standing army, as well as a larger tax base to help finance it.


As a result of the Marian reforms the new legionaries looked to their commanders for loot and retirement benefits and their loyalty was to the commander not to the state.

Points earned on this question: 22

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Woodrow WilsonOK, this answer has been way too long in coming.  My utmost apologies.  Without further adieu, the third and final part of Josh’s question, originally posed way back it November (yikes!).

Ever since George Washington’s Farewell Address, the US had maintained a policy of mostly keeping out of European affairs, so long as they remained in Europe.  So, when the Great War broke out in 1914, it wasn’t too surprising that the United States remained on the sidelines.  For the most part.  Some Americans, feeling the call of duty, joined the Canadian armed forces and in 1916 the French deployed a fighter squadron called the Lafayette Escadrille that was composed of mostly American pilots.  But the official position of the American government was one of neutrality.  President Woodrow Wilson was an idealistic man and offered to mediate between the two sides, but neither took him up on his offer.  They had their heads full of visions of conquest and glory.

Looking back to WWI through the lens of 2007, it would appear to us a foregone conclusion that the US would eventually enter the war on the side of the Allies.  However, that is not exactly the case.  Though the earliest European settlers of America had been British, and many more British emigrated after the Revolution, the country had had a huge influx of German and Irish immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century.  The Irish have never been what you would call buddy-buddy with their British cousins, less so in the early 20th century.  Americans of German decent at that time were likely not so far removed from the Old World that they wouldn’t still have friends and relatives fighting for the Central Powers.  So, early on public opinion was not so solidly pro-British or Allies.  However, the Germans made three major mistakes that would change that.

 The first was unrestricted submarine warfare.  At the outbreak of the war, Wilson was counting on America’s neutrality to guarantee it freedom to trade with all belligerents.  The Atlantic would be an open business.  However, the British had other plans.  With their superior navy they blockaded Germany’s ports to all traffic, neutrals included.  This put quite a crimp in the free flow of trade Wilson was hoping for.  He protested to London, but there was practically very little he could do short of declaring war, which he absolutely wouldn’t.  The British and their allies, never missing a beat, were now in a position to be the near exclusive trading partners with the US.  Obviously this stuck in Germany’s craw.  They responded with unrestricted submarine attacks on merchant shipping.  In the early days of the war, submarine warfare was quite civil.  A merchant ship would be stopped, the crew removed, and then the ship sunk.  For obvious reasons, this was not having the desired affect on the British, of cutting off their food supply, as it were.  Unrestricted submarine warfare can best be described like this:  see boat, sink boat, celebrate to the swinging sounds of David Hasselhof (Germans love David Hasselhof).  OK, I made that last part up.  After a cruise liner, the Lusitania, was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915, killing 128 Americans, the British were sure Wilson would declare war.  However, he instead protested vehemently to Germany on the illegality of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the Germans ceased the practice…until 1917.  By that time, Germany was in dire straits.  With the free flow of munitions from America to Britain the Bosch were in danger of being out gunned.  It wasn’t so much that the American munitions peddlers didn’t want to sell their wares to Germany, they simply couldn’t due to the British blockade.  With the resumption of their harsh submarine tactics the Germans realized that America would stand idly by for only so long before declaring war, however they grossly miscalculated the time it would take to get enough doughboys across the pond to have an impact on the Western Front. 

A second mistake Germany made was the use of sabotage.  As we’ve noted, Germany was fairly perturbed that though the US was technically neutral and free trade with both sides, most, if not all, of its trade was with the Allies.  Another way they attempted to stifle this was through sabotage in the US itself.  Probably the largest act was on a munitions dump in New Jersey known as Black Tom.  There were about 200 incidents of German sabotage in the US during the war and the real-life spectre of German agents running around in picklehaubs along the Eastern seaboard blowing things up was enough to start to sway public opinion.

The third mistake the Germans made occurred south of the the border, our border.  British intelligence had intercepted a communique from the German Foreign Secretary Artur Zimmerman to his ambassador to Mexico in Mexico City.  Known as the Zimmerman Telegram, the note instructed the ambassador to approach the Mexican government on the possibility of a Mexican-German military alliance should the US declare war on Germany.  Germany would assist Mexico with arms and funds if they would stage an invasion of the American southwest.  Germany would also assist Mexico in reclaiming the land lost in the Mexican-American war.  Small places like Texas and California.  Tensions between Mexico and the US were already high.  The neighbor to the South was already in the midst of revolution and political instability and General John “Black Jack” Pershing had been chasing Poncho Villa back and forth across the border for months.  Despite the tension, the plan was infeasible and quixotic.  Mexico was in no position, as per the aforementioned revolutionary activity, to make war on the US and Germany could promise all the guns and money it wanted, but how were they going to get them to Mexico?  The British blockades weren’t letting anything in, and they certainly weren’t going to let anything out.  The Huns were most definitely desperately grasping at straws.

The Zimmerman Note was the last straw.  The British turned it over to the US in February of 1917 and by April Wilson had asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany to make “the world safe for democracy.”  War could no longer be avoided.  Also playing a part in Wilson’s decision was the fact that Imperial Russia was now out of the Allied camp, and indeed no longer existed.  The Bolsheviks had taken over and made peace with Germany.  Even if the Tsar still had been in power, its unlikely this would have been a sticking point for Wilson as public opinion would likely have forced him to the same conclusion.

By June of 1917 there were 14,000 US troops in Europe under the command of Pershing.  In eleven months there would be over a million.  Six months after that, on November 11th, 1918, the War to End All Wars, that began with the assassination of an Austrian nobleman (who was commissioning a symphony in C) that claimed more than 9,000,000 lives, that redrew the maps of Europe and the Middle East, that would send echos nearly 100 years into the future was over.  The document that was supposed to mark a new era for mankind, the Treaty of Versailles, would leave a devastating legacy that would lead, a mere 21 years hence, to an even greater conflict.  But that is a post for another day.

 (P.S.  Bonus points to whoever can pick out the obscure song reference in that last paragraph.)

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