Friday, January 6, 2017

Recent Reads

Stacy Schiff The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem (Little, Brown & Co., 2015).  My wife bought this in an airport on our Connecticut research trip a couple months back to while away the hours cramped in economy class.  I've always been interested in the history of this tragic episode and I've read many books about this advancing many theories including ergot poisoning causing hallucinations (pretty well disproved) and the PTSD among the girls who survived Indian attacks in Maine and moved to Salem (actually modern Danvers).  This book is a very long (496 pages) account that makes all previous works seem superficial by comparison.  If there is a preserved aspect of the incidents and persons involved not in the book, I can't imagine what they are.
She doesn't advance any particularly new theory; she does a good job of discussing all of what I consider the plausible theories: PTSD, Puritan introspective obsession about whether they were saved or damned; political struggles over the change of government after the Glorious Revolution; young girls (among the least powerful white inhabitants of Puritan New England suddenly given power of life and death).  The similarities to the McCarthy era and the 1980s child sexual abuse trials are obvious, except that some of the McCarthy era "victims" were truly Communists and some of the 1980s trial likely involved child abuse before layers of therapist-manufactured memories and prosecutor childhood problems created swamps of uncertainty.

Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates (Sentinel, 2015).  This is a great adventure story in places.  Most European governments chose to pay tribute to the Barbary States to keep their merchant ships safe and their crews not enslaved, even though they had navies that could have stopped it.  The U.S. finally said enough and destroyed Barbary pirate power through military force with both naval attack and an American diplomat with ten sailors and Marines organizing a mercenary Arabic army that crossed 500 miles of Sahara, captured the fortress town of Derne, which scared Tripoli's chief crook into a negotiated settlement.  The rationale behind the Barbary States was that non-Muslims could be enslaved at will, and venturing into the Mediterranean Sea or even the Atlantic made you a legitimate target for jihad.  Does any of this sound familiar?

There are some rousing stories such as Stephen Decatur's nearly suicidal mission to destroy the captured USS Philadelphia before Tripoli could turn it into a warship; acts of heroism under fire that should make every American proud.  What finally stopped this Muslim piracy?  First U.S. intransigence, then European imperialism in North Africa.  The Muslim governments demonstrated that they weren't civilized enough to play with adults and paid the price.

1 comment:

Will said...

Our first war, IIRC. Obviously, we learned nothing from it...