Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hornet nests; US Navy Vindicated

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W


Above is the monument celebrating the birthplace of the US Navy in Whitehall.  It is just a small stone on a tiny little plot of grass and backed by a railroad yard fence.  It wasn't even put there by the Navy, but rather by the local American Legion. "Seems downright insulting," I thought.  I'd heard before that the Navy snubbed Whitehall.   I planned to write a snarky blog post about the Navy's behavior.  I planned to compare it to the Navy's shabby treatment of Clive Cussler after he raised the USS Hunley submarine.  Now I changed my mind; why?  Read on.

Before writing that blog I did a little online fact checking.  First I checked the  Clive Cussler  angle.  Some years ago I read Cussler's book The Sea Hunters.  We are big fans of Cussler's novels and of his nonfiction books about NUMA.  In the Sea Hunters he told the story about finding and raising the sumbarine H. L. Hunley, and about how the US Navy snubbed him and grabbed all the credit after the fact.  Well, I searched for that online.  What I found was a hornets nest of controversy.  I'm not sure how many parties to the dispute, but one story said, "After the Hunley was raised, then all hell broke loose."

I found dozens of articles about the controversies on the Internet; all of them giving a different perspective, but none with a comprehensive overview.  I still don't know the whole story but apparently, it involved Cussler, an academic named Spence, the State of North Carolina, the US Navy, archaeologists, divers, museums and God knows who else.  I had been hasty in accepting Cussler's version uncritically.

Next I researched the birthplace of the US Navy.  I found another hornets nest.
In the controversy concerning where exactly the American Navy began there are many contenders: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Whitehall, New York; Beverly, Massachusetts; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire have all made claims to be the "birthplace."  source
In that case, it seems that there are no facts in dispute; only their interpretation.  During the revolution, things on the American side were chaotic to say the least.   Information about what was going on and who was in charge was fragmentary at best.  People were running around and doing all sorts of patriotic things independently, with varying degrees of authorization.  The Continental Congress and George Washington both did what they could to coordinate things but their communications were also fragmentary at best.  It is a miracle that we won.  (By the way, the book I'm currently reading Benedict Arnold's Navy gives a marvelously detailed picture of the chaos.)  Anyhow, the US Navy seems to be trying hard to be diplomatic in the face of these birthplace claims.
For its part, the Navy takes a diplomatic stance on the question, with a statement on its website saying each community "unquestionably" deserves recognition and concluding, "Perhaps it would be historically accurate to say that America's Navy had many birthplaces."  source
Oh well, I regret any snarky thoughts I had about the US Navy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dick, I'm sure you've read the Kenneth Roberts trilogy; Arundel, Rabble in Arms, and Lively Lady, all of which deal with the pre-revolutionary war period--Benedict Arnold, battle of Valcour and how the "navy" started with legalizing "privateers".

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