S— My President Says.

The following is excerpted word for word from a Lonely Planet guidebook.

US currency is used for all transactions over a few dollars. The official currency, the Liberian dollar, only used for small items costing less than US$5

Pavement is generally uneven or nonexistent.

Stay at upmarket hotels if you require a lift or reliable electricity.

Homosexual acts in Liberia are punishable by one year in jail, and the government has floated the idea of making a same-sex relationship a felony crime (punishable with a 10-year prison sentence). LGBT campaigners in the country have also been targets of violence. Needless to say, gay travellers need to be extremely cautious travelling here.

Malaria is endemic and prophylactics are recommended. Typhoid is also relatively common, so get vaccinated and always take care to wash your hands before eating. You will need a valid yellow-fever vaccination certificate in order to enter Liberia. Other vaccinations to look into include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal meningitis and boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and measles.

The tap water in Liberia is not safe to drink. Buy bottled water and use it for everything including brushing your teeth.

Take: Insect repellent; Water filter;

Wear lightweight, breathable clothing, in particular clothing that covers arms and legs to the ankles.

The security situation is somewhat stable, although it’s wise not to walk in Monrovia after dark and be vigilant about staying in secure lodging.

Electric shocks are common in badly wired buildings; wear shoes before plugging in appliances.

Public toilets range from standard toilets (often with a bucket to flush) and squat toilets to holes in the ground, with the latter being more common in rural areas. Always carry toilet paper. Upmarket hotels and restaurants will have Western-style toilets where you may or may not be allowed to flush the paper.

In Monrovia, adequate hospitals are available, but in rural areas you may need to travel for at least a day to the nearest doctor.

Be sure to obtain reliable travel insurance before arrival, including insurance that covers emergency evacuation.

Among the recommended attractions is Monkey Island.  This small archipelago is home to chimpanzees that were evacuated from a hepatitis research lab during the war.

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The Perils of Seafaring 2.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583) had a lot of hard bark on him.  He was what is called in Britain a “West Countryman.”  That is, he came from the jagged bit of southwestern England that juts out toward the Atlantic.  It’s a poor country.  The farmland isn’t very good, the sea is all around, and boys—noble or common–often went to sea.  The better-off often went into politics as well.  His half-brother was Sir Walter Raleigh and his cousin was Sir Richard Grenville. All three ended up dead as the result of “mishaps” at sea. (But not before they had done stuff to make their names ring out on street-corners.)  He got the usual upper-class education, including—comically, given his behavior—a time studying law.  Being “choleric” (i.e. he ran hot), he soon abandoned the law for war in France and Ireland.

While young, he got a taste for overseas empire-building at the expense of the locals.  Essentially, his plan was to seize lands abroad; then to conquer, drive off, or kill the local inhabitants; and then to bring in English settlers.  First he pursued his project in Ireland in the 1560s.  The results were bloody in an extreme.  His ruthless success in Ireland brought him a knighthood, election as a Member of Parliament, and a wide range of important contacts in science, trade, and government.

At the same time as he pursued empire in Ireland, dreams entered his head of even bigger projects in America.  He had become one of the believers in the existence of a Northwest Passage across the top of America to China.  He planned to capture the key point of entry into that passage for Britain.  In practice, this meant establishing a colony on Newfoundland.  The colony would command the entrance to Davis Strait between Greenland and the Canadian mainland, and to whatever lay beyond.[1]  No one really knew.  Over-seas expeditions required ships, supplies, crews: in short a lot of money before they even left port.  Queen Elizabeth I did not oppose such efforts, so long as somebody else paid for them.  Gilbert invested much of his own wealth in the effort, then got some of his family-members to invest as well.[2]

His first expedition sailed into the North Atlantic in November 1578.  Storms kept it from reaching America.  Years passed before Gilbert could raise the money for another expedition.  Irish troubles continually demanded his attention.  He proposed a plan to settle English Catholics in America so that they could practice their faith in freedom, but it failed to win approval.

His second expedition sailed in June 1583, although short of supplies, and reached Newfoundland in August.  He took possession of the territory for England.  Sailing down the coast, Gilbert’s usual bad luck at sea returned.  His largest ship, with most of the supplies, went aground and sank.  Gilbert headed the two surviving ships for home, hoping to return before the winter storms.  In early September, they were caught in a huge, multi-day storm.  Gilbert sat in a chair on the stern of his ship reading a book.  When the other ship approached, Gilbert called out “we are as near to Heaven by sea as by land.”  That night his ship sank with all hands.

Today Gilbert’s dream of an American colony to control the Northwest Passage seems ridiculous.  It was a speculation founded on hope and ignorance.  However, the dream of a Northwest Passage wasn’t any more ridiculous than the beliefs that inspired Columbus to sail west for China.  Gilbert lacked Columbus’s skill as a sailor and his incredible good luck.  Therefore, his dreams and projects ruined him.

Still, the application of “Irish” methods to America, British control of the seas to give it control of world trade, and colonies for religious dissidents all came to pass by-and-by.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newfoundland_%28island%29#/media/File:Newfoundland_map.png

[2] Family and friend investing may seem strange today, but it once was common.  Families rose (or fell) together.

Bully Hayes.

I was in Hawaii on vacation. The wife was reading James Michener’s Hawaii. That reminded me that when I was a kid I read Michener and A. Grove Day, Rascals in Paradise (1957). One chapter was about the “blackbirder” Bully Hayes. Who was he?

William “Bully” Hayes (1827-1877) grew up the son of a tavern-keeper in Cleveland, Ohio, but ran away to sea (OK, the Great Lakes) while still a boy. He shipped from New York for the Far East in March 1853, but arrived in Singapore in July 1853 as the captain. Must have been an interesting voyage. He promptly sold the ship (which he did not own). Between 1853 and 1866, more frauds, voyages, criminal charges, escapes, a ship-wreck, the loss of an ear when caught cheating at cards, several marriages, and an extended tour as a blackface minstrel followed in Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific.

Hayes combined considerable ability as a ship’s captain with ruthlessness and a criminal bent. Oceania in the 1860s and 1870s offered opportunities to such a man. Far to the East, Chile and Peru were expanding the guano-mining industry. (See: White Lung.) In Fiji and in Queensland, Australia, the large-scale plantation of sugar cane and cotton had begun. These all were labor intensive industries under a tropical sun. Atlantic Americans had solved this problem by importing African slaves. Now slavery was being destroyed. What to do? Recruit “indentured servants” on remote Pacific Islands! Sail to some place, lure the locals on board with offers to trade, sail away to Fiji or Australia, force the captives ashore at gun-point, and collect a fee from the plantation owners. Repeat as necessary.[1] Brilliant! In the racist lingo of the time, this was called “blackbirding.” “Bully” Hayes excelled at it.

Between 1866 and 1877, Hayes made a series of voyages through the islands on a series of ships. He recruited labor all over, but also traded in copra and coconuts.   As before, narrow escapes from disaster followed Hayes like his shadow. Ships were wrecked in remote atolls, but he sailed away in home-made boats; he quarreled with business partners, but they disappeared under odd circumstances; British and American navy officers arrested him, but no crewmembers would testify against him; he talked a San Francisco merchant into buying him a new ship, then sailed away with the merchant’s wife still on board. Hayes became a legendary figure among the peoples of the South Pacific. Islanders used to threaten unruly children that Bully Hayes would come for them in the night. Europeans often regarded him as a charming rascal. His crew felt differently: he was called “Bully” for a reason. In March 1877, at Kosrae[2], one of them had had enough. He shot Hayes and threw his body overboard.

Most of what we know about Hayes comes from two sources.

Alfred Restieaux (1832–1911) was an English kid with a taste for adventure. He left England one step ahead of the law; had some adventures in Australia, Peru, and the American West, then “settled down” as a trader in the South Pacific. Here he knew Hayes. He kept a diary

Louis Becke (1855-1913) was an Australian kid with wander-lust. When he was sixteen, he stowed-away on a ship bound for Samoa. He spent the next fifteen years wandering the South Pacific, often working as store-keeper and trader on remote islands. Along the way he crewed for Hayes. Later, he returned to Australia to write short-stories and novels based on his experiences.

Once upon a time, the far Pacific was a frontier just like the American West: a land of opportunity for visionaries, thieves, and refugees from the boredom of ordinary life.

[1] About 60,000 Pacific Islanders were transported to Australia in this fashion.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosrae

There will always be an England.

“There’ll always be an England.”[1] You know why? ‘Cause it’s a country filled with strong-minded flakes, that’s why.

Elizabeth Wiskemann (1899-1971) had a German father and a British mother. She went up to Oxford to study history, then went to grad school there. Her dissertation flunked because it contradicted the argument of one of the readers and her supervisor didn’t have the “cojones” to fight for her. So she settled for tutoring Oxford undergraduates for half the year and travelling throughout Europe the rest of the year. She visited Weimar Berlin a lot, but also travelled throughout Europe. Wiskemann became an ardent critic of Nazi Germany, so the Nazis expelled her in 1936. During the Second World War, she worked for British Intelligence in Switzerland. Here she became the lover of Adam von Trott zu Solz, one of the conspirators who tried to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944. When he left her to return to Germany, he accidentally left behind his gloves. Soon afterward, Von Trott was hanged. She kept the gloves as a momento. After the war she wrote books. When her eye-sight failed, she took her own life.[2]

Sybille Bedford (1911-2006) grew up in Germany and Italy in the Twenties and Thirties.   She got to know many British and French writers on the Riviera. Actually, she was German and only became British through education and a marriage of convenience with a gay British man who married her to prevent her from being sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis. (Her discovery that she was a lesbian after her first night with a clumsy, self-absorbed man is hilarious.) Later, she became a writer who reported on British criminal cases, wrote novels, a biography of her friend Alduous Huxley, and a couple of highly-deceptive memoirs.[3]

Patrick Leigh-Fermor (1915-2011) had no talent for coloring inside the lines. He managed to be expelled from a series of “progressive” schools in interwar Britain. Then he failed to gain entry to the British equivalent of West Point. One school report card described him as “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness.” In December 1933 he set out to walk from Holland to Istanbul, Turkey. In January 1935 he arrived, having travelled on foot through Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania. Later, he fought in a Greek civil war, then served as a British Commando in German-occupied Crete. After the war, he became a travel writer.[4]

Eric Newby (1919-2006) got a good education, but never went near a university. After a couple of years in advertising, he signed on as an apprentice seaman on the square-rigged grain clipper “Moshulu.”[5] In 1938-1939 he made the passage from Belfast to Australia to London in the “last grain race” before the outbreak of the Second World War. He joined the Commandos after the war started, got captured on a raid, escaped from the prison camp, met his future wife, got re-captured, spent the rest of the war in a prison camp in Germany, went into the dress trade, got bored, went for a short walk in the Hindu Kush, and became a travel writer.[6]

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qhLPWcm-0w

[2] See: The Europe I Saw (1968). Her description of a sailing trip along the Croatian coast led me and my wife to a similar adventure.

[3] See: Jigsaw (1989); Quicksands (2005)

[4] See: A Time of Gifts (1977); Between the Woods and the Water (1986); and see also W. Stanley Moss, Ill Met by Moonlight (1950), which recounts the 1944 kidnapping of the German commander of the Crete garrison by Leigh Fermor and Moss. You can’t make up this stuff. Or: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TKW_9uUwa0

[5][5] Now a floating restaurant on the Philadelphia waterfront. “How are the mighty fallen.” 2 Samuel, 1: 27.

[6] See: The Last Grain Race (1956); A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958); Love and War in the Apennines (1971); and Learning the Ropes (1991).

Tales of the South Atlantic 1.

While a great deal of attention has focused on the “Mayflower Compact” as a foundational text in American government, historians have paid much less attention to the many pirate compacts.[1] In the first half of the 18th Century, there were an estimated 2,500 pirates at work in the Atlantic and Caribbean at any given time. Most were single men in their twenties who had “run” from a conventional merchant ship or the Royal Navy.[2] At the beginning of any voyage, the pirates drew up agreed terms of service. These defined who had what authority, how the profits of a voyage would be divided, and how discipline would be enforced. As piracy became more dangerous and less profitable as the 18th Century wore on, it seems likely that many men drifted back into the conventional merchant marine. The seaports of British North America—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston—were filled with sailors who resented hierarchy and hated the “press gangs” of the Royal Navy. Did the experience of some of these men with drafting agreements for an egalitarian management of a “wooden world”[3] filter into the rhetoric of shore-bound pamphleteers and tavern table-pounders?

People trying to escape oppression are easy to understand. It’s a little more difficult to comprehend those who find themselves hunted by liberty. Nevertheless, such people do exist. His beliefs made Zephaniah Kingsley, Sr. an outcast in his adopted land, America.[4] A merchant who had migrated from England to Charleston, South Carolina, Kingsley was both a Quaker and a Tory. When the American Revolution ended in British defeat, Kingsley and his family rebuilt their lives in Canada. Eventually, his son, Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr. (1765-1843) took command of the family merchant ship trading to the Caribbean. In 1802 the experienced merchant captain embarked on the slave trade. This turned out to be a very dodgy decision. In addition to the perils of disease to be encountered on the African coast, Europe was at war. French or Spanish navy ships or privateers savaged the British merchant navy. Slaves were a precious cargo, for they might be sold as readily in Haiti or Cuba as in Jamaica. Once the Napoleonic Wars had ended, British reformers began to press for an end to the slave trade. Kingsley took refuge in Spanish Florida, where both slavery and the slave trade remained legal.

Along the way, Kingsley bought an attractive Senegalese slave named Anna Jai, freed her, and made her his common-law wife. Kingsley recognized her intelligence and ability, so she became his business partner as well as life partner. They added plantations to their other trade and prospered.

However, in 1821 Spain transferred Florida to the United States. As a Tory refugee turned Spanish Catholic, Kingsley didn’t like his prospects. American laws would not recognize his children’s rights of inheritance. Moreover, Kingsley, while a slave trader and slave owner, was not a racist. He criticized segregation laws for imposing “degradation on account of complexion.” In the 1830s he founded a colony in Haiti, the only free black country in the Americas and a source of terror to American slave-owners. He sent manumitted slaves to start the colony and employed indentured free workers.

Like many another thing in Haitian history, Kingsley’s colony came to a bad end. He died before it had taken root. His son died at sea. The Civil War ended slavery.

[1] Marcus Rediker, Outlaws of the Atlantic: Slaves, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail (2014).

[2] See B.R. Burg, Sodomy and the Perception of Evil in the 17th Century Caribbean (1983).

[3] I stole the phrase from N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (1986).

[4] Daniel L. Schafer, Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World: Slave Trader, Plantation Owner, Emancipator (2014).

The Islamic Brigades 1.

Why do young Muslim men go to fight in foreign wars? The “Afghan Arabs” were a feature of the resistance to the Soviet Union, then of Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States. Arabs went to fight in Chechnya in small numbers, and now in Syria in larger numbers.[1] What draws or drives these young people to take up arms for a non-national cause?

There is a sensitive discussion of one case in the New York Times.[2] Islam Yaken (1993- ) grew up in a middle-class family in Cairo. Conservatism and modernity co-existed in his family. His mother and sisters wear the veil, yet his parents sent him to a French-language private school, and then on to university. Like many young American men of his age, Yaken fell in love with body-building. He got “ripped” by any standard. He imagined himself as a future fitness instructor. Yet he had not abandoned religious faith.[3]

Obstacles barred his path. For one thing, the conservative cast of contemporary Islam disparages physical pleasure.[4] Both sex and body-building are physical pleasures. Yaken Islam desired women, even talking of emigrating to find a career and a “hot” girlfriend.[5] For another thing, in Egypt or America, it is hard to turn personal training into a decent livelihood. Yaken failed to break into an established gym, and had to make-do with private lessons in smaller gyms.

Leaving Egypt for greener pastures entered his mind.[6] Go where? Make a start how? The answers seemed impossible. A return to the conservative religious values in which he had been raised also entered his mind. Like the 17th Century English Protestant writer John Bunyan, he excoriated himself for “sins” that others would hardly notice. He grew a beard. Still Shaitan tormented him—in the form of girls in Levis and ballet flats.

In early 2012, when Islam Yaken was 19 years old, the Muslim Brotherhood came out in the open as a result of the fall of the Mubarak regime. After years of repression by the Sadat and Mubarrak governments, the Brotherhood had survived. Apparently, they had triumphed over their enemies. Their intransigent defense of strict conservative religious doctrines—something to believe in when secular society offered nothing to believe in—may have seemed like an explanation. They were in full throat. Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Yacoub preached before huge crowds of followers in a Cairo mosque. Yaken Islam became a follower. Religious commitment did nothing to assuage the terrors that haunted him. If anything, they worsened.

In July 2013 the Egyptian military regime re-asserted itself. A heavy hand fell on the Muslim Brotherhood. By August 2013 Yaken Islam had decided for jihad in Syria. He went to Turkey, then crossed the border to join the ISIS fighters. For a year-and-a-half he has been a soldier, physical training instructor, media personality for ISIS. He has found “a life free of [sins].., a greater cause, an Islamic state.”

He was young, foolish, sexually frustrated, living in a puritanical society with little economic growth or political freedom. All true, but not everyone seeks the easy path. There is a lot of will-power and striving in a six-pack.

[1] For example, there are at least 600 Egyptians fighting with ISIS, probably many more than that.

[2] Mona El-Naggar, “From Cairo Private School to Syria’s Killing Fields,” NYT, 19 February 2015.

[3] He used a mat in his room both for prayer and for crunches.

[4] “Suppose a young man falls in love with a girl in college. He doesn’t touch her or talk to her or send her messages. He doesn’t even look at her. That’s still fornication!”—Sheikh Muhammad Yacoub, video imam.

[5] The attitude toward women is not so different from that of many American men of his age (regardless of generation).

[6] Apparently this is common talk among young people. If it ever starts, the tide of Egyptian boat people will vastly out-number the Libyan one.

What God abandoned these defended

Soldiers who fight for pay, rather than for a cause, are generally seen as disreputable. For example, American Patriots hated Hessian “mercenaries.” In contrast, idealists who go to war eventually command a degree of respect. One recent estimate has been that 16,000 Islamist enthusiasts have flocked to the black banner of ISIS. Clearly, ISIS represents a cause worth fighting for in the minds of many young Muslims, just as did the Spanish Republic in the 1930s for many young leftists.

In 1992 the American military began spinning-off many of its logistical and support functions to private contractors. (See: Cry of the Halliburton.) The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq led to a huge increase in the number of contractors in the combat areas: at their peak 155,000 in Iraq and 207,000 in Afghanistan. These numbers equaled or exceeded the number of US troops present. About as many contractors have been killed in the two wars (6,800) as have US military personnel (6,838). The use of the contractors has raised several concerns.[1]

On the one hand, there is the venerable anxiety over “waste, fraud, and abuse” (WFA).  The US paid out $200 billion for “contractors.” In 2008 Congress created a Commission on Wartime Contracting to search out WFA. Inevitably, it found many instances of over-billing and under-performance. Its estimates of spending lost to waste or fraud range between one-seventh and almost one-third of money spent, depending on what they were looking at.[2]

On the other hand, there have been concerns over unjustified violence visited on civilian populations by armed contractors. The case of Blackwater guards who shot-up Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, killing 17 Iraqi civilians, has led to the conviction of one guard for murder and three others for manslaughter.

Still, contractors may be used in the current unpleasantness in Iraq and Syria. President Obama has pledged that there aren’t going to be American combat troops in Iraq. However, no one in the American government wants to totally cede the ground to Iranian advisors either. Using security contractors might offer a way to square this circle. Many of them are veterans of the US or other military forces. They could train Syrian “moderates” (to the extent that anyone can find some) and Kurdish immoderates. They could even be grouped into small combat units to directly engage ISIS forces. Backed up by US air strikes, they might make a useful contribution to the war without a name.

Contractors offer an attractive solution to several sorts of problems. First, having contractors handle logistics, maintenance, and other support functions allows the US military to concentrate its troops on war-fighting. The number of contractors can be expanded and contracted rapidly to meet the circumstance. The alternative would be to maintain a permanent large force of regular troops to handle these missions in both wartime and in peace time.

Second, nobody but their families care if they get killed. Their wounded don’t go to Walter Reed Hospital. They don’t get veterans benefits. The names of their dead don’t get printed in agate type at the bottom of an inside column in the New York Times and their faces don’t get broadcast in respectful silence on the PBS NewsHour. There isn’t going to be a Monument to the Fallen Contractor on the Washington Mall anytime soon.

[1] “Paid boots on the ground,” The Week, 14 November 2014, p. 11.

[2] The Iraq War cost at least $1.1 trillion and the long-term price may run as high as $3 trillion. Since the war itself offers an example of WFA, I’m not sure that getting nickel-and-dimed by private contractors should be our first area of concern.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War