December 19th, 2016



Richard Snow first took an interest in Monitor and Virginia as a kid, partly because both were much easier to draw than your ship of the line.  (Try it: where do you run the spanker topping-lift?)  That, and a few other things, prompted him to write Iron Dawn:  The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History, this afternoon's Book Review No. 26.

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I commend, though, the post-battle chapter, "Hawthorne Visits the Future."  Yes, as in Nathaniel of "Gray Champion" and such light reading as The House of the Seven Gables and Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne, Mr Snow suggests, "saw forward to twentieth-century naval warfare," including (now Hawthorne's words) "the armament of which is to act entirely beneath the surface of the water, so that, with no other external symptoms than a great bubbling and foaming, and gush of smoke, and belch of thunder out of the yeasty waves ..."   Torpedo, Los! And Hawthorne might even have gotten this prediction more right than wrong.  "Human strife is to be transformed from the heart and personality of man into cunning contrivances of machinery, which by-and-will fight out our wars with only the clank and smash of iron, strewing the field with broken engines, but damaging no one's little finger except by accident."  Not true of the dreadnaughts, not true of the submarines, not true of the aviators, not true of the people on the receiving end of cruise missile and drone strikes.  But even a Hawthorne could not anticipate the damage to the psyches of the people whose little fingers help steer the drones ...

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)