Book Review: Miracles and Massacres

MiraclesAndMassacresby Timothy Lane11/24/15
US history is full of incidents that are little-known today. Some are heroic, some are important, and some are regrettable or even disgraceful. Glenn Beck, who believes Americans need to know their history, presents 12 such events in this book. One should note that many of the scenes are based on known events, but he imagines how they might have gone.

He starts with Jack Jouett, who overheard that the infamous dragoon Banastre Tarleton was about to raid Charlottesville, and its most famous local plantation (Monticello), in order to seize Thomas Jefferson (and, while they were at it, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee among others). Fortunately, Jouett got to Monticello in time for Jefferson and his guests to evade “Tarleton’s quarter”.

Beck follows with the story of Shays’s rebellion in Massachusetts, which helped demonstrate the need for a stronger constitution than the Articles of Confederation. Next comes the Virginia ratification convention, providing key support (though technically New Hampshire was the 9th vote needed to put it into effect) after a heated dispute against Henry’s anti-Federalists — but with the price of needing a Bill of Rights.

Next comes the Tripolitanian War, and especially William Eaton’s epic — the march from Cairo to Derna that led to the capture of Tripoli’s second largest city. Unfortunately, the US chose to ransom the prisoners as the price for peace; it would take another decade before the Barbary Pirates were finally completely deprived of American tribute.

Beck follows that with the long dispute between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (working with Nicola Tesla) over electric power, and in particular whether direct or alternating current would be used. One of the key disputes would be over supplying the Chicago world’s fair, a subject that has already come up here.

Next comes the story of Wounded Knee. Beck goes into considerable detail there about the lead-in to the fight, and the battle itself (where most of the US losses came from “friendly fire”). He also goes into the aftermath, in which Nelson Miles tried to do right by the Sioux (as he had promised he would) because it was the right thing to do.

Next is a double story, “Easy Eddie” O”Hate became a lawyer for the Capone gang, though eventually he was persuaded to provide federal prosecutors with information. Unsurprisingly, this eventually led to his death. All he was left was hoping he would be forgotten, and perhaps his son could redeem the name. This Navy pilot Butch O’Hare did; before he was killed in action he earned the Medal of Honor — and, later, an even greater honor in his father’s adopted home town.

Beck follows with a pair of doubtful legal affairs. The German would-be saboteurs of Operation Pastorius should have faced a proper trial on the basis of past precedents — but FDR wanted to take of matters more quickly, and a rubber-stamp SCOTUS let him do it, creating bad precedents that are still applied. Then Iva Toguri, a patriotic American of Japanese ancestry, was charged with treason and convicted on the basis of perjury and prejudice, for being Tokyo Rose. (She was one of the many women who broadcast on Japanese radio, but never did anything against her country. Eventually, people would realize she was indeed a patriot.) I did a biography of Toguri for Salem Press once, so this was of especial interest for me.

After World War II, there were many problems to deal with. One that I never heard of before was the problem of gross corruption in Athens, Tennessee, where the local machine maintained a reign of terror aided by blatant vote fraud. Eventually a group of war veterans took the fight to the corrupt sheriff and his hired muscle.

The penultimate chapter deals with the American atrocity at My Lai during the Tet Offensive. It was a result of poor intelligence given to a gung ho Army company, and the punishment was far less than it should have been.

Beck concludes with the missing 20th hijacker. Trying to infiltrate via Disney World in Orlando, he was stopped at the airport by a suspicious security official, Jose Melendez-Perez. As a result, Flight 93 only had 4 hijackers, which meant only 2 to try to control the passengers. Whether because of that, or because by now they knew what would happen if they failed to act, the result was failure — and the hijacker was made to feel guilty over it. This proved useful when he was captured, and led to his giving up the name of a key courier under interrogation. And that led ultimately to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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One Response to Book Review: Miracles and Massacres

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    As interesting as such stories are,( Daniel Boorstin’s series, “The Americans” is a great example of this type of history), I think a good, reasonably brief, overview of American history would be very valuable.

    I don’t know of such a book. The main problem is all those histories of America, which I know of ,are probably too long for today’s average reader, and more importantly, for today’s student.

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