Friday, July 15, 2016

On Catholic Guilt

On Catholic Guilt: In the Church's early days, the origins of Catholic guilt can really be traced to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For the most part, parishioners confessed their sins publicly, i.e., in front of the entire congregation. Such an act usually brought instant shame to the confessor, and likewise, appropriate behavioral changes. These days, however, Catholic guilt mostly refers to lapsed parishioners, or those who merely attend church services (Mass) around liturgical holidays like Christmas and Easter. Nevertheless, unlike Protestantism, which generally preferences faith over works, Catholic guilt often pushes churchgoers to think in depth about the ultimate consequences (and motivations) behind their actions. Unfortunately, with this kind of intense scrutiny given to one's personal actions, guilt can be considered a precipitating factor in the development of psychological disorders like OCD. In short, although guilt tends to complicate the inner-workings of one's psyche, it can also liberate one's soul.

Friday, July 1, 2016

On Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold, and Betrayal

On Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold, and Betrayal: The Shippens had become a well-known Philadelphia family by the late 1700s. As lawyers, judges, and politicians in the Pennsylvania Colony, the Shippens owed a great deal of their success to the British Crown. And when the American Revolution began in the 1770s, the family held mostly Loyalist beliefs. In effect, Loyalists like the Shippens believed the Revolution was nothing more than a movement to make the Colonists more British. Becoming independent, i.e., creating a new government and raising a new military, would not be not such a radical experiment, because so much of it would be modeled on British traditions. Nevertheless, when the Continental Army recaptured Philadelphia in 1778, Arnold and Shippen started a courtship. Despite being 20 years her senior, Arnold became exposed to a variety of British folks and folkways, mainly because the Shippens often entertained British guests. Over time, Arnold began to feel his services as a military commander would be more appreciated by the British, and thus, he defected soon after marrying Shippen. Arnold's name has since become a byword for betrayal in American English.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Remembering the Battle of Lake Erie

Remembering the Battle of Lake Erie: In military history, how people remember a particular battle, skirmish, or even war, can be more important than the event itself. Perhaps the most notable event in American history where memory matters is the Civil War. It's often stated that the North won the war, but the South won Reconstruction (and how the war is remembered). Regarding the War of 1812, however, where the Battle of Lake Erie was a major incident, Americans were really just trying to PROVE themselves to the British. In other words, Americans sought reassurance that their "first victory" over the British was not just a fluke. And because many of the war's battles (Siege of Detroit, Battle of New Orleans, etc.) occurred along America's burgeoning borderlands (frontier), incidents like the Battle of Lake Erie helped give birth to an early ethos of westward expansion. For if Commodore Oliver Perry could score a decisive naval victory over the British, which secured the Great Lakes and opened the Midwest, then there was seemingly nothing left but Native Americans (Tecumseh) and wilderness to halt American growth.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

On Psychological Warfare

On Psychological Warfare: Sometimes called "psychological operations" or PSY-OPS, the struggle to decimate an enemy's morale (or fighting spirit) has probably been around since the Punic Wars when Hannibal brought war elephants to battle the Romans. Ironically, there was a German mortar/rocket launcher (Der Nebelwerfer) from WWII that sounded eerily similar to Hannibal's elephants. Nevertheless, at its core, psychological warfare is about intimidation. Anything from printing newspapers/leaflets to broadcasting subliminal messages to amplifying ominous sounds can be considered part of psych warfare. Perhaps there was no greater master of psychological warfare than the German military, especially during the 1930s/40s. From V-1 rockets whose engines emitted a pulsating buzz to Stuka planes (dive bombers) whose propellers wailed like sirens, the German military certainly understood the value of mass demoralization. In fact, by the end of WWII, the Germans had launched around 10,000 V-1s, with about 2,500 striking London. And since these rockets were unguided, they basically fell to Earth after their engines died (scary stuff).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On the Mississippi Delta Region

On the Mississippi Delta Region: Not to be confused with the Mississippi River Delta, which is mostly in Louisiana, the Delta region is actually a large portion of Northwest Mississippi. Because it sits between two major rivers (the Mississippi and the Yazoo), it frequently floods. And after the Native Americans were forced from the area in the 1830s, other peoples moved to settle there. With over 7,000 sq. miles of arable land, the Delta region produced everything from sugar cane to rice to indigo to tobacco, and especially cotton. Unfortunately, the production of these various cash crops first came from slave labor (before the Civil War), and then from cheap (sharecropping) labor (after the War). Sharecropping originated in the Delta, and it became the primary way for former slaves to earn a living. Sharecroppers would often relinquish a portion of whatever crops they grew (usually cotton) as a form of rent. Yet in the early 1900s, demographic shifts began to change the Delta region. As black Americans migrated North in search of industrial jobs around World War I, a swarm of Mexican-American laborers filled the Delta's agricultural void. Thus, the region's cultural diversity, particularly in terms of food, started to flourish.