Friday, April 24, 2009

World History, Locally

Did you know that a major international conflict ended within an hour's drive of your home?

Work today brought me up to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, sandwiched on an island between Kittery, ME and Portsmouth, NH. (Photos forthcoming, though I don't have them as of now).

Two of the best highlights included:

(1) an unguided tour of what was the area's largest military brig from the early 20th century until 1974, the Portsmouth Naval Detention Center, featured most famously in the Jack Nicholson movie "The Last Detail."

(2) A visit to the "Portsmouth Treaty Room" in Bldg. 86 at the Shipyard, where the Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905. By luck, we stumbled on a retired Master Chief COB (that's Chief of the Boat, the senior-most enlisted member of a submarine's crew) who gave us a lengthy tour of the treaty room and filled it with historical anecdotes. As it turns out, Teddy Roosevelt chose Portsmouth because the quaint New England backdrop would put Russian and Japanese diplomats away from the spotlight of more high-profile places like Washington, D.C. or New York. In addition, air conditioning had not been invented, so Portsmouth's late-summer climate was deemed much more favorable for the visitors than the muggier alternatives. '

The Russo-Japanese War was hugely important in the way the rest of the 20th century unfolded, as a non-European country effectively *checked* a European colonial power, and the spirit of Japanese militarism that gained steam throughout the years leading to WWII took hold.

And if you're ever out on bar trivia night and there's a question about the only sitting U.S. President to win a Nobel Peace Prize, the answer is "Theodore Roosevelt" and he earned it for events that took place in your backyard, figuratively speaking.

2 comments:

Clifford said...
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Matt said...

Brief shoutout: THE LAST DETAIL is one of my favorite movies of all time, perhaps the most wintery film ever made. A great triple bill of Hal Ashby (the director) about 70s politics: Shampoo, Being There, The Last Detail, all masterpieces.