Oops, I Misplaced Saxony! That’s Awkward.

Things in Europe move. I keep forgetting that, and so my mental map lets me down. I couldn’t find Saxony. It had to be there. It was in his title, but where was it? I’d left Saxony over in the east, where it’s supposed to be . . . in the modern country of Germany. That’s not exactly where “Saxony” could be found in 1100. Oops.

Today, when we use a place name, it usually refers to a specific state, province, nation-state, or location. “Alberta” is a fixed spot on the map of Canada, for example. Especially for Americans, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Texas, those are all places with a set and fixed location, in saecula saeculorum, amen. OK, those of us who grew up in the Cold War are aware that countries split (Czechoslovakia) or reunite (Germany). For people who studied the 20th Century, countries appeared and borders could be briefly fluid (The Austro-Hungarian Empire became: Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, and a bit of Yugoslavia). But things don’t move all that much, just get parceled out and redistricted. You know, like Congressional districts in the US every ten or so years.

At this point, my European, British, and Medieval historian readers are laughing mightily at the innocence of a Yank abroad. Saxony was a descriptor loooooong before it became a specific region of a country called Germany. Saxons moved into a swath of Central Europe in the 300s or so, give or take, maybe later. “Here be Saxons” was for the Romanized peoples of the south akin to “Here be Dragons.” Just not always as friendly as dragons. Charlemagne dealt with them, several times in fact. His successors, and the later Ottonians, dealt with them farther to the east as they pushed the Holy Roman Empire away from the original Frankish core. Always, Saxony was where you found Saxons.

However, when borders got set for various administrative districts, Saxony as a German Land (state) locked into place. After 1945, for now.

Saxony is northeast of Bavaria, with the Czech lands between them, more or less. Fair use under Creative Commons. Original found at: https://www.mapsof.net/europe/central-europe-political-map

So, there I was, tracing out some things with Frederick Barbarossa and his peers, and looking at the push to settle northern and eastern areas with cities and people, and to establish trade. This is all 1100-1150 or so. And I was reading about Henry “the Lion” Welf of Saxony and Bavaria. The linkage of the two areas made perfect sense, since they have almost-common borders.

But wait, what the heck’s Henry doing up around Hamburg, and Lüneburg, and that area? That’s not Saxony. Lübeck is certainly not Saxony. Why is he interested in things there, when he’s east and south?

*waits for snickers and eye rolling to stop*

Yes, you guessed it. I know better. I was imposing the modern map on medieval German lands. When I finally found a good map of the area at the time of the events described, I felt more than a little foolish.

Note Saxony, well north and west of the modern official Saxony. Because that’s where the Saxons had been and still were. Ouch. Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source: https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?206172-Holy-Roman-Empire-Central-Europe-and-European-Empires

Oh. So Henry the Lion had good reasons to be encouraging development of the northern areas, and the development of the Hanseatic League. And that explained why he controlled so much territory for so long (until his ego wrote a check his skills couldn’t cash.)

Places move, in the sense of “regional names associated with places.” Part of modern Saxony had been in Polish lands or claimed by Bohemia, or both at the same time (until the early 1300s and Casimir III of Poland.) Modern Saxony, and Lower Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt, had Saxons in them, but were not necessarily Welf Saxony entirely. Yes, I thumped my head lightly against the desk. I know better, much better, but the books I’ve been reading don’t have maps in them. [Insert long cartographic rant here]. So I defaulted to modern maps, and went far astray. No excuses, and I kicked myself once I really started thinking about who was where doing what.

So, He’s Related to Him, and Her, So That Means . . . Arrrrrgh!

Or: Why Environmental History is SOOOOOOO much easier than European history.

Due to a complicated series of events, and research for the next Merchant book, I found myself wading into the politics of the Guelphs and Gibilines, or the Welf and Staufer and Salier families (for those north of the Alps). I’ve been known to joke that the Spanish Habsburg family tree is a stick, because of a number of too-close-for-their-own-good marriages. The alliances, marriages, separations, and relationships between the major and many minor nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and to a lesser degree (but not too much lesser) Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland look like a thorn-thicket stretching from Wales to Kiev.

Which does tend to explain a few cases of “Why didn’t [Emperor] just slap down [problem person] ten years earlier?” And “Why did he think trying to intervene in [Poland/Hungary/Bohemia]’s civil war was a good idea?” Because he, whoever he was at the time, had a dog or at least an in-law in the fight. Sometimes. Sometimes? Eh, pure power politics, and once or twice I suspect sheer boredom back home.

One reason for all the complicated crosses and out-crosses is that in the 900s-1200s, give or take, the Church did not allow marriages between relatives to the 7th degree. Even second or third cousin was out, unacceptable without a lot of paperwork and penances and really good reasons. So you have Salian princes from the Rhineland looking at duchesses in Anjou, France, but since they have a common great-grandfather, the betrothal is challenged by the Church. It also means that the two family heads on opposite sides of “who gets the imperial crown” fight may also be cousins (probable), uncle and nephew (possible), and step-father and step-son (at least twice and wasn’t that a mess). And the occasional “I’m marrying from way the heck outside the region, in part for dowry, in part because I need neutral help, and in part because I give up trying to shop local.”

OK, perhaps I exaggerate on the last one, but it’s easy to imagine someone looking at the list of possible spouses and having a priest scratch off ten of the eleven candidates, and that last one is only eight years old, and you are twenty. Thus the occasional Byzantine, Rus, Anglo, or Scandinavian popping up in Germanic pedigrees. Trade, diplomacy, and other things played larger roles, but consanguinity was a major legal concern.

So, what I was trying to sort out was: if Frederick Barbarossa’s election as Holy Roman Emperor was a sort of compromise between the (Guelphs) Welfs and Babenburgs (Bavaria, Austria) and (Ghibellines) Saliens and Staufers (Rhineland, central German lands), why did Barbarossa not deal more firmly with Henry of Bavaria and Saxony earlier? Well, in part, the three most powerful dukes—regional rulers—in the central Empire were Barbarossa’s uncles, including Henry of Saxony. Among other things, but the family connection played a role.

However, when we think of Guelphs and Ghibellines, we usually think of Italy. After Barbarossa’s election, the Italians seem to have looked north, shrugged a little, kept the names of the two sides, and continued going after each other for other reasons. Ah, Italian Renaissance politics.

Groundwater Woes? Well, Where are You?

“The Ogallala Aquifer will be gone in fifty years!

“In twenty years!”

“The Ogallala recharges and has gained thickness over the past two years.”

Which of these is true? The answer is yes, depending on where you are, and what uses you are talking about. Because the Ogallala is very large, and exceedingly variable in thickness, surface-water access, and usage over the length and width of the formation. The climate shifts from north to south and east to west, adding further complications.

Original image from the USGS. Accessed at: https://civileats.com/2019/11/18/high-plains-farmers-race-to-save-the-ogallala-aquifer/

The Ogallala is a layer of sand and gravel that was deposited between two and six million years ago. Enormous rivers flowed off of the then-young Rocky Mountains, eroding the fast-rising peaks and dumping thick layers of sediment all over the plains to the east. this sediment remained loosely-packed and porous, even after it was covered in tens to hundreds of feet of soil and dust and sand. Because of water-resistant layers of stone underneath it, the Ogallala catches incoming surface water and acts as an aquifer. You can drill a well into it and bring up good, if somewhat mineral-laden, water that has been filtered by the sand and by time.

If you are up in the Nebraska Sandhills, on the northern end of the aquifer (the indigo-blue blob), rainfall and snowmelt sink into the formation, helping to recharge it. In some wet years, and some parts of the Sandhills, the aquifer will gain water and the water table rises to the surface. In dry years, when people have to pump a lot for their cattle and to irrigate fodder crops, the level drops.

Farther south, the thickness of the aquifer tapers off, and the climate is drier and warmer. Here, the use of the aquifer, especially since the invention of center-pivot irrigation in the 1950s, has dropped the level ten, fifty, hundreds of feet. Some counties in Kansas have reached a point where it is no longer cost effective to pump from the aquifer (depth to water of 600′ in a few places) and have reverted to pasture and to dryland crops. At the far tail end of the formation, near La Mesa, Texas, the aquifer was never thick to start with, and it hit close to bottom in the 1960s just from private and municipal wells.

Most of the area now has Groundwater Protection Districts that regulate consumption, either through voluntary mutual agreement, or force of law. It depends on the state, the state’s water-laws, and when the District came into being. Some Districts focus on keeping water in the ground for perpetuity, others are trying to slow draw-down so the water will run out no sooner than, oh, 2100 or so. Everyone agrees that conservation is needed, and is good, and that the more efficient use we can make of the water, the better off all of us on the aquifer are. It’s just how to do that, and what the best use of the water might be that we politely disagree over. OK, loudly disagree, with the occasional shoving match, especially when outsiders pop up and announce that they are going to drain the water and send it: downstate, out-of-the-state, or to The Big City. Nothing unifies people like a common enemy.

The main use for the water is farming. Watering crops, watering livestock, and processing livestock are major uses. A pork-packing plant was proposed for part of southwest Kansas back in the 1990s. It was denied permits because pork processing takes at least three times the water per carcass as does beef packing. Irrigation has come a long way in terms of efficiency, from the old flood-furrow system where farmers moved lengths of pipe by hand, poured water onto the soil and then moved the pipes again, to modern low-flow, low-height nozzle center-pivot systems, to in-ground drip irrigation with built in moisture meters that only release water when and where it is needed by the plants. The cost has risen with the complexity, but water use per acre has decreased markedly. The development of low-moisture hybrid wheats and other grains, plus some experimentation with arid-region grains such as teff, has further reduced the need for irrigation water per acre, at least in average to moist years.

People also drink the water, enjoy swimming in reservoirs, and complain about the flavor and what the mineral-rich water does to your teeth. (They are stronger, and slightly brown from the fluoride.) Lots of people, millions of people, who brush, and flush, and shower, and water lawns not designed for the climate, and wash cars, and build pools and . . .

Ahem. Sorry. The wandering soapbox jumped me. I have some personal beefs with open pools and blue-grass lawns in semi-arid places.

Since this is already getting long, on Friday I’ll continue and we’ll look at hard numbers, playa lakes and springs, and different thoughts about the future of the region.

(Edited to change date of part two. I wrote 5000+ words on Monday and my brain is numb.)

Yes, It’s Summer.

Cicadas – check.

More people in the pool than in the entire rest of the gym – check.

Watermelons all over the place – very check.

Last weekend I went to a regional Farmers’ Market with Dorothy Grant. We went to do research on “how people move through a crowded market” and to get tomatoes. That’s it, tomatoes. Really. And maybe to check out gluten-free breads, for a mutual friend who needs that kind of information. And perhaps get some farm-raised eggs. But that’s it.

My paw to Bast, it looked as if everyone leaving the market had a watermelon! Watermelons in wagons, carried in arms, filling cloth or net shopping backs, watermelons carried on shoulders . . . Just inside the entry area, a local charity was selling slices of watermelon, and a self-taught gent demonstrated fancy food carving. Dorothy and I both dropped something into the kitty, in part because we enjoyed the man’s work so much, and in part because the group provides a needed service.

Lots of vendors had watermelons, tomatoes, beautiful bell peppers and chili peppers, squash, and so on. You know, the things that are seasonal and ready right now. All the egg vendors had sold out already. I ended up getting mesquite-smoked cashews (they are addictive!) and Dorothy and I tried two different products from a gluten-free baker and caterer. Those lasted until Tuesday, if only because we had really large breakfasts and suppers that weekend and just couldn’t find room for nibbles. You could get everything from breads to dairy to fresh produce to pottery, popcorn, and candy. Food trucks sold coffee and snow-cone-type things. People threaded their way through, smiling and being normal people on a warm summer morning.

I was mildly surprised that we didn’t get stopped for not having a watermelon as we departed. 🙂

(For my readers who are not familiar with watermelons in summer, you do a thump test. You want a nice, meaty thump. Really good, sweet watermelons are messy, so plan to cut them outdoors, or on something indoors to catch the drips. The red heart is the best part, and my great-grandmother on the paternal side used to go around the table trimming the heart out of other people’s melon servings “since she didn’t want a whole slice.” Some things were not worth arguing over. Kids and watermelon are a natural combo. Have the kids put on bathing suits, go outdoors, and enjoy the watermelon. Then hose off the kids. It’s a lot easier to keep the house clean that way, trust me. 🙂 )

On the Road

I’m on the road. Post will return tomorrow with another Tuesday Tidbit.

Update: I’m home. No major excitement. However, the new aggregate surface on the highway makes it hard to listen to heavy metal and some pipe-organ music on the stereo without cranking the volume to ear-bleed levels. The rough surface, plus tire sound, drowns out the bass. TXDoT needs to rectify this posthaste. 😉

Cat Post

Because I haven’t done my part to keep teh Intertubez full of cats.

The shift supervisor in the live-plant department at Wildseed Farm, Fredericksburg, TX.

I think my neck would break if I tried sleeping like that. I know my hamstrings would go on strike!
Same cat, different metering.

Aliens. Natural skincare. Ooooooohhh kay. Also Fredericksburg, TX.

I Need a Score Card

The last time I dug into the early history of the Holy Roman Empire 2.0 (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which starts with Henry the Fowler and Emperor Otto I), I skipped most of the politics. I was far more interested in the cultural and spiritual aspects of the period (roughly 875-1100 or so) than the politics. Oh, I knew that there was a lot of fighting, both for the title of King of the Germans/Holy Roman Emperor and with outsiders (Magyars, Magyars, Wendish/Sorbish Slavs, the First Crusade). But I ignored the internal strife for the most part.

Alas, because of a number of factors I’m having to wade into the politics of the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia, and Hungary. Oof. Part of the difficulty is the repetition of names. Not just Otto I, II, and III, but multiple Henries, Boloslavs of both Poland and Bohemia (some of whom fought each other), Stephans, and lots of Matildas. For a while, Matilda was as common as Mary, Barbara, Ann, and Catherine. Henry the Fowler’s second wife was a Matilda, as was Henry II’s wife. Oh and Henry II’s father was Henry, but not Henry the Fowler. Confused yet?

One thing I have to force myself to remember is that, unlike later periods in England and elsewhere, the Holy Roman Emperor was in some ways first among equals when north of the Alps. And an often unwanted outside interloper south of the Alps, at least unwanted by those who felt that their candidate for the papal throne was the real pope. So someone like Duke Henry the Lion could be a real political threat to Frederick Barbarossa, but was also a critical supporter and ally of Frederick — when Henry stuck with his feudal vows. Within their own territories, the various dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, and so on had total control, as much as a Germanic warlord had control of his knights and clerics. The Imperial Diet was a real necessity as far as mediation and problem solving between the various nobles, high church leaders, and the Emperor. It didn’t always work, but it probably kept things from being more violent than they were. Add in the Church trying to channel all that aggression into more socially useful directions, and the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia were probably about as calm as was possible for the time.

I have to know this stuff inside and out, in order to clarify it and distill it for other people. This is also taking me into some new research directions, like the roles of women. I knew about the women of the Hanse cities and how some of the merchant patricians widows and daughters earned full citizenship, acting as men in all legal ways. The women of the Ottonian and Salian periods of the Holy Roman Empire could be as independent and powerful, especially some of the abbesses of places like Quedlinburg. Others, also within the church, scolded their male “superiors” about immorality, lack of attention to duty, and the need to clean up some problems in the Church. There was a reason why St. Francis was needed, and the preaching orders in general. Women like Matilda of Canossa could have strong political influence on even the papacy. She also could nurse a grudge well enough to get a Red Cross life-saving award, but that seemed to be true of a lot of the nobility of the early and high Middle Ages. Legally, women had rather limited rights. In reality? It depended on the individual, her situation, and her location. Germanic and western Slavic women seem to have had more traditional as well as legal independence than those south of the Alps. At least during this time.

There’s only one “textbook” for this region, the one written by Lonnie R. Johnson. It wasn’t exactly meant to be a textbook, but it can be and is used as one for college classes. It’s good, but it skims some of the earlier material that I need. Trying to pull all this sort of stuff together and to keep it from bogging down is an art, and one I suspect very, very few people have. I don’t. So I’m borrowing a little from here, and a lot from there, and my vacation slides and notes from over here, and trying to make sense of all of it, in chronological order. It must be good for me, because it makes my brain ache. It’s one thing just to read German and get the material. It’s another to translate it accurately for other people.

And I just know that some of this will leak into my fiction. Especially Henry the Lion of Bavaria and Saxony. I first met him as “Oh, yeah, the guy who was a PitA for Barbarossa.” Except Henry was a lot more than that, and he connects England (Henry II Plantagenet) to Saxony and places like Lübeck and Brunswick/Braunschweig. No, I have no idea what Henry’s going to do, or how, but I have this sinking suspicion . . .

Enchanted Rock

Huff, puff, it’s warm out!

Enchanted Rock is one of those things that you don’t want to climb at mid-day in summer. Ask me how I know . . . It also requires reservations, one of a few state parks that are so popular that overcrowding and overuse is a serious concern.

Waaaaaaaaaay back before the dinosaurs, a batholith, an enormous buried intrusion of granite formed. The visible parts of the rock are a tiny fraction of the actual mass. Over time, erosion removed the overburden on the rock, revealing parts of it. The reduced pressure and exposure to the elements also caused spalling and cracking. Technically, the visible part of the rock is an “exfoliation dome,” meaning a lump with pieces cracking off due to freeze-thaw and to pressure release. The large boulders in the photo above are some of the pieces that have flaked off the visible rock.

As you can see, once you get above a certain point, the rock gets steep and very bare. It tends to have a breeze that increases as the air heats up, but the rock is warm, the sun is warm, and the day was humid. Mom and Dad Red, and Sib, took a slow, thoughtful approach to the rock. This is only in part because of concerns about knees, hips, and balance. Sib-in-law, yours truly, and Red 2.0 scrambled ahead. The younger ones went straight up. I made switchbacks, because I didn’t have a walking stick for once, and falling was not on my to-do list for the day.

As you climb, the views are quite impressive. So is looking up-slope and realizing that that’s a thunderhead lurking in the distance. Perhaps loitering on the summit isn’t such a good plan.

The name Enchanted Rock comes from stories about the location being a place of medicine power for various Indian peoples, and because it makes sounds at night. Some people have reported odd lights and glows from the mass. The sounds are plausible, especially when the rock is sum-warmed on a cold, clear night. I didn’t sense anything odd, but I was only there by daylight.

There are a number of hiking and nature trails of differing lengths and difficulties. Going up and down the dome is not technically challenging in terms of finding a route or dealing with obstructions and scree. However, it is steep, bare granite, hot as the blazes in summer, and you need a lot more water than you think you do. If there’s a storm in the area I would not go up past the camel shown in the pictures above. I made it 2/3 of the way, and decided that since I was already feeling a little strain, I’d better stop. Down is always harder for me than up is, and required much more care in terms of footing and balance. The heat also wore me out. I’m not built for sticky heat, and certainly had not adapted to it (we’d been down there for less than a week.) Red 2.0 got a little farther before parental intervention.

A different little stream had a cute water snake in it. He was faster than I was, and disappeared into the grass.

Enchanted Rock, when we visited, had no running water aside from a bottle-filling station drawing filtered well-water. The storms of Snowvid 21 had taken out their water and sewer along with the power, and they hoped to have everything back by July 1. The port-a-lets got changed every other day, and weren’t bad, but it was dry camping, and they strongly encouraged you to bring your own water. Because so many people from Austin and San Antonio flood the region for hiking and the like, reservations are required. The on-line system is . . . not intuitive, but it works. I’d like to go back in fall or winter, or in spring before the heat really cranks up. Mornings are better because of both heat and storms. I suspect some personal speed records have been set getting off the top of the dome as a storm approached.

Trees or Scrub, Forest or Damaged Grassland?

What happened to the grass? That’s an odd question, or perhaps Odd*, to ask while driving on the Edwards Plateau. Most people ask about “missing” trees on the Great Plains and High Plains, but grass in the Hill Country? Hasn’t it always had trees, even if many of them are a little short and twisty? Mesquite, lots of shinnery oak and other oaks, some cedar, elm, cottonwood, and a few other trees cover the land. The shade is nice, but not the stands so thick they block the wind and mosquitoes wait to gang up on you. This year, there were also a lot of broken trees and deadfalls laying around thanks to the ice and snow from Snowvid 21. I kept muttering “My kingdom for a chainsaw. And bulldozer. And burn permit. And firewood sale stand. And . . .” You get the picture.

If you don’t know the history of the region, it looks a bit overgrown but not bad. Trees are good, right? The National Arbor Day Foundation and others are strong encouragers of tree-planting. Trees soak CO2 out of the atmosphere, they produce shade (most of the time, mesquite and some oaks aside), some produce things people can eat, birds like them . . . More trees are good, right? Especially native species, because those fit the landscape and climate better than do exotics, and don’t harm the ecosystem.

Um, well, sort of. The problem for me is that I’ve read about the pre-Anglo environment of Texas, and . . . Grass. Grass covered large swaths of what is now Texas, far more so than today. Much of the brushy land was grassy land because of pyro-management by the Indians, and by lightning, and intensive grazing by bison. Trees tended to be confined to stream and river courses, where they were protected from fire and heavy grazing until they grew big enough to tolerate creeping fires and the occasional nibble. When the German settlers moved into the area, they found more grass than trees, although trees certainly existed, enough for a sawmill or two.

The problem was thin soil and drought. And no one understood the need for fire management. European forests are 1) very different from North American, and 2) have not been fire managed since, um, well, I have yet to find anything in the archaeology records about controlled or otherwise burns. The grasslands were steppe or wetland, or both (Hungary), and trees tended to be managed, either by property owners or the state. So the new arrivals plowed, planted, grazed heavily, didn’t burn, and farmed as they best knew how. Some techniques worked, others didn’t. In wet years, all was well.

Then there’s the rest of the time. Overgrazing of the grass allowed brush to move in. Drought favors brush, as does fire suppression. As early as the 1890s, extension agents reported problems with good pasture land becoming brush choked and weedy. Toss in the dry years of the 1917-18, then the 1930s, and especially the 1950s, and grass retreats ahead of brush and then scrub forest. Deer, wild hogs, and some other game species do well to OK in brush, so ranchers shifted to farming game as well as cattle and horses. Even so, you can have too much of a brushy thing.

Given my personal preferences, if I won the lottery and could buy property, I’d do what I could to bring back the native grasses. But that’s just me, and I’d have to buy lottery tickets first. It takes a LOT of work and on-the-ground knowledge to do a good job of clearing out enough trees and brush for grass to return, and then manage things properly after that. Large infusions of cash are also required in the beginning. The benefits can be great, including increased stream flow and ground water, greater species diversity, fewer weeds and noxious plants, and healthier livestock and crops. All it takes is cash, sweat equity, knowledge, and labor.

For a few academic generations, we thought that ecosystems had a “climax state,” an end-goal that once reached, was the ideal final equilibrium point for any given ecosystem. Turns out that’s not true. Land use, climate fluctuations, geologic and weather events (think back to the enormous storm that leveled huge swaths of trees in England) . . . They all cause changes. Fire as a land management tool goes way back in human history, and is partly responsible for the savanah’s in Africa and is very responsible for the grasslands of North America, as well as for some of the forests of North America. The brushy Hill Country is just one possibility, brought about by climate shifts (end of the Little Ice Age) and human land management. A grassy Hill Country is another possibility, with large meadows and pastures ringed by fringes of trees, and tree-lined watercourses.

*Over at AtH, it has become common to use Odd to describe those of us who are eccentric in eccentric ways, inclined toward individualism (“just leave me alone to do my thing, please,”) often bookish, and frequently very knowledgable about unusual and fascinating fields, even if they are not our every-day vocation.

The Museum of the Pacific War

The last time I’d been to this museum, in Fredericksburg, TX, it had been “the Nimitz Museum” and consisted of the Nimitz Hotel building, and the mini-sub in the new annex. This would have been the early 1990s. Today, it is much, much bigger, and has four main components. I saw one of them, because we ran out of time.

Short version – anything you want to know about the war in the Pacific: background, how it started, the Army as well as Navy’s contributions, US civilian experience, the atomic bombs – is here. Plan on at least five hours if you go through every display in the main building, eight hours if you do all the main building and the gardens, Pacific War Zone, and Nimitz Gallery. And the gift shop is great.

Longer version below.

Hello, Mr. Submarine. All photos by author.

Admiral Chester Nimitz began his career in submarines, which is why a submarine holds pride of place as you walk up to the main entrance. The garden sweeps over the sub, like waves of water. This is not your usual military history museum. Because it is part of the Smithsonian, which is Federal, you are supposed to follow current mask and social distancing guidelines. In reality, once you are past the main desk? Common sense. It wasn’t all that crowded, or at least didn’t feel crowded when we were there, because it is laid out in a twisting, turning fashion that packs a lot of displays into a small area, without feeling claustrophobic. There are attendance caps currently in place, so I’d suggest buying tickets on-line, or going early. Once they hit their cap, that’s it.

The museum begins with a video/map outline of the chronology of the War in the Pacific, from 1940-1945. If you have no idea what happened, this is a good introduction to the raw dates and places. Then you move back in time, to China and Japan in the 1840s, and follow events in those countries, along with the US. This provides a lot of background, including things I wasn’t aware of. If also focuses on the Kuomintang/Guomindong and the Nationalist government. Since they were the official government of China during the war, this makes perfect sense. US isolationism following WWI is also discussed. I’d say almost 20% of the museum is prelude and pre-December 1941.

Can I interest you in a slightly used Japanese mini-sub?
Jimmy Dolittle Was Here. Yes, that’s a B-25. Not a model.

I won’t go through every single display, because I’d overload the blog and my readers. All the major events are highlighted and discussed, with oral histories, models, excellent maps, video projections of the action, life-sized displays of a picket ship’s bridge, an actual Australian tank from the New Guinea campaign . . . It’s very impressive. While the US Navy is the central focus of the museum, as one would expect, the Army and the Allies get lots of coverage as well. It was refreshing to see displays about the ANZACs, Coast Watchers, British, and so on.

If you follow just the main displays, you will get a wonderful chronological history of the Pacific Theater. If you also look at the side displays, you get information about women’s roles, war work in the US, life in the US during the war, internments, the Japanese home front and Japanese government, and other things.

We had a steep learning curve. Those of you who have read The Fleet the Gods Forgot or the Ghost that Died at Sunda Strait know how the story went.

I come from a Navy family, grew up reading naval history, especially Pacific War, and so a lot of this was familiar. Even so, I learned an amazing amount. It took my folks and I over five hours from start to finish, and we didn’t go to anything but the main museum building. If you are not familiar with the war, it may take longer, or you might choose to skip some of the side displays in favor of an overview approach.

I’d almost recommend a day and a half for this. One day for the main building, then buy a second admission the next morning and go to the rest – Pacific War Zone, Japanese Peace Garden, Nimitz Gallery, and so on. And come back to the main museum and hit what you skipped the previous day.

The gift shop has lots of books, prints, books, toys, maps, books, videos, books, tee-shirts, glassware, ball-caps, flags, “tasteful” Hawaiian shirts with subs, planes, and aircraft carriers on them, books, and kids costumes.

Yes, it comes with a little polka-dot head scarf. Rivet gun not included. For boys there’s a USMC dress blues outfit. No sword, though. Sorry.

Admission is free to WWII vets, discounted for active duty or retired military (DD214 or other proof of service is required), different discount for police/fire/ems, and so on. Admissions ranges from $18 to free, with two-day passes available. They are open every day except Thanksgiving Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years. The web-site says closed on Tuesdays, but you might double-check that.

If you are at all interested in WWII in the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz, naval history, and related topics, I highly recommend this museum. It has not been too badly afflicted by the current deconstructionist trends (yet), and I suspect the governing board keeps a close eye on things. It is unabashedly pro-sailor and soldier. It doesn’t glorify war, but it doesn’t run down any of those fighting in the Pacific. There is enough about the atrocities and horrors to give visitors a sense of how bad things got, but it is suitable for kids. Parents can explain or not as they choose. Don’t be surprised to hear veterans elaborating on “their war” if one is visiting. The displays are very well done and can be skimmed or read in detail. It is one of the best military history museums I’ve been to, and probably one of the best museums in the US period.

Highly, highly recommend if you are at all interested in the topic. Oh, and if you just want to hit the gift shop? There are two – one in the main complex, and one up on Main Street beside the Nimitz Hotel building. Those are free to go into.