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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

History Unplugged Podcast Episodes
Weather Itself Was WW2's Fiercest Enemy: The Sinking of the USS Macaw
January 26, 2023 - 34 min
On January 16, 1944, the submarine rescue vessel USS Macaw ran aground at Midway Atoll while attempting to tow the stranded submarine USS Flier. The Flier was pulled free six days later but another three weeks of salvage efforts plagued by rough seas and equipment failures failed to dislodge the Macaw. On February 12, enormous waves nudged the ship backward into deeper water. As night fell and the Macaw slowly sank, the twenty-two sailors on board—ship's captain Paul W. Burton, his executive officer, and twenty enlisted men—sought refuge in the pilothouse but by the following afternoon, the compartment was almost entirely flooded. Burton gave the order to open the portside door and make for the foremast. Three men succeeded but most of the others were swept overboard. Five of them died, including Burton. Three sailors from the base at Midway also lost their lives in two unauthorized rescue attempts.

Today’s guest is Tim Loughman, author of A Strange Whim of the Sea: The Wreck of the USS Macaw. He traces the ship's service from its launch on San Francisco Bay to its disastrous final days at Midway. It tells a war story short on combat but not on drama, a wartime tragedy in which the conflict is more interpersonal, and perhaps intrapersonal, than international. Ultimately, for Burton and the Macaw the real enemy was the sea, and in a deadly denouement, the sea won. Highlighting the underreported role auxiliary vessels played in the war, A Strange Whim of the Sea engages naval historians and students alike with a previously untold story of struggle, sacrifice, death, and survival in the World War II Pacific.
A Short History of War
January 24, 2023 - 50 min
Some anthropologists once believed that humanity lived in a peaceful state that lacked large-scale warfare before the arrival of large civilizations and all its wealth inequality and manufacture of weapons. But archeological findings have shown over and over that warfare dates back as far as homo sapiens themselves (such as the Bronze Age Battle of Tollense River, about which we known nearly nothing, save that 5,000 soldiers fought each other with primitive weapons).
Throughout history, warfare has transformed social, political, cultural, and religious aspects of our lives. We tell tales of wars—past, present, and future—to create and reinforce a common purpose.

Today’s guest is Jeremy Black, author of “A Short History of War.” We examine war as a global phenomenon, looking at the First and Second World Wars as well as those ranging from Han China and Assyria, Imperial Rome, and Napoleonic France to Vietnam and Afghanistan. Black explores too the significance of warfare more broadly and the ways in which cultural understandings of conflict have lasting consequences in societies across the world.
The 1911 McNamara Bros. Murder Trial was the OJ Simpson/Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Case of Its Time
January 19, 2023 - 34 min
Considered by many to be one of the best-known criminal defense lawyers in the country, Clarence Darrow became nationally recognized for his eloquence, withering cross-examinations, and compassionate support for the underdog, both in and out of the courtroom.

Though his fifty-year-long career was replete with momentous cases, specifically his work in the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Leopold and Loeb Murder Trial, Darrow’s Nightmare zeroes in on just two years of Darrow’s career: 1911 to 1913. It was during this time period that Darrow was hired to represent the McNamara brothers, two union workers accused of bombing the Los Angeles Times building, an incident that resulted in twenty-one deaths and hundreds more injuries.

Along with investigative journalist Lincoln Steffens, Darrow negotiated an ambitious plea bargain on behalf of the McNamara brothers. But the plan soon unraveled; not long after the plea bargain was finalized, Darrow was accused of attempting to bribe a juror. As Darrow himself became the defendant, what was once his shining moment in the national spotlight became a threat to the future of his career and the safety of his family.

Today’s guest is Nelson Johnson, author of Darrow's Nightmare: The Forgotten Story of America's Most Famous Trial Lawyer: (Los Angeles 1911–1913). Drawing upon the 8,500-page transcript saved from the two trials, Johnson makes Darrow’s story come to life like never before.
Daniel Webster -- Perhaps History’s Greatest Orator -- Turned Virginians and New Yorkers Into Americans
January 17, 2023 - 37 min
When the United States was founded in 1776, its citizens didn’t think of themselves as “Americans.” They were New Yorkers or Virginians or Pennsylvanians. It was decades later that the seeds of American nationalism—identifying with one’s own nation and supporting its broader interests—began to take root. But what kind of nationalism should Americans embrace? The state-focused and racist nationalism of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson? Or the belief that the U.S. Constitution made all Americans one nation, indivisible, which Daniel Webster and others espoused?

Today’s guest is Joel Richard Paul, author of Indivisible: Daniel Webster and the Birth of American Nationalism. We look at the story of how Webster, a young New Hampshire attorney turned politician, rose to national prominence through his powerful oratory and unwavering belief in the United States and captured the national imagination. In his speeches, on the floors of the House and Senate, in court, and as Secretary of State, Webster argued that the Constitution was not a compact made by states but an expression of the will of all Americans.

As the greatest orator of his age, Webster saw his speeches and writings published widely, and his stirring rhetoric convinced Americans to see themselves differently, as a nation bound together by a government of laws, not parochial interests. As these ideas took root, they influenced future leaders, among them Abraham Lincoln, who drew on them to hold the nation together during the Civil War.
How Ottoman Sultan Suleyman Conquered Most of Europe and the Mediterranean While Avoiding Assassination
January 12, 2023 - 44 min
Within a decade and a half, Ottoman Sultan Suleyman, who reigned form 1520 to 1566, held dominion over twenty-five million souls, from Baghdad to the walls of Vienna, and with the help of his brilliant pirate commander Barbarossa placed more Christians than ever before or since under Muslim rule. He launched voyages into the Indian Ocean, threatened to conquer all of Europe, and took firm control over the Mediterranean Sea.

And yet the real drama takes place in close-up: in small rooms and whispered conversations, behind the curtain of power. His confidantes include the Greek slave who becomes his Grand Vizier, the Venetian jewel dealer who acts as his go-between, and the Russian consort who becomes his most beloved wife.

Today’s guest Christopher de Bellaigue, author of The Lion House. He tells not just the story of rival superpowers in an existential duel, nor of one of the most consequential lives in human history, but of what it means to live in a time when a few men get to decide the fate of the world.
Yoga Came to America via an Indian Monk at the 1893 Worlds Fair
January 10, 2023 - 45 min
If you are one of the 40 million people in the United States who practice yoga, or if you have ever meditated, you have a forgotten Indian monk named Swami Vivekananda to thank. Few thinkers have had so enduring an impact on both Eastern and Western life as him, the Indian monk who inspired the likes of Freud, Gandhi, and Tagore. Blending science, religion, and politics, Vivekananda introduced Westerners to yoga and the universalist school of Hinduism called Vedanta. His teachings fostered a more tolerant form of mainstream spirituality in Europe and North America and forever changed the Western relationship to meditation and spirituality.
Today’s guest is Ruth Harris, author of Guru to the World: The Life and Legacy of Vivekananda. She traces his transformation from son of a Calcutta-based attorney into saffron-robed ascetic. At the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he fascinated audiences with teachings from Hinduism, Western esoteric spirituality, physics, and the sciences of the mind, in the process advocating a more inclusive conception of religion and expounding the evils of colonialism. Vivekananda won many disciples, most prominently the Irish activist Margaret Noble, who disseminated his ideas in the face of much disdain for the wisdom of a “subject race.” At home, he challenged the notion that religion was antithetical to nationalist goals, arguing that Hinduism was intimately connected with Indian identity.
The iconic monk emerges as a counterargument to Orientalist critiques, which interpret East–West interactions as primarily instances of Western borrowing. As Vivekananda demonstrates, we must not underestimate Eastern agency in the global circulation of ideas.
A Modern-Day Knight Discusses What Knightly Service Means in 2023 (Essentially, Less Crusading and More Volunteering)
January 5, 2023 - 30 min
In 1348, King Edward III founded a charity for impoverished men-at-arms, who came to be known as the Alms Knights (or Poor Knights). These knights were destitute because their families ransomed them in foreign wars, and their sovereign didn’t see fit to leave them as beggars. He also wanted them to commit to praying for the souls of him and his descendants, setting up a chapel for this very purpose (all part of the Chantry Craze in the 14th century) In 1833, their name was changed by William IV to the Military Knights of Windsor.
The order has continued to this day, unbroken for nearly seven hundred years. Over the centuries, there have been about six hundred and fifty such knights. Their backgrounds and careers have been very varied: one was a freed slave, another had to bind Casanova over to keep the peace. Most have had a military background (three have held the Victoria Cross) – but there have been astrologers, crusaders, mad baronets, politicians, artists,and con artists. Men-At-Alms tells their stories, set against the history of their times.
Today’s guest is Simon Durnford, one of the Military Knights of Windsor and author of Men-At-Alms: Six Centuries of The Military Knights of Windsor.” He discusses what it means to be part of a medieval institution and how the group has evolved over the centuries.
J. Edgar Hoover’s 50-Year Career of Blackmail, Entrapment, and Taking Down Communist Spies
January 3, 2023 - 52 min
J. Edgar Hoover was possibly the most powerful non-elected person in modern American history. As FBI director from 1924 through his death in 1972, he used the tools of state to create a personal fiefdom unrivaled in U.S. history. He ruthlessly rooted out real and perceived threats to the United States, from bank robbers to Soviet spies to civil rights groups, calling Martin Luther King, Jr. “the country’s most notorious liar.” But Hoover was more than a one-dimensional tyrant and schemer who strong-armed the rest of the country into submission; he was a confidant, counselor, and adversary to eight U.S. presidents, four Republicans and four Democrats.

Today’s guest is Beverly Gage, author of “G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century.” We explore the full sweep of Hoover’s life and career, from his birth in 1895 to a modest Washington civil-service family through his death in 1972. Hoover was not above blackmail and intimidation, but he also embodied traditional values ranging from a fierce view of law and order to anticommunism, attracting him the admiration of millions of Americans. He stayed in office for so long because many people, from the highest reaches of government down to the grassroots, wanted him there and supported what he was doing.
The Irish Conquered the World With Plentiful Cheap Labor and Pints of Guinness
December 29, 2022 - 43 min
When people think of Irish emigration, they often think of the Great Famine of the 1840s, which caused many to flee Ireland for the United States. But the real history of the Irish diaspora is much longer, more complicated, and more global. Today’s guest, Sean Connolly, author of “On Every Tide: The Making and Remaking of the Irish World,” argues that the Irish exodus helped make the modern world.

Starting in the eighteenth century, the Irish fled limited opportunity at home and fanned out across America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These emigrants helped settle new frontiers, industrialize the West, and spread Catholicism globally. This led to the commodification of Irish culture, best exemplified by the ubiquity of the Irish Pub and Guinness, the popularity of River Dance, and annual Saint Patrick’s Day parades.

As the Irish built vibrant communities abroad, they leveraged their newfound power—sometimes becoming oppressors themselves.
Two British Sisters – A Typist and a Romance Novelist – Save Jewish Artists from the Holocaust With a Clever Con Involving Opera
December 27, 2022 - 31 min
In 1937, two British sisters, Louise and Ida Cook, seemed headed for spinsterhood due to so many men of their generation dying in World War One. Louise was a typist, and Ida was becoming a famous romance novelist, who would go on to write over 100 books. They found refuge in their love of music, with frequent visits to Germany and Austria to see their favorite opera stars perform. But with the clouds of WW2 gathering, Europe’s opera stars, many of whom were Jewish, face dark futures under the boot heel of the Nazis.

Louise and Ida formed a secret cabal along with Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss (a favorite of Hitler, but quietly working with the Cook sisters) to bring together worldwide opera aficionados and insiders in an international operation to rescue Jews in the opera. They smuggled Jewish people's jewelry and other valuables into England, thereby enabling them to satisfy British financial security requirements for immigration. By the time war arrived, they had saved over two dozen Jewish men and women from the Holocaust and spirited them to safety in England.

Today’s guest is Isabel Vincent, Overture of Hope: Two Sisters’ Daring Plan That Saved Opera’s Jewish Stars from the Third Reich. We look at the Cook Sister’s daring rescue mission and what happened to those they saved in their post-war lives. It’s a story of common people who rise to the challenges of uncommon circumstances.
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