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Wisconsin academy review (Dec. 1989)

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THE BOSS: J. EDGAR HOOVER AND THE GREAT AMERICAN INQUISITION by Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. 489 pp.$27.95.

In October 1924, the newly installed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation despatched a memorandum to the acting assistant attorney general. The director acknowledged that “the activities of Communists and other ultra-radicals have not up to the present time constituted a violation of Federal statutes.” and the bureau “theoretically . . . had no right to investigate such activities.” He nonetheless recommended the continued investigation of such individuals because they might violate federal laws in the future.

On this frightening pretext, J. Edgar Hoover launched a career as FBI director during which he would accumulate forty-eight years of service and twenty-five million personal case files. In The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition, Marquette University history professor Athan Theoharis and free-lance journalist John Stuart Cox argue that Hoover “had more to do with undermining constitutional guarantees than any political leader before or since,” yet “in certain crucial respects [was] a representative American of his time.”

The authors examine the heretofore unavailable FBI record destruction, Symbol Number Sensitive Source Index, and Surreptitious Entries files and exhaustively prove the first part of their thesis. They impressively detail how Hoover deftly acquired power, astutely played politics, and ruthlessly violated civil liberties.

Hoover’s rise to power began four months after his high school graduation when he became a file clerk at the Library of Congress in order to pay his way through night law school. During World War I, he served as an intelligence clerk, then an attorney in the Department of Justice, preparing dossiers on alien radicals for the department’s alien enemy registration section.

At the end of the war, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer empowered Hoover to create and command a general intelligence division in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover’s office amassed files on over 200,000 individuals allegedly linked to foreign-inspired radicalism, including Wisconsin Republican Senator Robert La Follette. With the attorney general ill, Hoover coordinated the so-called Palmer raids of alleged subversives in 1919 and 1920.

In 1924 Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed Hoover as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover won the job by assuring Stone that his office would be “divorced from politics” and “responsible only to the Attorney General.” Hoover kept the job by maintaining a low profile, obsequiously seeking advice from his bosses, and minimally apprising attorneys general of the bureau’s activity.

When it appeared that President Franklin Roosevelt would replace Hoover with private detective Val O’Farrell in 1933, Hoover ordered an intensive investigation which thoroughly discredited O’Farrell and helped save Hoover’s job. When Congress threatened to bring the FBI under the Civil Service in 1940, Hoover misrepresented the proposal as an affront to the bureau’s professionalism, and the FBI retained its Civil Service exemption. When Nebraska Senator George Norris led an attack on FBI methods in 1940, Hoover exploited his popular support by disingenuously offering to resign and thus stayed in office.

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all considered removing Hoover, but their fear of public backlash rescued the director. “The sources of Hoover’s power,” the authors conclude, were “the [FBI] files; his ability to avert critical scrutiny and independent knowledge of his administration of the FBI; services rendered to V.I.P.’s; information given to politicians about their opponents and high-ranking corporate officials about militant labor unionism; and his cozy relationship with key reporters, editors, and syndicated columnists.”

Hoover remained in office not   [p. 43]   just by duping his employers and cultivating a powerful public image, but by remaining keenly attuned to the nation’s political currents. Hoover reveled in the popularity of the Palmer raids in 1920, then downplayed his role in the face of public criticism in 1921. Hoover disarmed conservative critics by capitalizing on the wartime emergency to expand the FBI’s domestic surveillance during World War II, then enraged liberal adversaries by supplying the House Un-American Activities Committee with covert assistance after the war. From 1950-1953, Hoover fueled Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s popularity by making speeches, providing counsel, and monitoring the senator’s opponents. But the director wisely deserted McCarthy in January 1954 when the senator began his rapid political demise.

Beyond Hoover’s enormous power and shrewd politics lay the most troubling component of his legacy: his unrepentant assault on the rights of innocent Americans. The Palmer raids resulted in over 10,000 arrests, but only 556 deportations. When asked by Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana in senate hearings on the raids in 1921, “Do you know how many searches were made without a search warrant?” Hoover replied simply, “I do not.”

In the 1920s, unknown to the attorney general, Hoover instituted “summary memoranda” on all congresspersons, which would include accounts of their “subversive activities” and “immoral conduct.” In 1925, defying the attorney general, Hoover inaugurated an “obscene file,” which would contain personal and sexual information on persons ranging from prominent radical activists to presidents. In 1943, circumventing the attorney general, Hoover continued a “custodial detention” file designed to investigate “individuals (other than alien enemies) who may be dangerous or potentially dangerous to the public safety or internal security of the United States,” by simply rechristening the file “security matter.”

From 1956 to 1963, Hoover compiled a secret file on John F. Kennedy, filled with negative personal information, pamphlets, articles, and letters. And from 1963 to 1968, Hoover supervised the wiretapping of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even sent an audio tape of King’s illicit sexual activity to the minister’s wife.

Theoharis and Cox thus provide a fascinating account, replete with primary evidence, of a powerful man’s tragic perversion of American democratic ideals. Yet the authors also describe Hoover as quintessentially American. They do not prove this second part of their thesis, however. Hoover’s personal life, the popularity which he and the agency accrued, and the historical context in which he operated receive too little attention.

The authors nobly attempt to surpass the previously incomplete accounts of Hoover’s private life, most notably Don Whitehead’s The FBI Story, written under bureau auspices. But in the end they fail to penetrate significantly the secrecy which characteristically shrouded Hoover’s life. They concede that there is no evidence of Hoover’s homosexuality, then pointedly note the good looks and constant companionship of first Frank Baughman and then Clyde Tolson (FBI underlings), and lament the director’s aversion to women other than his beloved mother. Relying on their own judgments rather than those of any cited Hoover associates, they conclude that Hoover was a sad and lonely man—hardly a representative American.

This portrait of the private Hoover vividly contrasts with the public image of the FBI and its director which Hoover meticulously promoted. Allusions to Hoover’s personal popularity fill the book, but the evidence barely transcends an absorbing few pages on “G-Man” image-making (hair, weight, and dress regulations) in the 1930s; specialized recruiting (Catholics preferred for their religiosity and good looks) in the 1940s; FBI-assisted Hollywood moviemaking (for example, The FBI Story) in the 1950s; and wooing of “conservative media” representatives throughout. Theoharis and Cox thus leave the mistaken impression that Hoover manipulated the masses as easily as he manipulated his superiors.

In short, the authors are unwilling to credit Hoover for anything except his instinctive leadership. A major reason for this drawback is the limited scope of their study. By concentrating almost exclusively on Hoover’s virulent anticommunism, the authors play to Theoharis’s scholarly strengths (McCarthyism, civil liberties), but overlook Hoover’s considerable accomplishments in fighting crime, terrorism (right-wing as well as left-wing), and civil rights abuses—achievements which contributed to his popularity. As David Burner writes in John F. Kennedy and a New Generation, “Hoover was not the irresponsible psychopath television docudramas have made him out to be, and for many years the FBI maintained at least the appearance of a procedurally careful investigative force, a buttress rather than a threat to constitutional restrictions on federal power.”

While conjecture plagues the book’s account of Hoover’s private life and selectivity distorts its assessment of his popularity, personalization compromises the historical context of the subject. Theoharis and Cox, by blaming Hoover for virtually every infringement of civil liberties in the name of anticommunism from 1917 to 1972, implicitly absolve numerous attorneys general and presidents from Wilson to Nixon. The authors contend that Hoover stayed in power because the attorneys general and presidents of the 1920s erroneously believed that they could control Hoover, and the attorneys general and presidents since the 1930s were afraid they could not. Yet Theoharis and Cox admit that all of the presidents and congresses   [p. 44]   during Hoover’s directorate at least tacitly approved most of Hoover’s activities.

Harry Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 over Hoover’s protest. Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general limited Hoover’s wiretapping and bugging authority in 1965. Hoover was therefore neither easily controlled nor uncontrollable.

He was instead, as the authors state, in many ways a reflection of his time. Yet their “Great Person” history, with a few exceptions, fails to capture Hoover’s era. There is ample documentation of McCarthyism, but little explanation for it. Theoharis would have done well to recall how his colleague Robert Griffith (with whom he edited The Specter: Original Essays on the Cold War and the Origins of McCarthyism)explained the second “Red Scare,” by noting traditional American fears of radicalism as well as the Korean War. Not only was Hoover popular, but so was what the authors label “The Cause”—anticommunism—which every president whom Hoover served ardently embraced.

Which leads, finally, to the title. The Spanish Inquisition counted thousands of victims of torture and death. J. Edgar Hoover, for all his abuses of power, was no Torquemada. Comparing Hoover’s excesses at the FBI to the excesses of the fifteenth-century Spanish Church and state is akin to calling the recent Iran-contra scandal a “reactionary scare and a wholesale repression,” which the authors also do, in tenuously connecting Hoover s FBI to the late CIA director William Casey’s purported “secret government.”

The Reagan White House’s Iran-contra deal nonetheless shared with Hoover’s FBI a penchant for secrecy and a disrespect for the U.S. Constitution. The age-old question, revisited by Theoharis and Cox, regarding the proper balance between national security and individual rights in a democracy, deserves close scrutiny. But this issue has always been far bigger than one person.

Lawrence J. McAndrews is assistant professor of history at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.

OLYMPIA BROWN: THE BATTLE FOR EQUALITY by Charlotte Coté. Racine, WI: Mother Courage Press, 1988. $16.95 cloth; $9.95 paper.

Olympia Brown by Charlotte Coté is a thoroughly interesting and inspiring biography of a woman whose life spanned two centuries and two careers. Born in 1835, Brown was thirteen-years-old at the time of the Seneca Falls convention. At twenty-eight, in 1863, she was the first woman to be ordained a minister in a denominational church in America. Brown’s life followed two clear callings, one in the ministry, the other for women’s suffrage.

Coté’s biography tells of Brown’s personal campaign to make the pulpit available to women, then touches on all the shifts in policy and leadership in the long struggle for women’s suffrage, focusing on the important role Brown played at all stages.

Olympia Brown was the eldest of four children born to Lephia and Asa Brown, who had left Vermont for better farming land and settled in the prairie village of Schoolcraft, Michigan in 1834. Lephia was an unusual woman. An intellectual, ardently devoted to education, she believed in full equality between the sexes and supported Olympia’s strivings for complete self-realization.

Charlotte Coté, drawing on the Brown papers in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, Brown’s unpublished autobiography, and on her published recollections, Acquaintances, Old and New, Among Reformers (Milwaukee: Tate Printing Company, 1911), traces Olympia’s life: her childhood on the frontier, her education at Mt. Holyoke and Antioch, her training for the ministry at St. Lawrence Universalist Theological School, culminating in her ordination in 1863. During this period of her life Brown cut her own path through uncharted territory in preparing for the ministry. Brown was ordained in the Universalist Church in 1863. In 1864 she began her career as minister in Weymouth Falls, Massachusetts. In 1865 she took a leave from her church to campaign for four months in Kansas for women’s suffrage. A co-campaigner wrote: “She has great physical power of endurance, lately speaking two or three times each day in hottest weather, travelling from twenty to fifty miles each day with only an average of about four hours sleep, and her speeches from one to two hours in length, without apparently the least fatigue, and weighing only ninety-one pounds . . . Eloquent, hopeful and brave, . . . she is the best pleader for woman that we have yet seen before the public.”

In 1869 she moved, for a larger salary, to her second parish in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where P. T. Barnum was a friendly supporter. John H. Willis, whom she had met in Weymouth, followed her to Bridgeport, courted her, and they were married in 1874. They had two children. But because Brown faced persistent hostile opposition to her appointment, she sought a more congenial church. In 1878 the family moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where Brown was minister at the Universalist Church until she resigned in 1887 to devote full energy to the suffrage movement.

Susan B. Anthony had asked Brown, shortly after she began her career, to join her in the suffrage cause, but after deep consideration, Brown refused. She felt her first calling was the ministry. At this point in the story one wishes Coté had devoted more discussion to Brown’s religious convictions, even some excerpts from her sermons. But Coté does not explore Brown’s   [p. 45]   position on theological issues except to distinguish a humanistic, loving, Universalist God from a hellfire-and-damnation god of other sects. One wonders what Brown said about equality of the sexes in her sermons from her pulpit.

We do get a much better sense of Brown as a campaigner for women s suffrage. Excerpts from her speeches and samples of some platform exchanges with other speakers (for example, Stephen Douglas) show her to be lively, quick witted, and forthright on the platform. Coté sketches the history of women s struggle for the vote, the achievements and setbacks. She briefly touches on the conflicts among the various personalities and associations, particularly in Wisconsin, but her focus keeps Brown in the forefront, always independent, stubborn, and single-minded.

Brown emerges as both formidable and engaging. Slight in stature (under five feet and less than one-hundred pounds), she had steadfast determination. When she realized that her voice was small and might not carry to the back of the hall, she took physical education and voice lessons. For the rest of her life, her oratorical style won admiring comment. Brown’s strong-headedness sustained her through many battles; it also prevented her from joining with groups with which she did not fully agree. Coté considers that Brown’s place in the history would have been far larger, that her name would have been as familiar as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, if she had not been so self-directed.

The book provides some history of Wisconsin’s not always enlightened attitudes towards women’s suffrage. But one of the most dramatic episodes describes the suf-ragists’ winter-long picketing of the White House protesting President Wilson s opposition to women’s suffrage. How many of us are aware that American women were beaten, arrested, jailed, and went on a hunger strike in 1917, in attempts to win the vote?

Olympia Brown, in 1920, at the age of eighty-five, cast her first vote in a national election. She had participated all her adult life in the struggle to get the vote and, because she lived so long, succeeded in achieving her ambition. We are made painfully aware of the slow, frustrating history of achieving equal rights for women. Not much has been written about the life of this indomitable feminist; therefore Coté’s biography is most welcome.

Audrey Roberts teaches English and women’s studies at UW-Whitewater.

HARRIER, HAWK OF THE MARSHES by Frances Hamerstrom. Washington, DC Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986. 171 pp. $24.95 cloth; $10.95 paper.

This is another in a series of popular and readable books by Frances Hamerstrom, a pioneering woman in the field of wildlife research and conservation in Wisconsin. The book is illustrated by Jonathan Wilde, a noted Wisconsin artist. Roger Tory Peterson contributed the foreword.

Frances, better known to her coworkers and friends as Fran, spent nearly thirty years with her husband, Frederick, studying prairie chickens in central Wisconsin near Plainfield. Their work was the basis for the conservation effort that saved the species from extirpation in the state. During this period, she also became interested in the harrier or marsh hawk (Circus cyaneus), another inhabitant of the grasslands of the Buena Vista marsh.

The peculiar mating flight of the harrier, termed skydancing, drew her attention from the chickens to the hawk. Puzzled by the significance of skydancing, she wondered if harriers mated for life and formed the first of many hypotheses that were tested in her twenty-five-year study. In order to test the hypotheses, she decided that breeding harriers on the marsh would have to be first trapped and individually marked. But how? Fran turned to the ancient art of falconry for guidance and inspiration. Her writing is replete with terms like “bal-chatri,” “dhogaza,” and “imping,” which describe trapping and marking techniques. Fran developed her own trapping variation, which included using her pet great horned owl Ambrose to lure harriers into nets erected over their nests. She even invented a word, “gabboons,” which she called the many apprentice students who helped her through the years with her study.

Fran’s diligent research demonstrated that harriers do not mate for life; the homing of females prevents year-to-year fidelity to mates. Males had different mates each year and in some years had several mates at the same time. She found polygamy regulated harrier numbers to prevent overpopulation.

She found a close relationship between harriers and their principal food, mice or voles (Microtus sp.). This relationship was characterized by the subtitle of the book, The Hawk That is Ruled by a Mouse. Fran set out thousands of traps each year to sample vole populations to compare statistically their numbers to harrier numbers. She found voles to be cyclic, peaking in numbers every four years. During years of high vole populations, harriers responded to the increased food supply by males mating with more females, which produced more nests and more young. Contrary to popular opinion, harriers did not control vole numbers. Harriers did not prey upon larger creatures to any degree: only one kill was recorded in 886 encounters between harriers and prairie chickens.

In the early 1960s the harrier   [p. 46]   population on the Buena Vista marsh dropped precipitously. Birds appeared sick, skydancing disappeared, and breeding ceased. She suspected agricultural pesticides, but to prove her suspicions she had to sample harriers for chemical contamination. The commonly accepted technique to determine pesticide contamination at that time required killing the bird to obtain tissue samples for laboratory analysis. Fran, however, could not force herself to destroy the hawks in order to save them, so she used a new technique, biopsy. After capturing and restraining a harrier, she carefully made a small incision in the live bird, removed a tissue sample, and sewed the incision shut. The bird was then released to continue its life. Because Fran’s harrier study was poorly funded, the cost of laboratory analysis of tissue samples was prohibitive. Undaunted, she traded her home-baked pies for tissue analysis. After DDT and related pesticides were banned in Wisconsin in the early 1970s following landmark legislation, the harrier population on the Buena Vista marsh recovered.

To learn more about the development of young in the nest, Fran removed birds from the nest and raised them herself. The process of raising hawks and teaching them how to fly and hunt is called “hacking.” She hacked a female harrier which she named Euphoria, and a male harrier, Benjamin. From observations of these birds and others in the field, Fran learned that young harriers are fed by their parents after flight and do not learn to hunt until they migrate.

I enjoyed the book because of its content and ease of reading. The bibliography provides additional information for those who want to learn more about harriers and other raptors (hawks and owls). The twelve appendices provide the technical information which professionals need in order to utilize Fran Hamerstrom’s study. I recommend this book to anyone interested in wildlife and the Wisconsin ecosystem.

LOON MAGIC by Tom Klein. Minocqua, WI: NorthWord Press, 1989. Updated with new photographs. 164 pp. $50 cloth;$19.95 paper.

A black and white illustration of a book jacket for Loon Magic

This is the second edition of a popular book noted for its beautiful loon photography. The author, Tom Klein, is a Wisconsin native who lives in Ashland and self-published the first edition of this book in 1985. The foreword of the second edition is by Sigurd T. Olson, son of the late Sigurd F. Olson. noted Wisconsin ecologist.

Tom Klein has designed and written a book synthesizing scientific and popular loon literature into a form that the average reader can understand and enjoy. The many beautiful and fascinating photographs alone are worth the cost of the volume. Wisconsin residents and locations are featured throughout the work. Each chapter begins with an appropriate quotation from a respected writer, biologist, or just plain loon person. Similar quotations are scattered throughout the text.

Loon people are the most irrational of birders according to Klein. He speculates that a loon “religion” exists in the north country, complete with festivals and idols like the nineteen-foot-high fiberglass loon in downtown Mercer, Wisconsin. Tom was first introduced to the religions nature or magic of the loon while on a Boundary Waters canoe trip.

Five loon species exist in North America, but the emphasis of this book is on the common loon, Gaviaimmer. This loon has captured the imagination of people as a symbol of wildness and wilderness much like the wolf has. The haunting calls of the loon remain forever in the memories of those who have visited the northern lake country of Canada and the United Sates.

The late Olaus J. Murie, a biologist and wilderness philosopher, wrote: “We returned to camp in the evening. The wind was dying down as the sun sank below the trees. The sky was saffron when the moon climbed into view and a large bright star dropped its reflection with that of the moon on the still, darkening water while from out of the lake arose the exuberant yodeling of the loons. We stood in the deepening dusk, reverently .

Long after we had crept into the tents and lay quiet and contented in our sleeping bags, we listened to the wild serenading of the loons.”

Klein ably leads the reader through the scientific classifications, physical characteristics, and status and distribution of the loon species in the first four chapters of the book. Calls, breeding habits, nesting, brood raising, food habits, migration, and winter habitat are discussed in succeeding chapters. Finally the future survival of the loon is explored.

Despite pressure from increasing human populations, there is hope for loons. Human attitudes have changed from unrestricted persecution of a perceived competitor to reverence for the symbolic creatures. Loons have also adapted to people. If we can conserve and preserve the environment we share with the loons, their future is assured.

The final chapter, “Loon Lovers Digest,” contains fifty questions and answers about loons. The questions are grouped in units often in increasing complexity and, along   [p. 47]   with a glossary of loon terminology, provide a good synopsis of the book. The bibliography is arranged by subject matter to help persons wanting more detailed information. A directory lists organizations that deal directly with loon conservation. The digest contains an essay, “A Day in the Life of a Loon,” written by Paul Strong, a biologist with the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College.

This book is a must for both amateur and professional ‘loon people.”

James O. Evrard is a wildlife research biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at Baldwin.

GLOBAL BIOETHICS: Building on the Leopold Legacy by Van Rensselaer Potter. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1988. 203 pp. $9.00 paper.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

The life and work of Aldo Leopold were major influences in the modern ecological movement. From his scholarly publication of Game Management in 1933 (which created the science of wildlife management) to his poetic contributions as an observer and ethicist of nature, Leopold demonstrated a passion for the natural world which can perhaps best be described as compassion. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is justifiably proud of having nurtured this world-class naturalist, although Leopold was always a self-effacing academic, more interested in the prairie remnants growing along neglected cemeteries than in revising his textbook. Despite the current recognition of Leopold’s work, the thesis of Van Rensselaer Potter in Global Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy is that Leopold’s true efforts may have gone unrecognized.

While acknowledging Leopold’s impact as a conservationist, Potter (an emeritus professor of oncology at UW-Madison) proposes that Leopold’s “Land Ethic” applies not only to the land, but also to human behavior and survival. Leopold was deeply concerned for the world’s exponentially increasing human population and overconsumption of both renewable and nonrenewable resources. Potter uses these concerns to define “global bioethics”: “. . . a secular program of evolving a morality that calls for decisions in health care and in the preservation of the natural environment. It is a morality of responsibility.” (p. 153) Potter begins by analyzing the Leopold legacy, developing a series of important tenets or categorical imperatives for the land ethic. He then discusses, in separate chapters, human survival; dilemmas in ecological ethics, global ethics, and feminism; issues in clinical ethics; and the control of fertility. The book has several appendices including a “Bioethical Creed for Individuals.” The bibliographies are extensive, and the book is worth having on the shelf as a reference resource alone.

“Bioethics” was first coined in 1970 by Potter, whose Bioethics: Bridge to the Future was published in 1971. Global Bioethics is an attempt, as philosopher Tris Engelhardt points out in the book’s foreword, to formulate a general philosophical and moral challenge which addresses a wide range of issues. For example, Potter claims that survival would be a “basic supra-ethical criterion.” (p.3) To increase the chance for human survival in harmony with the ecosys tern, one must recognize the “fatal flaw in the combined biological mechanism.” (p.7) This flaw, first defined by Theodosius Dobzhansky, is that as a species becomes better adapted to a given non-changing environment, it may lose the ability to adapt to a sudden change in that environment.

For Potter, the road to survival is through the merging of medical bioethics or clinical ethics (with its short-term focus on individual concerns of patients and health professionals) and ecological ethics, which incorporates a broad outlook on the environment as a whole. Individually, he notes. each viewpoint fails in some respect. But combined, the concentration on both individual and species survival in the context of a healthy ecosystem could lead to controlled human fertility and a stabilized world population, resulting in “acceptable survival.”

Of course, there is bound to be much dissention over the criteria for acceptable survival. As Potter defines it, acceptable survival involves not merely sanctity of life but quality of life as well. An optimum environment would satisfy “by effort: food, shelter, clothing, space, privacy, leisure, and education (both moral and intellectual)” and “freedom from toxic chemicals, unnecessary trauma, and preventable disease.” (p.60) His concern is that overpopulation is the primary cause of ecological damage and unfitness. Quoting Leopold, Potter states. “‘Ecology knows of no population density that holds for indefinitely wide limits. All gains from density are subject to a law of diminishing returns.’” (p.129-30).

Overpopulation invariably leads to overconsumption, and with this concept in mind, Potter argues that “a case-by-case approach seems called for” (p.97) in birth control, abortion, and selective nontreatment of newborns and the terminally ill. In the consideration of abortion, he calls for “counseling for and against . . . [where] the se-   [p. 48]   riousness of parenthood should be discussed.” (p. 164) This would include information about abortion or withdrawal of treatment in instances of “defective” fetuses and newborns. Potter believes it is wrong to adhere to the “sanctity of life” philosophy when a child has a very slim chance of survival, or when circumstance (either genetic or societal) cannot ensure a tolerable existence. These policies would also apply to organ transplantation and euthanasia. While medical and ethical advice considering all responsible options should be available, Potter writes that the final decision regarding human life should be made by the individual, or, if an infant or newborn, by the parents.

Potter admits that cultural and religious differences will pose serious obstacles to worldwide adoption of a global bioethic. His is a macro, even armchair, view, and one wonders if he has ever been in a neonatal intensive care unit or a busy community hospital emergency room on a Friday night. He says in the book’s preface that while Leopold advocated his intuitive ideas by means of poetic prose rather than by tables or charts, “fifty years later, we cannot rest the case on poetry alone.” Perhaps, in the end, this is the book’s major flaw: it was precisely in their poetry that Leopold’s ideas found and held their power. While Potter builds thoughtfully and carefully on Leopold’s work, he does not give his new ideas the passion and energy required for long life.

Brian Resler is a senior majoring in bacteriology and philosophy at UW-Madison, with plans for entering law school. David Schiedermayer is assistant professor of medicine and associate director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

THE U.S.S. WISCONSIN: A HISTORY OF TWO BATTLESHIPS by Richard H. Zeitlin. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1988. 56 pp. $5.95 paper.

A black and white illustration of a steamship.

The modern American navy may be said to have begun with congressional approval for three new battleships in 1896. These were to be state-of-the-art ships, emphasizing seagoing qualities, heavy firepower, and the most modern armor. Their names—Illinois, Alabama, and Wisconsin—began the tradition of honoring states, an extraordinarily shrewd long-term public relations coup for the navy. How shrewd was underscored nearly one hundred years later. In 1988 the navy recommissioned the second Wisconsin, amid an amazing outpouring of public interest throughout the Badger State. Governor Tommy Thompson led a large delegation to the recommissioning at Pascagoula, Mississippi, in the fall of 1988, to the accompaniment of extensive press coverage. The entire state glowed with pride over this event in the Reagan defense rebuilding program.

No item in this recommissioning saga is more interesting than the publication of this slim, instructive, and candid volume. In forty pages Richard H. Zeitlin, a professional historian and curator of the Wisconsin Veterans Museums in the Capitol, traces the development of the battleship concept in the United States, the construction of the two vessels named for the Badger State, and their experiences and exploits on behalf of the American people before and after two world wars. Anne Woodhouse, curator of decorative arts for the State Historical Society, adds a seven-page footnote on the highly visible contribution the people of Wisconsin made to their two battleships, a handsome sterling silver service authorized by the state legislature for the first U.S.S. Wisconsin just ninety years ago and often on exhibition in the state since then.

Zeitlin makes no claim that our Wisconsins changed the course of American history, but both have had interesting careers. The first, launched at San Francisco late in 1898, missed out on the Spanish-American War, but its early years were spent cruising in Pacific waters, symbolic of the nation’s new role in that part of the world. It joined President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet in its dramatic demonstration of America’s newly created naval power in the Pacific in 1908. Before the United States entered World War I, the now-aging Wisconsin was recommissioned, but its war service was limited to training and patrol along the east coast. It made a farewell cruise to the Caribbean at the end of hostilities and was decommissioned in May 1920. Thereafter it was ignominiously sold for $42,000, its scrap value, and dismantled in 1922.

The 1920s witnessed a world effort to limit and even to reduce major naval fleets, and only the rise of new threats to world peace in the middle 1930s led to resumption of battleship construction by the United States in 1938. The North Carolina, launched in 1940, represented the new fast battleships, but improvements continued until they reached what was to be the finest—and final—group constructed for World War II, the Iowa class of four vessels. The Wisconsin was begun in January 1941 and launched just two years to the day following the Pearl Harbor attack. For nine months thereafter it served, as did   [p. 49]   the nations’s other battleships, primarily in support of carrier operation, not in the classical big ship duels of the past. Decommissioned in 1948, the Wisconsin was called back to serve in the blockade of North Korea and remained in active service until 1958, the survivor of the Iowa class. There were threats to its very existence in the 1 970s, and President Carter opposed its reactivation. A new life for the Wisconsin awaited President Reagan’s defense buildup.

Readers will enjoy the details Zeitlin provides of the careers of both Wisconsins. Of the second he concludes: “The Wisconsin and the other Iowa-class battleships are the most beautiful and puzzling capital ships of the World War II era. Wisconsin was never tested in action against the enemy battleships it was designed to fight. It entered service too late, and airplanes had become the Navy’s primary weapon. The remarkably high speed of the Iowas made them ideal companions for the fast aircraft carriers, however, and for that reason they remained in service long after all other battleships were scrapped.”

Produced as a slick paper pamphlet, of attractive design and handsomely illustrated, this publication reveals what can be accomplished for the general reader in the present publishing program of the State Historical Society. Gone are the scholarly monographs, and in their place (except for the monumental six-volume definitive history of the state) we have more modest efforts of broader appeal—site guides, reprints from the Wisconsin Magazine of History, bibliographical aids, and timely reconstructions of popular history such as this. The demonstrated public interest in the Wisconsin should guarantee Zeitlin’s work a wide readership.

Frederick I. Olson, professor emeritus of history at UW-Milwaukee, has lectured and written widely on Milwaukee and Wisconsin history.

A black and white illustration of a bookjacket for Northwoods Wildlife.

Book reviewers needed. We are updating our files of book reviewers. Persons interested in contributing book reviews should send name, address, professional qualifications and experience, with subjects you are interested in reviewing to Editor, Wisconsin Academy Review, 1922 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53705. Payment is book to be reviewed and two copies of the journal in which the review appears.

Because we believe the book reviews are an important source of information about the intellectual and cultural life in Wisconsin, we try to find a reviewer who is able to assess accurately each book reviewed. We give serious consideration to reviewers and are most grateful for the valuable service they perform for the Academy and for our readers.

New book shelf

Janine M. Benyus. North woods Wildlife Guide. A Watcher’s Guide to Habitats. Minocqua, WI: North Word Press, 1989. illus. 440 pp. $19.95 paper. Produced by the North Central Forest Experiment Station, USDA Forest Service, St. Paul, MN.
F. M. Clover and R. S. Humphreys, eds. Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity. Madison:The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. 343 pp. $40.00 cloth.
Gordon Gullion. The Ruffed Grouse. Minocqua, WI: NorthWord Press, 1989. 144 pp. 130 full color photographs by Tom Martinson. $19.90 paper.
Jane Hamilton, The Book of Ruth. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1988. 328 pp. $18.95, fiction, an innocent mind trapped by meanness and isolation in a small Iowa town
Claudia Johnson. Jane Austen:Women, Politics, and the Novel.Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988. 186 pp. $27.50, a reexamination of the supposed social and political isolation of the author
John and Joanne Judson, eds. Remember That Symphonies Also Take Place in Snails. La Crosse: Juniper Press, 1989. 190 pp. $18.00 paper. Selections from twenty-five years of the little magazine Northeast, 1963-88.
Ronald Wallace, ed. Vital Signs. Contemporary American Poetry from the University Presses. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. 502 pp. $29.95 cloth; $14.95 paper.

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