|Fort Gorges with Portland Head Light on right|
Remnant defensive fortifications are evident all over the approaches to Portland Harbor in Maine. Those from the 19th century like Fort Gorges, Fort Preble, and Fort Scammell are mostly granite. Others from the 20th century are concrete. All were constructed after the British bombarded Portland in 1775. That they’ve never been used should not be seen as a waste of the money spent building them. They accomplished their purpose just by being there because, as Plato observed twenty-five centuries ago, the best way to preserve peace is prepare for war. Would Portland have been attacked again if the defenses were not there? Probably, though no one can say for sure.
|Fort Scammell from Willard Beach|
While my father and his brothers fought in WWII, I don’t know of any other McLaughlin ancestors in combat. I’m sure there were going way back in Ireland, but I don’t know specifics. Ever since finding out my surname, McLaughlin, translated from Gaelic, means “of the Vikings,” I’ve been consuming information about those notorious raiders. For a thousand years, they were known exclusively as savage warriors, plunderers and rapists until relatively recent historical revisionist efforts to soften their image — probably because so many prominent people in western Europe had, like me, discovered they had a few Viking ancestors. Their savage reputation doesn’t bother me though, especially after learning of notorious exploits by McLaughlins in modern times, like those of the McLaughlin Brothers Gang in Charlestown who were rivals to Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang.
|Edward "Punchy" McLaughlin mug shot|
“The Vikings” series on the History Channel eschews such revisionism, showing Ragnar Lothbrok and company in their ferocious glory. It’s very popular, having recently been renewed for its fifth season. Bernard Cornwell’s eight-book series “The Saxon Tales” is also quite popular and covers much of the same Viking history The History Channel does. The BBC has recently dramatized “The Last Kingdom” which is book one by Cornwell, who bases much of it on one of the few written accounts of that period: “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” which was begun by King Alfred in the 9th century. I’m grateful to Cornwell for fashioning historical novels out of them, thereby making it more enjoyable to learn about that time and I’ll trust his judgement about how best to characterize the Vikings. Viking religion sanctioned their savagery, not unlike the way Islam encourages similar depredations by the likes of ISIS today.
By all accounts, the 9th century was a brutal time in the British Isles as Ireland suffered the same ravages as the Anglo-Saxons, and Britons, and the Scots. There were other invasions prior to those by Vikings, but I’ve not studied them. During our two-week tour of Greece a couple of years ago, I learned that my wife’s ancestors endured many battles with invaders too numerous to count. All my first-hand and second-hand studies of the histories of every time and place indicates that the world hasn’t changed in the last few millennia — and won’t likely improve in the foreseeable future.
It’s the same lesson boys in my neighborhood learned early: being ready to fight at all times will reduce the number of occasions when you’ll actually have to. My wife often points out that it’s the male of the species who stirs the misery of war throughout human history, and I cannot dispute that. It would certainly be better if we could find more peaceful ways to settle disputes, and occasionally we can work things out by negotiation. The recent vote by British citizens for independence from the European Union will likely accomplish a non-violent exit, for example. When we notified the British on the Fourth of July, 1776 that we wanted independence, however, a war was necessary before we could successfully negotiate the Treaty of Paris and actually get it. When the American south wanted independence in 1861, an even more brutal war ensued.
|Fort Preble with Fort Gorges behind, Spring Point Light right|
from Willard Beach in South Portland
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, we demanded unconditional surrender of both the Japanese and their German allies before we would agree to stop killing them. Only then did we obtain a lasting peace. Is it possible to negotiate with enemies like al Qaida and ISIS who are killing Americans today? Clearly not. The only way to bring that to an end is to thoroughly destroy them and all other radical Muslims, the sooner the better. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did two centuries ago. He sent the Marines to Tripoli to kill Muslim pirates rather than pay tribute the way his predecessor, John Adams did. There’s no other way. I wish there were, but there simply isn’t.
|Destroying Muslim Pirates|