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New York at War: Four Centuries of Combat, Fear, and Intrigue in Gothamby Steven H Jaffe
Synopses & Reviews
In New York at War, historian Steven H. Jaffe offers an alternative history of New York City—arguably the most powerful and yet also the most vulnerable city on earth, and a place whose landscape, culture, and inhabitants have been shaped by violence near and far.
The threats of war to New York have not always been direct, but even distant wars have had an important influence on the city. Beginning with an Indian attack on one of Henry Hudsons crewmen (who in 1609 became the first recorded fatality of an act of war in the regions history), Jaffe describes, in turn, each of the citys encounters with war over the past four centuries. He recounts the threats Dutch settlers faced from Indians (and each other) after the West India Company established New Amsterdam in 1624; the British encroachment and eventual invasion that transformed the Dutch town into an English colony in 1664; the colonial wars (such as Queen Annes War and the French and Indian Wars) that affected the city over the next hundred years; and the divisions and depredations New York endured during the Revolutionary War. The city soon experienced new threats (and became a major naval stronghold) during the Quasi-War with France and the War of 1812, which is now viewed as a second war of independence.
The nations newfound freedom did nothing to shield New York from the global conflicts that followed the Revolutionary War; in fact, New Yorkers sense of vulnerability persisted—and in many ways worsened—in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jaffe shows how New York became hugely powerful as the Unions money city” during the Civil War, but nevertheless retained strong economic and emotional ties to the South, and was so wracked by draft riots in 1863 that people suspected a Confederate plot was behind the violence. Many African-American New Yorkers were killed during the riots, highlighting the prejudice that has frequently characterized New York when the citys inhabitants feel threatened.
Fear and prejudice have been bedfellows throughout New Yorks history, says Jaffe—and the 1863 draft riots are hardly the only example of this sorry fact. During the build-up to World War I and the war itself, German-Americans were the subject of intense suspicion, which seemed to be confirmed by the discovery of several bombs planted by German saboteurs; one successful attack destroyed an ammunition depot in Jersey City and shattered thousands of windows in Manhattan. (Had New Yorkers learned of the Kaisers unrealized plans to invade the city after a massive amphibious landing on Cape Cod, the consequences for German New Yorkers would likely have been fare more dire.) New Yorkers of German, Japanese, Italian, and Jewish heritage encountered their fair share of hostility during World War II, and in the atomic era that followed the city endured attacks by terrorist groups such as the Weathermen, disaffected Bay of Pigs veterans, Puerto Rican nationalists, and Islamic fundamentalists. Each new assault has seen New Yorkers heap discrimination upon neighbors they perceive as being similar to the attackers. The challenge throughout the citys history, says Jaffe, has been to distinguish spies, saboteurs, and terrorists from their seemingly identical but innocent neighbors—a difficult task, to be sure, but one whose complexity does not exempt New Yorkers or other Americans from the need to try.
Stretching from the colonial era to 9/11 and beyond, New York at War is that most rare of books: a work of history that is at once local and international, timely and timeless. Bringing a unique lens to bear on the worlds most celebrated and contested city, Jaffe reveals the unimaginable ways the city has changed—and how it has stubbornly endured—under threats both external and internal.
"'o other major American city has so repeatedly faced the risks and realities of wartime turmoil and attack as has New York,' writes Jaffe, historian and historical curator. He uses 9/11 as a focal point for reflecting on the city's long and long-neglected past as a military site. The city's struggles, and its frequent failure to develop effective defenses, began before Peter Stuyvesant and continued after the administration of Rudolph Giuliani. Pirates, Confederates, and terrorists have held the spotlight. Jaffe tells the story in the context of paradoxes. New York has been a stronghold, a warehouse, and a bank in the service of war yet has also proven consistently vulnerable to attack — a consequence of its origins and development as a commercial center. Contradictory feelings of vulnerability and of immunity inform the city's perspective on military matters. Jaffe utilized a spectrum of published sources, primary and secondary, in this well-presented, fast-paced narrative of the ways a polyglot, protean community has reacted, and continues to react, to the periodic challenge of ensuring domestic security while maintaining commitments to openness and inclusion. 34 b&w illus., 3 maps. Agent: Sam Stoloff, Frances Oldin Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The complete history of New York as a military target, from the Indian attacks on Henry Hudson in 1609 through 9/11 and beyond, showing how the Empire City and its inhabitants have been fundamentally shaped by war.
About the Author
Steven H. Jaffe is a writer and historian specializing in the history of New York City. Jaffe has worked at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, the New-York Historical Society (where he served as Senior Project Historian), and the South Street Seaport Museum. Jaffe graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and obtained his doctoral degree in history from Harvard University. His work has been published in The New-York Journal of American History, Seaport: New Yorks History Magazine, and in Kenneth T. Jacksons (ed.) Encyclopedia of New York City. Jaffe lives in Maplewood, NJ with his wife and two sons.
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History and Social Science » Americana » New England and Mid Atlantic