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Old 07-23-2004, 04:38 AM   #1
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service records - in ancient times and today

From NYTimes Op Ed

Foolscap and Favored Sons
By CAROLINE ALEXANDER
Caroline Alexander is the author, most recently, of "The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty."

Quote:
I t had come late in the day, but it was more than I had hoped for. Scanned from the original document held by the British Public Record Office, Admiralty File 29/5 contained the complete service record of a man whose life I had been researching for more than two years: William Purcell, carpenter, had concluded 25 years of naval service on Dec. 31, 1812. The last of the 16 ships on which he had served was the Boscawen; the first, on which he had mustered on Aug. 27, 1787, was the Bounty.

The Admiralty archives are a superb resource, if notoriously difficult to navigate, and the holdings are uneven. Nonetheless, in the course of researching the history of the Bounty, I was continually astounded that so much material had survived from the 18th and early 19th century.

So when the Pentagon announced that critical pay records that could have shed light on a gap in President Bush's service record in 1972 and 1973 had been inadvertently destroyed several years ago, it struck me as particularly incredible; apparently it is easier to reconstruct the 25-year career of a British Naval seaman in the 18th century than the National Guard service of a president. Not only does this gaffe deny the American public information that could answer questions about the president's past, but it is also a loss to future historians.

The Admiralty archives taught me a great deal about William Purcell, whose cantankerous ways plagued Lt. William Bligh throughout the voyage (though in the end, he proved loyal to his captain in the mutiny that deprived Bligh of his ship). From contemporary descriptions, I had imagined Purcell to have been an older man, with a long naval record behind him. Now I learned that the Bounty was his first ship. The new information also made it possible to check the muster rolls, log books, pay records and captain's letters of his later ships. These would reveal at the very least the parts of the world Purcell later visited, under which captains he had sailed, whether his home port changed over the years.

The same trove of Admiralty papers revealed that George Simpson, the quartermaster's mate on the Bounty, had died in the ship's hammock, and his personal effects returned to his father in the Lake District, and that a pardoned mutineer, James Morrison, had gone down with all hands on the Blenheim. The Greenwich Hospital records, folded and stacked in neat piles tied with faded ribbon, included both the dates that the Bounty's armorer, Joseph Coleman, had been admitted and a list of every ship on which he had served.

As anyone who has conducted even amateur genealogical research knows, a single entry on a single scrap of paper can be revelatory. Often the bald fact provides not only a nugget of hard information, but also the means to connect dots leading to other webs of information.

Stark facts in the records of a Bounty midshipman, Peter Heywood, for example, were very suggestive. Brought before a court-martial, Heywood was found guilty of mutiny, although he was later pardoned. His surviving records revealed the curious fact that the years he had spent on Tahiti as a fugitive had been credited toward the years of service required for his promotion to lieutenancy. A little more digging prompted by this anomaly disclosed the fact, little known even in his time, that Heywood enjoyed the good fortune of being related to one of the highest naval figures in the kingdom, Admiral Lord Howe.

The records of the men who served on the Bounty reveal more than the prosaic facts of their individual careers. They add to the evidence of a relentless campaign to rehabilitate young Peter Heywood. Cumulatively, they tell a whole new story - the real story, as opposed to the version spun by his defenders.

The Admiralty papers are part of the Public Record Office's armed services holdings, which are punctuated by numerous painful lapses; soldiers' records from World War I, for example, casualties of the London blitz, are almost wholly lacking. The lost service records of President Bush, according to a Pentagon spokesman, were casualties of "deteriorating microfilm" and a failed preservation strategy.

Timing aside, the disappearance of Mr. Bush's service records is important for reasons that go beyond mere politics. Military records are a cornerstone of a nation's archival history. Buried among the lost papers are the records of other men, in whom other researchers at another time might be interested, whose simple facts of service might contribute to the building of a larger historical picture that could clarify the stories spun by the politics of the time.

Clearly the Department of Defense needs to raise the standard of its record-keeping. Perhaps future records should be kept on foolscap paper tied with ribbon: these seem to last for centuries.
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Old 07-23-2004, 10:10 AM   #2
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I agree, this is weird. While I'm not ever likely to write a book about President Bush, what if I wanted to? My information would be incomplete, therefore I couldn't do him justice. I mean, heck, to me this campaign is not at all personal. It's all about ideas. I don't hate the guy, I just don't agree with his ideas. If I can't do the guy justice that's a pretty good reason not to do it.
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Old 07-23-2004, 10:32 AM   #3
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Maybe we should subject George W. Bush to a 'Yeltsin Test' (http://forum.interference.com/t94157.html). Unless he can provide clear information (i.e. the actual documents) proving he was there, we may conclude he was AWOL. And no, witness accounts are not sufficient.




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Old 07-23-2004, 04:48 PM   #4
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This is a poor analysis. British records historically have been better than US records. Taking two unrelated stories, showing a difference, then declaring outrage is not a thoughtful analysis.



Besides, Drudge is reporting that additional records have been released.
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Old 07-23-2004, 05:01 PM   #5
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Quote:
Besides, Drudge is reporting that additional records have been released.
your sense of humor is noted and appreciated
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Old 07-23-2004, 05:01 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by Popmartijn
Maybe we should subject George W. Bush to a 'Yeltsin Test' (http://forum.interference.com/t94157.html). Unless he can provide clear information (i.e. the actual documents) proving he was there, we may conclude he was AWOL. And no, witness accounts are not sufficient.




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Old 07-23-2004, 05:09 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by deep


your sense of humor is noted and appreciated
Fox is reporting it as well
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Old 07-23-2004, 08:07 PM   #8
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nbcrusader:
you shouldn't forget that this article is verry short and so Caroline Alexander wasn't able to go too much in details.
She knows what she's talking about and when we look at the facts we should question how it can be possible in our world today that many documents simply dissapear.
Don't they have the money for microfilm beackups or digitized backups? Can this hapen because of a few single men or is it comon sense that sometimes documents should dissapear.
These service records are just one example. We all remember the several thousand pages which were "accidentially" lost when they tried to bring light in the darkth of the prison scandal.
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Old 07-23-2004, 09:28 PM   #9
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The military records in question have been misplaced or destroyed? What a surprise. If Kerry's records had conveniently disappeared, Bush's attack dogs would be crawling up his ass, outraged beyond belief. His followers practice selective blindness to the point where they've ceased to see the truth. Just my opinion...
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