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armaments gave power to the great institutions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as nations, shipping lines, railroads, and large corporations. Industrialized transportation required large amounts of capital and wealth to become effective, therefore only large institutions could successfully operate trains and steamships. The environmental historians we read can be divided into two groups dependent upon who controlled the means of transportation and the power that came with it. According to Cambridge, Massachusetts group, Stuart Banner and Thomas Andrews, only large industrialized powers within nations of great influence, such as the United States and Great Britain, managed transportation to manipulate global markets to their advantage, whereas lesser powers did not. The Texas group, John Soluri and Sterling Evans, advocated that less powerful nations such as Mexico and Honduras regulated transportation to their own advantage resulting in a more nuanced approach to understanding the history of transportation in relation to power. Stuart Banner approached transportation by only looking at the British and American perspectives, while completely ignoring any transportation capabilities that natives possessed. The overwhelming supremacy of British and American ships over natives’ vessels convinced Banner to focus on resistance onshore and neglected native resistance at sea. He emphasized James Cook’s Pacific voyage of 1768 to Hawaii as peaceful, but the British changed policy at a whim with Arthur Philip’s 1787 voyage to conquer the land.i According to Banner there was no way for natives to halt this policy through armed resistance. Centralized kingdoms such as Hawaii could not hope to fight
British warships or even travel to Great Britain with their vessels. Two incidents illustrated the futility of Hawaiian armed resistance, negating any need to write about it. In the first, HMS Blonde brought back the bodies of the king and queen of Hawaii, both of whom died from measles in England in 1825. The spread of diseases by Britons was enough to kill native Hawaiians. In the second, a single frigate under Lord George Paulet briefly annexed the kingdom in 1843 without any significant resistance.ii Despite the magnitude of maritime transportation to the issue of occupying the Pacific Rim by the British and Americans, Banner conceded the issue because he implied the natives stood no chance of significantly delaying colonization in comparison to the construction of property rights through legal measures. Thomas Andrews in Killing for Coal regarded large transportation firms such as shipping lines and behemoth railroad companies as complicit in the suffering of the poor, leaving labor unions and strikers without the ability to leverage transportation as power. Andrews took specific aim at the shipping firms as protecting the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the less fortunate. His attitude toward the names of great ships which often recalled monarchs embodied his resentment of the shipping lines.iii He accused the shipping firms, despite their denials, of hiring labor agents to coerce the desperately poor from around the world to immigrate to the United States on credit or savings with deceptive promises of high wages. Andrews stressed how awful conditions were at sea in the boiler rooms with the sheer volume of coal required to power large vessels and the hardships of the crews.iv Andrews regarded the liners as oppressive western companies with victims from all over the world that facilitated the exploitation of coal miners.
Andrews placed the power that moved workers and soldiers solely in the hands of companies and governments. Coal companies prohibited union members and strikers from driving on public roads or entering new coal towns, which prevented the spread of unions and restricted the strikers’ ability to travel quickly.v The ability for companies to bring in scabs and strike breakers to work via train showed that train companies were on the coal companies’ side. Andrews theorized that labor movements lacked control over any significant mode of transportation. Although State and Federal troops prevented either side from using railroads to their ends, Andrews pointed out how companies paid scabs’ train tickets to get around a biased system.vi Therefore, even with the presence of troops, companies used transportation to their advantage. Andrews, like Banner, argued that only large powerful institutions could use the power of transportation effectively. John Soluri theorized that in the early years of the Honduran banana trade, Honduran officials and US sea captains or company management sought to tip control of transportation into their favor. Soluri used Honduran legislation, such as Decree 30 which permitted captains to purchase fruit only at designated ports and regulated schedules through subsidization. Soluri used the decree to show the limited the power of purchasers.vii Schooners and steamships often ignored Decree 30, but the captains paid well for bananas in good shape directly from the farmers throughout the end of the nineteenth century, maintaining a relatively fair system.viii As early as 1881, trains carried bananas from the interior to ships for sale while maintaining what Soluri considered a relatively fair system of transportation with no institution having too much power. Soluri argued that once two American companies in the twentieth century controlled banana “production, transportation, and distribution,” the market shifted
greatly to the purchasers’ advantage.ix According to Soluri, power over transportation did not belong to any single organization in the earlier years, because both Hondurans and Americans used transportation system to their own ends. Sterling Evans, like Soluri, wrote how a Hispanic government managed transportation to further its power, sometimes counter to the wishes of the United States government. The Mexican government expelled Yaqui Indians from their homeland to and took their lands which displayed Evans’ opinion that less powerful nations used transportation as power for harming weaker individuals.x In 1915, President Carranza of Mexico blockaded the Yucatan coast with his gunboats, cutting off America’s supply of henequen needed for the production and distribution of grain.xi Carranza ended the blockade once his forces gained the advantage in his war with rebels and with the possibility of an intervention by US warships on the behalf of free trade. Although the blockade lasted less than a month, Evans used this incident in support of smaller nations as wielders of power over transportation in spite of US protests.xii Evans’ depiction of the relationship between transportation and power was similar to that of John Soluri because smaller nations could use transportation for their own interests. Controlling the institutions of transportation allowed certain people to gain the upper-hand in controlling industries and economies, but only powerful nations managed to control industrialized logistics according to the theories of Banner and Andrews. Soluri and Evans emphasized that lesser powers like Mexico and Honduras possessed some control over transportation in their nations. Both the Cambridge and Texas groups acknowledged the importance of transportation but differ on what powers control transportation. The Cambridge authors wanted their audience to see that resistance by
smaller powers was futile, therefore unnecessary to show its control over transportation. The Texas group insisted that smaller powers used transportation and regulated it to their own advantage contrary to the wishes of Americans and the United States government.
Stuart Banner, Possessing the Pacific, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2007), 6-7, 14-19. For a good work on resistance at sea in the Pacific Ocean, read Eric Tagliacozzo, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915, (New Haven: Yale UP, 2005). ii Banner, Possessing the Pacific, 131, 151. iii Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2008), 110. iv Andrews, Killing for Coal, 112-115. v Andrews, Killing for Coal, 242. vi Andrews, Killing for Coal, 242, 255, 281-282. vii John Soluri, Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States, (Austin: University of Texas, 2005), 28-29. viii Soluri, Banana Culture, 30. ix Soluri, Banana Cultures, 28, 32. x Sterling Evans, Bound in Twine: The History and Ecology of the Henequen-Wheat Complex for Mexico and the American and Canadian Plains, 1880-1950, (College Station: Texas A&M, 2007), 76-77. xi Evans, Bound in Twine, 94, 95. xii Evans, Bound in Twine, 104, 105.
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