Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Naming the Liberty Ships - Part Five

Note: This is part of a series of posts on odd bits of history as memorialized in the names of World War II Liberty Ships.  I am organizing them, after a fashion, around proposed artwork for imaginary "ships' insignia"  For a more complete explanation and background:  Part One


Most Liberty ships were named after Americans.  But even in our Melting Pot society it would be difficult to run across a name as exotic as Bernardo O'Higgens!

O'Higgens was a Chilean of Spanish/Irish descent.  He played a prominent role in the struggle for independence that was precipitated by the Napoleonic conquest of Spain.  He seems to have been inclined towards wearing extravagant uniforms and to mounting military attacks more notable for their enthusiasm than for their prudence.

But in the swirling mess that was South American politics back then, some things broke the right way for Bernardo and he ended up being Supreme Director of Chile from 1817 to 1823.  Perhaps by the time the S.S. Bernardo O'Higgins was launched in September of 1943 it was just glossed over that it was commemorating a military dictator of just the sort the Allies were trying to overthrow!  As a dictator he seems to have been fairly benign by Latin standards.  His long time friend, rival and fellow revolutionary Jose Miguel Carrera was executed during his regime but O'Higgins is mostly criticized for not intervening to pardon him.  (Sending a thank you note to the Governor who had Carrera drawn and quartered was a little harsh).

You do have to be very careful treading in politics south of the border.  So discovered Ambrose Bierce, noted American journalist, writer and satirist.  Now remembered chiefly for his highly sarcastic "Devil's Dictonary" he was during World War Two more noted for his Civil War service and writings on same. In honor of which the S.S. Ambrose Bierce took to the seas in 1943.

In 1913 Bierce seems to have gone to Mexico to get a look at what Pancho Villa was up to in his attempted Revolution.

Bierce was never heard from again; one of history's great unsolved vanishing acts.  But there were those persisting rumors....


But not everyone had a horrid time in Mexico.  The namesake of the S.S. Joel Roberts Poinsett for instance had a very distinguished career as an American diplomat in the first half of the 19th Century. But he is remembered almost exclusively for a swell flower he saw growing south of Mexico City. Being as well an amateur botanist he sent a few home....

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