America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War
by Kenneth R. Rutherford (Mauritania 1987-89)
Savas Beatie Publisher
$17.95 (Kindle) $29.95 (Hardback)
Reviewed by Paul Aertker (Mauritania 19988-89)
With exciting prose and perfectly chosen Civil War quotes, America’s Buried History weaves a little-known thread through a well-known story.
This history of landmines is the first Civil War book I’ve read in a long time, and the first on the subject that I’ve ever read. For a non-fiction book, I was surprised by the thrilling pace, and at times the narrative felt like it was in the hands of great non-fiction masters like Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer. While it’s easy to see this book on a college Civil War syllabus, its educative value is matched equally by its readability. What’s more, the author’s use of war vocabulary — “abatis,” “fraise,” “glacis” — is “lagniappe”* to an already compelling read. I particularly appreciate the proper explanation of “Damn the torpedoes.” (Now I get it!)
With an empathetic pen, Rutherford illustrates the devastating and powerful effects of these newly invented “infernal machines.” He has put together a riveting page-turner that is full of intensity and heart. An excellent book on all fronts. Twenty-one stars.
Ken Rutherford has a kinship with landmine victims, as he lost both legs when the vehicle he was riding in hit a landmine in Somalia in 1993. He is a political science professor at James Madison University and co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network. As a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, LSN was co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, he opened an LSN project in Bosnia with Princess Diana, whom Rutherford says “transformed landmines from a security issue into a humanitarian issue.”
On a personal note, I met Ken as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania in the late ’80s. I spent a week with him in his village, working and learning about life along the Senegal River. He taught me more in seven days about caring for others than I had learned in my entire life up to that point.
Paul Aertker (Mauritania 19988-89) is an award-winning children’s book writer, teacher, and frequent speaker at elementary and middle schools. His middle-grade books include the Crime Travelers trilogy: Brainwashed, Diamonds Are for Never, Priceless and Posthumous.
* To save having to going to dictionary.com:
abatis — 1. an obstacle or barricade of trees with bent or sharpened branches directed toward an enemy. 2. a barbed wire entanglement used as an obstacle or barricade against an enemy.
fraise — a defense consisting of pointed stakes projecting from the ramparts in a horizontal or an inclined position.
glacis — a bank of earth in front of the counterscarp or covered way of a fort, having an easy slope toward the field or open country.
lagniappe — an unexpected or indirect benefit.