New York at War

New York at War Cover

New York at War

Four Centuries of Combat, Fear, and Intrigue in Gotham

By Steven H. Jaffe

Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465036424, 404pp.

Publication Date: April 10, 2012

In "New York at War," historian Steven H. Jaffe offers an alternative history of New York Cityarguably 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 Hudson's crewmen (who in 1609 became the first recorded fatality of an act of war in the region's history), Jaffe describes, in turn, each of the city's 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 Anne's 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 nation's newfound freedom did nothing to shield New York from the global conflicts that followed the Revolutionary War; in fact, New Yorkers sense of vulnerability persistedand in many ways worsenedin the 19th and 20th centuries. Jaffe shows how New York became hugely powerful as the Union's 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 city's inhabitants feel threatened.

Fear and prejudice have been bedfellows throughout New York's history, says Jaffeand 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 Kaiser's 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 city's history, says Jaffe, has been to distinguish spies, saboteurs, and terrorists from their seemingly identical but innocent neighborsa 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 world's most celebrated and contested city, Jaffe reveals the unimaginable ways the city has changedand how it has stubbornly enduredunder threats both external and internal.

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 York s History Magazine," and in Kenneth T. Jackson s (ed.) "Encyclopedia of New York City." Jaffe lives in Maplewood, NJ with his wife and two sons."

Praise For New York at War

Kenneth T. Jackson, editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of New York City
From the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 to the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943, the great Hudson River metropolis and its huge harbor have been central to the American military experience. New York at War is a page-turner, and it tells an important and fascinating story with authority and distinction.”

Vincent J. Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis IslandToo many New Yorkers have forgotten that their city had a long history of armed conflicts and violent attacks even before the attacks of 9/11. Steven Jaffe’s book is a much-needed reminder of that story as he leads the reader on a brisk and engaging tale of Indian wars, slave revolts, draft riots, German saboteurs, and terrorist bombings.” Edwin G. Burrows, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham and author of Forgotten PatriotsNew York at War is a sobering reminder that attack, or the threat of attack, runs like a red thread through four centuries of Gotham’s history. Indeed, Jaffe’s impressively comprehensive narrative will persuade you that no other American city has been targeted by enemies of one kind or another more often than New York. It’s also sure to leave you wondering what’s next.” Barnet Schecter, author of The Battle for New York and The Devil's Own WorkWith fluid, engaging prose and impressive research, Steven Jaffe has managed to capture the city’s sprawling, complex history in a brisk narrative that brings each era vividly to life. At the same time, he skillfully weaves the powerful themes that unify the book: New York’s uniqueness and its cultural symbolism have long made the city a target for attack, while the responses of its diverse people to wartime threats offer universal lessons about balancing civil liberties and security to sustain freedom and democratic values. New York at War is a remarkable achievement.” Mike Wallace, co-author of GothamForeign foes have rarely attacked New York directly, but the city has been profoundly involved in the nation’s many military conflicts. As Steven Jaffe shows in this novel and absorbing study, Gotham has been banker and arsenal, staging ground and recruiting post, cheerleader and critic, fortification and tempting target. Seen in a series, the wartime experiences are strikingly different, and Jaffe respects each war story’s particularity. But he’s also good at spotting commonalities, the most intriguing being the way wars abroad become wars at home, with New York’s polyglot citizenry battling over a conflict’s legitimacy, or which combatant to back.  Highly recommended.” Thomas Fleming, author of 1776: Year of IllusionsAnyone who’s ever lived in New York, or visited it, or thought about visiting it will be fascinated by this book.  Even historians will be surprised by some chapters.  Steven Jaffe has dug deep and come up with literary gold, again and again.” Tyler Anbinder, author of Five PointsNew York at War provides a fascinating look at a forgotten aspect of the city’s historyits central role in so many of America’s military conflicts.  Steven Jaffe brings this neglected aspect of New York’s past back to life with impressive insight and a great eye for the telling details that make history come alive.” Eric Homberger, author of The Historical Atlas of New York CitySteven H. Jaffe’s vividly written narrative restores a crucial thread to the way we understand the history of New York City.  In a highly readable style, New York at War tells a story of tenacity and endurance, and of social conflict on a grand scale.  With a story filled with drama and the drum-beat of violence, culminating with the destruction of the World Trade Center, Jaffe has much to tell us about the way a city responds to crisis.” Edward P. Kohn, author of Hot Time in the Old Town
While most Americans probably see New York as America’s capital of finance and fashion, Steven Jaffe shows how the city has also been the nation’s epicenter during times of war.  While New York may have profited from America’s many wars, it also proved the nation’s most vulnerable city, subject to attack both from without and from within.  With an impressive span greater than that of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York at War reminds readers of Gotham’s centrality in America’s wartime experience from colonial times to 9/11.  A great idea for a book, masterfully done.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Well-researched, with a flair for the dramatic, and full of unexpected tidbits. Military buffs and New Yorkers will especially love it.” Publishers Weekly
[A] well-presented, fast-paced narrative of the ways a polyglot, protean community has reacted, and continues to react, to the periodic challenge of ensuing domestic security while maintaining commitments to openness and inclusion.”
Library Journal, starred reviewEncyclopedic in scope, diligently researched, and well written, this magisterial book synthesizes the history of our greatest city in a way not fully done before. It will have strong appeal to general readers, New York history buffs, and specialists with an interest in American military history. Highly recommended.”

New York Times
In New York at War historian Steven H. Jaffe skillfully reminds readers that the city had been a tempting target before, that it suffered casualties in earlier conflicts and that other generations of officials worried about immigrants with dual loyalties and about balancing New Yorkers’ security and their civil liberties.

ColloquyNew York at Waris one bold undertaking.[Jaffe] unfolds his storyin clear, no-nonsense prose.”

Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review
[A] fascinating glimpse into an aspect of New York history that is often ignored or underplayed. Jaffe offers exacting detailsgiving valuable context to the spectacle and bombast of more commonplace historical reporting. New York at War sheds new light on a city we all know well.”

Brooklyn Rail
Very informative. New York at War will likely become the definitive work on this critical subject. It is a well-written, well-researched work, offering a compelling portrait of a defining aspect of the city’s history. It draws on both scholarly and first-person accounts and, amidst a revealing, straight-forward narrative, introduces many almost forgotten New Yorkers. Readers will learn just how significant a role war has played in the life of Gotham.”

[A] fascinating new study. Jaffe’s account is eminently readable and lively, filled with colorful stories (all precisely documented)some well known, and others refreshingly novel. This is a must read as no one has previously written a comprehensive study on this subject. Essential.”

Michigan War Studies Review
Steven Jaffe’s New York at War is a boon to anyone concerned with war in the context of urban areas or urban areas in the context of politics and war. It captures the diversity of the wars New York has weathered New York at War is an excellent addition to the literature of military history.”