Between the fall of 1776 and the spring of 1777, two Connecticut men were executed for treason during the American Revolution. Nathan Hale was hanged by the British as a spy. His last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” are a national axiom. Moses Dunbar was a loyalist who joined the British army and recruited Connecticut men to fight for the king; his story is largely forgotten. As Virginia DeJohn Anderson (PhD ’84, history) writes in The Martyr and the Traitor: Nathan Hale, Moses Dunbar, and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2017), their stories show how “two equally honorable men could follow their consciences and yet reach opposite conclusion about the merit of American independence.”

The Martyr and the Traitor: Nathan Hale, Moses Dunbar, and the American Revolution, Virginia DeJohn Anderson

Hale’s and Dunbar’s contrasting lives are emblematic of the forces shaping life in colonial Connecticut in the aftermath of the French and Indian War, particularly mobility, access to land, patriarchal family economies, and the political consequences of religious factionalism.

Nathan Hale’s father Richard Hale bought 240 acres in Coventry in 1745. He shrewdly delayed marriage until 28 and then married into one of the town’s founding families. He served in the Connecticut General Assembly and as a deacon in Coventry’s Congregational church, prospering enough to send Nathan and his brother to Yale.

By 1774, Nathan Hale was teaching in New London and was drawn into Whig politics after the Boston Tea Party. In 1775, he was commissioned in Connecticut’s Seventh Regiment, which joined the Siege of Boston; he was later recruited as a ranger. After Washington’s defeat in Long Island, Hale volunteered for a reconnaissance mission, but was caught on Long Island, reportedly betrayed by his cousin. He was hanged in New York in 1776.

Moses Dunbar’s father John used his bounty from fighting in the French and Indian War to buy a Waterbury farm in 1758 but was hobbled by an early marriage that made it difficult to accumulate capital. When Moses also married early, his father withheld economic support, which continued the family legacy of precarity. Their relationship was further strained when Moses converted from his family’s “New Light” Congregationalism to Anglicanism. After 1774, Moses’ Anglicism branded him a Tory. Harassed by his neighbors, he sought refuge with British troops on Long Island and enlisted as a captain in a British regiment. He was seized by Continental authorities on a recruiting trip to Farmington in 1777. Moses Dunbar was the first and only Connecticut loyalist convicted and executed for treason.

Hale’s and Dunbar’s contrasting identities as martyr and traitor would not be fixed in American collective memory until the 19th century. Anderson uses their unfolding stories to argue for a more nuanced understanding of the disruptive and unpredictable forces that played out in everyday lives during the American Revolution. “The farther away the Revolution is from the present, the easier it has become for Americans to ignore its complexities and regard it as the unproblematic birth of a nation and shared national tradition.”

The Arc of Life: Evolution and Health Across the Life Course, Grazyna Jasienska, Diana S. Sherry, Donna J. Holmes, Editors

The essays collected in The Arc of Life: Evolution and Health across the Life Course (Springer, 2017), edited by Grazyna Jasienska (PhD ’96, anthropology), Diana Sherry (PhD ’02, anthropology), and Donna Holmes, demonstrate how bio-anthropologists are applying a key concept from evolutionary medicine, life history theory, to issues in reproductive health. Richard Bribiescas (PhD ’97, anthropology) and Peter B. Gray (PhD ’03, anthropology) also contributed essays to this volume.

From an evolutionary perspective, reproduction is everything, but it has costs. The number of a woman’s pregnancies results in physiological and genetic stressors that can influence her lifespan. But some choices carry different health risks depending on sociocultural and economic circumstances, such as teen motherhood, which does not in itself pose a significant health risk. Understanding the long arc of evolutionary time can help design effective public health strategies: Preventing low birth-weight babies will be helped by long-term improvements to nutrition on a population scale rather than focusing on nutrition during pregnancy.

Life history theory also has implications for understanding men’s reproductive health. Fatherhood may improve men’s health, but it also lowers testosterone levels. The long-term effects of testosterone are an example of “antagonistic pleiotropy:” While testosterone can exert positive effects on younger men’s reproductive value, it also lowers immune response, and over the life span, high testosterone levels can increase prostate cancer risks.

Overall, Sherry poses that adaptation itself can become a public health risk—as in the case of metabolic syndrome—but that knowledge of evolutionary biology can also be an effective preventative public health tool.

Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise after Anpo, Nick Kapur

Between March 1959 and June 1960, one-third of Japan’s population participated in protests against a renewed US-Japan security treaty (known as Anpo in Japanese) following the end of US occupation in 1952. In Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise after Anpo (Harvard University Press, 2018), Nick Kapur (PhD ’11, history) examines why the protests grew so large and analyzes their long-lasting effects. Kapur argues that the protests originated in a post-war “identity crisis” amidst Japan’s anti-base movement protesting the continued American Cold War military presence, rising inequality as Japan transitioned from an agrarian to industrial economy, and the “power of television” that made the protests “one of the first great media spectacles.” The results were ambiguous: Prime minister Kishi Nobuske won ratification for the treaty but was forced to resign. More broadly, the protests consolidated a generational identity for young protesters; ushered in a more equitable US-Japan alliance; helped foster a new dynamic of “tolerance and patience” in domestic politics; and fostered “new forms of literary and artistic expression” with a global reach. The protests also restricted expression and lead to a “conservative counterrevolution.” Still, Kapur believes the spirit of the protests lived on in the Japanese women’s liberation movement, anti-Vietnam protests, and a prescient environmental movement.

Reading List: October 2019