Defending Our First Sea Warrior
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Written by Joseph Callo

John Paul JOnes by Joe Callo book cover art
Rear Admiral Joeseph Callo says John Paul Jones was a true American hero worthy of honor and respect. Callo goes so far as to suggest that his honorary title "Father of the American Navy" is not enough. Jones, he says, should be considered a full-fledged "founding father" like Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. And he says so in a new book designed to rebutt recent criticism.



MUCH MORE on John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones has been getting kicked around a bit lately. Evan Thomas’ revisionist biography stripped away some of the patina from the Jones legend, depicting him as a slightly crazed and very mortal man. Now Joeseph Callo wants to polish up Jones’ naval reputation again in his new biography.

America’s Firest Sea Warrior
Naval Institute Press
Annapolis, MD 2006
BUY THIS BOOK:  Joe Callo’s official web site

Author Joseph Callo ? Courtesy photoCallo says Jones was neither the larger-than-life character depicted in 19th century biographies, nor was he the failed hero described by recent "deconstructionist writers". By that term Callo means Evan Thomas, a journalist, author and associate editor of Newsweek magazine. Callo, an award-winning maritime heritage writer, recently debated Thomas at Annapolis, not far from the crypt where Jones’ body lies. Although it was billed as a hardknuckle debate, narrated by former TV host David Hartman, the dueling biographers never took of their gloves.

"What did John Paul Jones do to that warrants his being the only remains that lie in the chapel just a few yards from here?" Hartman asked his two guest panelists.

"In November 1775 John Paul Jones embraced the cause of liberty," Callo responded. "And I believe that was the primary motivation in his career. I think it’s what really drove him to the incredible, astonishing events of his life and the things that he achieved for our country."

Callo believes that Jones was "way ahead of his time". Jones was thinking of projecting naval power, long before there was even a Navy. Callo goes as far as to suggest that Jones deserves, not only his naval honors, but to be included among America’s founding fathers – a powerful claim for a man who was never an American citizen, who killed a crewman reportedly in self defense, skipped out on his trial and changed his name from John Paul to John Paul Jones.

John Paul Jones, AMerica's First Sea WarriorAt least 100 authors have tackled the complex life and character of John Paul Jones since his first biography in the 1830s. He has been smeared, maligned, lionized, fictionalized, misrepresented, dissected and worshipped. Augustus C. Buell went so far as to invent letters, events and people in his now-discredited 1900 two-volume history of Jones. Until recently, the definitive 1959 biography by naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison was the gold standard for historians. Morison debunked many of the legends and lies in the same year that Hollywood produced the highly distorted, and, as yet, the only major film about the life of Jones.

Yet, Callo told, his new book offers a "new and different view" of the historical John Paul Jones. Callo says that his biography pulls back to show, not only Jones’ amazing accomplishments at sea, but the impact of those victories on the Revolutionary War itself. Jones needs the public relations. Despite his status as an icon of the Revolution and an internationally known naval figure, Jones is considered by most historians as little more than a footnote in the scope of the war itself.

In his book Callo digs deeper into Jones’ relationship with his mentor Benjamin Franklin whom he met while in France. And Callo probes into Jones’ personal motivations for his push to become the top American naval hero and admiral. While others have described Jones as egomaniacal, reckless or even possibly suffering from a bipolar personality disorder, Callo sees a driven, but admirable, even a visionary, figure.  

Comparing his own book to the recent bestseller by Evan Thomas, Call offers these three distinctions:

The Thomas work is a predominantly negative view of Jones, and it deconstructs him as a figure of historical importance. In contrast, John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior delivers a portrait that is not based primarily on the negative aspects of Jones’s personality. His positive qualities are included with his negative qualities, and both are placed in the context of his time and circumstances.

In the first line of his book, Thomas clearly and wrongly suggests that ambition was Jones’s central motivation. This is not supported by the specifics of Jones’s career, which suggest other, less self-centered motivation. Thomas portrays Jones as driven by an inordinate ego, frustration at not being in the British Navy, and class envy. Jones was, in fact, a self-taught naval officer fighting for recognition of the importance of a navy in his own country and for international recognition of America.

There is also a very big difference to the approaches to the Battle off Flamborough Head. Thomas’s book treats the event as a dramatic sea saga. John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior adds both the tactical and strategic contexts of the Battle and also recognizes the courage of the ordinary seamen who fought in Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis.