Sunday, October 22, 2017

Military History and Race

George Armstrong Custer
Lest We Forget

History teaches us that all races have fought in wars and that all have won and lost wars at various times.  The lie of White (or European) supremacy was thoroughly discredited at the battles of Little Big Horn (1876),  Adwa (1896), Tsushima Strait (1905), Pearl Harbor (1941) and, finally, on 9/11 (2001).

Crazy Horse
Victor at Little Big Horn
At Little Big Horn in eastern Montana Custer's 7th Cavalry was destroyed by a Sioux Army led by Crazy Horse that outnumbered his by about three to one.  Custer, who had graduated at the bottom of his class from West Point, had declined to bring a gatling gun as it would only slow him down.

In 1896 the forces of Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II decisively defeated Italian Colonial forces at the Battle of Adwa.  Ethiopian independence was preserved.  Adwa inspired many subsequent African anti-colonial struggles but it also inspired a thirst for vengeance with Mussolini who brutally invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and erected a statue of himself on the Adwa battlefield.

At Tsushima Strait in 1905 a Japanese fleet annihilated a Russian fleet that had sailed halfway around the world from Europe to Asia in order to confront the Japanese.  Two thirds of the Russian ships were sunk.  A peace, brokered by Teddy Roosevelt, ended the Russo-Japanese war shortly afterwards.  TR became the first American President to win a Nobel Peace prize.

At Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the Imperial Japanese navy achieved strategic surprise catching the US fleet while it was anchored at Battleship Row in Hawaii.  Over 2,400 Americans were killed that day.  There were initial, and entirely false, reports that German pilots were flying planes marked with the Rising Sun that day.

On 9/11 nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists from the Middle East managed to hijack four domestic US airliners and crash them into the Twin towers and the Pentagon.  All four commercial planes were fueled for cross country flights making them hugely dangerous missiles.  The hijackers used knives and box cutters to terrorize the crew and capture the cockpits within a narrow time window that morning.  Commercial airline cockpits were, at the time, lightly secured and airline crews were trained to accede to hijacker demands in hopes of getting the planes safely back to an airport.  Nearly three thousand were killed on that day of horror.

Here Crispus Attucks fell
March 5, 1770
Today the United States has, without question, the strongest military in the world.  Ethnic diversity has been a key ingredient for American military success from the very founding of our nation.  Crispus Attucks, of African and Wampanoag heritage, has been hailed as the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.  Nearly five percent of the Continental Army were black.  Hundreds of thousands of blacks would serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.  More would serve as Buffalo soldiers in the Indian Wars on the western frontier.  Even in the segregated Army of World War II blacks distinguished themselves in units such as the Tuskegee airmen and the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion ("Triple Nickels").

Over and over again minorities that have faced discrimination and persecution in the United States have proven themselves on the battlefield by fighting valiantly for a country that sometimes despised them.  In the 19th century Irish immigrants to the US faced a strong nativist backlash epitomized by "No Irishmen need apply" and the Know Nothing movement.  They responded by forming the Irish Brigade ("Fighting 69th"), led by General Thomas Meagher, that won battle honors at Antietam and Gettysburg.

Faced with actual imprisonment after Pearl Harbor, around 14,000 Japanese-Americans would form the 442nd Infantry Regiment which earned nearly 9,500 Purple hearts fighting mainly in the Italian campaign.  The most decorated unit in the US Army in World War II had a simple motto: "Go For Broke".

Native Americans have been fighting alongside and in the US Armed forces since the Oneida and Tuscarora joined the Patriot cause during the American Revolution.  Today a disproportionate number of Native Americans serve in the US Armed forces.

President George W. Bush recently said that "bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed".  Bigotry and white supremacy, aside from being terrible policy, are also symptoms of historical ignorance.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ken Burns' Vietnam: A Quagmire within a Quagmire

Put me down as a Ken Burns fan.  I loved his documentary The Civil War (  I admired his film The War which dealt with World War II (

History is far too important to be left to academic historians.  I was delighted to see that Burns would be taking his documentary film-making technique to the thorny topic of the Vietnam War.  His treatment was bound to ruffle some academic feathers.

But what a disappointment The Vietnam War has proven to be!  The film seems to be a quagmire within a quagmire.

Just consider the problems in the first episode which purports to cover the conflict in Vietnam from 1858 to 1962.

First, Burns / Novick claim to have tried to attempted to shed light on Vietnam by interviewing those on all sides of the conflict -- South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Americans, etc..  This would be highly commendable if it were true.  The first episode of his Vietnam deals largely with the French Imperial Project in Vietnam.  But something is missing.  There was not a single interview with any French man or woman.  This is a glaring oversight.  The French Imperial Project is summarily dismissed without any attempt to make any real assessment of the effects of European Imperialism.  Throw us a baguette, Ken!

Second, the editing in this documentary is chronologically jerky and highly annoying.  In an episode which is ostensibly treating the period from 1858 to 1962 Burns inserts a number of flash forwards to the 1960s American experience of the war.  This seems to be a highly patronizing move on Burns part.  He seems to assume that an American audience cannot handle a historic chronology without being a helping of the 1960s Vietnam experience that is more familiar to American viewers.

Grosvenor Square, London
Third, Burns / Novick fundamentally get Eisenhower wrong.  His film suggests that Ike was elected President in 1952 because he would be more tough on Communism.  This is misleading at best.  Ike was elected in 1952 to deal with the trauma of the Korean War from which he swiftly extracted the US and winning an uneasy peace on the peninsula.  Of all Americans Presidents who dealt with Vietnam from 1952 to 1974 Eisenhower had BY FAR the most military and strategic experience.  Nor is it a coincidence that among all US Presidents from 1952 to 1974 Eisenhower did the least to deepen our involvement in Vietnam.  Nor does Burns even bother to mention that Ike flatly turned down the suggestion by his Joint Chiefs to drop atomic bombs on the Viet Minh in 1954 in support of the beleaguered French at Dien Bien Phu.  Dismissing the desperate pleas of the French who had been close wartime allies of the US in World War II could not have been easy for Ike but it was the right call to make.

Fourth, Burns / Novick give short shrift to the appalling devastation caused in Vietnam by the Japanese occupation of the country in World War II.  Vietnam sustained 1 to 2 million deaths  (mainly due to starvation) during the 1940 to 1945 occupation of their country by the Japanese quite possibly more than ALL of the casualties of the Vietnam on ALL sides (about 1.3 million from 1965 to 1974). The horrendous trauma of the wartime famine explains much about how the ground for Ho Chi Minh's Revolution was laid.

The Vietnam War was a worthy subject poorly handled by the Burns / Novick collaboration.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Invading Texas

The author with Travis and Crockett
San Antonio, TX

In an excerpt from the Texas chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil ( we discussed the Texas Revolution of 1836...

Invading Texas 2017

"By 1821...New Spain was overthrown with the Mexican Revolution. Texas would be governed, for a while, by Mexico City rather than Madrid, although it remained a desolate land with few settlers. The Mexicans launched a campaign to bring more people to Texas by offering generous land grants. The only catch was that new settlers had to convert to Catholicism and that slavery was illegal. This brought many Americans, mostly from the Southern states, to Texas. Stephen Austin of Virginia was an American impresario in the Texas territory who actually changed his first name to Estaban.

In 1826, the short-lived Fredonian Rebellion, led by Haden Edwards, briefly declared an independent state in Texas before it was crushed by Mexican forces.

Mexican attempts to control further Anglo immigration into Texas created tensions that would lead to violence. Already in 1832, Texas insurgents rose against the Mexican authorities, and more was to come.

The wide-open spaces of Texas seemed to promise almost unlimited opportunity for those adventuresome souls who dared to make the trek to the western frontier. Texas drew an assortment of adventurers.

Jim Bowie
1796 - 1836

There was, for example, Jim Bowie, a forger and land swindler from Kentucky who was wanted in several US states. He had also invented the Bowie knife.

Texas also attracted William Travis, an Alabama schoolteacher who abandoned his pregnant wife and child to make his way to Texas. The Alamo would be the twenty-six-year-old’s first command.

Davy Crockett
1786 - 1836
Texas drew David Crockett, a legendary frontiersman from Tennessee. He was elected to Congress in 1826, but lost his reelection bid in 1834. Crockett responded to his defeat with: “I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”

Texas was also a magnet for Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, who is better known to us simply as Santa Anna. In 1836, he was the president and dictator of Mexico. He also styled himself the “Napoleon of the West.” With Texas beginning to stir into open rebellion, Santa Anna led what would prove to be one of the most fateful invasions of Texas and, indeed, American territory.

By 1836, the Anglo population of Texas outnumbered the Mexicans by more than three to one. On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. General Sam Houston was selected to lead the military forces of the newly created Republic of Texas.

But as Texas declared its independence, General Santa Anna and an army of over 3,000 men were laying siege to the Alamo.
William Travis
1809 - 1836

On February 28, 1836, William Travis wrote this famous letter from the Alamo:

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World— Fellow citizens & compatriots—
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country —
Victory or Death.

On March 6, the presidio was stormed, and all 187 defenders, including Travis, Bowie, and Crockett, were slain. “Remember the Alamo” would become the rallying cry of the new Texas Republic.

Even worse atrocities, though, would soon follow the fall of the Alamo.

Mexican forces won the Battle of Coleto Creek on March 19–20, 1836. Colonel James Fannin was compelled to surrender his force of about three hundred Texans. The Mexican Congress had ordered captured rebels to be treated as pirates. On March 27, over 340 Texans were summarily executed in what became known as the Goliad massacre.

Sam Houston
1793 - 1863

In 1836, Sam Houston was a hard-drinking politician with limited military experience. He had failed to come to the relief of William Travis and the defenders of the Alamo. He was powerless to prevent the Goliad Massacre. But he would succeed spectacularly at San Jacinto.
San Jacinto Monument
La Porte, TX
Sam Houston was opposed by Santa Anna, and Santa Anna’s forces outnumbered the Texans by about 1,300 to 900. Santa Anna, however, had violated two of the cardinal rules of military strategy: he had divided his forces, and he had camped his army with its back to a swampy river.  Finally, Santa Anna had neglected to post pickets around the Mexican encampment, and that allowed the Texans to launch a surprise attack. On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston decisively defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, which was near the town of La Porte. The battle lasted only eighteen minutes and resulted in the deaths of 630 and the capture of 730 Mexican troops, along with Santa Anna himself. Only nine Texans were killed in the engagement. Santa Anna would be ransomed back to Mexico in exchange for the independence of Texas."

With Jim Hooper in front of The Alamo
San Antonio, TX
For much more on Texas and all the other states please pick up a copy of America Invaded (

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bourbon and...Burgoyne

Blanton's Bourbon Whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Frankfort, KY

Have you enjoyed a Manhattan lately?  This simple cocktail made from Bourbon (preferably Blanton's), sweet Vermouth and a cherry is an elegant way to approach the evening.  Bourbon, always made from over 50% corn, is the quintessential native American spirit.  The Manhattan is the ultimate New York power cocktail, but it has a backbone made in Kentucky ("Ninety-five percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky." Mitenbuler, Bourbon Empire,  Bourbon's name, however, can trace its roots to events that took place in the Empire state.

How exactly did Bourbon get its name?  You might be surprised to learn that the story involves Invasions of American territory that goes back to the American Revolution.  The man who deserves more credit for giving Bourbon its name is "Gentleman" Johnny Burgoyne -- an English general who led an ill-fated invasion of New York in 1777.

In the New York chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil we wrote...

"The next year, 1777, became known as the year of the hangman due to the similar appearance of the number 7 and a gibbet. This year featured an invasion of New York that was, quite possibly, the most consequential in the area’s history.
Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne
Museum of the American Revolution
“Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, an amateur playwright, led an invading army of over 7,000 troops from Canada that was made up of British, German, Canadian, and loyalist forces. George III personally ordered the use of Indian forces to supplement his Redcoats hoping that they would terrorize the Americans into submission.  British gold subsidized the Native Americans, who were paid $8 a head for rebel prisoners or scalps. Burgoyne’s aim was to drive south toward British-occupied Manhattan, cutting New England off from the rest of the rebellious colonies.
Burgoyne’s complicated plan relied on coordinated British action, with around 1,600 troops led by General St. Leger striking from the St. Lawrence into western New York. Lord Howe, with 16,000 men, would march north from Manhattan to rendezvous with Burgoyne at Albany.

American Soldier
Fort Ticonderoga, NY
All went well for Burgoyne at first. His forces scouted the crest of Mount Defiance, which looked down upon Fort Ticonderoga. His artilleryman, General Phillips, declared, “Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” General St. Clair, who commanded around 2,500 outnumbered and outgunned American defenders at Ticonderoga, was compelled to withdraw without a fight. General Phillip Schuyler, St. Clair’s superior and the commander of the Northern Department, was subsequently sacked by the Continental Congress and replaced by Horatio Gates. At this point, it seemed America’s founding fathers truly might be hanged on a gibbet, as Burgoyne and George III intended.
Bennington Monument
Bennington, VT
Even before Gates assumed command of the Northern Department, however, the tide began to turn. A reconnaissance into Vermont, led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and his Brunswickers, ended disastrously at the battle of Bennington on August 15. Troops from New Hampshire, led by General John Stark, earned a crucial victory in a battle that was fought in New York but is commemorated today in Vermont...
Cannon Saratoga
But the most decisive actions of 1777 would be fought in September in the woods near Saratoga. On September 19, Burgoyne’s advance toward Albany was halted by American rebels, led by Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates, at Freeman’s Farm on the Hudson River.  Burgoyne’s forces were repulsed again at Bemis Heights on October 7. Benedict Arnold, under the influence of rum, demonstrated conspicuous courage, and was wounded in the leg that day. Lord Howe, preoccupied with the capture of Philadelphia, had not left Sir Henry Clinton in New York City with enough troops to advance north to Albany. On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne, with many of his troops close to starvation due to their stretched supply lines from Canada, surrendered his army of 5,895.

Schuyler Mansion
Burgoyne was a prisoner here in 1777
Albany, NY
Burgoyne himself was briefly held prisoner at General Schuyler’s (another NY ancestor by marriage!  CRK) mansion in Albany. This decisive American victory was the turning point of the American Revolution, as it gave instant credibility to the rebel movement. Louis XVI’s France abandoned its neutrality and joined the war as an American ally directly as a result of the battles of Saratoga."(Source:

The French supported the American Patriot cause with troops, ships and financial support that would be critically important in the Yorktown campaign of 1781.  Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown elevated American independence from a dream to a reality.
The author with Manhattan
But what has any of this got to do with how Bourbon got its name?

Americans, grateful for the support of Louis XVI, began naming towns and counties on the western frontier.  Kentucky became an American state in 1792.  One city in the state became known as "Louisville" while a certain county was named in honor of the French king...Bourbon.

Bottoms up!
Bourbon Barrel
Note on sources:  I am grateful to Reid Mitenbuler's very entertaining Bourbon Empire, 2015, (  Also to the Buffalo Trace distillery which makes Blanton's (

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Invading Louisiana

At Antoines
Founded 1804
New Orleans, LA

Today New Orleans is invaded on a daily basis by an army of tourists and conventioneers that cruise along Bourbon street hoping to “Laissez les bons temps roulez” (Let the Good Times Roll).  But nomads first came to the area today known as Louisiana around 10,000 years ago.  Humans living near Poverty Point built mounds two thousand years before Christ.  Many tribes, such as the Natchez and the Chocktaw, inhabited the Gulf coast region when the Spanish explorers first began arriving in the 16th century.  In 1519 the Spanish explorer and cartographer, Álvarez de Pineda, seems to have arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  He encountered a substantial native American population.  Hernando de Soto, the Spanish Conquistador, explored the Mississippi in 1541 and died, possibly in Louisiana, in 1542.

The Spanish were soon followed by the French.  In 1718 Jean-Baptiste Le,Sieur de Bienville, a French Canadian, founded New Orleans.  Louisiana was named in honor of Louis XIV -- the Sun King.

From 1762 until 1802 Louisiana was a part of New Spain.  This vast territory stretched North from New Orleans up the Mississippi into the Midwest.  Alejandro O'Reilly, a Spanish Marshall who had been born in Dublin, became governor of Louisiana earning the nickname “Bloody O'Reilly” for his execution of a number of creole citizens.  Canary Islanders were recruited to populate the new colony.

Could not hold Louisiana
The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso signed in 1800 assigned Louisiana from Spain back to Napoleonic France.  The Napoleonic Code was imposed  on Louisiana’s legal system where it had an enduring impact.  Napoleon attempted to reinforce his hold on Louisiana by dispatching General Charles Leclerc, his brother in law, with and army of 40,000 men to the new world .  Their mission was to crush the Haitian rebellion and then to proceed to and reinforce New Orleans.  Toussaint L’Ouverture, the great Haitian leader of history’s most successful slave rebellion, had other plans.  Leclerc and many of his men were killed by Yellow Fever and never proceeded on to Louisiana.

Thomas Jefferson
Bought Louisiana for USA

In 1803 Napoleon, unable to defend his New World holdings and strapped for cash, sold the  Louisiana territory to the Untied States for the sum of $15 million.  At the stroke of a pen,Thomas Jefferson had doubled the size of the United States.

The most consequential invasion of Louisiana was surely that launched by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812.

In the summer of 1812 James Madison induced Congress to declare war on Britain. The war did not at first go well with Britain repulsing a series of invasions into Canada and burning the US White House and capitol in 1814.  New England, never happy about Mr. Madison’s War, threatened to secede from the Union at the Hartford Convention.

It was at this point that Britain dispatched a fleet and Army to invade Louisiana.

Since Nelson’s decisive victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Britain was indisputably the greatest naval power in the world.  This meant that Britain could effectively land troops on any coastline in the world.  A British army, led by the Duke of Wellington, had, by 1814, driven Napoleon’s forces from Portugal and Spain.  British infantry were widely thought to be the finest in the world.

In 1814 Britain chose to invade Louisiana.  Their fleet was led by the able Lord Cochrane who had distinguished himself in numerous sea battles.  Cochrane expected to earn massive prize money for seizing the “beauty and booty” that the rich commercial entrepôt of New Orleans offered.  The land forces would be led by Sir Edward Pakenham – the Duke of Wellington’s brother in law.  The Duke’s appraisal of Pakenham was that “Pakenham may not be the brightest genius, but my partiality for him does not lead me astray when I tell you he is one of the best we have.”

Pakenham commanded ultimately had at his disposal an Army of over 10,000 soldiers supplemented by 1,500 Royal Marines.  The British outnumbered the ragtag bunch of Americans that were hoping to defend New Orleans.  Most of the American defenders of New Orleans were not regular soldiers but rather a mix of state militia and other groups.  There were more Tennessee volunteers than any other state.  A group of 2,368 sharpshooting Kentuckians arrived on January 3, 1815 just five days before the Battle of New Orleans.  These militia were augmented by forces from Louisiana, Baratarian privateers led by Jean Laffite, free black soldiers,  and even Chocktaw Indians.  The British never foresaw that Andrew Jackson would manage to weld this diverse group into a devastatingly effective fighting force.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a veteran of the American Revolution.  As a young man he had served with British forces acquiring a powerful anglophobia.  After not polishing a British officer’s boots correctly, he was slashed at with a sword which left and scar on his face and on his soul.  By 1814 Jackson was the veteran of amny a campaign against native Americans.  At New Orleans Jackson would take his long awaited revenge.  By 1814 Jackson was the veteran of many successful campaings against the Indians.

The British invasion force landed at Lake Borgne on December 14, 1814.  By Christmas eve they had proceeded to within seven miles of New Orleans to the Villere’s Plantation.  When Jackson learned of the British approach he immediately ordered a daring night counterattack.  Jackson was forced to withdraw but British casualties exceeded those of the Americans.  The American schooner Carolina attacked the British troops with grapeshot until it was finally set on fire by heated “red hot shot”.   On December 16, Jackson declared martial law in Louisiana placing himself in total control of the population.

Chalmette Monument
New Orleans

Jackson established a defensive line that ran about 800 yards along the Rodrigez canal from the Mississippi River to a swamp.  Along this line strong breastworks were established.  Some of the thirteen American cannon along the line were manned by Baratarian privateers led by Laffite and his two brothers.  The night before the Battle of New Orleans Jackson shared a cup of coffee with Laffite’s brother Dominique You joking that their supply of coffee was so good that it must have been smuggled. *

On January 8, 1815 the British launched a frontal assault against the Jackson line.  The Chalmette plantation, offering no cover, became a deadly killing ground.  Three British generals were killed that day including Pakenham himself.  The battle was a one sided American victory with 13 Americans killed against hundreds of British and almost 1,300 wounded.   A truce was arranged for burial of the dead and, soon after, the British withdrew to their waiting ships.

Andrew Jackson
Jackson Square, New Olreans

The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium ending the War of 1812 on Christmas eve 1814.  Some have argued that it was, therefore, a “pointless” battle.  The treaty would not be ratified by the US Senate until February.  Had the British succeeded in capturing New Orleans it is not, however, clear that they would have surrendered it despite the provisions of the treaty.  The American’s unexpected victory at the Battle of New Orleans led to a surge of national pride throughout the country and the 8th of January was celebrated throughout America for half a century.  Moreover, the battle launched the political career of Andrew Jackson eventually catapulting him to the White House.
Napoleon did NOT sleep here!
New Orleans, LA
Louisianans plotted in the 1820s to bring one of history’s greatest invaders to their shores.  A conspiracy was formed to rescue the exiled Napoleon from his British captors on the rocky island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.  Ships were obtained and a crew was forming.  A house was built to suit the emperor for his sojourn in the New World.   From this house future Napoleonic invasions directed against the possessions of the dying Spanish Empire in Central and South America would be hatched.  Today the Napoleon House in New Orleans remains a watering hole for thirsty tourists who may savor its grilled alligator Po-boys while enjoying its historic atmosphere.   Napoleon himself foiled the conspiracy by dying, most likely of stomach cancer, in 1821 prior to the execution of the plot.

Louisiana joined the Confederacy in 1861 shortly after the secession of South Carolina in December 1860.  Louisiana was a slave state but she was also the most diverse Southern state with a substantial population of free blacks.  In May of 1861 a Regiment of Free Men of Color began forming among these men in support of the Confederate cause.  Italian-Americans from New Orleans also raised a “Garibaldi” Legion that served in Confederate grey.

Recognizing that New Orleans was the largest city in the South and its most important port, General Winfield Scott of Union Army proposed the Anaconda Plan that would strangle the rebellious southern states by seizing New Orleans and denying access to the Mississippi.  Not all of this plan was adopted but a blockade of the South became a keystone of Union strategy in the war.  In April of 1862 David Farragut of the US Navy led a squadron of 17 ships that would invade New Orleans with far more success than Lord Cochrane’s efforts during the War of 1812.  The Confederates had two forts (Jackson and St. Philip) defending the approach to the city.  They also stretched a chain in order to block entrance to the Mississippi River.  By April 19 the Union navy broke through the Confederate barriers and began battering the Confederate forts with guns and mortars.  Lacking a leader of the calibre of Old Hickory, the Confederates surrendered Fort Jackson on April 28.   Major General Butler led approximately 15,000 Union troops that occupied the city on May 1, 1862.  His harsh treatment of the Louisianans earned him the nickname “Beast Butler” but the Confederacy would never regain New Orleans.

On May 29 Farragut landed forces that would capture the Louisiana state capitol at Baton Rouge.  On August 5, 1862 Union forces would win the Battle of Baton Rouge and maintain their control of the city.   Eighty-four men were killed on each side that day.

After the Civil War ended Louisiana would be subject to Reconstruction imposed by the Union victory.

During World War II Louisiana played its part in American invasions of other countries involving the production of landing  craft and…Tabasco sauce.  Thousands of wooden Higgins boats played a crucial role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and many others American targets would be manufactured in New Orleans.  Walter Stauffer McIlhenny, known as “Tabasco Jack,” served as a Brigadier General in the US Marine Corps at Guadalcanal.  This resident of Avery Island became the CEO of the Tabasco company after the war and introduced the zesty sauce to the K-Rations of generations of Marine Corps veterans.

On July 30, 1942 a German submarine, U-166, that had earlier sunk four merchant in the Gulf ships was herself sunk by a US Navy Patrol boat off the coast of Houma, Louisiana.  The wreck of U-166 was discovered in 2001.

Source: Louisiana chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American

* Jackson said, “That smells like better coffee than we can get.  Where did you get such fine coffee? Maybe you smuggled it in?”  (Source: Patriotic Fire, Winston Groom, 2007, p 187).

Invading Commander's Palace
Travel Notes: New Orleans has some fine cooking.  Love Antoine's for the Osyters Rockefeller ( and Commander's Palace anytime (  Napoleon House is great for a cocktail (  Garden District has my favorite bookshop (  Finally, enjoyed my stay at the Roosevelt Hotel (

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Invading North Korea...?

Trinity Test
July 16, 1945

The first, though unstated, rule of American foreign policy since World War II has been..."DON'T START WORLD WAR III".  Judged by this, admittedly, low bar every occupant of the White House from Truman to Obama has succeeded.  JFK came the closest to failing with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis but even Nixon had a close call during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 which coincided with the paralysis of the Watergate scandal.  With 45, however, the jury is still out.  Are we truly in the calm before a storm emanating from the Korean peninsula?

Even Trump's most ardent admirers must concede that failure with regard to this first principle would amount to a colossal and catastrophic American failure costing countless lives and, perhaps igniting a global depression.  Even Trump's most ardent detractors must concede that finding a peaceful solution to the problems posed by the Korean peninsula would constitute a tremendous American success.

How long can Trump skate near the edge of a gaping hole in the ice and not plunge in taking humanity, the financial markets etc. along with him?

The world holds its collective breath while the supreme leaders of the West and North Korea trade insults and engage in rhetorical brinksmanship.  The entire spectacle combines existential terror with moments of sheer hilarity as two bad adolescent hair days collide.  Trump asserts that North Korea "will be met with fire and fury".  Kim Jung Un asserts that he "will surely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire".  Yet the only leader who really seems actually to have unleashed fire this past summer is Daenerys Targaryen on the wildly popular Game of Thrones.

Early on Trump surprised many by asserting his willingness to meet directly one on one with Kim Jung Un.  Did Trump simply believe that he could cut a deal with the North Korean leader by selling him a a condo at Mar al Lago?   "Believe me, Rocket Man, I could improve your lifestyle!  Maybe I could even get you drafted by an NFL team...?"

It might all be terribly funny if it were not also deadly serious.  Artillery shells landing in Seoul or rockets landing in Tokyo, even if delivering only conventional payloads, could create massive casualties largely due to the ensuing panic rather than the actual damage done.

What does history teach us about relations between America and North Korea?  What does history teach us about the dangers of stumbling into war?

Six Americans were killed here by a Fu-Go bomb
Mitchell Monument
Bly, Oregon

First, history teaches that North America HAS already been struck by intercontinental weapons.

During the closing days of World War II the Japanese launched thousands of Fu-Go balloon bombs which struck more at least fifteen American states.  Thousands of Japanese school girls were employed in fashioning the crude devices out of paper and sweet potato paste.  Six people including five teenagers were killed by Japanese bomb which landed near Bly Oregon in 1945.  A Japanese balloon bomb even landed on the Hanford Engineering works in Washington state briefly halting production of the enriched uranium that would power the device later dropped on Nagasaki.  Wartime censorship prevented panic and denied information to the Japanese on the effects (negligible) of their campaign.

Second, our first encounter with the hermit kingdom was not a happy one.  In 1866 the SS General Sherman voyaged to Pyongyang hoping to jump start bilateral trade.  Suspicions were raised amongst the Koreans who eventually burnt the ship.

Arkansas Korean War Memorial
Little Rock
Third, mutual misunderstanding of intentions led to Kim Il Sung's invasion of south Korea on June 25, 1950.  The US, along with the United Nations, swiftly intervened to halt the Communist assault. The North Koreans committed an act of naked aggression but the Truman administration also deserves some blame for not having made it crystal clear that America and the West would support the sovereignty of Syngman Rhee's South Korea.  Over the course of the next three years Korean War around thirty-six thousand Americans would be killed in a war that is too often forgotten.  During the course of the fighting American troops really DID invade North Korea.  American ground forces, at one point, reached the Yalu river and Bob Hope gave a USO performance for the troops in Pyongyang.

Fourth, even after an armistice was concluded bringing uneasy truce ended the fighting on the Korean peninsula relations between the US and North Korea have been problematic and tense.  In 1968, for example, North Koreans boarded and captured the USS Pueblo -- an intelligence vessel that was likely in international waters.  It remains today the only US Naval vessel in enemy hands.

Where does all of this tragic history leave us now?

Kim Jong-Un, the grandson of Kim Il Sung, seems bent provoking a crisis with his development of nuclear technology and continued rocket testing.  Twice North Korean missiles have been fired through Japanese airspace in recent months.

In recent years North Korea seems to have acted essentially as China's pit bull.   Now it seems that the pit bull has slipped off of the leash.  Nor am I being entirely fair to pit bulls.  But what must one do when confronted by a rabid dog?

Military solutions to the dilemma posed by Kim Jong-Un are hardly attractive.  Our decapitation strike on Saddam Hussein that was supposed to bring the 2003 Iraq War to a speedy conclusion missed its target due to faulty intelligence.  And our intelligence about the movements and whereabouts of Kim Jong-Un in 2017 are far less reliable than those we had then in regard to Saddam in 2003.  Any failed decapitation strike would inevitably provoke the Korean dictator into a terrible retribution against Seoul, Japan or American territory (including our homeland) utilizing chemical or atomic weapons.

At the end of the day, our best options would seem to be 1) intensifying the sanctions imposed on the North Korean regime 2) working forcefully behind the scenes with China to bring pressure to bear on the Kim Jong-Un and, finally,  3) quietly developing an operational plan for an effective covert strike on the dictator should 1) & 2) utterly fail us.

Finally, we can but pray and remember the immortal words of Winston Churchill who said, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

Thanks Veterans

Thanks Military History Now...

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Patton Invades!

Patton Rocks!
Patton eats 2 dozen Oysters Rockefeller
Antoine's New Orleans, LA

George S. Patton Jr. has been called the "American God of War".  Certainly Patton was a remarkable leader who was a genius in the military science.  He was also a man who lived large.  On my recent visit to New Orleans I noticed that in 1942, Patton visited Antoine's ( , the restaurant that invented Oysters Rockefeller, and consumed two dozen of the baked bivalves.

Here are five surprising things (in addition to his love of Oysters Rockefeller) that Americans should know about Patton...

Patton Museum
Fort Knox, KY
1) Patton the Poet
He was dyslexic and a terrible speller.  Nevertheless, he wrote some decent poetry...

"Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet I've called His name in blessing
When in after times I died.

Through the travail of the ages
Midst the pomp and toil of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

I have sinned and I have suffered
Played the hero and the knave
Fought for belly, shame or country
And for each have found a grave.

So as through a glass and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names - but always me.

So forever in the future
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter
But to die again once more."

2) Patton the Athlete
He competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the Modern Pentathlon (riding, swimming, shooting, fencing and running).

Patton's Ivory handled Pistols
Patton Museum
Fort Knox, KY
3) Patton the Prophet
"Patton authored a 1937 report in which he prophesied,  'the unheralded arrival during a period of profound peace of a Japanese expeditionary force within 200 miles of Oahu during darkness; this force to be preceded by submarines who will be in the immediate vicinity of Pearl Harbor.... An air attack by [ Japanese] navy fighters and carrier borne bombers on air stations and the submarine base using either gas or incendiary bombs.'" (

4) Patton & Islam
Patton studied the Koran while on board ship prior to landing on the coast of Morocco on November 9, 1942.  "Patton also turned out to be a surprisingly successful diplomat when he served as the putative viceroy of Morocco. He wrote to the sultan of Morocco assuring him they came as friends, not as conquerors, and did not intend to stay after the war. Patton frequently entertained the sultan (whom he referred to as Sa Majesté) and escorted him on inspection trips."  (

5) Patton & Horses
Patton was a keen horseman who saved Vienna's Lipizzaner stallions at the conclusion of World War II  making them briefly "wards of the US Army".

Finally we must remember and indeed celebrate Patton's genius because his aggressive tactics sped the Allies to victory on the western front saving many lives.

Patton Statue
Church of Our Saviour
San Gabriel, CA
Patton definitely invaded and his invasions saved many lives.  His invasions liberated vast swathes of Nazi- occupied Europe.

In America Invades ( we noted...

Patton's Car
Patton Museum
Fort Knox, KY
"As commander of the US Third Army after D-Day, General Patton, led an army that advanced farther and faster than just about any army in military history, crossing twenty-four major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than twelve thousand cities and towns. Patton loved to quote Danton who said, “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” (“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity”)."
At Patton's Grave

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Listen to my interview with Bob Cudmore...

Travel Notes: The Patton Museum in Fort Knox Kentucky is a must-see for Patton fans (  Also the Luxembourg American cemetery where he is buried (  His church near Pasadena ( is also remarkable.  Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans was founded in 1840 and is still going strong (  Love those Rocks!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Invading Arkansas

"Invading" Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum
Bentonville, AR

Arkansas is known today for having given us Bill Clinton and Walmart.  The state is mad about their razorbacks.  The world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art ( opened up in Bentonville in 2011.  It will blow your mind!

"Invading" Bentonville
But Arkansas has a rich military history for it is a state that has been invaded many times.  This is an extract from the Arkansas chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (

"Humans have inhabited the area we know today as Arkansas for a very long time.  The Mississippians built mounds around Arkansas in AD 1300 that are still visible today.
Many Native American tribes made their homes in Arkansas, including the Osage, Caddo, and Quapaw. Arkansas is, in fact, a Siouan word derived from Acansa—the name of a Quapaw village in southeastern Arkansas.

De Soto
First European in Arkansas

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto crossed the Mississippi River on June 28, 1541, into what is today Arkansas, searching for gold. His “invasion” of Arkansas lasted about a year and was the  first visit to this area by Europeans. De Soto died on the banks of the Mississippi, near or in Arkansas, of natural causes in 1542.

In 1673, coming from the opposite direction, French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet came south on the Mississippi, getting as far as an area inhabited by Quapaw, near where the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers meet, before heading north again.

Robert de La Salle explored Arkansas for the French in 1681. In 1686, Henri de Tonti, a Neapolitan serving Louis XIV, established the Arkansas Post.  This was an important trading post on the banks of the Arkansas River. A number of forts were constructed around the post to provide security against Native Americans.  The French formed an informal alliance with the local Quapaw tribe, supplying them with arms and trading furs.

In 1738, the French, with local allies, launched a campaign against the Chickasaw.
The 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau gave Spain control of the Louisiana Territory, including Arkansas. During the American Revolution, the British and their native allies attempted to seize Arkansas Post from the Spanish.  They were defeated on April 17, 1783, at the Battle of Arkansas Post. Spain would control Louisiana until 1800, when it ceded it to Napoleonic France in the  Third Treaty of San Ildefonso...
He sold us Arkansas

In 1803, all of Arkansas was included in the Louisiana Purchase, which consummated the sale of territory by Napoleon to the United States.

And in 1804, American explorers Dr. George Hunter and William Dunbar traveled up the Ouachita River to Hot Springs.

More American settlers would soon arrive, bringing slavery with them. Fort Smith was first established by the US military in 1817.

In 1817, the US government established a Cherokee nation in Arkansas. Many other Arkansas tribes perceived this as an “invasion” of their territory.

Eventually, the familiar process of Native Americans being dispossessed would take place. For instance, in 1824, Quapaw ceded the rest of their land south of the Arkansas River. In 1828, the Cherokees left their northwest Arkansas territory and moved westward.

Arkansas played a role in the Texas Revolution as a base for rebels and a source of volunteers.
 The Arkansas Territory joined the Union as the twenty-fifth state in 1836.

Construction of the Arsenal Barracks began in Little Rock in 1840.  The Barracks were built mainly to protect settlers and travelers from potential attacks by Native Americans.
Capital Guard
"Lest We Forget"
Little Rock, AR

On May 6, 1861, Arkansas voted to secede from the Union with other Southern states. Support for the Union remained, however, especially in the Ozark Mountains.  Thousands of Arkansans would serve in gray during the Civil War, though some would  fight in blue as well. Over 5,000 ex-slaves from Arkansas would  fight in the Union Army.
General Van Dorn
Pea Ridge National Military Park
In early 1862, Confederate hopes were high. General Van Dorn, a great-nephew of Andrew Jackson, hoped to advance through Arkansas and seize St. Louis, Missouri.

Pea Ridge: the most important Civil War battle fought in Arkansas

The Battle of Pea Ridge, fought near Bentonville from March 7–8, 1862, was likely the most important Civil War battle fought in Arkansas ( An outnumbered Union force commanded by Major General Samuel Curtis repelled attacks by Confederate forces led by Major General Van Dorn. Confederate ranks were augmented by Native American cavalry that was commanded by Brigadier General Albert Pike, a Little Rock newspaperman. Van Dorn was forced to withdraw his forces across the Mississippi, leaving Arkansas largely undefended.

A second attempt by the Confederates to reestablish control of Arkansas was mounted by Major General  Thomas C. Hindman, who moved into the northwest of the state in the autumn of 1862. At the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, Hindman was confronted by Union troops under Brigadier General Herron. Although outnumbered three to one, Herron managed to detain Hindman by ordering immediate attacks until reinforcements under Brigadier General Blunt arrived. Hindman was thwarted. Largely due to his weak artillery and poor supply situation, he was forced to withdraw.

Confederate Soldier
Pea Ridge National Military Park
Although Prairie Grove was on balance a tactical draw, it was a strategic victory for the Union. Never again would the Confederates be able to make a serious attempt to recover control of Arkansas.
In the Battle of Arkansas Post, fought January 9–11, 1863, an overwhelming Union force of around 33,000 led by Major General John McClernand defeated a smaller Confederate force, about 5,000, led by Brigadier General Thomas Churchill. Most of the Confederates, mainly dismounted Texas cavalry, surrendered to the superior Union Army near Fort Hindman.

After the fall of Vicksburg in 1863, the Confederacy was effectively cut in two along the line of the Mississippi River.  e western portion of the Confederacy, including Arkansas, was no longer able to supply vital livestock to the South...

Soon after the Civil War ended, another war hit Arkansas. Well, sort of. The 1874 Brooks-Baxter War saw a close gubernatorial election turn into a literal battle for power as militias supporting each contender clashed. Brook’s militia initially ejected Baxter from the Arkansas Capitol building. Militia supporting Baxter counterattacked, and eventually US troops stepped in and restored Baxter to power.

Arsenal Barracks
Douglas MacArthur
Museum & Birthplace
Little Rock, AR
In 1880, Douglas MacArthur was born in the Arsenal Barracks, which had been renamed the Little Rock Barracks in 1873, to a military family.  is distinguished graduate of West Point would serve in France in World War I. MacArthur eventually became a five-star US general who famously “returned” to liberate the Philippines in World War II. As Commander of UN forces, he planned and executed the successful invasion of Inchon during the Korean War. MacArthur Park and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History can be found in Little Rock today, near his birthplace (

MacArthur Museum
Little Rock, AR
Arkansas was not, of course, invaded during World War II. However, more than 23,000 German and Italian prisoners of war were held at bases in the state, such as Fort Smith and Camp Robinson.

Sam Walton's office
Walmart Museum
Bentonville, AR
Travel notes: Loved the 21C hotel in Bentonville (!  Usually I mistrust hotel restaurants but The Hive is a wonderful exception.  Bentonville is a happening town.  Outstanding coffee at the Onyx Coffee  Great beers at Core Brewing  Oven and tap has nice  Not to mention the incredible Crystal Bridges Museum (  All in all a very fun town.

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