Saturday, April 29, 2017

Invading Belgium

Commander K in Dinant, Belgium

Belgium, lying as it does, at the crossroads of Europe has been subject to numerous invasions.

In Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World ( we noted that Julius Caesar himself invaded the area today known as Belgium...
Julius Caesar Bust, Arles, France
"Belgium is named after the Belgic peoples of the region, first described by, yes, an Italian, Julius Caesar himself.

In 57 BC Caesar advanced into what is now Belgium after attacking the Nervii tribe. In 53 BC, after Ambiorix, king of the Eburones, destroyed a Roman legion, Caesar retaliated by ruthlessly destroying the Eburones.

In AD 69 and 70, the great Batavian Revolt affected parts of what is now Belgium, and other fighting during assorted Roman civil wars followed. Then in the late Roman period, the area became increasingly vulnerable to incursions by people from beyond the empire’s borders.

That was not the last time Italians would fight in what is now Belgium.

Italians formed a major component of the Spanish armies that fought the Eighty Years’ War from 1558–1648, as the Netherlands fought to free itself from Spanish control. A number of key commanders on the Spanish side were Italian. In the late sixteenth century, for instance, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, reconquered, at a key point in the war, much of what is now Belgium. And in the early seventeenth century, Genoese aristocrat Ambrosio Spinola, Marquis of the Balbases and Duke of Sesto, was another major commander on the Spanish side.

Napoleon I
Invaded Belgium and met his Waterloo
Napoleon, the French emperor with Italian roots, controlled what is now Belgium for most of his time in power. The battle of Waterloo, fought in Belgium in June 1815, was the final defeat for the King of Italy, as well as for the emperor of the French.

Fiat CR.42 Biplane
RAF Museum, London

During the Battle of Britain in September 1940, the Corpo Aereo Italiano (the Italian Air Corps) was sent to Belgium to take part in the Luftwaffe’s Battle of Britain, Germany’s attempt to make an invasion of Britain possible.

On the Allied side, Italian Americans saw heavy fighting in Belgium in the months after D-Day. For example, on September 4, 1944, machine gunner Gino J. Merli showed heroic bravery when his position near Sars-la-Bruyère came under heavy German attack. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor as a result.

The Belgians owe another major cultural debt to Italy. No Columbus would have meant no Belgian chocolate!

Belgium is a founding member of NATO, along with Italy."

Commander K with Martyrs of Dinant from 2 World Wars
Dinant, Belgium
The Germans, of course invaded Belgium in two World Wars.  In 1914 they invaded the town of Dinant the site of a beautiful; cathedral on the __ river.  Dinant was the birthplace of Adolphe Sax -- the inventor of the saxophone.

But Americans have also invaded or fought in Belgium.  In America Invades ( we noted...

They have great chocolate, great beer, and great fries in Belgium. Excellent.
Belgium seems as if it’s been around forever but isn’t even as old as the United States. In fact, at least one American was fighting on what is now Belgian soil before Belgium, as we now know it, even existed.

Duke of Wellington
London, UK
In June of 1815, Sir William Howe De Lancey and his new bride, Magdalene Hall, were invited, but did not attend, the famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels that preceded the Battle of Waterloo. De Lancey, born in New York City, served as the British Duke of Wellington’s deputy quartermaster general in the Waterloo campaign. His father, Stephen De Lancey, had also served as an officer in the 1st New Jersey Loyal Volunteers in the American Revolution. Sadly, while accompanying the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, De Lancey was struck by a bouncing canon ball and fatally wounded.

In August of 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, Belgium was invaded, and mostly occupied, by the Kaiser’s army. After President Woodrow Wilson led the United States into war on the side of the Allies in 1917, in part due to the violation of Belgian neutrality, many Americans would fight in and over Belgium.

For example, Robert Lovett, a Yalie who would become secretary of defense in the Korean War, served as a pioneering naval aviator in World War I. One of his missions was to bomb German submarine pens based in Bruges, Belgium. And Americans played a vital role in campaigns that liberated large chunks of Belgium in the last months of the war. In August and September 1918, the American II Corps helped the British wipe out the German-held Lys salient, and in October, the 37th and 91st Divisions joined in an attempt to cross the Scheldt. Finally, on November 2, 1918, just a few days before the Armistice, the 37th managed to get across the Scheldt at Heurne.

Over one hundred thousand Americans were involved in the fighting in Belgium then, and many of them would never return home. Hundreds of American soldiers from the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) are buried at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium at Waregem, only a few miles from the scene of the crossing of the Scheldt by the 37th.

In May of 1940, Belgium was once again invaded by the Germans who occupied the country until the fall of 1944.

On September 3, 1944, the US First Army crossed the Belgian border and liberated the city of Mons and the surrounding area. Advancing American troops reported being greeted by bottles of cognac and champagne and by pretty girls. Twenty-five thousand Germans would soon be captured in the Mons pocket.

However, anyone expecting a quick end to the fighting was in for a surprise. One of the largest battles in American military history was fought primarily on the soil of Belgium—yes, it’s the Battle of the Bulge.

Hitler had begun planning operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) shortly after the D-Day landings in June. In spite of the Ultra decrypts, the Germans managed to achieve strategic surprise with a massive counterattack through the Ardennes. At 5:30 a.m. on December 16, 1944, a huge German artillery barrage broke out near the Ardennes forest.

General Anthony McAuliffe
Bastogne, Belgium
The Germans advanced against inexperienced US divisions or the remnants of shattered units that had been put into a quiet part of the front in order to recuperate, and the attackers were helped by bad weather, which countered Allied air superiority. The 101st Airborne, which had been rushed forward via trucks, was soon completely surrounded at Bastogne.

On December 22, 1944, Von Lüttwitz, commander of the German forces besieging Bastogne, sent two officers to request the surrender of the American garrison. Brigadier General McAuliffe, in temporary command of the 101st Airborne Division, laughed and famously exclaimed “Nuts” in response.

It was near the Belgian town of Malmedy that the most notorious massacre of unarmed American soldiers in our history took place. Sixty- seven men of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion who had surrendered were killed by machine gun fire from SS panzers. At least four hundred, including over one hundred Belgian civilians, were killed by Joachim Peiper’s 1st SS-Panzer Division. After being tried and sentenced to death, Peiper managed to cheat the hangman’s noose, and he was released from prison in 1956.

The German offensive had already caused considerable chaos in the American rear, and Skorzeny’s English-speaking German commandos disguised as Americans just added to it. David Niven, an actor who moved to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune, served in the British Army during World War II and found himself caught up in it. When suspicious GIs demanded he tell them who had won the World Series in 1940, he had to confess he had no idea, but he was able to point out to the GIs that he had made a picture with Ginger Rogers in 1938. They let him pass.

At Patton's grave

In an Allied strategy conference held on December 19, General George S. Patton Jr. assured Eisenhower that he would be ready to counterattack in forty-eight hours. Eisenhower expressed skepticism. Patton, however, was not going to be put off. His view was that the Germans had put their heads in a mincer, and he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to mince them.

Patton kept his word attacking two days later with the US 4th Armored Division and relieving the “Battling Bastards of Bastogne” on December 26. With the weather now improved, allowing Allied air superiority to reassert itself, as German supplies ran out and Allied support began to arrive in force, the German offensive stalled.

The Ardennes Offensive was Hitler’s last in the West. With its collapse, the Germans were once again forced into retreat, and by February 1945, Belgium was finally free from the Nazis. But it had come at a heavy price. Thousands of American soldiers from both world wars are buried in three American battle monument cemeteries in Belgium.

American soldiers who had fought in Belgium would go on to play roles small and large in other key scenes from American history. For instance, Officer J. D. Tippitt, shot and killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963, by Lee Harvey Oswald, had won a bronze star for his service in the US Army at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

Since the war, very close military ties have developed between the United States and Belgium. The country became a founding member of NATO in 1949. The headquarters of the NATO alliance is now located just outside Mons in Belgium. And assorted US military units have been based in Belgium since the war. For instance, today, the US Air Force’s 309th Airlift Squadron operates at Chièvres Air Base in Belgium."

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Beware the Consensus View!

In An Adventure in 1914 ( I noted...

"Millions of men stood ready to mobilize across the Continent.  Officers on both sides anxiously consulted their railway timetables, convinced that whichever side mobilized first was destined to prevail in any conflict,  This theory ran aground when Czarist Russia, the first to mobilize, was decisively defeated in the war."

The consensus view in the summer of 1914 proved spectacularly wrong with Germany's victory at the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914 and, ultimately, with the slaughter of the Czar and his family at Ekaterinberg in 1918.  The first to mobilize did not win; the Russian Army and Czarist regime were ground to dust in the Great War.

Ronald Reagan
Grosvenor Square, London
During the Cold War it was the consensus view that the era of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was interminable.  Everyone knew that the Cold War was un-winnable.  It was heresy to think otherwise.  The confrontation between Capitalist and Communist spheres would grind on until...Doomsday.  Until Reagan, Thatcher and few others realized that the Cold War could, in fact, be won.  Reagan urged the Soviets to "tear down that wall" and the wall crumbled soon after.

In 2007 there was a consensus among politicians from Barney Frank to George W. Bush that home ownership was a good thing.  The politicos bleated on about the "ownership society".  The American tax code had subsidized home ownership for generations with the mortgage interest rate deduction.  Everyone should be living the American dream -- even those who might not be able to actually afford home ownership.  And if the credit rating agencies had to fudge a few numbers what did it matter as long the rising tide of home ownership kept lifting all boats with housing prices always moving in one direction?  Everyone was happy from the banks to consumers to speculators.  Until the financial crisis of 2008.

More recently in 2016 the consensus view held 1) that Brexit would not pass and 2) that Hillary Clinton would be elected 45th President of the United States.  Even the TV series Homeland saw all the cracks in the glass ceiling and cast a Clinton-esque character as the new president.  President Obama lectured Britons about the perils of Brexit and endorsed Hillary.  You could have secured 8 to 1 odds on Trump being elected President the day before the election.  Well, we all know how those consensus views worked out.

Which brings us to the present.  What is the Consensus view in 2017?  The London cabbie who picked me up from London City airport yesterday expressed it pretty well: "Your President is a nutter!"  The consensus holds that President Trump is a liar and and idiot.  That the Trump administration is beholden to Putin's Russia.  Things that make you go "Hmmm...?"

Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades ( and Italy Invades : How Italians Conquered the World (  He recently edited An Adventure in 1914 (

America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil will be published in 2017.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Invading Switzerland

Lake Geneva

Switzerland is known for its watches, its chocolate, its boarding schools ( and its secretive banks (the gnomes of Zurich).  It is also known for having been stuck in neutral.  Its neutrality and its strong currency do not, however seem to have hurt it any.  On the contrary Switzerland seems to be a textbook example on the benefits of peace and free markets.  The Swiss have no need for Brexit having passed on the EU long ago.

But if you were to conclude that Switzerland must never have been invaded you would be quite wrong.

In our book Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World we noted that Julius Caesar was invading the area now known as Switzerland over 2,000 years ago and many more would follow...

Julius Caesar invaded Switzerland

"The Romans took control of the territory of what is now Switzerland in a number of different stages.
For instance, in 121 BC, Quintus Fabius Maximus defeated the Allobroges, who were a tribe that occupied parts of what is now eastern France and a little bit of Switzerland. And in 58 BC, Caesar decisively defeated the Helvetii at the Battle of Bibracte, a victory that set the scene for the establishment of Roman sites like Noviodunum/Nyon and Colonia Raurica in western Switzerland. In 15 BC, Tiberius and Drusus seized Raetia, a territory that included much of what is now Switzerland. And in 6 BC, Augustus celebrated his triumph over the tribes of the Alps with a massive trophy constructed at what is now La Turbie in France, where much of it is still visible.

Swiss Fighting in 1346
Chateau Gruyere, Switzerland
These were not the last Italians to fight over what is now Swiss territory. For instance, the Ticino area of southern Switzerland saw extensive fighting by Italians in the late Middle Ages. After the city of Como decided in 1239 to side with Italian-born Emperor Frederick II, at that time ruler of Switzerland, he took control of Bellinzona, the capital of the region. This area was regularly disputed between the Italian powers of Como and Milan. Milan took the city in 1242, but then Como took it back in 1249. Finally, in 1340, the Viscontis took Bellinzona, and Milan would hold it long term. In 1403, Milan temporarily lost control to Alberto di Sacco, who then sold it to the Swiss. Milan sent troops into the area; and after a decisive victory at the Battle of Arbedo in 1422, retook Bellinzona. Swiss forces attacked in 1441 but failed to take Bellinzona. Another attack in 1478 led to the Milanese suffering a defeat at the Battle of Giornico, but Milan hung onto Bellinzona. In 1499, though, when Louis XII of France attacked Milan, it lost control of Bellinzona, which shortly afterward became Swiss.
Italian Grenadier Guard
Musée de l'Armée, Paris

And the Napoleonic Wars would see more Italians fighting in Switzerland. In 1798, French forces invaded Switzerland and occupied it. Shortly afterward, Andrea Massena, born in Nice (when Nice was Sardinian), was given a major French command in Switzerland and told to resist advancing Austrian and Russian forces. Massena not only managed to resist an Austrian advance on Zurich, but at the Second Battle of Zurich in September 1799, he also achieved a major and strategically important victory over a combined Russian and Austrian force.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps!

In the spring of 1800, Napoleon, whose family was from San Miniato, famously crossed the Alps through the St. Bernard Pass in what is now Switzerland. He soon led the French to victory over the Austrians in the Italian town of Marengo.

While Switzerland may be known for its bankers, it was the Italians who invented double-entry bookkeeping and the Medicis who pioneered merchant banking. And without Columbus’s discovery of the New World, the Swiss would not even have chocolate!"

Swiss Guards, St. Peter's, Rome

Today in Switzerland, just under 7 percent of Swiss citizens are Italian speaking. The pope continues to be protected by guards who must all be Swiss, Catholic bachelors between the ages of nineteen and thirty. There were 112 Swiss guards protecting the pope as of 2010."

Even we Americans have not missed out on invading Switzerland.  In America Invades ( we wrote...

Swiss Fondue, Gruyere, Switzerland
"Mountainous, picturesque Switzerland has a long history of neutrality. So have we ever attacked any fondue-eating, yoghurt-slurping, and chocolate-devouring Swiss? Well, not intentionally, but unintentionally, yes.

Swiss Canon
Chateau Gruyere, Switzerland
During both world wars, Switzerland remained, of course, neutral. In World War I, despite one or two Allied plans to invade Switzerland, or at least invade enemy territory through Switzerland, we didn’t really have that much to do with the country militarily, apart from a bit of espionage.
With its strategic location at the heart of Europe, Switzerland became famous along with the fondue, clocks, and knives for spies during both world wars. There can be few more famous American spymasters than Allen Dulles, and he spent time in Switzerland during both wars. In World War I, he operated out of Berne and ran spies in Austria-Hungary, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. Also one night, he apparently hung up the phone after a conversation with a Russian revolutionary about to leave Switzerland and desperate to speak to an American diplomat. That revolutionary turned out to be Lenin, and his destination, Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution.

ME 262, Evergreen Air & Space Museum
McMinnville, OR
In World War II, Switzerland once again became a hotbed of espionage activity while the war raged all around the country. And once again, Allen Dulles appeared on the scene, this time heading up the OSS there. Germany was now his focus, and Dulles worked with many anti- Hitler Germans. While in Switzerland, he managed to gather intelligence on the Me 262 jet and the German rocket programs and help the Italians surrender.

Stalin, not a fan of capitalists anyway, denounced the Swiss as “swine” and urged US forces to attack from France. We didn’t. Well, as mentioned above, not intentionally anyway.

P-47, Museum of Flight
Seattle WA
The air war over Europe was wide-ranging, vicious, and often chaotic, fought by crews with, by today’s standards, very limited navigational technology. Some mistakes were inevitable. In September 1944, for instance, US pilots invaded Swiss airspace sometimes as many as thirty times a day. In another example, a squadron of US P-47s shot up a train headed from Zurich to Basel assuming it was German. In one of the most tragic incidents, Americans inadvertently bombed the Swiss town of Schaffhausen, killing tens of civilians. To be fair, Swiss airspace was also violated by the Luftwaffe hundreds of times in the course of the war. After the war, the US government paid compensation to the Swiss.

Sometimes, however, Switzerland was the intended destination of our men. A number of Allied bomber crews, for instance, thinking their planes were too damaged to return home, preferred to avoid becoming POWs and landed deliberately in neutral Switzerland where their planes and crews would be impounded for the duration of the war. And Switzerland was, of course, a destination of choice for American POWs attempting to escape from German prisoner-of-war camps."

So the Swiss HAVE been invaded.  They have fought many wars, been bombed and certainly been spied upon.  Even today they remain heavily armed and well fortified.  They seem to have learned from their experiences.

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Coming later in 2017...
America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil

Friday, April 21, 2017

TT Wells at Le Rosey

Paul and Henri Carnal Hall
Le Rosey, Rolle Switzerland

My great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, spent his senior year in high school at Le Rosey in Rolle Switzerland (  Wells was the author the manuscript An Adventure in 1914 which I had the honor to edit and turn into a book.  Well and his wife and two children were traveling through Europe on holiday in 1914 when World War I broke out.  He was even briefly arrested, accused of being a Russian spy and threatened with execution!

Wells later served as the Chairman of Serbian Relief which brought food, medicine and agricultural equipment to war-torn Serbia.  His humanitarian relief work undoubtedly saved many lives.

In the Introduction to An Adventure in 1914 ( I noted this about Wells at Le Rosey...

"In 1883, Wells withdrew from St. Mark’s to spend his senior year at the elite Institut Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland, which had been founded in 1880 by Paul-Émile Carnal. It was at Le Rosey, situated by Lake Geneva, that he may have developed the love of nature that is on display throughout An Adventure in 1914. His time at Le Rosey also developed a keen, lifelong interest in the world beyond American shores. Today, Le Rosey is known as the most expensive school in the world. Annual tuition clocks in at over $133,000 per year. The sons and daughters of billionaires and royalty attend this elite school, which moves to its winter campus in Gstaad, Switzerland, during the ski season."

Le Rosey, Rolle, Switzerland

In 2014 the amazing Paul and Henri Carnal Hall was completed at a cost of around $55 million.  It appears that a spaceship has landed on the campus of the Swiss boarding school.  Amazing performances have already been featured at the Hall including the Berlin Philharmonic.  For more on the Hall see...  Note also the video below on its inauguration.

I think that my great-grandfather would be proud and pleased that his old school is flourishing in the 21st century.  I greatly appreciated my opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

Dorm Le Rosey, Rolle, Switzerland

Special thanks to Kim Kovacevic, the head of the History at Le Rosey, for recently welcoming me to his campus.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Doolittle's Raid + 75

Jimmy Doolittle
IWM Duxford, UK

Seventy-five years ago on April 18, 1942 Jimmy Doolittle launched his famous Raid on Tokyo.  It was an event that fundamentally changed the war in the Pacific.

We wrote this in the Japan chapter of America Invades...

"Japan achieved strategic surprise attacking the United States fleet at anchor at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some Americans, not realizing, how advanced Japan’s navy and air force had become, made the assumption that German pilots must have been involved. And Japan, in its onslaught in the East, would later launch attacks on American allies, such as the Philippines, and occupy American territory, such as Guam, Wake Island, and Alaska.

B-25B Mitchell

The American riposte to Pearl Harbor was the spectacular and very daring Doolittle Raid, which took place on April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25B Mitchell aircraft were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo and proceed to China afterwards. The raiders inflicted minimal physical damage, but the psychological impact was enormous as the Japanese felt compelled to initiate the disastrous (for the Japanese) Midway campaign to prevent future American air attacks on their homeland."

In the China chapter we also noted this...

"Most of the Doolittle Raiders of April 1942 landed in China where the Japanese authorities pursued them, killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese in the process."

Remember the heroism of the Doolittle Raiders whose actions changed our world.  And of all those who supported them.

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America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil is coming later in 2017!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Invading Jamaica

I have really enjoyed our brief holiday in Jamaica where I have been busy editing America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil.  Our new book will be published later in 2017.  The Jamaican raised troops to fight on American Soil during the American Revolution (i.e. the Jamaica Rangers in 1779) but it is not clear that any actually did fight in the thirteen colonies.  Some did fight with Nelson against the Spanish in the Caribbean.

Ian Fleming at Goldeneye

I have been inspired by my visit to Ian Fleming's home on Jamaica.  It was here that he wrote all of the James Bond novels on a golden typewriter.  I even had a chance to play tennis on courts once used by Ian Fleming.

In we discussed the American invasions of Jamaica in America Invades...

Ian Fleming's Goldeneye, 2017
"A fascinating island, Jamaica has inspired many people. James Bond’s author, Ian Fleming, for instance, had his home Goldeneye (also the title of one of the Bond films) there, a house also later connected with Jamaican legend Bob Marley.

Some armed Americans were active around Jamaica even before the Revolution, though not at that stage fighting the British. They were fighting on their side. For instance, Thomas Paine of Jamestown, Rhode Island, was a privateer with a commission from Jamaica’s then British governor, Sir Thomas Lynch. And in 1740, a large contingent of Virginia troops was shipped to Jamaica to assist the British war effort.

But during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, our ships were active in targeting assorted ships bound for Jamaica or coming from there. In 1779, for instance, the frigates Providence and Queen of France with the sloop Ranger suddenly found themselves in fog in a British convoy headed for Jamaica and managed to capture eleven ships.

In 1873, a ship sailing under the American flag, the Virginius that had been running guns to insurgents in Cuba, picked up another load on Jamaica, only to be pursued and captured in Jamaican waters by a Spanish ship. The Spanish executed some of its crew before a diplomatic deal was finally worked out.

As we’ve already noted elsewhere, the use of our forces for humanitarian purposes isn’t just a modern idea. In 1906, US marines and seamen landed at Kingston, Jamaica, to help in the aftermath of an earthquake.

However, during World War II when we were on the same side as Britain, we took most interest in the island militarily. Under the Destroyers for Bases agreement of September 1940, the UK got some old destroyers, and we got access to much British-controlled territory to establish bases there. One of the areas involved was Jamaica.

The USN got a naval air station on Little Goat Island and the use of naval facilities at Port Royal. And the USAF got Vernam Army Airfield. A group of officers and enlisted men known as “Force Tuna” arrived there in late 1941 to set things up. Vernam was initially used for anti-submarine flights, but eventually it became a major destination for long-range training flights. It closed in 1949.
Jamaica became independent from Britain in 1962, and in 1972 democratic socialist Michael Manley came to power. His attitude towards Cuba scared some in Washington, and there has been speculation by some that America may have conducted covert attempts to undermine him.

Red Stripe

In 1983, Jamaica offered military and political support to the American invasion of Grenada.
In the years since World War II, we’ve had assorted other military links with Jamaica, including training, exercises, exchanges, ship visits, and shared humanitarian projects. Jamaica’s military connections to the United States and Canada grew as its connections to the UK decreased. The District of Columbia National Guard is partnered with Jamaica.

General Colin Powell, who also served as secretary of state, is of Jamaican descent."

Travel Notes: Those interested in staying at Goldeneye should visit

For more Bond blogs see...

Tennis with Gary at Goldeneye

Ya Mon, you can find signed copies of America Invades

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America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil is coming in 2017...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Our Surveillance Society and the Zimmerman Telegram

Today we read on a daily basis about alleged wiretapping engaged in by leaders and governments both foreign and domestic. Americans find themselves asking, What is our government up to? Have we as American citizens lost all privacy rights? How did this all begin?

Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic message, from Cornwall in England to Newfoundland in Canada, in 1901. Governments would soon be scrambling to intercept the blizzard of electronic transmissions that followed in its wake.

Much of the “surveillance society” in which we live today had its origins in the decade after Marconi’s first transmission, in World War I espionage. For example, the British built a sophisticated signals intelligence network designed to monitor German radio traffic during the war. The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service and forerunner to MI6) established monitoring stations from Folkestone to London. Surprisingly, America’s entry into World War I one hundred years ago was in large part prompted by this clandestine surveillance activity.

Room 40 was the decryption service of the British Admiralty in World War I. It managed to obtain the German naval codebooks in 1914, including one seized by the Russian Navy in the Baltic. Room 40’s greatest coup of the war, however, was the interception and decryption of the famous Zimmermann Telegram in 1917.

Patton and WWI Tank
Relations between Mexico and America were tense even in those days. In March 1916, Pancho Villa launched a cross-border attack on Columbus, New Mexico. He seized supplies and burned the town. In retaliation, President Wilson ordered the US Army into Mexico to capture the notorious bandit leader. Brigadier General John Pershing led the Punitive Expedition from New Mexico into Chihuahua. Pershing was a tough veteran of Indian wars and the Moro uprising in the Philippines. A young George S. Patton Jr., whose attractive sister Nita was dating the widower Pershing, was detailed to Pershing’s staff.

Pancho Villa, as it turned out, proved to be somewhat elusive, but Patton, leading a small patrol, participated in a skirmish at a hacienda in San Miguelito. Three Villistas were killed. When about fifty Villistas approached the hacienda, Patton beat a hasty retreat with the three dead men strapped across his automobile hood. Patton was later promoted to first lieutenant.

In January 1917, less than eight months after Patton’s skirmish, the Zimmerman Telegram was intercepted and decrypted by Room 40.

This message, sent by the German minister of foreign affairs to the German ambassador in Mexico City, proposed an alliance with Mexico in the event of America’s entry into the war. According to its terms, Mexican territory lost in previous wars with the United States, in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, would be returned to Mexican sovereignty in exchange for Mexico’s declaration of war on the United States. When its contents were disclosed, the telegram enraged many Americans, and was one of the catalysts (along with unrestricted submarine warfare) for the declaration of war by the United States Congress on April 6, 1917.

Room 40 also decrypted messages that identified Mata Hari—a Dutch courtesan and exotic dancer in Paris, who was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in 1876—as H-21, a German spy. The information was passed to French intelligence, and the femme fatale was arrested, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1917. The unfortunate Mata Hari had been overly friendly with officers on both sides of the Great War.

Museum of Flight
Seattle WA
The intrepid Lieutenant Patton would serve in the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. General Pershing would command over two million men in the AEF in Europe.

Years later, Room 40 would, of course, provide inspiration for the codebreaking that took place at Bletchley Park in World War II. Both Britain and America were routinely listening in on Axis messages. Eisenhower claimed that the work of the codebreakers may have shortened the war by as much as two years, saving countless lives.

After World War II, Henry Stimson, FDR’s Secretary of State, would write in his memoirs that “Gentlemen do not read each others' mail.” But the truth is that gentlemen began reading each other’s mail long before World War II. And they continue to read our mail today.

Christopher Kelly recently edited and introduced An Adventure in 1914 which is a memoir written by his great-grandfather Thomas Tileston Wells.  Wells and his family travelled through Europe in the summer of 1914 on the brink of World War I.


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Monday, April 3, 2017

American Baseball Imperialism 2017

American Baseball Imperialism

As we get ready for the start of a new baseball season this spring, it is interesting to reflect on the impact of baseball around the world and its surprising connection to America’s military might. American forces have fought in eighty-five out of the 194 countries in the world (excluding the USA itself), or 44 percent of the total.  Over the course of this amazing history, filled as it is with heroic liberations and a few tragic blunders, we Americans have had one undeniable achievement—we have exported the game of baseball around much of the world.

Roman Arena
Arles, France
The Romans built gladiatorial arenas throughout their empire. The British introduced the sports of rugby and cricket to the one-quarter of the globe their empire occupied. The global deployment of baseball-loving Americans serving in the US military has spread our national pastime far and wide. And that spread of American Baseball Imperialism got off to a very early start.
Abner Doubleday, US Army veteran
Abner Doubleday, the legendary “inventor” of baseball, served in the First Regiment of Artillery in the US Army during the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. Could this West Point graduate and future Union general in the American Civil War have played some pickup games while in Mexico?

American soldiers have taken baseball with them on campaign to some of the remotest corners of the earth. During the Russian Civil War (1918–19), the Polar Bear brigade, made up largely of Michiganders, was deployed by President Wilson to Arkhangelsk (also known as Archangel) in northern Russia, where they also played baseball.

Battleship Texas
La Porte, TX
The battleship Texas served in both world wars, and provided shore bombardment on D-Day at Normandy and again at Iwo Jima in 1945. A visitor to the ship, moored near Houston, will find a poignant reminder of the cost of American Baseball Imperialism. In a display case there is a baseball, an old glove, and a photo from a game played on April 15, 1936, on a Pacific island between the crew members of the Texas and the ill-fated Arizona, which was sunk by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.
DiMaggio's Kit
Cooperstown, NY
By the time World War II broke out, baseball was firmly ingrained in the national consciousness. Many famous players, such as Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg, volunteered to serve their country in the armed services. Ted Williams, affectionately known in baseball circles as Teddy Ballgame, trained pilots as a marine aviator in World War II. Despite having their Italian parents classified as enemy aliens, both DiMaggio brothers served honorably in the war. Joe, aka the Yankee Clipper, joined the US Army Air Force in 1943. His Red Sox brother Dom served in the US Navy.

In Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa, American troops would use the challenge and countersign of: “Brooklyn?” “Dodgers.” Later, sentries would bark the password challenge: "Three?", to be answered with the countersign: "Strikes!"

Some of the more fortunate American prisoners of war in German camps even had the opportunity to play baseball while in captivity. Who can forget Steve McQueen throwing his baseball against the wall while stuck in the cooler in the film The Great Escape?

Currahee Military Museum
Tocoa, GA
After the victory against Nazism was finally won, Americans would celebrate by playing baseball in occupied Europe. In the final moments of Spielberg's miniseries Band of Brothers, the paratroopers of Easy Company relax by playing a game of baseball in Zell am See, Austria. Major Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne had ordered the construction of a baseball diamond in this alpine paradise.

Americans even used baseball to exorcise the demons of Nazism in the very belly of the beast—building a baseball stadium in the Hitler Youth Stadium at Nuremberg. The site of so many Nazi rallies was transformed into Soldier's Field; and the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) World Series, featuring many major leaguers in uniform, was held there in September 1945.

Over and over again, countries that have been occupied by American forces have turned into baseball-playing countries. In 1898, soon after Admiral Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, President McKinley authorized the occupation of the Philippines by American forces. During the guerilla war that followed, Americans were said to be civilizing the Filipinos “with a Krag”—a .30-caliber Krag-Jorgensen rifle with a five-shot magazine. But civilizing with a baseball bat during the subsequent counterinsurgency may have been more effective in winning Filipino hearts and minds. At the close of World War II, American invaders would return with General MacArthur to the Philippines when it was liberated from Japanese control. The American occupation would serve to spread awareness of the game throughout the Philippine archipelago. In 1956, Bobby Balcena of the Cincinnati Redlegs became the first Filipino to play in the majors. Today, the Filipinos have a league of their own featuring teams such as the Manila Sharks.

Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American educator in Tokyo. So it was, in a sense, Japanese baseball imperialism that first brought the game to Taiwan, since Japan occupied that island from 1895–1945. The American occupation of Japan that followed World War II helped to vastly spread the popularity of the game. In recent years, the arrival of Ichiro Suzuki initiated a flood of Japanese talent into major league baseball.

Fidel: A Leftie?
Baseball first came to Cuba in the 1860s with the arrival of American sailors making port calls and with Cuban college students returning from studies in America. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders played some ball in Cuba after the Spanish American War in 1898. The young Fidel Castro was a gifted athlete who sought a career in baseball. In 1949, the lanky Cuban was offered a contract by the New York Giants, which he declined. How might Cuban-American relations have differed if Castro had opted to join the show?

Obama and Castro
Havana March 22, 2016
Tampa Bay Rays beat Cuban National Team 3 to 1
In the spring of 2016, President Obama visited Havana to watch the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban national team, alongside Raul Castro. Several MLB teams have discussed the possibility of playing spring games in Havana.
Band of Brothers
Occupied Austria 
Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. In 2012, Donald Lutz, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, broke another barrier, becoming the first German-developed player to play in the major leagues. Lutz has an American GI dad and a German mom. The diamond that Major Dick Winters of Easy Company built in Austria in 1945 is paying off baseball dividends in the twenty-first century.

How many years will we need to wait before we see an Iraqi outfielder or an Afghan pitcher in the show? Allah knows that the Mariners could use some help!

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