Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Sage of Baltimore

H.L. Mencken 1880 - 1956

H. L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, was a great American newspaperman, autodidact, author and critic.  He enjoyed the Bach's music, smoking cigars and a good lager.  Here are some of Commander Kelly's favourite Mencken quotes...

"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.

All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

A prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn't care to drink with, even if he drank.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about the money' -- it's about the money.

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.

One hears murmurs against Mussolini on the ground that he is a desperado: the real objection to him is that he is a politician. Indeed, he is probably the most perfect specimen of the genus politician on view in the world today. His career has been impeccably classical. Beginning life as a ranting Socialist of the worst type, he abjured Socialism the moment he saw better opportunities for himself on the other side, and ever since then he has devoted himself gaudily to clapping Socialists in jail, filling them with castor oil, sending blacklegs to burn down their houses, and otherwise roughing them. Modern politics has produced no more adept practitioner.

Honor is simply the morality of superior men.

Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.

I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.

I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.

I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.

I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom. . . [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men.

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.

If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

When A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel. (Commander Kelly asks , "Could 'A' be a community organiser?")

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Romney Wins Michigan and Arizona


Yesterday, February 28th, Mitt Romney won his home state of Michigan in a close race with Santorum and Arizona by a mile.  Mitt has now won states in New England, the South, the Midwest and the West proving that he has national appeal.  This means that there will not be brokered convention and that Romney, for better or worse, will be the Republican nominee.

The Republican candidate who is best qualified to improve the US economy and the candidate who is most likely to beat Obama will now win the nomination.  Go Mitt!

Romney sweeps Michigan and Arizona, Margaret Thatcher wins an Oscar, and the Dow rises over 13,000--not a bad start to the week!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Executive Order 9066 -- The Internment

Why Were Japanese-Americans Interned during World War II?

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

Relocation Camp
The Internment of Japanese-Americans that was authorized by FDR's executive order 9066 over 70 years ago.  Clearly there were many innocent victims who were incarcerated for the duration of the war.    Their rights as Americans were trampled upon as a result of paranoia and wartime hysteria.  Many years later two US Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, offered formal apologies and compensation on behalf of the US government for the Internment.

Conservatism, as I understand it, implies a respect for individual rights and liberty which were trampled on by the Internment.  Conservatism also stresses the importance of remembering the past and allowing its lessons to help guide our future.  Every partisan Republican bone in my body rises up to criticize the extremism of Democrat FDR's blatant statist power grab as exemplified by the Internment.  For these reasons, I salute George Takei and his artistic endeavors.  Moreover, my own father, Robert Kelly, grew up in Sacramento, CA and knew of neighbors who hid a Japanese-American family in their basement for the duration of the war.  I heartily commend this act of courageous civil disobedience.  Internment was a horrible policy and a crime against human rights.

Internment also usefully serves to remind us about the fundamental clumsiness of nearly all government interventions.  When the federal Government gets wrought up over ANY issue it typically acts with all the finesse of an enraged bull elephant.  It tramples all in its path indiscriminately.

442nd Regimental Combat Team
Moreover, many Japanese Americans proved their loyalty where it counts most during wartime on the battlefield.  The famous 442 regimental combat team which fought in Italy was the most highly decorated American unit of World War II and was featured in the terrific 1951 war move with Van Johnson Go For Broke! (http:/  Over 30,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry served in the US armed forces during World War II.

And yet...? And yet, there's a bit more to the story...

It is incredibly difficulty for those of us who live in the 21st century to understand the horrendously difficult decisions that were faced by those alive and in charge in 1942.

The American fleet at Pearl Harbor had been effectively wiped out.  The allies appeared to be losing the war on all fronts.  German panzers were advancing to the oilfields of the Caucasus.  The Japanese conquered in short order Guam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Burma  and the "invincible" British fortress at Singapore.  The inevitability of Allied victory was completely opaque to the leaders of 1942.

The historian Niall Ferguson writes, "The Germans had already made the concept of 'lightning war' their own.  But never in military history has lightning struck in so many places with such devastating results as it did in Asia and the Pacific between the beginning of December 1941 and the end of April 1942.  Moreover, the distances involved were vastly greater than those being covered simultaneously by the Germans in Europe.  At its maximum extent, the Japanese Empire stretched 6,400 miles from west to east and 5,300 miles from north to south; its circumference was a staggering 14,200 miles.  By the beginning of May 1942, the Japanese could plausibly contemplate attacks on Midway, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, New Guinea and even Australia , Ceylon and India."  The War of the World, Niall Ferguson, 2006. (http:/

The West coast of the United states lay almost completely unprotected form Japanese assault.  The Japanese did, in fact, invade and occupy some of the Aleutian islands as part of the Midway campaign.  A Japanese submarine surfaced and shelled a lighthouse on the coast of British Columbia.  Submarines were spotted off the coast of Santa Barbara.  A Japanese submarine shelled Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast.  A Japanese sea plane bomber actually bombed Oregon in 1942.  There were some in the US government that actually considered the evacuation of US forces to positions east of the Mississippi due to the vulnerability and indefensiblity of the West coast.

More than 1/3 (about 50,000 out of 120,000) of the Interned were not, in fact, US citizens.  These were the Issei.  There were Japanese citizens and residents of Hawaii that assuredly did spy on US naval and military assets prior to Pearl Harbor.  Here is the most well know and devastating example...(

Please indulge me in a brief interruption for a thought experiment.  If, God forbid, Iran were to attack and sink a US aircraft carrier tomorrow in the straits of Hormuz, would we not expect the US government to, at the very least, monitor the activities of Iranian citizens now in the US?  The legal justification for the detainment of foreign aliens in wartime goes back to the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 and is still in place today.  Furthermore, would we not expect the US government to monitor the activities of US citizens who had become naturalized US citizens in the past five years?  My point is merely that the World War II Internment was not based on race, but rather on nationality.

It is also an established historic fact that the Second World War, in addition to its record setting casualty count, also caused enormous dislocations of people throughout the world.  Civilian Refugees fled one war zone after the other.  There were more than FOUR times more Volga Germans (500,000) than US Internment victims were deported by the Soviet government, mainly to Siberia, with many of them dying along the way.  Half a million Chechens were also deported by the Soviet Union during the course of the war.

Here in the UK, there were massive evacuations of women and children away from exposed urban areas in the face of the blitz.  Later in the war, the civilian populations of Dover and Cornwall to forced to abandon their homes and relocated to other parts of Britain.  This was not, of course, on account of their race or nationality, but rather a military precaution.  The allies needed to do their rehearsals for D-day and they did not want any nosy civilians watching!  (

From 1939 through 1941, the victories of the Axis powers had been unbounded.  Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia and Greece were all swiftly conquered by the German war machine.  It was the overwhelming initial success of Hitler's operation Barbarrossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) that convinced Japanese diplomatic and military advisers based in Europe that Germany was unbeatable and would quickly compel a Soviet capitulation.  The Japanese dramatically spread their sphere of influence throughout the Pacific, invading New Guinea, bombing Darwin Australia and sallying their fleet into the Indian Ocean.  1942 was, however, the decisive year of World War II.  It was in 1942 that the German 6th army under the command of Paulus was trapped and surrendered at Stalingrad.  In June of 1942, American naval aviators sank four precious aircraft carriers of the Japanese Imperial fleet at the battle of Midway.  From then on out it was all downhill for the Axis powers.

Saboteur 1942
Fear of sabotage was widespread and well-grounded.  Hitchcock's film Saboteur of 1942 (http:/ captures the fear that engulfed the allies during the war.   The German-affiliated Duquesne spy ring of 33 individuals, including many naturalized US citizens, was rounded up and sentenced to over 300 years of incarceration (  A tiny minority of disloyal saboteurs of Japanese ancestry living in the US could have done immense damage to the Allied war effort.

Meanwhile the Japanese, who had been fighting longer than any other combatant nation (since 1937 with the war in China), were unwilling to give up the struggle.  They desperately grabbed at any opportunity to win the war or to make its prosecution so costly to the allies as to force a negotiated settlement  to the conflict.

Japanese women were mobilised to sew paper balloons that would use the jet stream to carry incendiary devices to the United States.  These early intercontinental weapons were responsible for many forest fires in the Pacific Northwest.  In May 1945 a pregnant woman in Oregon, Elsie Mitchell, found one of these balloons and accidentally set off the device which killed her and five local children. (

The recently declassified Magic decrypts (uncovered by the US equivalent of Bletchley Park) clearly demonstrate that there was a systematic effort on the part of the Japanese to recruit and exploit the Japanese-American population of the United States.  There was a substantial increase in radio traffic around Hawaii and the US West coast before and after Pearl Harbor which is not explicable without reference to the Japanese and Japanese-American population.  While the vast majority of the interned were innocent of any wrongdoing, there were exceptions.  According to the Honolulu Star, Richard Koshimodo was a Japanese American who actively aided Japanese spies keeping track of ship movements in Pearl Harbor.  Another Japanese American was shot in Kanehoe when he fled after being discovered signalling a Japanese submarine.   Three Japanese Americans on Niihau aided a downed Imperial Navy aviator to the point where they attempted to kill (the victim was shot three times and later awarded a purple heart) some of their Hawaiian neighbors. One of the Japanese was killed in a struggle and the other two surrendered to authorities. Source: (
The Japanese population in the Philippines (about 30,000 strong) helped to guide, support and celebrate the arrival of the Imperial Japanese army in its conquest of that country in 1942.

David Lowman, former special assistant to the Director National Security Agency, in his book Magic (http:/ writes, "In early 1942 the country appeared to be faced with a dangerous espionage situation on the West coast, an perhaps an unmanageable one, at a time when the military outlook was, to say the least, bleak.  The decision to evacuate was not made without evidence and in bad faith.  The United States government did not act shamefully, dishonourably, and without cause or reason as charged.  Years of hindsight may cast doubts on the wisdom of the evacuation decision, but the intelligence illustrated in this book will provide ample proof that the decision was made honestly and with what seemed at that time to be complete justification."

More recent scholarship has proven that the Imperial Japanese Navy succeeded in constructing the most advanced large submarines of World War II.  These E-400 class ships ( were underwater aircraft carriers capable of carrying bomber aircraft that could have reached the United States mainland with conventional and bacteriological weapons. (  We know, furthermore, that the Japanese developed and used germ warfare that was responsible for the deaths of up to 50,000 Chinese during the war (  What's more, we now know that the Japanese were much further along with their own nuclear program and, according to a History Channel documentary, were planning an attack on the Western United states with a primitive nuclear device in the summer of 1945 and may have actually tested a device in North Korea earlier that year (  Their primary target was alleged to be San Francisco.

It is, therefore, quite plausible to imagine a very different and even more frightening conclusion to World War II in the Pacific with a mushroom cloud rising over the Golden Gate.  Imagine also that FDR had not issued his infamous executive order 9066 to intern Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans.  It is not difficult to imagine kind of vigilante fury would have been unleashed against this minority.  My guess is that, under this scenario, George Takei would never have gotten a chance to act as Lieutenant Sulu!

I visited Pearl Harbor on Oahu in the Spring of 2011 and had a chance to visit the USS Missouri on which the declaration of surrender with Japan was signed.  It was there that I was surprised to learn that the crew members of the USS Missouri were fully prepared to train their big guns on and fire on the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in the event that the surrender ceremony proved to be a Japanese trick.

I was once told a true story about a man in Butte, Montana who chose to wear an orange sweater on St. Patrick's Day many years ago.  The police locked him up overnight in the local jail "for his own safety"--a situation closely analogous to the fate of the Internees during the Second World war.
Louis Zamperini story

We must, as George Takei suggests, remember the crime of the Internment.  Remember the bravery of the 442 regimental combat unit-- Go For Broke!   But remember also the crimes of Cabantuan, the Bataan death march, the building of the Burma-Siam railway line ("Some prisoners were made to wear armbands bearing the inscription: 'One who has been captured in battle and is to be beheaded or castrated at the will of the Emperor.'"  The War of the World, Niall Ferguson, 2006), and the countless thousands who suffered and died in the Japanese POW camps.   Remember the inspiring story of Louis Zamperini, recently documented in Laura Hillenbrand's amazing book, Unbroken. (http:/

FDR's decision to Intern Japanese and Japanese-Americans (made also by Canada with regard to their Japanese-Canadians) was harsh, hard-hearted and driven, at least in part, by racist bigotry.  In spite of being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it may well be accounted a crime from the perspective of today.  Nevertheless,  by making that decision, I would argue that FDR saved countless lives and exercised the least horrible option available to the President at that time.  The Internees became a hostage to the (mis)fortunes of war their civil liberties trampled by an over-reaching and indiscriminate federal government.  The crime of not Interning would have been far greater than the crime of Internment.

I started this essay with Benjamin Franklin's great quote.  "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."  In March of 1945 an aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin, was subjected to Japanese air attacks that left over 800 sailors dead--the greatest damage to any US aircraft carrier that still survived the war.  I would suspect that Benjamin Franklin, understanding all the circumstances in their historic context, might appreciate why the Internees deserve our appreciation for "giving up a little temporary liberty to help purchase the safety and essential liberty of all Americans" during World War II's darkest hours.*

Acknowledgements.  Special thanks go to Adam Wilson for first bringing Allegiance the musical to my attention.  I must also thank fellow Americans in London Chris Moran, David Michaelson, William Funk and Jon Shields for patiently enduring my earlier rantings and ravings on this topic.

For more on the Internment you may want to read... and, Magic David Lowman 2000, http:/ and, finally, In Defense of Internment, Michelle Malkin 2004. http:/

*  Interestingly, this is almost exactly the sentiment expressed by Mike Masaoka, the national secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in an April 1942 bulletin, "Our primary consideration as good Americans is the total war effort...We may be temporarily suspending or sacrificing some of our privileges and rights of citizenship in the greater aim of protecting them for all time to come and to defeat those powers which seek to destroy them."  Source: In Defense of Internment, Michelle Malkin, 2004.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Commander Bond's London

Ian Fleming

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.  Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling--a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension--becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it."  So opens Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale published in 1952.   http:/

Ian Fleming was born in 1908 and educated at Eton and Sandhurst.  His father, Valentine Fleming was killed on the Western front in 1917.  His grandfather, Robert Fleming, was a successful banker.  Ian worked for a short time as a journalist with Reuters and as a stockbroker.  He served in British Naval Intelligence during World War II.  He was the secretary to Admiral John Godfrey who was the Director of Naval Intelligence and the real-life model for "M".  Fleming was a regular at Bletchley Park who was well aware of the Ultra secret.  His principal villain in Casino Royale is "Le Chiffre" which means "the cypher or "the number" and is a veiled reference to code breaking from the Second World War--Fleming died in 1964 long before the secrets of Enigma became public.

Fleming's genuine understanding of the spy trade fully informs the Bond novels giving them a crisp verisimilitude in spite of their flights of fantasy.  He helped to conceive Operation Mincemeat--the disinformation scheme that placed a corpse dressed in Royal navy uniform and loaded with bogus misleading intelligence for the Germans to find on the shores of "neutral" Spain (http:/  He was waiting off the coast of France during the raid on Dieppe in 1942 for news of his specially trained commandos.  Tragically, one of Fleming's pretty girlfriends was killed by a V2 rocket attack during the war.

Fleming's Bond novels have sold over 60 million copies.  The series of films inspired by the Bond books has a unique position in the history of film-making accounting for billions of dollars of box office revenue.  Every one made has been a world-wide hit.

Reading or re-reading the original Bond books is a wonderful way to while away the hours.  These were the ultimate beach/holiday books of the 1950's and 1960's.  Both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald were each reading an Ian Fleming novel at the time of the assassination in November of 1963.  The books are full of politically incorrect stereotypes and crude misogyny, but are also an enormous source of sheer reading pleasure.  Flemings' books are clearly to the right of the Bond Movies--Fleming is a determined anti-communist.  His first villain, Le Chiffre, is a sadistic communist paymaster who works as a go- between the Soviets and radical French trade Unions.

In Casino Royale Fleming also affirms his belief in the "special relationship".  After Bond is initially cleaned out at the Baccarat table it is the American agent, Felix Leiter who comes to his rescue with a timely loan.  Bond reads on the envelope, "MarshallAid.  Thirty-two million francs.  With the compliments of the USA."

The movies are, while more PC than the books, to the right of most Hollywood productions--a key to their long-standing success.  Good triumphs over diabolical evil and Bond manages to always get a girl, or two, or three!  Don't look for the tortured ambivalence of John Le Carre here!

Fleming's novels were a hedonistic escape for a generation that had been accustomed to wartime rationing and deprivation.  James Bond, "the blunt instrument" drinks his way through oceans of  champagne and martinis; he eats his way through mountains of caviar and lobster.
MI6 Vauxhall

The Conservative tour of London finds traces of Bond and Fleming all over London.  You can go to Floris ( and purchase Bond's favourite soaps!  In Vauxhall on the Thames you can see the famous MI6 building that was utilised in 1999's "The World is Not Enough" with Pierce Brosnan.  The notion of James Bond was allegedly conceived over drinks in the bar of the famous and trendy Ivy restaurant (

St Paul's, London
You will find my favourite Bond spot in London in a corner of St Paul's cathedral.  The great St. Paul's is the final resting place of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.   Ask for directions to the "dirty corner" of St Paul's.  Here you will find a single stone that was left uncleaned after the thorough cleaning given to St. Paul's unveiled in 2002 after years and years of candle smoke had blackened the inside of Wren's cathedral.  The cleaning was paid for, in part, by the Fleming family.  So James Bond helped to clean up St. Paul's! (

Commander Kelly recommends the Vesper as the ultimate Conservative cocktail.  Here is the recipe courtesy of Ian Fleming...

"Three measures of Gordon's (gin), one of vodka, a half measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

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You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Manet's Execution of Maximilian I

Monroe Doctrine in Action!

The American Conservative tour of London continues with another classic painting from the National Gallery just off Trafalgar square in London.  Here you will find Eduard Manet's "Execution of Maximilian I". There are, in fact, three different versions of the painting--National Gallery, London (see above), MOMA, NYC (see below) and MFA, Boston.  The existence of three paintings tells us that Manet thought this must have been a pretty significant subject for him.  These pictures were banned by the French government.

With this painting you can see the full force of the Monroe doctrine in action!  During the American civil war, the US was necessarily pre-occupied with its own battle for survival.  For the war's duration the US was unable to enforce the Monroe doctrine.  Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to add the gloire of France by inserting a French puppet state in Mexico.  In 1861 a French army invaded Mexico.  He selected the hapless Austrian Archduke Maximilian to be installed as the Emperor of Mexico in the Second Mexican Empire.  Many Mexicans, led by Juarez, were less than thrilled to have an Austrian Archduke imposed upon them by the "old world".

With the conclusion of the American civil war, the USA was once more able to flex its muscles in its hemisphere.  The Mexican rebellion against the French was supplied with arms and supplies from the United States.  Napoleon III withdrew his military support for Maximilian who was captured, tried and executed on June 19th, 1867 at age 34.

Earlier on in the war, the Mexicans had won a surprising victory against French forces at the battle of Puebla on May 5th 1862.  Hence the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

Commander Kelly says, "Pitcher of Margaritas, anyone?"

For more on Manet's painting you can read....

MOMA version

Monday, February 20, 2012

Remember the Maine, but Forget The War Lovers!

Remember the Maine!

I recently had occasion to read Evan Thomas' The War Lovers published in 2010.  I had previously enjoyed his biography, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy.  Thomas was a writer and editor at Time and Newsweek for more than 30 years.  I found Thomas' latest work fascinating and provocative.  Here is the author's own summation of the work entitled "Why Men Love War"...

I found the book stimulating, but sadly flawed.  The author's desire to make a political point against the  "war fever" of contemporary neo-cons in the Middle East seems sadly to have deranged his critical faculties in approaching this fascinating part of history.  In the course of book, Thomas does a virtual hatchet job on Teddy Roosevelt who was the assistant Secretary of the US Navy before the start of the Spanish American war.

Thomas creates a rogue's gallery of pro-war imperialists with Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst.  He contrast these individuals with very sympathetic depictions of anti-war figures such as the Harvard philosopher William James and the speaker of the House Thomas Reed.

He portrays TR as a blood-lusting savage bent on war as a means of personal ambition and to overcome his shame at his father's purchase of an exemption from combat during the American Civil War.  Thomas quotes Roosevelt the Rough Rider who boasted to his friend Lodge, "Did I tell you that I killed a Spaniard with my own hand?"  He portrays TR as a social Darwinist with distinctly racist views.  William Randolph Hearst, another Harvard man like TR was a Yellow journalist and confirmed War Lover in Thomas' book.  Thomas trots out Hearst's famous exchange of telegrams with his photo-journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba prior to the Spanish American war as follows...

"Remington sent Hearst a telegram that stated, 'Everything is quiet.  There is no trouble here.  There will be no war.  I wish to return. Remington.'  Hearst replied, "Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war.'"* The War Lovers, Evan Thomas.

The Casus Belli of the Spanish American war was the violent explosion and sinking of the Battle Crusier Maine in Havana harbour  on the night of February 15th, 1898.  Over 250 American sailors were killed that night aboard the Maine that night.    Many of the sleeping sailors ended up entombed beneath the sea line suffocating to death in a manner that eerily foreshadowed the fate of sailors aboard the USS Arizona on December 7th, 1941.  The subsequent battle cry of the Spanish American war, allegedly coined by Hearst, became "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!"

What really happened on board the Maine that fateful night?  Was the explosion the result of overheating in the engine room that was placed to closely to the powered magazine?  Was it a mere coincidence that the Maine did not experience any problems with its engine room until shortly after it arrived in Havana harbour?  Was it a plot by the perfidious Spanish?  Was it, perhaps, a "false flag" conspiracy planted by the US government to justify a war--the favourite explanation of Cuban communists and the filmmakers behind "Loose Change."

There have been no less than five major inquiries into the cause of the explosion that sunk the USS Maine...

1) The Spanish government's board of Inquiry in 1898 claimed that there was no evidence of an external mine--no great surprise there!

2) The initial US Navy inquiry of 1898 determined unanimously that there was an external mine attached to the ship but did not place blame on any particular person or nation.

3) In 1911 President Taft authorized a second US government inquiry into the cause of the explosion on board the Maine after the remains of the ship were raised up from the bottom of Havana's harbour.  It determined that the explosion was the result of an external mine.  Thomas somehow neglects to mention the 1911 inquiry and result.

4) In 1974, according to Thomas, "a US naval inquiry led by Hyman Rickover** determined that the far more likely cause was a coal fire followed by an internal explosion."

Thomas writes in The War Lovers, "Captain Sigsbee was exonerated (by the US naval inquiry of 1898).  The Navy's true judgement may be detected in his next assignment, the command of an old converted freighter.  Meanwhile, one member of the court, Captain F.E. Chadwick, quietly made sure to insert extra steel bulkheads between the coal bunkers and the powered magazine aboard his own battleship, the New York."  That would seem to be the last word on explanation of the sinking of the Maine, certainly it appears so according to Thomas' book.  Except, it's not.

5) In 1999 a comprehensive study was sponsored by National Geographic and conducted by Advanced Marine Enterprises using advanced computer models to re-examine the cause of the Maine tragedy.  They concluded as follows...

The wreck of the Maine

“We conclude that while a spontaneous combustion in a coal bunker can create ignition-level temperatures in adjacent magazines, this is not likely to have occurred on the Maine, because the bottom plating identified as Section 1 would have blown outward, not inward.” It was “plausible” that a mine caused the explosion.

AME noted that the size and location of the soil depression beneath the Maine “is more readily explained by a mine explosion than by magazine explosion alone. While it is possible that the depression was independent of the explosions, it cannot be ignored. The sum of these findings is not definitive in proving that a mine was the cause of sinking of the Maine, but it does strengthen the case in favor of a mine as the cause.”

Here is the full article...

So let's get this straight.  Three out of the four US inquiries concerning the fate of the Maine concluded that an external device was responsible for the explosion.  These three studies include the one closest to the event (the only one McKinley had to act on), one sponsored by TR's political opponent Taft (TR, running as a Bull Moose won more votes than Republican incumbent Taft in 1912), and the most recent and technologically sophisticated report.  Evan Thomas, of course, chooses to believe that the 1974 study by publicity hound, Hyman Rickover, is the only accurate account.

Thomas simply leaves out the latest AME/National Geographic study which would present his thesis with an inconvenient possibility that would muddy the waters of his polemic.

What really happened with the Maine?  The short answer is that we may never really know the full story.

Evan Thomas relentlessly mocks Teddy Roosevelt as a bloodthirsty buffoon; yet even Thomas is forced to acknowledge that "no evidence has ever emerged that Roosevelt improperly tried to influence the formal navy inquiry into the sinking of the Maine (my italics)."   Kind of a surprising admission for the assistant secretary for the navy who might have something to cover up...?

There are a number of other critical problems with The War Lovers...

1)  TR was assistant Secretary for the US Navy.  He may have wanted a war between the United States and Spain, but he was in no real position to make it happen.  On April 25th 1898, President McKinley with the consent of the US Congress declared war on Spain. Here is the full declaration...  If anyone bears culpability for an alleged "rush to war" it would surely be President McKinley and the members of the US Congress.

TR in Cuba
2) Several years later, when TR became President after the assassination of McKinley, he did, as commander-in-chief, have considerable powers in moving the US towards a policy of war or peace.  He chose peace.  He famously said, "Speak softly but carry a big stick."  He extricated the US from its costly war in the Phillipines.  He worked assiduously as a back-channel peacemaker who helped to end the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 with the treaty of Portsmouth.  He even won the Nobel prize for peace in 1906 as a reward and acknowledgement of his efforts.  Does that sound like a "War Lover"?

3) Thomas also seems to ignore the larger context of Global Imperialism against which the Spanish American war was waged.  There was a world-wide scramble for colonies by the European powers throughout Africa, Asia and the world during the 1890's.  The alternative to American imperialism was not independence for Cuba or the Phillipines, but rather the hegemony of some other more nakedly imperial power.  Would "Cuba" have been more "Libre" under the Kaiser (Schnapps and Coca Cola, anyone?) than the USA?  Would the Phillipines really have preferred the tutelage of Imperial Japan to that of the USA (hint: ask the Koreans on that score)?  Could Leopold II of Belgium have "sorted out Cuba" the way he did the Congo?  The incontrovertible  fact about the geo-poltitics of 1890's was that the once mighty Spanish Empire had been a "Red Giant" among world empires and was now on the verge of becoming a "White Dwarf."  Nature abhors a vacuum and the Spanish Empire was rapidly imploding.  From 1895, there had been a native insurrection in Cuba against Spanish rule.  The Spanish forces were quite simply unable to control their far-flung empire.

4)  Thomas oddly omits any real discussion of the role of the Monroe doctrine in regard to the Spanish American War.  This was clearly a major reason for Hearst and Roosevelt's antipathy towards Spain.  The Monroe doctrine maintained that the European powers should stay out of the new World.  It was clearly anti-imperialist in intent and in practice.  Spain's was the one empire which had been "grandfathered in" and was, therefore, an exception to the Monroe Doctrine.  Ultimately, however, the Monroe Doctrine gets credit for the eventual unwinding of the Spanish empire in the new world.  McKinley's declaration of war was the logical conclusion of the Monroe doctrine.

First Black American invited to WH private dinner
5)  TR was not the virulent racist portrayed in Thomas' book.  On October 16th, 1901 TR became the first President in US history to invite a black American (the educator Booker T. Washington) to a private dinner at the White House shortly after becoming President after McKinley's assassination.  He took a shocking amount of criticism from newspapers in the South for this action.  By the standards of the time TR was enlightened on racial matters.  For more detail see...

6)  Americans were reluctant imperialists even at the very outset of the Spanish American war.  Congress passed the Teller amendment which renounced any intention of annexing Cuba.  In 1902, shortly after TR had become President, control of Cuba did revert to the Cubans with certain limitations.  Moreover, the rise of America coincided with the sunset of Spanish Imperialism.

7)  Thomas mentions the great Naval thinker, Alfred Thayer Mahan.  He fails, however, to connect the dots between Mahan's influential convictions about the importance naval power, America's late-to-the-party Imperialism, and technological change.  Fighting vessels, such as the Maine, were no longer powered by wind as with the sailing ships of Lord Nelson's Day.  They were fuelled by coal.  A Yankee nation of whalers, traders and seafarers required coaling stations spread throughout its trading sphere.  It was this that drove the American expansion to outposts such as Hawaii, Cuba, Guam and the Phillipines.

The young Teddy Roosevelt was ambitious and coveted military glory--just like Winston Churchill.  Both TR and Roosevelt slew the enemies of their countries with their own hands; TR at San Juan Hill, Churchill at Omdurman.  Churchill, like Roosevelt, was gravitationally drawn to the fighting in Cuba which he covered as a war correspondent.

What was the bottom line on the Spanish American war?  The United States President, with the approval of Congress declared war on Spain on April 25th, 1898.  Less than four months later, after the loss of 3,045 US soldiers and 16 US sailors (not counting those lost on board the Maine) the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the war.  In exchange for $20 million, the Spanish ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and temporary control of Cuba to the United States of America.  No wonder Ambassador Hay declared it a "splendid little war!"

Was it Churchill's love of war, learned while playing soldiers at Blenheim Palace, that compelled him to warn the West during the 1930's about the perils of Nazi Germany?  Was it Roosevelt's desire for martial glory that created the Cuban Revolution against Spain?  Commander Kelly says "no" on both counts!  Hitler's Germany was a metastasizing existential threat to Britain and the West during the 1930's and neither Roosevelt's personal ambition for wartime glory nor Hearst's desire to sell newspapers caused the collapse of the Spanish empire which led directly to the Spanish American war.

Finally, I would suggest that there have been a series of successive waves of war weariness during the course of American history.  Perhaps the most virulent and most understandable occurred in 1865--the concluding year of the US civil war.  After Lincoln's assassination and the surrender at Appamatox, America retreated into the material preoccupations of the "Gilded age."  The pessimism of Ambrose Bierce and the mordant humour of Twain flourished and expressed the age.  The hopes of Reconstruction in the South were allowed to founder in the face of Jim Crow and the rising power of the KKK.  The conclusion of World War I was marked by fears of betrayal at Versailles.  The US Senate rejected the League of Nations that President Woodrow Wilson had conceived and campaigned for.  America again retreated into isolationism in foreign policy and the hedonism of the 1920's at home.  After the debacle in Vietnam America once more became more introspective and more diffident.  Watergate and a reappraisal of the US military role followed in Vietnam's wake.

I would submit that in 2012, after the long war in Afghanistan and the multiple disappointments in Iraq, we once more find ourselves in a period of war weariness, spiritual depression and retrenchment (two symptoms, The War Lovers and the Ron Paul campaign) which may have unhappy consequences for the nation...until our collective spirits are lifted once again by a happy warrior who is willing to "charge the hill" of America's enemies!


* "Clotted nonsense" according to Hearst.  Remington did, in fact, return to New York shortly thereafter.  Thomas' book may be thought of like Hearst's infamous telegram--a great story that never really happened.   For more detail see...

**  Hyman Rickover was known as the "father of the nuclear navy."  He was, therefore, on a mission to rid the US Navy of its dependence on far flung coaling stations or oil supply dumps.  Nuclear subs and carriers are able to cruise the oceans without any dependence on nearby friendly ports.  His primary achievement  stood in direct opposition to the conquests of the Spanish-American war.  In 1982 congressional testimony Rickover said, in regard to nuclear warships, that he "would sink them all."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Commander Kelly's Top Ten War Movies

10) The Duelists, 1977, Ridley Scott's first move was this gem about the Napoleonic Wars.  Based on the Joseph Conrad short story.  Often overlooked but brilliant.

9) Master and Commander,  2003, the start of Patrick O'Brian's incredible series on the Napoleonic Wars.  Spock and Kirk in the Napoleonic wars.

Robert Gould Shaw

8) Glory, 1989.  Mathew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington;  The true story of Robert Gould Shaw and his regiment during the US Civil War.

7) Lawrence of Arabia, 1962 Masterpiece directed by David Lean.  The transformational effect of warfare on young men.  Incomparable cinematography.

6) Sergeant York, Starring Gary Cooper as a conscientious objector from the hills of Tennessee who became the greatest American hero of WW1.  Watching this film inspired the teenage Audie Murphy to enlist and to become the most decorated American soldier of WW2. 

5) Zulu,  1964.  Michael Caine's first big movie.  See how a Victoria Cross is won.  Vivid action!

4) Bridge on the River Kwai.  Shot in Sri Lanka which doubles for WW2 Thailand. See blog post...

Robert Altman's classic
3) M*A*S*H,  1970,  A true classic.  Far better and funnier than the treacly TV series!

2) The Longest Day,  1962, An incredible all star cast.  Saving Private Ryan may have a great opening 20 minutes, but The Longest Day is much more satisfying!  In glorious Black and White!

And now for my favorite War Film of all time...

Commander K. with General Patton

1)  Patton
,  1970.  Coppola's well-researched screenplay.  Most of the best lines in the film are quotations from Patton himself.  Great score.  Simply a Masterpiece.

Honorable mentions go to Barry Lyndon, A Bridge Too Far, Apocalypse Now (Were more drugs used by American soldiers while in Vietnam or by the cast of Apocalypse Now during its filming in the Philippines?) and Dr. Strangelove.  Recently I also enjoyed 2018's The Chinese Widow which was released...

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

Bletchley Park and Stalin

Bletchley Park

"Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail", huffed US Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson.  At Bletchley Park during World War II the mail of the Axis powers was read on a regular basis.  As the majority of the workers at Bletchley Park were women, we can take some consolation in acknowledging that it was predominantly women who were reading the mail of the Axis "gentlemen."  Churchill referred to the nuggets of intelligence gleaned at Bletchley as his "eggs."  On a wartime visit to Bletchley Park, he commended the ladies of Bletchley Park as being, "the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled."

The conservative tour of London continues in Buckinghamshire at Bletchley Park.  Here is the link...

The Park is well worth a visit if you make it out to London.  The Bletchley code-breakers performed amazing feats in decyphering the "unbreakable" Axis codes.  Bletchley decrypts led directly to the sinking of the Bismarck (1941), informed Montgommery of all of Rommel's dispositions and movements prior to the battle El Alamein (1942), aided the Soviets in winning the huge tank battle of Kursk (1943) and helped divert troops away from Normandy prior to the D-day landings on June 6th, 1944.  Nor was Bletchley only helpful in the European theatre; Bletchley decrypts led directly to the Assaasination of the Japanese Admiral Yammamoto by US fighter pilots.  Eisenhower claimed that the work of Bletchley Park had shortened the war by two years.

At the Park you can see the magnificent technological innovations that enabled the success of Blethley Park.  Alan Turing invented the prototype of the modern computer in order to decrypt the Nazi coded created by their enigma machines.

It is one of the remarkable facts of World War II that none of the Axis powers ever discovered that their radio traffic had been compromised on a regular basis by the Allies.  Say what you will about the British, but they are darned good at keeping a secret.  The veterans of Bletchley Park, constrained by the Official Secrets Act, had to keep the secret of their wartime work even long after the war's conclusion.  It was not until the 1974 publication of Fredereick Winterbotham's book, The Ultra Secret, that the true role of Bletchley Park was revealed.

Dawn of the Computer Age
The British government was so concerned about maintaining secrecy that they actually destroyed almost all of their own decrypting "computers" at the war's conclusion!  How different Britain's postwar economic recovery might have been had they realized just what they possessed.

John Cairncross was a British spy who worked for the Soviets and became know as "the Fifth Man" in the ring of infamous double agents.  Cairncross became private secretary to Lord Hankey who had a general supervisory role over the intelligence services.  He, therefore, had access to Bletchley decrypts and passed these along to the Soviets.  He also worked briefly at Bletchley in 1942.  There is much speculation as to whether the British government knowingly allowed him to pass information to their wartime ally or not.   In any case, Stalin was clearly aware of the work done at Bletchley.

I see the connection between Bletchley and Stalin, however, in quite a different light.    Stalin may be thought of, in effect, as an Inverse Bletchley Park.  The brilliant work done at Bletchley Park on cryptanalysis clearly helped to shorten the war for the allies.  Stalin's stupidity and gross incompetence (purging the officer corps, disregarding multiple warnings of Hitler's impending attack prior to June 22 1941, etc.), on the other hand, lengthened the duration and intensified the suffering of the Russian people during World War II.

If you would like to learn more about an all too rare government program that was worth every penny spent on it, check out Sinclair McKay's The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, 2010...