Tuesday, July 30, 2013

JFK + The 6th Floor Museum

Sixth Floor Museum
Dealey Plaza, Dallas
At the conclusion of the 6th Floor Museum (http://www.jfk.org/) at Dealey Plaza in Dallas a woman interviewed on video breathlessly intones that "JFK was the best American President ever".  The myth of Camelot is on full display in Dallas.  This museum has all the objectivity we have come to expect from Presidential libraries.  The ghost-written Profiles in Courage, a literary prop paid for by Joe Kennedy (see earlier post...http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/03/daffodils-joseph-kennedy-and-americans.html) for the 1960 campaign, is for sale in the gift shop.

JFK was a young, dynamic, good-looking man who died a tragic and premature death.  He was a war hero from his service in the U.S. Navy on PT-109 in the Pacific in World War II.  He is an icon to partisan Democrats, yet his brand of leadership was dramatically different from the liberal orthodoxy of today.  Like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, he lowered taxes thereby stimulating economic growth.  He was strong on defence and criticized Nixon from the right on defence issues during the televised 1960 debates.  JFK founded the Navy Seals who have, to say the least, demonstrated their utility in recent years.  He was also an Irishman and the nation's first Roman Catholic President.  Kennedy's speeches were filled with soaring rhetoric that inspired millions.  Even a young Dick Cheney was inspired to follow a career in public service partly due to a whirlwind JFK visit to Wyoming during the 1960 campaign.  JFK had some pretty terrific speechwriters.

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas
Texas' well-deserved reputation for hospitality was put in jeopardy by the events of November 22, 1963 and its aftermath.  Nellie Connally, the Texas governor's wife said, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you," just moments before the shots rang out.

At the museum you will see the perch from which the assassin fired on that fateful day.  The boxes of books are stacked up and scuff marks are still in the floor as it was on November 22, 1963.  Three shell casings were found here alongside the rifle.  It is a very clear shot from the window to Elm street below.

History from a different perspective
Michael Burleigh
A more objective perspective on the JFK Presidency that you will not find at the 6th floor museum comes from British historian Michael Burleigh http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Burleigh.  He took a degree in history at University College London and was a professor at Oxford and other institutions.  In his recent book, Small Wars, Faraway Places (www.amzn.com/0670025453/) he writes,

"Kennedy had the morals of an alley cat."

"The benchmark aspired to by all who seek to use their style to obscure their lack of substance."

"Jack was packaged for high office as no one had ever been packaged before."

JFK plaque
National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredericksburg, Texas
"John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born outside Boston in 1917 into one of America's richest families, his father Joe having made a fortune in movies, property and stock and distributing imported spirits.  These were real clan Irish, with the father believing that 'family' - in the mafia sense -- termed all other considerations...'Jack' Kennedy had a gilded youth, fitfully laid low by colitis and Addison's disease, which plagued him throughout his life.  The family home was a large house at Riverdale in suburban Manhattan.  Long summers were spent sailing off cape cod, where the family congregated in their compound at Hyannis Port.  There was another place at Palm springs.  The Depression made little impact on the Kennedy's; Jack's sole recollection was that his father hired more gardeners.  Jack's interest at Harvard were on the social and sporting side, although this period also saw the beginnings on the sex addiction that he indulged for the rest of his life.  His combination of money and good looks made him what the British called a 'deb's delight'.

After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion during a meeting of the Organization of American states Che "Guevara gave a White House secretary a note for JFK.  'Thanks for Playa Giron,' it said.  'Before the invasion, the revolution was weak.  Now it's stronger than ever.'"

The 6th Floor Museum presents JFK as a man of peace (creator of the Peace Corps, etc.), hardly bothering to mention his escalation of American military involvement in Vietnam.  In the very same month that he was assassinated November 1963, JFK authorized the CIA to assist the conspirators that assassinated the Roman Catholic President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem and his younger brother Nhu.  Burleigh writes, "Diem and Nhu were bound and loaded into an armored personnel carrier, and were butchered during the journey into central Saigon.  The APC had to be hosed out afterwards."

Nowhere in the 6th Floor Museum will you read about Operation Mongoose that was supervised by Bobby Kennedy and run by the CIA in a series of botched attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and destabilize the Communist regime in Cuba.

JFK's brother Bobby Kennedy is today revered as a secular saint and an icon of the Democratic party.  Burleigh, on the other hand, sums up Bobby as "his elder brother's rat-catching terrier."  On August 21, 1962, he asked "if the CIA could stage a phony attack on the American military base at Guantanamo Bay as a pretext for an American invasion of Cuba."  (Source: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner, 2007 www.amzn.com/0307389006).  The next day he had changed his mind.   RFK, therefore, contemplated and briefly advocated using precisely the same tactics employed by Hitler in his invasion of Poland in 1939.

The 6th Floor Museum presents a thoroughly sanitized JFK.  There is no suggestion, for example about the persistent rumors linking both JFK and RFK romantically with Marilyn Monroe.  A recent news story alleged that Bobby may have smothered Monroe with a pillow!  http://blog.zap2it.com/pop2it/2013/06/marilyn-monroe-and-bobby-kennedy-fought-the-day-she-died-a-sex-recording-of-her-with-jfk-may-be-out.html.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is singled out by the 6th Floor Museum and many Camelot troubadours as JFK's greatest foreign affairs achievement.  The Soviets blinked and their missiles were withdrawn from Cuba; the world had narrowly missed a possible thermonuclear war.

Yet the Cuban Missile Crisis was, in fact, a strategic victory for the Soviet Union and Cuba.  The Soviet primary goal in the whole affair was to remove the medium range missiles from Turkey.  This they accomplished.  As a bonus they managed to extract a commitment from JFK and ALL subsequent US Presidents never to invade Cuba.  This freed up Castro to dispatch Cuban troops to Angola, Grenada and many other countries attempting to export La RevoluciĆ³n throughout the third world.

In February 1962 JFK signed an executive order banning most Cuban imports, particularly cigars -- "having first stocked up on his personal supply." (Source: Small Wars, Faraway Places, Burleigh). It is this ban that prevents Americans from enjoying Cuban stogies to this day.

Some Key Questions
What was JFK's greatest strength?  His greatest political asset was surely his long-suffering wife Jackie.  Gorbachev was once asked by a reporter how the world would have been different if Krushchev had been assassinated instead of Kennedy in 1963.  Without missing a beat, Gorbachev replied that he doubted whether Aristotle Onassis would have married the widow Madame Krushchev!

What was Kennedy's gravest flaw or failure?  His womanizing?  His reckless foreign policy?  His shameless hypocrisy?  No, it was his perceived weakness that suggested a more aggressive course of action to Krushchev and others.  Krushchev asked, "Can he really be that indecisive?'

Nestor Sanchez, a CIA aide in 1963 who would later become the CIA's chief of the Western hemisphere in the 1970's, said, "You don't get involved in covert-type operations unless you are willing to go the distance."  That kind of commitment "was lacking in the Kennedy administration and it happened twice: the Bay of Pigs and the second one (Operation Mongoose).  They backed out of both...The waffle was already in there."  Source: Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, Jefferson Morley, 2008 www.amzn.com/0700617906).

Suppose for a moment that Winston Churchill had an affair with Marilyn Monroe (chronologically possible though ludicrous).  Do you think that the Churchill War Rooms' chronology of his life would edit this out because some might be offended?  Of course not!  The lickspittle curators at the 6th Floor Museum are prudes and/or ideologues.
Lee Harvey Oswald
1939 - 1963
Who Killed Kennedy?
2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination.  Due to Ruby's assassination of Oswald (an unforgettable event that I witnessed on live television at the age of four) and the deeply flawed Warren Commission report (LBJ said, "We can't just have House and Senate  and FBI and other people going around testifyin' that Kruschev killed Kennedy, or Castro killed him." Source: Legacy of Ashes, Weiner, 2007,  www.amzn.com/0307389006), we may still be arguing the question in a hundred years time. The Warren Commission was primarily tasked with avoiding World War III rather than with getting to the truth about the Kennedy assassination.

The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that Lee Harvey Oswald was directly involved in JFK's assassination.  Texans are quick to point out that Oswald was born in New Orleans, but he did grow up in Dallas.  In 1956, while in the US Marine Corps, he qualified as a sharpshooter.  He purchased the Italian Carcano bolt action gun (made in Terni Italy in 1940 -- the same fateful year that Mussolini brought Italy into World War II) via mail order for the sum of $29.95 in March of 1963. This gun and three shell casings were found in his sixth floor sniper nest at Dealey plaza.  There are multiple witnesses who place him near the shooting of (four times with a revolver also purchased by Oswald via mail order) Officer J.D.Tippet before Oswald's arrest in the Texas movie theater.  Officer Tippet was a World War II veteran who received the bronze star and had served in the Battle of the Bulge.

"Texas School Book Depository" in 2013
Why did Oswald kill Kennedy?
Lee Harvey Oswald, born in 1939 (the same year that World War II commenced), was only 24 years old at the time of the assassination.  He was a self-proclaimed Marxist who spent three years (1959 - 1962) in the Soviet Union.  He was married to a Soviet citizen who was the niece of a KGB agent.  He was a founding member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee that distributed 1,000 leaflets in New Orleans headlined, "Hands off Cuba".  Weeks before the assassination he visited the Soviet embassy and Cuban consulate in Mexico City, five times demanding a travel visa to Cuba.  Oswald was a Communist fellow traveler.

Did Oswald act alone?
Oswald bought the guns on his own via mail order.  Oswald had access to the 6th Floor window through his job with the Texas Book Depository.  Oswald knew about the route for JFK's motorcade from the Dallas Morning News.  Oswald was a young fantasist; both he AND JFK were reading an Ian Fleming James Bond novel in the week before the assassination.  It is impossible to disprove a negative, but Ockham's razor would suggest that Oswald acted alone.

Fidel Castro at restaurant in Shanghai
What about Fidel Castro?
In November of 1963 Fidel Castro attempted to smuggle a 3 ton cache of arms into Venezuela.  He was one of the few people in the world who knew that the Kennedy administration had been involved with a three year effort to assassinate him.  In an interview given on September 8, 1963 Castro warned, "US leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe."  Is there any chance of a deathbed confession from Castro?  As the British are wont to say, "not bloody likely".  At a minimum though, Castro seems to have provided the political inspiration for Oswald's actions.
The fateful 6th Floor Window
What about his Rivals?
Nixon was a fellow naval officer in World War II who had a surprisingly cordial relationship with JFK when both were serving in congress.  Both men were keen admirers of the red-baiting Senator "Tailgunner" Joe McCarthy.  Richard Nixon said, "They pinned the assassination of Kennedy on the right wing, the Birchers. It was done by a Communist and it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated."

In a 1976 interview LBJ said, "I'll tell you something that will rock you...Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first."

For more from Commander Kelly check out his new book America Invades...

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Churchill on the Fiver!

Coming in 2016
Given last year's election result in the United States, Obamacare, various Supreme court decisions, etc., cheery news for conservatives has been somewhat rare of late.  I am delighted to announce that I can finally report some excellent political news out of Britain!
An original Churchill
Dallas Museum of Art
For years the five pound note has featured Elizabeth Fry.  If you just asked "Who was Elizabeth Fry?", you are not alone.  She played a role in penal reform.

In 2016 Fry's image will be replaced by that of Winston Spencer Churchill  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sir-winston-churchill-to-replace-elizabeth-fry-on-the-five-pound-note--leaving-the-queen-as-only-woman-on-a-british-bank-note-8589944.html.  Churchill has been repeatedly proclaimed the greatest Briton of all time, surpassing all English Kings, Queens and even Shakespeare.

A "Fiver" will become known as a "Winston".  The British will then have even more conservatism in their wallets (see earlier post on Adam Smith http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2011/12/conservatism-in-your-wallet.html.

Who says that Conservatives despise change?

Churchill's Cigar Holder + Lighter
Dallas Museum of Art

Commander Kelly says, "I'll smoke to that!"

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, Branch Rickey + Capitalism

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson
1919 - 1972

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, baseball's famed #42, was the first African -
American to play major league baseball.  His middle name was inspired by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt who had died just 25 days before Jackie's birth.  TR, by the way, had broken racial barriers himself as the first American President to host an African-American guest at a White House dinner.  During the Second World War Jackie was drafted and went to OCS, becoming a 2nd lieutenant in the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion.  Jackie Robinson was a Republican for most of his life and actively supported Richard Nixon in his 1960 bid for the White House.  Given his wartime service, his middle name, and his fiery temper the liberal historian Evan Thomas would, presumably, describe Jackie Robinson as a "War Lover" (see http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/02/remember-maine-but-forget-war-lovers.html)!  Robinson, of course, was no "War Lover," but he was a fierce baseball competitor.

USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor
Many African-Americans had distinguished themselves fighting for their country in World War II. On December 7, 1941 Doris, "Dorie," Miller, a naval cook and boxer, won the Navy Cross for his heroism in manning a .50 caliber anti-aircraft gun and dragging his mortally-wounded captain to safety aboard the USS West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq57-4.htm). The Red Tail P-51 Mustangs flown by the Tuskegee airmen had escorted Allied bombing raids over Germany (see...http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/06/red-tails-versusobama.html).

In spite of segregation, Black Americans served in World War II in all branches of the U.S. Military with distinction.  Moreover, all American forces were engaged in a struggle against the most blatant and violent racist ideology in human history -- National Socialism.  The world had fought a war and the world would never be the same again.

Branch Rickey
1881 - 1965
It was Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that gave Robinson his big break integrating major league baseball.  Why did he do so?  The answer is simply that Rickey, like Robinson, was a fiercely competitive baseball guy.  Like any baseball guy, he wanted to win games, make the playoffs and sell more Dodger tickets.

On being presented with the opportunity to play in the Bigs, Robinson famously asked Branch Ricky,"Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey answered that he needed a Negro player "with guts enough not to fight back."

Institutionalized racism is immoral, but, even more, it is inefficient.  Does it make architectural or economic sense to build multiple restrooms in public places due to race, as occurred in the segregated south?  "Economic historians estimate slave productivity at half of that of free men performing the same work."*  (Source: The Birth of Plenty, William J. Bernstein, 2004 www.amzn.com/0071747044).  Racism is bad business all around.  Shrewd business judgement and morality, on the other hand, are highly compatible.

Robert Weintraub writes, "Signing black players was a gaping market inefficiency waiting to be exploited.  Between the huge number of new fans -- of both colors -- and the projected boost from playing more meaningful late-season games, there was a clear profit motive pushing Rickey to sign a black ballplayer.  In this case the revolution could be monetized, though that hardly detracts from the courage it took to be the first one of that particular foxhole.

Rickey made his feelings clear to Harold Parrot, telling him, 'Son, the greatest untapped resource in the history of our game is the black race.  The Negro will make us winners for years to come.  And for that I will happily bear being called a bleeding heart, and a do-gooder, and all that humanitarian rot."**  (The Victory Season, Robert Weintraub, 2013, www.amzn.com/0316205915).

Rickey was alone among his baseball contemporaries in recognizing the growing power of African-American consumers.  He calculated correctly that far more black baseball fans would come to see Robinson play than white racists would boycott the games.

"Branch Rickey" sounds like a name for a cocktail, though the man was, in fact, a teetotaler.

Rickey was also right about Robinson's playing abilities.  Robinson, over the course of 10 seasons, played in 6 World Series.  He was an All-star in six consecutive seasons and was inducted into baseball's hall of fame in 1962.  Every spring major league players now celebrate "Jackie Robinson Day," all donning the fabled #42 jersey.

The recently released film, 42, emphasizes Rickey's Methodist roots and downplays his business acumen.  It was worthwhile reminder of the tremendous obstacles that Robinson faced with astonishing grace, though a bit sentimental.  The film barely touches on Robinson's military service and completely ignores his Teddy Roosevelt connection, his Republican politics and his successful post-baseball career in business; Robinson was a broadcaster with ABC and a banker.

Commander Kelly concludes, "Neither the Hollywood left nor the Occupy Wall street crowd is likely to remind us that sound business judgement AND a moral imperative launched the heroic career of Jackie Robinson.  It is true nonetheless."

* We Americans view slavery through a racial prism due to our history.  In fact, ALL races have been subjected to slavery at various times.  In spite of the song Rule Britannia, even Britons, for example, were slaves during the Roman Occupation.

** Please note that you will not find this quote in the recently released movie 42 that featured Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

USS Princeton 1844

USS Princeton, 1844
There may be no greater warning about the grave dangers of Peace than the strange case of the USS Princeton.  This episode also demonstrates what kind of damage a government can do to its own people.

In 1844 John Tyler, a Virginian, was President of the United States (#10).  Elected Vice President as a Whig, he had succeeded to the Presidency on the death of William Henry Harrison from pneumonia.  He turned on the platform of the Whig party and was referred to by many as "his accidency".  The nation, however, was at peace.  A tide of American migration was sweeping the borders of the country in a westward direction.  The expansion of the Union was accomplished largely by peaceful means.  Jefferson had purchased the Louisiana territory from Napoleon in 1803 for $15 million or about 3 cents an acre (see earlier post, http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/05/napoleonrelevant-to-americans-in-2012.html).  Lewis and Clark were dispatched to explore the continent to the Pacific Ocean and the settlers followed.  Florida was purchased from Spain in 1819.  In late February of 1844 Abel Upshur, Tyler's Secretary of state, had just negotiated a deal to grow the country further by bringing the Republic of Texas into the Union.

On February 28, 1844 a VIP party of American politicians was brought on board the USS Princeton which was then the most innovative ship in the US Navy.  President Tyler, a widower at the time, was on board.

Amy Greenberg, Professor of History
and Women's studies, Penn State University 
Historian Amy Greenberg writes, "The wealthy and powerful in Washington were off to a party.  Senators, members of the cabinet, and assorted other luminaries lucky enough to receive one of the formal invitations on thick card stock gathered at Bradley's Wharf 'precisely at 11 O'Clock' for a cruise of the Potomac aboard the new steam frigate Princeton, the 'pride of the navy.'  Tyler and Upshur were there with ample reason to celebrate.  The afternoon promised both entertainment and relaxation.  The guests would have the great good fortune to witness a demonstration of the world's largest naval gun, nicknamed 'Peacemaker,' and a lavish banquet belowdecks would cap the festivities.

USS Princeton
Both the Princeton and its canon represented the fulfillment of a personal crusade on Upshur's part to strengthen the U.S. Navy, which had been perennially underfunded and long the subject of mockery.  The Princeton and 'Peacemaker' offered evidence that the scientific and financial resources poured into the navy had paid off.  These technological marvels surely offered proof that the U.S. Navy was more than prepared to face Mexico, or even England if need be, in battle.  As the flag-festooned vessel steamed along at a brisk pace through the abundant ice floes, the secretary of state must have felt a special pride.

Spirits among the passengers were high, and the champagne flowed freely.  When the captain fired off 'Peacemaker', the cheers of the well-dressed crowd were universal and enthusiastic.  They headed belowdecks for an elaborate feast, appetites stoked by the display of American militarism.  As the sun began to set, the Princeton turned toward her anchorage.  With Mount Vernon, George Washington's historic estate, in view, Thomas Gilmer, a rising political state who had been secretary of the navy for just ten days, called on the captain for one final canon discharge in honor of the nation's first president.

Most of the guests were still belowdecks and felt little concern when they heard a loud explosion.  But as billowing smoke filled the cabin, and shouts and screams echoed from above, it became obvious that something had gone terribly wrong.  'Peacemaker' had exploded, instantly killing Upshur and eight other men, including Henry the slave who dressed President Tyler each morning; Thomas Gilmer, the new secretary of the navy; and David Gardiner, a former state senator from New York.  Dozens of others were injured, including one of the nation's leading expansionists, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, whose right eardrum was shattered.

John J. Hardin, an up and coming thirty-four year old congressman from Illinois was on deck when the gun burst.  His wife, Sarah, the mother of three young children, was fortunately still in the cabin.  'The horrors of that scene are still before me," he wrote to a friend a week later.  'The ghastly countenances of the dead, the shattered limbs, the gashes in the wounded and their mournful moanings, can neither be described or imagined.  Yet sadder and more piercing to the breast than this were the wailings and shrieks of agony of the wives of those who were killed.'

President Tyler survived.  At the time of the explosion the widowed president was belowdecks flirting with Gardiner's twenty-four year old daughter Julia, a New York belle less than half his age.  Tyler proved instrumental in helping Julia overcome the grief of losing her father and Julia lessened the president's distress over the 'awful and lamentable  catastrophe' that was in fact the worst tragedy ever to befall a presidential cabinet.  Two months later the couple was engaged."

Source: A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, Amy S. Greenberg, 2012, www.amzn.com/0307475999

Commander Kelly concludes, "In one day in 1844 a department of the United States government, the U.S. Navy, managed to inflict more damage on the United States than Al Qaeda caused in a decade after 9/11".

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Historic Flight

Beechcraft Staggerwing D17S
Executive Aviation in the 1930's

In Everett Washington near Paine field you will find an aviation museum called Historic Flight (www.historicflight.org).  This museum features commercial and military aircraft that were produced from 1927 to 1957.

The museum was founded in 2003 as a non-profit foundation by John T. Sessions, a Seattle attorney and flight enthusiast.  The museum offers visitors a hands-on experience with many of its aircraft.  The museum has added about two planes per year to the collection.
"Grumpy" B25D Mitchell
You can enter its B25D bomber named "Grumpy".  This aircraft features nose art from the Disney company.  These were the type of planes used in the famous Doolittle raid of 1942.  (For a discussion of Allied bombing in WWII see earlier posts http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/04/duxford-andgeorge-carlin.html and http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/10/raf-bomber-command-memorial-london.html)
"Bad Kitty"
F7F Tiger Cat
Their F7F Tigercat is one of only a handful still in existence.  These planes arrived too late to be used in  World War II, but were some of the fastest propeller fighters ever built.

"Impatient Virgin"
P-51B Mustang, Historic Flight
Their P-51B Mustang, "Impatient Virgin," saw combat in World War II (see earlier post "Tommy Hitchcock and the P-51 Mustang" http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2012/06/tommy-hitchcock-and-p-51-mustang.html).  Shortly after V/E day in June 1945 this plane crashed in a beet field near the town of Little Walden in England.  There she remained until her discovery in 2002.  After years of work she has been beautifully restored and now flies again.

Pan Am DC-3
You will also find an early Pan Am plane that was used as the corporate aircraft for the CEO of Johnson and Johnson.  This plane features a cigar humidor for its passengers.

Czech Spitfire Mark IXe
Historic Flight has a beautifully restored late edition Spitfire that was used in a Czech fighter wing World War II.  This plane reminds us that not all RAF pilots were British (see earlier posts   http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2013/05/raf-museum-hendon.html and http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2013/05/raf-st-clement-danes-church.html).  This plane later served in the Israeli air force.

Admission is $12 for adults.  If you become a member you can even fly aboard these historic aircraft -- it costs $495, for example, to fly in the B-25D Mitchell "Grumpy".  If you don't want to spend that kind of money or can't come to Washington state see video below!

Commander Kelly says, "If you like planes and are in the Northwest be sure to visit Historic Flight!"

You can now find Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades,  here www.americainvades.com or on Amazon www.amzn.com/1940598427

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

American Baseball Imperialism

Mariners vs. Cubs, Safeco, 2013

One of the joys of spending summers in Seattle is the opportunity to go to Safeco field to see the Mariners play against a Major league baseball team.  Having recently attended a couple of games at Safeco I am drawn to the topic of what I term "American Baseball Imperialism".

Just as the sports of Rugby and Cricket trailed in the wake of the British Empire across about one quarter of the globe, Americans have transplanted their national pastime through the deployment of American military power through much of the world.

In the final moments of Spielberg's miniseries Band of Brothers the warriors of Easy company relax by playing a game of baseball in Zell am See, Austria (see video below).  Major Dick Winters, of the 101st Airborne, ordered the construction of a baseball diamond in this alpine paradise (Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Stephen Ambrose, 1992 www.amzn.com/074322454X).

Abner Doubleday may not have actually invented the game of baseball, but he did do a great deal to promote the early game.  He also served in the First Regiment of Artillery in the U.S. Army in the invasion of Mexico during the Mexican-American war.  Could he have introduced Mexicans to the sport as well?

American soldiers took baseball with them on campaign.  In the spring of 1919 the Polar Bear brigade was deployed in Archangel attempting to support the white Russians.  Godfrey Anderson was a member of the Polar Bears' medical corps who wrote, "We had got some baseball equipment, however,  and did a little practicing in the evenings.  A game was arranged with the engineers across the river at Beresnik and we crossed over to where they had set up a diamond and played the game, but came out somewhat the worse for our efforts."  (Source: A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks, Godfrey Anderson, 2010, www.amzn.com/0802865208).  One can only imagine how puzzled any Russian spectators might have been!

In the 1942 invasion of North Africa  the "American challenge and countersign carried up the hill in stage whispers: 'Brooklyn?'. 'Dodgers.'  'Brooklyn?' 'Dodgers.'"  Later sentries would bark the password challenge "Three?" and would be answered with the countersign: "Strikes!"  (An Army at Dawn: the War in North Africa, Rick Atkinson www.amzn.com/0805087249).  Who can forget Steve McQueen throwing his baseball against the wall while in the "cooler" in The Great Escape?

USS Texas, Houston
On board the USS Texas (a battleship that served in both world wars) one can 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 between the crew members of the USS Texas and the USS Arizona.

During World War II Americans were reluctant to give up baseball merely because the nation was at war.  FDR said, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."  Many famous players such as Stan Musial,  Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg served their country off the field (http://www.baseballinwartime.com/baseball_in_wwii/baseball_in_wwii.htm).  Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter" trained pilots as a Marine aviator in World War II.

The quality of major league play deteriorated rapidly during the war years due to player enlistments.  Frank Graham described baseball between 1943-45 as "the tall men against the fat men at the company picnic."  Source: The Victory Season, Robert Weintraub, 2013 www.amzn.com/0316205915).

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 in Nuremberg.  It was renamed "Soldier's Field" and the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) World Series was held there in September 1945.   Source: The Victory Season, Robert Weintraub, 2013 www.amzn.com/0316205915).

Over and over again, countries that have been occupied by American forces have turned into baseball playing countries.  The Philippines was occupied in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American war and Filipinos now have a league of their own featuring teams such as the Manila Sharks http://www.baseballphilippines.com.

Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American educator in Tokyo.  The American occupation of Japan which followed World War II helped to vastly spread the popularity of the game.

Ichiro Suzuki is the poster boy for American Baseball Imperialism.  In 2001 Ichiro joined the Seattle Mariners to become the first Japanese position player to play in the major leagues.  In 2007 in San Francisco he was the first player in history to hit an inside the park home run at an All Star game.   He played 11 years with the Mariners and is now, at age 39, a key to the New York Yankees team.

It was actually Japanese Baseball Imperialism that first brought baseball to Taiwan in the nineteenth century.  Taiwan was a Japanese colony and major naval base.  After the Japanese surrender in 1945 a major American military presence came to the island.  The USAF maintained a major airbase at Ching Chuan Kang during the Cold War from 1953 to 1973.  It was in those years that Taiwanese boys began their long domination of little league baseball.

Baseball first came to Cuba in the 1860s with the arrival of American sailors making port calls and Cuban college students returning from studies in America.   In 1898 Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders brought their passion for baseball to Cuba where it flourished.  In 1899, the All Cubans, consisting of Cuban League professional players, became the first Latin American baseball team to tour the United States.
Fidel...A Leftie?
Fidel Castro was a gifted athlete who, as a young man, sought a career in baseball.  Historian Michael Burleigh writes, "Six foot three and powerfully built , at school Castro excelled at sports, particularly baseball.  In 1949 he was offered a contract by the New York Giants.  He turned them down."  Small Wars, Faraway Places, Michael Burleligh, 2013, www.amzn.com/0670025453).  It is fascinating to conjecture how would the Cold War have played out if Castro had joined the show?  The only certainty is that Cuba would have far more major league players much like the Dominican Republic does today.

Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in baseball.  This year Donald Lutz, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, will break another barrier, becoming the first German-developed player to play in the major leagues http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/donald-lutz-first-german-developed-player-in-major-leagues-cincinnati-reds-reserve-outfielder-050513.  His father was an American GI and his mother is German.  Thus the diamond that Dick Winters' built in Austria in 1945 is paying off baseball dividends in the 21st 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!

Commander Kelly says, "No matter where you are or who you root for, enjoy today's All Star game and Play Ball!"

You can now order Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades, here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427

Monday, July 15, 2013

War in Val d'Orcia

Iris Origo's classic
Published 1947
It is remarkable that one of the finest memoirs to come out out World War II was written, not by a soldier, general, politician, nor even by a man.  I refer to Iris Origo's classic War in Val d'Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944 (www.amzn.com/0749004231), which was first published in 1947.

Marchesa Iris Origo was an Englishwoman married to a Italian landowner with an estate in southern Tuscany.  Her father was an American who had died from tuberculosis when she was eight years old.  As a girl, she had lived for a time on Long Island. Her husband, Antonio, was committed to bringing modern farm techniques that would transform Tuscan agriculture.  His ambitions were interrupted by Mussolini's fatal entry into the war on the Axis side in 1940.

In 1943, seventy years ago this year, Allied forces invaded first Sicily, and then the rest of Italy (see earlier post http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-nearly-forgotten-dead-of-world-war.html).  Origo's diary conveys with a startling immediacy the manifold threats faced by those living in Italy during the Second World War.  Italy endured devastating Allied bombing, particularly of its Northern industrial cities.  Origo's Tuscan farm took in child refugees whose parents were working in cities such as Genoa and Turin.  Later the war came directly to her own world as the fighting raged through the Tuscan countryside.  Germans and Italian fascists were suspicious of Origo's English connections, while communist partisans suspicious of her family wealth.  There were German soldiers and, later, German deserters hoping to survive.  There were downed Allied airmen seeking food and refuge.  In spite of the risks and costs the Origo farm took them all in.

The Origo household was not untouched by the war.  A stray shell kills their beloved gardener Gigi.  Many nearby Italian women are raped, allegedly by coloured troops of the French Fifth Army.  The Origo farm, however, managed to deal with them all and to survive.

Iris Origo, 1902 - 1988
Iris Origo was neither a historian nor a journalist; she was a compassionate woman, a keen observer, a diarist  and a survivor.  She was a witness to history and her diary offers a daily phenomenology of the Second World war.  It also contains a psychology of the lies soldiers often tell themselves in order to endure.
Duomo Florence, Italy
Origo takes note of the ongoing holocaust against Jews in Italy during the war.  She relates the courageous tale of the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal della Costa.  "When some of his nuns were arrested, in consequence of having given shelter to some Jewish women in their convent , the Cardinal, putting on his full panoply went straight to the German Command. 'I have come to you, ' he said, 'because I believe you, as soldiers to b e people who recognize authority and hierarchy -- and who do not make subordinated responsible for merely carrying out orders.  The order to give shelter to those unfortunate Jewish women was given by me: therefore I request you to free the nuns, who have merely carried out orders, and to arrest me in their stead.'  The German immediately gave orders for the nuns to be freed, but permitted himself to state his surprise that a man like the Cardinal should take under  his protection such people as the Jews, the scum of Europe, responsible for all the evils of the present day.  The Cardinal did not enter upon the controversy. 'I look upon them,' he said, 'merely as persecuted human beings; as such it is my Christian duty to help and defend them.  One day,' he gave himself the pleasure of adding, 'perhaps not far off you will be persecuted and than I shall defend you!'"

On February 8, 1944 she tells us that the German Consul opposes the looting of Florence that some German soldiers soldiers favor.  This is the very same heroic Gerhard Wolf who may have saved the Ponte Vecchio (http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2013/05/ponte-vechio-in-wwii-florence.html).

The Greek poet Aeschylus wrote, "In war, truth is the first casualty.  In 1943-44 Origo and her family, unsatisfied with the propaganda spewed out by Mussolini's Fascist state, were desperate to learn the truth about the progress of the war.  They listened clandestinely and at great risk to BBC radio broadcasts.  They also digested reports from various Axis and Allied combatants.

On June 16, 1944, soon after D-day Origo comments on the morale of German soldiers who have been billeted on her farm. "As to the general morale, they are all quite frankly tired of the war and of five years away from their houses and families, appalled by the bombing of Germany, and depressed by the turn of events here and in France.  But there is not one of them who does not still express his blind conviction that Germany cannot be beaten, and their equally blind belief in a terrible Vergeltung ("Retribution") against England, which is close at hand.  What form it will take, they say, they do not know, but the Fuhrer has promised it to them and he has never yet failed to keep promises to his own people."
Hitler's Vergeltung
V-2 Rocket, Flying Heritage Collection,
Everett, WA
On June 18, 1944 Origo is disturbed to hear "terrible news from England".  "In the late afternoon, as we are standing by a trench, a sergeant comes up and tells Antonio with glee that die Vergeltung is going on splendidly.  The details, he says, come from the neutral radio, Swiss and Swedish.  They say that it has been going on steadily since the 15th, and that the whole of London and the south coast is aflame.  There is no possibility of the landing in France continuing, and the troops there will be encircled. 'What wouldn't I give to see it!' he cries.  I feel sick and blind with misery, and go back to the house.  Oh, England, England!" 

More Vergeltung
V-1 and Piloted Test Rocket, FHC, Everettt, WA
On June 29th, 1944 her farm was finally liberated by British troops from the Eighth Army.  She was reassured to learn from an officer that damage from the flying bombs in London "is too erratic to be considered a serious military menace."

In spite of the death and destruction that swirled around them, Origo's diary is ultimately an affirmation of the power of life and the resiliency of humanity enduring the chaos of the most terrible war in history.  In spite of everything life somehow finds a way.  Origo was pregnant and delivered her second child at a hospital in Rome while Allied bombs were falling.

Siena 2013, Italy
Origo concludes her diary as follows, "The Fascist and German menaces are receding.  The day will come when at last the boys will return to their ploughs, and the dusty clay-hills of the Val d'Orcia will again 'blossom like the rose'.  Destruction and death have visited us, but now -- there is hope in the air."
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An Act of War...?

American WWI Naval Memorial
Brest, France

I recently ran across a surprising World War II story with a direct connection to the Fourth of July.

If you visit Brest France today you may find an American naval memorial dedicated to those American servicemen who served in World War I (http://www.abmc.gov/memorials/memorials/bt.php).  Many US navy destroyers and their crews were engaged in anti-submarine warfare against the Kaiser's navy from 1917 to 1918.  Do not be fooled!  The monument you can see today was completed in 1958 and is a replica of the original monument.

Sixty-two years ago today the original monument, built in the late 1920's, was destroyed by the Germans on the Fourth of July in 1941.  It was replaced with a German command bunker.  In those troubled times much of France (all except Vichy) was occupied by the German army.  The Kriegsmarine was using nearby French naval bases for their U-Boat fleet.  The Luftwaffe was bombing targets in Britain from bases in France on a regular basis.  Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, had been launched just a few weeks before on June 22, 1941.

This was, of course, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which took place on December 7 of that year and America was NOT at war with Nazi Germany.  Most Americans, led by Charles Lindbergh, opposed entry into a European war at this time.

Was this an act of war or merely a "preview of coming attractions" from the Third Reich?  In any event, it was a message most Americans at the time refused to heed.

Commander Kelly says, "Remember all those who have served and sacrificed to make this country free.  Happy Fourth of July 2013!"

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