Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stephen Van Rensselaer

Stephen Van Rensselaer, Albany Rural Cemetery

My ancestor was an American invader who led an invasion of territory that would later become Canada.  Stephen Van Rensselaer III (1764 - 1839) served as a major-general in the New York militia during the War of 1812.  He attended Princeton but graduated from Harvard.

Van Rensselaer also served as lieutenant governor of New York state.  He is perhaps best known for having founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

We had this to say in America Invades, "During the War of 1812, the hapless Stephen Van Rensselaer III (yet another ancestor of Chris’s), led the New York militia in an invasion of Canada at the Battle of Queenston in October 1812. Historian George Daughan, in 1812: The Navy’s War (Basic Books, 2011), wrote, “Van Rensselaer, as he had throughout the battle, stayed on the New York side of the river away from the fighting.”
War of 1812 Veteran
A total of only 286,730 Americans served during the War of 1812 which lasted from 1812 until 1815.  This is far fewer that the over 16 million Americans that served during World War II or over eight million during Vietnam.  This puts Stephen Van Rensselaer into a pretty select club.

Commander K. and Stephen Van Rensselaer
Albany Rural Cemetery
You will find the grave of Stephen Van Rensselaer in the Albany Rural Cemetery ( in New York state.  This sprawling cemetery is also the final resting place of President Chester A. Arthur.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum

Those who assume that all Republicans are militaristic war hawks are unfamiliar with the life of Herbert Hoover (1874 - 1964).  He was born into a strict Quaker family and was a lifelong pacifist.
Young Hoover and Lou
The future 31st President of the United States was born in West Branch Iowa.  He was orphaned at a young age and was sent off to his uncle in Oregon.  He attended Stanford University where he studied engineering and met his future wife Lou.
Herbert Hoover
Hoover went into the mining business and worked in Australia and China.  Though present in China during the Boxer rebellion in 1900 he refused to take up arms.  He grew wealthy in the mining business.
Hoover helped feed the Belgians
He was living in London at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.  He made his first real entry into public service with the Commission for Relief of Belgium.  Thousands of Belgian lives were saved due to his actions. Winston Churchill was not a fan of Hoover referring to him as an "SOB"; perhaps this was and inevitable conflict as Hoover was bringing food into German-occupied Belgium while Churchill, as head of the Admiralty, was in charge of enforcing a blockade designed to starve the Germans into surrender.

When America joined the war on the Allied side in 1917 Hoover joined the Wilson administration where he supervised food rationing and distribution.  Millions of lives were saved as a result of Hoover's actions during and after the war.  Hoover became known as the great humanitarian.

Hoover Commerce Secretary
He served as Commerce secretary under Harding launching the radio broadcasting industry.  The Commerce building in Washington DC was named in his honor.
Wall St. Lays and Egg
He was elected President in 1928 by a wide margin.  The stock market crash of 1929 is widely believed to have derailed his Presidency. He was a reformer and many of the New Deal innovations credited to FDR were, in fact, initiated by Hoover.
Hoover did not invade!
As President he presided over a time of peace.  In America Invades our only reference to Hoover can be found in Nicaragua chapter where we wrote..."President Hoover ordered the withdrawal of US marines (from Nicaragua), which took place in January 1933."  Though FDR receives credit for the Good Neighbor policy towards central and south America it was Hoover who initiated it.  As President elect Hoover visited several central American countries in 1928 making use of the US Navy battleship Maryland -- the ever-parsimonious outgoing President Coolidge had initially hoped he would take a cruiser!

Battleship Maryland in 1928
With the onset of the Depression Hoover was swept from power in the 1932 election that ushered in the FDR era.  He was frustrated in his attempted political comeback in 1940 by the nomination of Wendell Wilkie.  Though he disapproved of Truman's use of the atomic bomb against Japan, Hoover developed a friendship with Truman.  Hoover said, "The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."  He served as an adviser to many Republican leaders from Eisenhower to Nixon.

During his many years in the political wilderness Hoover became a prolific writer, memoirist and historian.  His book on World War II, Freedom Betrayed, was only published in 2011 (!  Hoover was an anti-interventionist who supported isolationism prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Hoover was a consistent advocate for freedom and limited government; he opposed statism of the fascist right and also the Communist left.
Hoover suite at the Waldorf
Hoover presided over two government commissions that were designed to improve government efficiency.  He lived at the Waldorf hotel in New York city.  He also loved to fish.

Hoover fly fishing
You can learn much more about Hoover at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum in West Branch, Iowa...

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Eisenhower Presidential Library

Eisenhower Statue
Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, KS
Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 - 1969), though born in Denison Texas, grew up in Abilene Kansas literally on the wrong side of the tracks.  He was one of seven sons born to David and Ida Eisenhower (six survived to adulthood).  He and his brothers absorbed the small town family values of Abilene.
Eisenhower Family 1902
His mother was a member of the River Brethren sect.  The family tradition was pacifist and even anti-military. His father, David Jacob Eisenhower, worked as an engineer at a refrigeration manufacturer. Yet Dwight applied to West Point in order to get the "free" college education that his family could not afford to give him.
"From the modest home..."
He would graduate from West Point in the Class of 1915 which became known as "the class the stars fell on".  He later become chief of staff of the IX Army corps based at Fort Lewis in my home state of Washington (

Ike statue, Grosvenor Square, London
General Eisenhower commanded the largest amphibious invasion in human history.  It was, by far, the most important American invasion in our country's history -- but it was far more than an American invasion.  The British landed at Sword and Gold beaches.  The Canadians landed at Juno beach.  Polish forces and even some Free French commandoes landed on June 6, 1944.

US Jeep
Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, KS
General Eisenhower distinguished himself in war leading the Allies to victory.  President Eisenhower distinguished himself in by keeping peace.  In America Invades we wrote...
"With a simple five-word speech, “I shall go to Korea,” Dwight Eisenhower was catapulted to electoral victory in the fall of 1952 ending a twenty year Republican drought in the White House. As president-elect, America’s most distinguished soldier visited Korea in late November of 1952. Mark Clark, a West Point classmate of Eisenhower’s, tried to argue that the war was winnable, but Ike was determined to gain a truce. Ike told Clark, “I have a mandate from the people to stop this fighting.”

Ike also refused to support the French when they requested that America use atomic weapons to assist them against the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
Ike said "No" during the Suez Crisis of 1956
"In 1956, the United States played an enormous role in the Suez crisis by NOT intervening militarily in Egypt and by opposing the intervention of her closest World War II allies and Israel. This is particularly remarkable, given how close President Dwight Eisenhower was to many British on account of his role in planning Operation Overlord (see “France”). Early on, Eisenhower wrote to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden saying, “I must tell you frankly that American opinion flatly rejects the thought of using force, particularly when it does not seem that every possible peaceful means of protecting our vital interests has been exhausted without result.’” And when subtle hints didn’t work, Eisenhower began to put up the pressure, including heavy financial pressure. At the same time that British amphibious forces were landing in Egypt in Operation Musketeer, Ike ordered an American-fuelled run on British currency while America also prevented Britain accessing IMF funding. Eventually Britain and France succumbed to US and international pressure and withdrew their forces. Israel forces were successful in invading the Sinai but were compelled to withdraw under American pressure."

Eisenhower family home, Abilene, KS
It is remarkable fact that all five American Presidents that had command experience in the military prior to their election (Washington, Jackson, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower), presided over periods of peace during their Presidencies.  Those who know most about the costs of war are the least likely to engage in adventurism.
Eisenhower chapel and final resting place
Ike and Mamie Eisenhower are buried at the Eisenhower Presidential library (
Wendell Gugler & me
I was honored to meet Wendell Gugler of Abilene, KS at the Eisenhower library.  Gugler served in the 10th Mountain division and participated in the invasion of Italy fighting in the Apennines along with Bob Dole and others.  The 10th Mountain division also invaded Lake Garda in 1945 (  Thanks for your service Wendell Gugler!

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

American Baseball Imperialism (Revised)

American Baseball Imperialism

Armed American forces have fought have fought in eighty-five out of the 194 countries in the world (excluding the USA itself) or 44 percent of the total.  Over the course of this amazing history, filled as it is with heroic liberations and a few tragic blunders, we Americans have had one undeniable achievement – we have exported the game of baseball around much of the world.
Colosseum, Rome, IT
The Romans built gladiatorial arenas throughout their empire.  The Brits introduced the sports of Rugby and Cricket to the one-quarter of the globe their empire occupied.  The deployment of baseball-loving Americans serving in the US military around the world has spread our national pastime far and wide.   And the spread of American Baseball Imperialism got off to a very early start.

Abner Doubleday, US Army Vet
Abner Doubleday, the legendary “inventor” of Baseball, served in the First Regiment of Artillery in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American war from 1846 to 1848.  Could this West Point graduate and future Union General in the US Civil war have played some pickup games while in Mexico?

American soldiers have taken baseball with them on campaign to some of the remotest corners of the earth.  In the spring of 1919 the Polar Bear brigade was deployed by President Wilson to Archangel in northern Russia where they also played baseball.

USS Texas vs USS Arizona
Battleship Texas, La Porte, TX

A visitor to the Battleship Texas near Houston will find a poignant reminder of the cost of American Baseball Imperialism.  In a display case there is a baseball, an old glove and a photo from a game played on April 15, 1936 on a Pacific island between the crew members of the Texas and the ill-fated Arizona that was sunk by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

By the time World War II broke out baseball was firmly ingrained in the national consciousness.  Many famous players such as Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg volunteered to serve their country in the armed services.  Ted Williams, or affectionately known as “Teddy Ballgame” in baseball circles, trained pilots as a Marine aviator in World War II.  Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, joined the US Army Air Force in 1943.   His Red Sox brother Dom served in the US Navy.

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

Some of the more fortunate American prisoners of war in German camps even had an opportunity to play some baseball while in captivity.  Who can forget Steve McQueen throwing his baseball against the wall while stuck in the "cooler" in the film The Great Escape?
Band of Brothers play ball!
After the victory against Nazism was finally won, Americans would celebrate by playing baseball in occupied Europe.  In the final moments of Spielberg's miniseries Band of Brothers the paratroopers of Easy Company relax by playing a game of baseball in Zell am See, Austria.  Major Dick Winters, of the 101st Airborne, had ordered the construction of a baseball diamond in this alpine paradise.

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

Over and over again, countries that have been occupied by American forces have turned into baseball playing countries.  In 1898 soon after Admiral Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay and just weeks after the arrival of American troops, the first baseball was played in the Philippines.  In 1956 Bobby Balcena, of the Cincinnati Redlegs, became the first Filipino to play in the majors.  Today the Filipinos have a league of their own featuring teams such as the Manila Sharks.

Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American educator in Tokyo.  The American occupation of Japan which followed World War II helped to vastly spread the popularity of the game.  Ichiro Suzuki initiated a flood of Japanese talent into major league baseball.

Fidel..A Leftie?
Baseball first came to Cuba in the 1860s with the arrival of American sailors making port calls and Cuban college students returning from studies in America.  The young Fidel Castro was a gifted athlete who sought a career in baseball.  In 1949 the lanky Cuban was offered a contract by the New York Giants which he declined.  Just how might Cuban-American relations have differed if Castro had opted to join the show?

Major League baseball is expected to start playing spring training in Cuba in the Spring of 2016.
Donald Lutz
Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947.  In 2012 Donald Lutz, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, broke another barrier, becoming the first German-developed player to play in the major leagues.  Lutz has an American GI dad and a German mom.  The diamond that Major Dick Winters of Easy Company built in Austria in 1945 is paying off baseball dividends in the 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!

Christopher Kelly, the co-author of America Invades: How We’ve Invaded or Been Militarily Involved with Almost Every Country on Earth ( and Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World (, lives in Seattle and London and is a Mariner fan.

Thanks San Diego Sports Domination...

Thanks Houston Chronicle...

Thanks The Sports Bank...

Thanks Ottawa Herald...

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Thanks North Jersey...

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall 2015 Tour Schedule

Italy Invades / America Invades Van
Fall 2015

We are really excited to be launching Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World ( this fall.  This is our sequel to America Invades: How We've Invaded or Bee Militarily Involved with Almost Every Country on Earth (  From 10/22 on BOTH books will be available wherever we stop.

Major Jack Coughlin USAF veteran (circa 1969)

I will be out on tour across the USA from 10/15 until 11/22.  Major Jack Coughlin and I  would love to meet you at any of the following venues to answer questions, shake your hand and sign copies of both books.

Italy Invades Wine (Sangiovese & Pinot Grigio)

We will be adding events to the following as we proceed (to add dates / suggestions please contact Vincent Driano at Thanks very much to all of our great venue partners.  Hope to see you on the road!

Venue City, State Timeline Time
Costco  Colorado Springs, CO October 15 1 - 3 PM (AI only)
Eisenhower Presidential Library Abilene, KS October 16

12 PM Noon(AI only)

Beaverdale Books Des Moines, IA October 18
2:00 PM (AI only

Book World Fort Dodge, IA October 19

1:00 PM (AI only)

Book World

Michigan's Military Museum
Mason City, IA 10/19

Frankenmuth, MI

October 21
5:00 PM (AI only)

5:00 PM (first signing with II)

Costco (store #1081) Pottstown, PA October 23 1 - 3 PM (AI only)

Walpole Book Fair Walpole, NH October 24 AM (Time TBD)

Symposium Books  Providence, RI 6:00 PM
Bank Square Books Mystic, CT October 27 6:30 PM

Italian-American Museum

Italian American
Heritage Museum
New York City, NY

October 29

October 30


11:00am -2:00pm

Plates Restaurant Raleigh, NC First week of Nov Day / Time TBD

USS New Jersey Camden, NJ November 7 10:00am

Texas Flying Legends Museum Houston, TX November 10 6 - 8 PM 

Battleship USS Texas
La Porte, TX November 11  Time TBD

River Oaks Bookstore
Houston, TX November 12 5 - 7 PM 

Texas Military Forces Museum
Austin, TX November 14  Afternoon  11:00am
Half Price Books Austin, TX November 15 
1 - 3 PM

Battleship USS Iowa Los Angeles, CA November 18  2 - 5 PM

Claremont McKenna College

SS Jeremiah O'Brian
Claremont, CA

November 17 / 19?

November 19

2 - 5:00 PM

Auntie's Books
Spokane, WA November 21,  CONFIRMED: 7 PM
Fact & Fiction Book

Magnolia Bookstore
Missoula, MT

Seattle, WA
November 22

November 28


5 - 8PM

Monday, October 12, 2015

Two Columbus Myths

Columbus and Queen Isabella
Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA

Our historical view of Christopher Columbus is conditioned by two competing mythologies.

According to the first myth, Columbus was a heroic Italian explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America.  His first voyage to the New World was funded by the jewelry of Queen Isabella of Spain.  This bold captain, the first European to reach America, dared to sail off the edge of a world thought to be flat.

Yet this myth is easily busted.

The Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras posited a spherical earth in the sixth century BC—a theory later confirmed by Hellenistic astronomers.  By the eleventh century, the Persian astronomer al-Biruni had calculated a measurement of the earth’s radius that was only 10.4 miles off the accurate modern reckoning of 3,959  miles.  The major challenge faced by Columbus was not the fear of sailing off the edge of the world, but rather the incapacity of ships of his era to travel the entire distance from Europe to China over, presumably, blue ocean. They simply could not contain sufficient fresh water and supplies to provide for the crew.

Columbus’s voyages were not financed by Queen Isabella’s jewels but rather by loans from mainly Italian bankers.  And Leif Erikson, another bold European captain, apparently established a Norse settlement in Newfoundland about five hundred years before Columbus.

Columbus Coit Tower, SF, CA
According to the second, more recent myth, Columbus was a demon of unknown origins and indeterminate age who was consumed by a rapacious lust for gold and love of slavery.  He deliberately launched a genocidal war against the native Americans.  He was a religious fanatic who falsely claimed to have discovered the New World more than ten thousand years after the migration of Asian people across the Bering Strait.

Yet this myth does not really hold up either.

Columbus’s date of birth, or even year of birth (1450 or 1451?), has not been conclusively proven.  Overwhelming evidence, however, suggests that he was the son of Domenico Colombo and his wife Susanna Fontanarossa, who were both from the Republic of Genoa in what is today Italy.  His father worked as a weaver in the wool trade.

Columbus’s diary is filled with references to God and gold; he was Catholic and he sought a tangible return on behalf of his speculative investors.  Columbus was comfortable with religion and the institution of slavery, but no more so than the majority of his contemporaries.

In 1493, when Columbus returned on his second voyage to the island of Hispaniola where he had left a small garrison, he found that it had been wiped out by the native Taino people.  This skirmish marked the beginning of a long and violent history between European and native peoples in the Americas.  Over the next thirty years, 90 percent of the Taino population would be tragically killed, but they were primarily victims of disease, not a deliberate policy of extermination.  It is absurd to lay the blame for all the subsequent depredations by European settlers on the shoulders of Columbus.

When we strip away these two Columbus myths and try to approach the historic Columbus in the context of his times, we are left with a more complex and more fascinating figure, who was neither an angel nor a demon.  At the end of the day, Christopher Columbus was one of a handful of global historic individuals who changed our world for good, for ill, and forever.

No Columbus = No Chocolate!
To biologists, he is known as the father of the Columbian Exchange.  Both Old and New Worlds were transformed by Columbus’s voyages.  As a result of the Columbian Exchange, Europeans received tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa, tobacco, and boatloads of silver from the New World. Before Columbus, spaghetti Bolognese did not exist and pizza lacked tomato sauce. His voyages led to the eventual introduction of chocolate to the rest of the world.  Imagine a world without chocolate!

Those living in what became known as the Americas received horses, pigs, the lowly earthworm, and Christian missionaries. Lacking immunities, they also received new diseases, such as the smallpox that eventually ravaged the indigenous population of two continents.

Not all exchanges are fair.

It is the historic Columbus that we should remember and even celebrate this Columbus Day.

Happy Columbus Day to all!

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

USA versus South Africa!

Team USA & HMS Victory
Portsmouth, UK
To prepare for the 2015 World Cup the Team USA practiced near Portsmouth which is a major port for the Royal Navy.  A team photograph was taken with the Eagle players standing in front of the HMS Victory -- Nelson's famous ship (  It seems that, barring a surprise win over Japan, this is the closest that Team USA will get to Victory during this World Cup!

October 7, 2015
Olympic Stadium, London, UK
South Africa and the USA played at the Olympic stadium in east London.  This stadium was initiated at 2012 Olympics when Queen Elizabeth II "parachuted" in for the opening ceremonies.  The Americans were initially holding their own and were only down by 14 to 0 at the half.  The Springboks, however, took control in the second half destroying the Eagles 64 to nil.
Final Score RSA 64 - USA 0
Let's face it, rugby is the national religion of South Africa.  Who can forget the South Africa's historic triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup? Its popularity in the USA is growing but it enjoys far less support.
Nelson Mandela
#1 Springbok fan (16th man)
We may not play rugby as well but have Americans ever invaded South Africa?  This is what we had to say on the topic in America Invades...

"For a long time, South Africa was part of the British Empire, and then after it became independent, apartheid policies of successive governments ensured international military isolation, which in turn meant that South Africa developed its own extensive arms industry.

Castle Military Museum
Cape Town, SA
A few hundred Americans did fight on the side of the Boers in the Second Anglo-Boer War. One of them, John A. Hassell, who had served with the Vryheid Commando and been twice wounded, went on to form an entire American volunteer unit. Some Americans also fought on the British side in the Boer War.

South Africa fought on the same side as us in both world wars, and USN ships have, of course, called in at South African ports. During World War II, as well, Wonderboom Airport at Pretoria in South Africa was the terminus for a US air-ferry route across Africa.

P-51 Mustang, RAF Museum, Hendon
During the Korean War, we supplied the South African Air Force’s 2nd Squadron first with P-51 Mustangs and then with F-86 Sabres, and we gave their pilots conversion training in Japan.
In the years since the collapse of apartheid and the development of South Africa as a full democracy and important African power, a range of military links have been established. For instance, in 2000, three Pave Hawk helicopters operated from Hoedspruit Air Force Base in South Africa, helping with flood relief efforts in next-door Mozambique. In 2009, ships from the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group paid a visit to Cape Town to boost such links. And Shared Accord 2013, a bilateral US military and South African Defense Forces exercise in South Africa, involved more than four thousand troops and included airborne operations, as well as a humanitarian aid project.

The New York National Guard is partnered with South Africa."

On a recent visit to South Africa I learned of another military connection between Americans and South Africa.  In 1863 during the US Civil war the CSS Alabama was a commerce raiding sloop that resupplied in Cape Town and pursued Yankee merchant ships off the coast of South Africa.  There is even a popular song in South Africa that was inspired by the Alabama Daar kom die Alabama (see video above).

Congratulations and good luck to the Springboks!

RSA v. USA Scrum
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