Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Spain?

Church Door, Haro, Spain

I was delighted to "invade" Spain recently on a Duvine bicycle tour through the Riojo wine region (highly recommended!).  The Italians, of course, got there long before me.  Here is the Spain chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
Me and Stuart Laycock with Trajan -- A Spanish-born Emperor
"The Roman invasion of what is now Spain took place over a long time and involved a number of campaigns and numerous clashes. The emperors that ruled Rome at the apex of its power, Trajan and Hadrian, both grew up in what is now Spain.

The Romans first arrived in Spain during the Second Punic War. With Hannibal off to invade Italy, the Romans took the opportunity to attack the Carthaginian Empire that Hannibal’s family had built up on the Iberian Peninsula.

After a long series of campaigns involving multiple armies and commanders, the Romans eventually defeated the Carthaginian forces in Spain and took control of areas previously controlled by Carthage, mainly along the southern and eastern coasts of Spain.
Trajan's Column, Rome, Italy
And Rome’s campaigns in Spain had only just begun. The first decades of the second century BC saw assorted rebellions and clashes; and then in 181 BC, the First Celtiberian War broke out after more tribes rebelled. The result was a Roman victory, and the war ground to a halt in 179 BC.
Then in 155 BC, the Lusitanian War broke out, involving much action on what is now Spanish soil. A massacre by Roman troops ended that war in 150 BC; but war erupted again in 146 BC as a man who would become legendary, Viriathus, led the Lusitanians against the Romans. This bitter war, fought both on territory that is now Portuguese and on territory that is now Spanish, dragged on until 139 BC, when Viriathus was assassinated by three of his own men.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Romans had become engaged in a titanic struggle against the city of Numantia. The war finally ended in 134 BC when Numantia fell to besieging Roman forces.
In 132 BC, the Romans took the Balearic Islands.
Roman columns in Barcelona, Spain
Temple of Augustus (
War broke out in Spain in 80 BC, in which Roman commander Sertorius allied with local rebels to take on pro-Sulla Roman forces. Sertorius was eventually assassinated by his own side.
Plenty more fighting linked to Rome’s civil wars followed in Spain. Then in 29 BC, Augustus launched the Cantabrian Wars to take control of an area in northern Spain that remained outside Roman control. Within ten years, the war was mainly finished. More minor clashes would ensue, but after a process of conquest taking about two hundred years, the Roman occupation of Spain was finally finished.

In the early fifth century, invaders who had crossed the Rhine and then crossed Gaul arrived in Spain, producing yet more fighting.

15th Century Castle (Castillo), Spain
And Italians were fighting again in Spain during the Middle Ages. For instance, Benedetto Zaccaria commanded Castilian forces in the late thirteenth century; and Spain became deeply involved in wars in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the Renaissance, the Spanish Borgia family would rise to the height of the papacy with the ascension of Pope Alexander VI. His bastard son, Cesare Borgia, would launch many an invasion in Romagna before his ultimate exile and imprisonment in Spain.
Lord Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London
And more Italians fought in Spain after the Renaissance too. (More Spanish troops fought in Italy as well.) For example, during the Napoleonic Wars, Italians could be found fighting on both sides. Significant numbers of Italians troops were in Napoleon’s forces in Spain, but the British commanders also had Italians on their side. For example, at the Battle of Castalla in Spain in 1813, two Anglo-Italian divisions were among the forces that repelled desperate French assaults on their defensive position near Alicante. And about 115 Italians were among those serving on Admiral Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Italians again fought in the Carlist Wars in Spain in the nineteenth century; and in 1870, an Italian, Amadeo of Savoy, a son of King Victor Emmanuel II, was selected to be King of Spain. He found the job impossible, and in 1873, he had had enough and gave it up.

In the twentieth century, Italian troops played a central role in ensuring victory for Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This Italian-assisted victory had long-term consequences on the development of Spain that were felt into the Cold War.

The Italian effort during the Spanish Civil War started with air power, as Italian aircraft attacked the Republican fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar. They then airlifted Nationalist troops from Africa to Spain, a crucial step in giving Franco the ability to challenge the Republican government on the Spanish mainland.
Corpo Truppe Volontarie, Spanish Civil War
Soon Italy was also sending tanks and trainers to help the Nationalist side; and then it was sending troops to fight the CTV, Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops), supported by heavy artillery and aircraft.

An Italian offensive in March 1937 against Madrid— the Battle of Guadalajara—achieved only limited gains against determined Republican opposition, and Mussolini gave orders to increase Italian efforts. In October of that year, the Italian presence was openly and officially admitted.
Italian troops fought on all fronts in the war and in a large number of clashes. Italian aircraft also saw extensive action, and 175 pilots died in action. Three Italian planes participated in the bombing of Guernica. At sea, Italian Navy surface ships and submarines also sank Republican vessels and merchant ships.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
Italian troops played a decisive role in some of the key actions of the war. In the north in August 1937, they were heavily involved in the capture of Santander. In the spring of 1938, they took part in the Aragon Offensive, which struck a decisive blow against the Republican forces in that part of northeastern Spain. And in early 1939, they played a leading role in an offensive in Catalonia that eventually reached the sea and cut the Republic in half. In April 1939, the Nationalist victory was complete.

Over three thousand Italians, however, fought on the Republican side in Spain, joining units such as the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigade.

During World War II, Spain remained neutral, though it was friendly to the Axis cause. The Italian Navy took advantage of a derelict tanker, the 4,900 ton Olterra moored in the waters near Algericas, by installing members of the X Flottiglia MAS inside its hull. From this base in Spanish waters, they launched a series of attacks against shipping in the Bay of Gibraltar with two-man minisubmarines called Maiale (pig).

Spain joined NATO in 1982."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Have Americans Invaded Spain?

Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Spain
Have Americans ever invaded or fought in Spain?  You might be surprised by our answer from the Spain chapter of America Invades...

"Fantastic place to visit with loads and loads of amazing sights and history, Spain is a big country by European standards.

With Spain at the very western end of Europe (along with Portugal, of course) and the Spanish a major naval power for much of their history, it’s hardly surprising that they played such a big role in the European exploration and settlement of both North and South America. The Brits, of course, were not far behind them, and with a long history of hostility between the two countries, there was bound to be trouble.
Ezcaray, Spain
So interestingly, among the first Americans fighting in Spanish regions is one from before the Revolution on behalf of the Brits—although fighting may not be quite the right word since John Halsey, born in Boston, was a privateer, a sort of pirate with official government permission to be a pirate but only attacking enemy ships. In 1704, with Britain at war with the Spanish (or at least some of them since confusingly there were Spanish on both sides), Halsey arrived in the Spanish Canary Islands (popular holiday destination and part of Spain, even though they’re stuck out in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa) and attacked assorted Spanish ships.

After all the wars between Spain and Britain, Spain was only too delighted when we rebelled against English rule, and the Spanish crown supplied the rebel colonies with food, ammunition, and intelligence during the American Revolution. King Charles III of Spain even sent livestock to George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon. Very friendly.

22 Americans fought on board HMS Victory at Trafalgar
However, on October 21, 1805, Admiral Horatio Nelson led the Royal Navy to one of the most decisive victories in its history off the coast of Spain at the battle of Trafalgar. Twenty-two Americans served aboard Nelson’s flagship, the Victory, with many more throughout his fleet. A percentage of these were, no doubt, pressed men, those forced to serve in the fleet. Serve, though, they did with honor and shared in the victor’s prize money, as was their right.

In 1815, we again ventured into Spanish waters when, during the Second Barbary War, Commodore Stephen Decatur scored naval victories over Barbary pirates based in Algiers at Cape Gata and Cape Palos off the coast of Spain. On that occasion, even though we were in Spanish waters, we were actually fighting the Barbary pirates rather than the Spanish.
Virgin Mary, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Spain
But things were getting distinctly less friendly between the United States and Spain. In 1818, Andrew Jackson led a successful invasion of Florida during the First Seminole War, and the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, which is how Jacksonville, Florida, got its name.
In 1898, the United States, led by President William McKinley, went into a full-scale war with Spain. In the Spanish-American War, however, despite occasional plans for us to do things, like attack the Canary Islands (again), in the end, there was no actual fighting in Spain. Therefore, we cover that war in the Cuba and Philippines chapters.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War, as sort of a pre-game warm up for World War II, broke out. It’s a fascinating and important war and deserves to be better known. When General Franco mounted a right-wing military coup against the left-wing Spanish government, foreign volunteers flooded in from across the world to defend the republic, and among them were plenty of Americans. The Soviet Union supported the republic. Hitler and Mussolini supported Franco.
Oliver Law, First African American to Command American forces
The best-known American unit sent to aid the floundering republic was the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, or Battalion, many of its volunteers being members of the Communist Party United States, but there was also a George Washington Battalion, later amalgamated with the Abraham Lincoln unit. The fighting was ferocious, and Americans were in the thick of it in bitter struggles battles, like the Battle of Jarama and the Brunete and Aragon offensives, with horrifying casualty rates to match. Something like eight hundred of the approximately twenty-eight hundred Americans who served in the Spanish Civil War were killed. Oliver Law was a US Army veteran, a Chicago taxicab driver, and a Communist party member; during the Spanish Civil War, he became the first African-American officer to lead an American military unit. Many US veterans of the Spanish Civil War would go on to serve in the OSS during World War II.
The Moment of Death, Robert Capa
Ernest Hemingway and the woman who would later become his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, went to Spain to report on the war. Robert Capa, a friend of Hemingway’s, took his famous dying soldier photograph in the Spanish Civil War (see...

Even Errol Flynn, a naturalized American citizen, went to Spain as a war correspondent. The Loyalist side attempted to recruit Errol to their side in the conflict and gave him a machine gun, but he decided that killing people for politics in somebody else’s war wasn’t really his cup of tea.
Not all our military involvement with the Spanish Civil War was unofficial, For instance, in August 1936, the destroyer USS Kane was sent to Bilbao in Spain to rescue American citizens. On the way into Bilbao, a three-engine monoplane dropped bombs within a hundred yards, and the ship’s crew had to open fire three times to drive it away. Kane then joined up with USN Squadron 40-T under the command of Arthur P. Fairfield, which during its time in the area rescued hundreds of Americans and others from the war.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
With German assistance, Franco eventually led the Nationalists to victory in the bitter civil war.
Spain officially remained neutral during World War II, though it did send the so-called Blue Division to fight alongside the Germans in Russia, and German U-boats were able to utilize the “neutral” ports of Spain to resupply. Amidst fears that Franco might still join the Axis cause “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS, visited Madrid, and an OSS detachment was established in Spanish Morocco. The OSS made contact with the remnants of the Republican underground and exiled Spanish government to explore the possibility of subverting Franco’s regime, but that was about as far as it got.
Pub / Cafe in Logrono, Spain
"The Wayne in Spain is not to be disdained!"
After the war, fascist Spain was a political pariah for a time, but today Spain is a constitutional monarchy and a member of NATO and the EU.

We have major bases in Spain. Rota, once a sleepy fishing village near Cadiz, has served as a US naval base from 1953 to the present. It is referred to as the “Gateway to the Med” for the US 6th Fleet and other NATO forces since it’s very close to the straits that lead from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The USAF also maintains Morón Air Base in Andalucia."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of Duvine for guiding me and our group through Spain.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Sea
Omaha Beach cemetery, Normandy, France

Memorial Day 2016 calls on all Americans this year with particular significance,.  It calls on us to look backward at our past and forward to our future as our nations makes its selection about its next Commander in Chief.

Just last year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end World War II, the worst war in human history.  Americans like lieutenant Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne parachuted into Normandy over seventy years ago in Operation Overlord.  In the Spring of 1945 American soldiers would be discovering the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps.  After Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf Concentration Camp that had been liberated by American troops on April 4, he declared: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against.”

Eisenhower Statue, Grosvenor Square, London, UK
Over the course of just under four years over 16 million American men and women had served in some capacity in the war.  Today in 2015, less than one million WW2 service vets are still alive.

Just over 400,00 mostly young Americans would never return from their duties in the Second World War.  Some Americans will pay a visit to cemeteries such as Arlington in Virginia and many more around the nation.  Many who paid the ultimate price are, however, buried overseas in twenty-four different overseas cemeteries in eleven different countries.

Throughout its history Europe has been a blood-soaked continent.  Two World Wars scarred the 20th century.  The Napoleonic Wars raged on and off for over 15 years.  The Hundred Years War between France and England actually lasted for 116 years.

After World War II ended the Americans stayed in bases across Europe.  The Marshall Plan helped to rebuild the shattered economies of post war Europe. In 1946 Winston Churchill warned of an “Iron Curtain” that had descended on Eastern Europe.  NATO was founded in 1949 to confront the challenge of Communism.

In 1989 the Cold War finally ended and the Berlin Wall came down.  The defeat of Fascism and Communism was only possible because of the sacrifice of American servicemen and women.

Since 1945 Europe has enjoyed a period of peace, interrupted only by the breakup of Yugoslavia, that is unprecedented in its history.  This long peace was only possible because of the sacrifice of those servicemen and women that we honor on Memorial Day.   Europe and America has benefitted from a historically unprecedented peace.
9/11 Memorial, NY, NY
Simultaneously, Americans have been fighting a war of unprecedented duration. On September 11, 2001 our world suddenly changed.  Since the Fall of 2001 American troops have been engaged in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  There are soldiers serving today in Afghanistan who were only toddlers when the twin towers in New York were struck by hijacked commercial airliners on that fateful day.

Americans in 2016 confront many dangers. In the middle east we must face the challenge posed by ruthless ISIS operatives who have waged a war against people and even against history itself.  The Syrian Civil war has claimed over 100,000 lives and created the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Recent attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino remind us that terrorism remains a threat around the world.

This year we Americans will select a new Commander in Chief.  As we go to the polls this November we should reflect upon the need for sound mature judgment in all of our leaders and particularly in our president.  Americans must consider that they are choosing an individual who controls the most powerful military in the world and has the power to end life as we know it.

Memorial Day imposes a duty on all Americans to remember the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and to reflect prayerfully on how best we should steer a course through our dangerous and turbulent world.

Thanks San Francisco Chronicle...

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Thanks Lima News...

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Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades and Italy Invades.  Signed copies of his books can be found here...

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Monday, May 16, 2016

No More Champagne

No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money

I know what you are thinking.  "Ye Gods, another book on Churchill?  What fresh insight can really be forthcoming on the well-chronicled life of Winston Spencer Churchill?"  But David Lough HAS managed to plough new ground by going deep into the weeds of Churchill's tortured relationship to money.
Winston Churchill, Parliament Square, London
Churchill was a lifelong risk-taker.  As a boy he injured himself by jumping off of a bridge rather than being caught in a game that resembled "tag" (described in Churchill's classic work My Early  He banged up his arm playing polo in India.  He participated in the last great cavalry charge at the battle of Omdurman in 1898.  He volunteered to cover the Spanish American War as a war correspondent.  He took up flying in the earliest and riskiest days of manned flight.  So it should really not come as any great surprise that he took risks with money.

David Lough's No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money ( documents Churchill's financial risk-taking behavior in exhaustive detail.  Churchill, despite his aristocratic background, was never a wealthy man.  True he was born in Blenheim Palace, but he never become Duke nor own a palace.  The son of Lord Randolph Churchill did, however, acquire extravagant tastes.  He famously once remarked, "My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best."  Champagne, liquor and Cuban cigars consumed much of the Churchill household budget.
Clemmie and Winston, Kansas City, MO
Churchill, unlike many of his contemporaries, did not marry for money.  Clementine Hozier was from a good but not well to do family.  Churchill would work extremely hard to make a living and support his large family.   He lived by his wits, writing nearly all his long life.  He wrote journalism, he wrote autobiographies, and, most of all, he wrote history.  The Second World War was his six volume telling of his version of the war (  It sold over 2 million copies and helped earn him a Nobel prize for literature and 12,000 pounds tax free in 1953.  Churchill prophesied, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

Churchill was a lifelong inveterate gambler.  He gambled with his life.  He gambled with his cash often usually losing at the casinos of France and Monte Carlo.  This tended to drive Clemmie crazy as her own brother had committed suicide in a Paris hotel room after racking up gambling debts he could not pay.  Near the end of his life Churchill became a horse breeder.  He enjoyed surprising success with horses such as Colonist II who won 9,000 pounds of prize money in 1950.

Churchill was a "plunger" who loved to pick individual stocks when his purse could afford it.  He took investment advice from Bernard Baruch.  He also lost a fortune during the Wall Street Crash of 1929.  Churchill depended often on the kindness of strangers.  The desperate state of his finances was bailed out by generous interest-free loans from sympathetic men such as Sir Henry Strakosch, a mining baron who also owned an interest in The Economist.  He accepted the hospitality of Aristotle Onasis for the sunset of his life.
Original Churchill drawing
Dallas Museum of Art, TX
Churchill fought a lifelong battle with Inland Revenue (the British equivalent of the IRS).  During the 1940s the tax rate on higher income individuals soared to a whopping 98 and 1/2 percent.  This was a major disincentive to realize ordinary income for his writing and speaking activities.  He sought relief in a variety of complex tax dodges.  His home at Chartwell was donated to the National Trust.  He negotiated publishing payments as capital gains rather than ordinary income.  He disputed Inland Revenues contention that he was an artist after accepting a generous payment from Hallmark for use of his paintings.

Winston bust & Author, Bletchley Park, UK
Churchill's financial affairs were occasionally conflicted by his ministerial duties but these were commonplace for the time.  Lough poses an intriguing question in his book's summation when he asks "whether Churchill would have survived scrutiny by the standards of his own day if the details of his finances had become public."  Lough concludes that the press was right to turn a blind eye as "there is no sign...that Churchill ever lined his own pocket while controlling large amounts of public expenditure."

Special thanks to my father in law, Dom Driano, for his kind gift of No More Champagne.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Woodrow Wilson versus Donald Trump!

Woodrow Wilson

Nearly a hundred years ago President Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I. In April 1917 he spoke to a joint session of Congress asking for a Declaration of War on the Central Powers.  Americans were fed up with the Kaiser's Unrestricted submarine warfare and annoyed by the Zimmerman telegram -- a crude attempt to sign up Mexico as a Central power ally if the USA should intervene.  Congress soon approved the declaration of war.

Over one hundred thousand American servicemen would be killed over about 20 months from April 1917 until the war ended on Armistice day, November 11, 1918.  To put that in perspective, that sacrifice represents about 25X more than the TOTAL American deaths in the Iraq war from 2003 to 2011.  It also represented about 1/10th of the number of Commonwealth, less than 1/13th the number of French and 1/6th the number of Italian soldiers killed in World War I.  The French and British had been fighting the war since August 1914 and the Italians since April 1915.

If Americans were going to shed so much blood in the war then going "over there" had to make a difference.  It was widely hoped that World War I would be "the war to end all wars".

Woodrow Wilson came to the Paris peace conference with his famous Fourteen Points for setting the world right.  These included freedom of the seas, the restoration of Belgian Sovereignty, the return of Alsace and Loraine to France, the creation of a League of Nations, etc.  Clemenceau, the French premier wryly commented,  "The good Lord only had ten!" (Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix!).  The former President of Princeton University and History Professor was ready to lecture the world.

Wilson can, perhaps, be accused of self-righteousness but he was articulating American values that were deeply felt at the time.  His touching faith in the League of Nations becoming the arbiter of future conflicts between nations may strike us today as hopelessly naive.  The League would not even be ratified by the US Senate and the US would never become a member.

We Americans did not always live up to our own values but we did have a set of values and a president's duty was to articulate these to the rest of world.  Wilson, imperfect though he was, led us through tragic times with a measure of dignity.  Finally, it was the bifurcation of the Republican party in the election of 1912 (sound familiar) that ushered Wilson into the White House (See...

The Donald
When we fast forward to 2016 the political landscape seems utterly different.  Donald Trump is a major party candidate who cynically seems to revel in his own lack of values  Everything is negotiable.  And everyone is subject to personal attack.  One can accuse Donald Trump of many things (bravado, arrogance, narcissism, etc.) but self-righteousness is not one of them.  His foreign policy is based on the premise that America has been getting screwed at the negotiating table and that his role would be to re-negotiate the terms.  And this is a message that resonates with many American voters.

He says, correctly, that NATO member countries should pay more for their defense.  He has, incorrectly, called NATO an "outdated" alliance.  He seems to be unaware of the vast sums that South Korea and Japan now pay to support the American garrisons in their respective countries.  He boasts of being "militaristic" but lacks any strategic or military experience (along with ALL current presidential aspirants).

He does not come to lecture but rather to rant.  He does not seek to inspire with lofty rhetoric but rather to bludgeon the other side into submission.  The Fourteen Points have been replaced by Fourteen Tweets a day -- minimum!

Trump really represents a whole new style of American politician.

The world used to look to America to protect itself from bullies; in 2016 we could elect a bully Commander in Chief.  Wilson, believing that America was a force for good in the world, sought American engagement with the world beyond our shores whereas Trump, fearing the duplicity and treachery of the outside world, seems to want to signal an American retreat into an imaginary walled fortress.

Woodrow Wilson, the Professor, wrote many books including one titled On Being Human.  Trump, the real estate billionaire, has written The Art of the Deal.  Wilson could be an insufferable bore.  Trump can be a unholy terror.

Wilson was a combination of knowledge and naïveté.  Trump is a combination of ignorance and boundless self love.  The former was dangerous while the later could be catastrophic.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

What is Missing from Trump's Foreign Policy?

The foreign policy failures of the Obama years have been legion.  And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a guiding hand in many of these plans.  Four Americans dead in Benghazi is just the tip of a very big iceberg.

1) The US, the world's only superpower, has been powerless to stop the slaughter of over 100,000 people in the Syrian Civil war which has resulted in the greatest refugee crisis to face the world since World War II.

2) ISIS / ISIL was created in the Obama term, at least partly due to Obama's precipitate withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

3) Obama recently admitted in an interview with Chris Wallace that his "worst mistake" in office lay in not preparing for the chaos that would engulf Libya after the death of Qadaffi.  His exact words: "Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya."

4) The Iranian nuclear deal, which Obama views as his chief accomplishment, remains a huge question mark.  Only time will tell whether it help build a lasting peace or whether it simply rewards bad behavior and funds expanded terrorism in the middle east?

As a result of all this one might suppose that this would give the Republican challenger a massive opportunity to exploit in 2016.  So where does Trump stand in terms of foreign policy?  How would Trump be as Commander in Chief of the world's most potent military?

Trump declares that he would employ force only as a last resort.  He said, "I will never sent our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V."  Certainly there is a deep longing for victory that resonates for many Americans.  For the last fifteen years or so the OPAD loop which has characterized the American military experience and ends in "D" for Decisive Victory seems to have been broken (See...

Trump boasts repeatedly that he opposed the Iraq War.  We can anticipate that he will use Hillary's Senate vote to authorize the 2003 invasion in the Fall campaign.  The belief that the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous mistake has become a central article of faith among most media and the US electorate.  It propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.  Even Jeb Bush felt compelled to denounce his own brother's Iraq War during the 2016 campaign.
Would Trump Invade?
Trump is correct to point out the tragic price we paid in the Iraq War.  In America Invades we wrote, "US troops’ combat role in Iraq finally ended on August 31, 2010, about seven and a half years after our invasion. Our losses included 4,427 Americans killed and 34,275 injured. Figures for Iraqi casualties in the period have been a subject of much debate, but over one hundred thousand Iraqis have also been killed."  (Source: America Invades, Kelly / Laycock, 2014,  Trump is also right to point out the economic cost of the Iraq War which cost trillions of dollars.

Unquestionably, many costly mistakes were made during the course of the Iraq War.  But Trump is incredibly naive if he believes that a policy of inaction with regard to Iraq in 2003 would have been without cost (For much more on Iraq see...

We know, therefore, that had Trump been elected President in 2000 rather than Bush Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq.  Trump would presumably have been OK with Saddam's support for terrorism, his Scud attacks on Israel in the First Gulf War, his terrorization of his own people and his attempt to assassinate a former US President (George H.W. Bush).   He would have been OK with Saddam using chemical weapons on the Iranians and the Kurds.

Trump sounded a dovish tone in his maiden foreign policy speech.  He declared “Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct..A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength."

Today Trump addresses a war weary nation -- a nation where many fear that America has been playing its strong hand like a sucker.  So many are today tempted to hire the author of The Art of Deal to renegotiate our deal with the world.

Trump is correct to insist that NATO members should step up and pay their fair share of the defense tab for Europe.  America cannot afford to be the world's policeman.  But he moves to dangerously isolationist ground when he goes on to describe the NATO alliance as "outdated".  For over seventy years American forces have helped preserve a general peace in Europe that was only interrupted by the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Trump actually boasts about being an "unpredictable" President.  Are US allies really hoping for an unpredictable America?  Are financial markets hoping for more uncertainty?

Instead of being the world's policeman Trump seems to want America to become a global "Rent-a Cop".  Not a steady security guard but rather an unpredictable drunk who falls asleep on the job and shoots out your lobby's television set by mistake!  Our armed forces will act at mercenaries for American corporate interests and for those countries willing to pick up the tab.

Occupied: A Prophecy of a Trump White House?

If you want to see what a Trump Presidency would mean to the world just take a look at the Norwegian miniseries Occupied (  This series presupposes that the US has pulled out of NATO and adopted a policy of isolationism or America First-ism -- the presumed policy of Donald Trump.  Without giving any spoilers, I can affirm that the world of Occupied is much darker than our own.  The message of Occupied is chilling: If America were to abandon NATO, things would not go well for small countries like Norway that border the Russian behemoth.

What is missing from Donald Trump's foreign policy?  Why is his approach to foreign policy disturbing?  The issue is not his inability to pronounce "Tanzania".  In one word it is...VALUES.

For over two hundred years Americans have stood for something beyond mere economic self interest.  We have had our share of triumphs, tragedies and follies.  Americans fought in two World Wars defeating the Kaiser, Hitler and Imperial Japan.  Americans helped to win the cold against Communism while avoiding the outbreak of a third World War.   Woodrow Wilson could be a bit of a bore with his fourteen points which Clemenceau pointed out were four more than the Creator; but he articulated a uniquely American vision for the world. Our armies in World War II helped liberate the Nazi concentration camps.  We are not a perfect people and we have not always lived up to our ideals but, overall, Americans have stood for freedom, self determination and human rights.  We have been a beacon to the world.
Lincoln Statue, Spokane, WA
Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the Republican party, declared that America was "the last best hope for mankind".  It would be a monumental tragedy if America in the 21st century were to abandon its long cherished values.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

St. Mary's Battersea & Benedict Arnold

St. Mary's Battersea, London

On the South side of the Thames near Battersea Park one can find an historic church called St. Mary's (  The foundation of this church was laid in 1775 and it opened in 1777.  It now serves as a neighborhood church for the Battersea area.  But perhaps its greatest claim to fame is being the final resting place of Benedict Arnold (1741- 1801).  He was given a pauper's funeral when he died in London in 1801.

Stained Glass window, St. Mary's Battersea 

Benedict Arnold, born in Norwich Connecticut, was one of the most fascinating and complicated characters of the American Revolution.  Today in America he is largely reviled as the most notorious traitor in American history (  His only rival for that honor would be Aaron Burr.  In 1780 he did attempt to betray West Point to the British but was foiled when Major John Andre was captured.

But prior to this he had distinguished himself as one of the most brilliant field commanders in the American Patriot ranks.  Early on the morning of May 10, 1775 he set out with Ethan Allen across Lake Champlain with only 83 men.  They managed that day to capture the British Fort Ticonderoga along with 78 cannon.  He would later lead a thousand men of the Continental Army on a march through Maine to Quebec where he besieged the British bastion.  He was wounded at the Battle of Quebec on New Year's Eve, 1775.

He was also wounded at the tremendously important American victory at the Battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777.  The surrender of Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne in the New York woods led directly to French intervention in the American Revolution.

In America Invades I wrote about my own personal connection to Benedict Arnold...

"I have in my possession a letter dated March 17, 1776, and written on behalf of another ancestor of mine, James Van Rensselaer. The letter was a gift from my grandmother, Georgina Van Rensselaer, of Bedford, New York. James Van Rensselaer was, at the time, a Captain in the American army invading Canada. He was a leader of the New York colonial militia who fought in the American Revolution and evidently longed to go home. The letter is signed simply “B. Arnold.” Here is the full text:

Sir [General Wooster],

Captain Van Rensselaer being anxious to go home I have permitted him to go to Montreal, until your pleasure is known. The troops who have lately arrived here are not mustered. Neither have I any person here fit for that office, that can be spared from their office.

I am your obedient servant, B. Arnold
Camp before Quebec March 17, 1776

How many members of invading armies from the dawn of time from all nations have been “anxious to go home”? How many young Americans in our military now stationed around the world have similar feelings?" (Source: America

Plaque St Mary's Battersea
Arnold was a proud and vain man.  When the Continental Congress failed to promote him his loyalty to the Patriot cause weakened and he was tempted by British gold.  In 1779 he fell in love and married Peggy Shippen who was from a prominent Loyalist (Tory) family from Philadelphia.  They would both move to exile in London after the war.

After his failed attempt to betray West Point to the British Arnold met a captured Captain in the Continental Army.  A bemused Arnold Asked the captain what the Americans would do with him if he were to be captured by the Patriot forces. The American Captain answered, "They would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and the rest of you they would hang on a gibbet."

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Coming in the Fall of 2016...