Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 in American Military History

James Monroe

Two hundred years ago in January 1817 James Monroe was being inaugurated President of the United States.  Monroe is chiefly remembered for the Monroe Doctrine which shaped American foreign policy for the hemisphere.  By 1817 America had grown in terms of strength and independence to the point that it would begin demanding that European powers stay out of the Western hemisphere.  Monroe's Doctrine would have an enormous impact on future American involvements in Central and South America.

First Seminole War
In our upcoming work, America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil we note "In 1817, in what came to be known as the First Seminole War General Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida and pushed the Seminoles further south."  The Spaniards had been our allies against the British during the American Revolution.   But two hundred years ago we Americans were fighting the Dons for control of Florida.
US World War I Uniform and Flag
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
WORLD WAR I, Centennial of American Involvement 1917-2017
One hundred years ago in April 1917 President Wilson led America into the War to end all Wars.  Americans were incensed by the Germans' use of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare against merchant vessels.  One hundred and twenty eight American were killed, for example, on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by German U-boat torpedoes off the Irish coast in 1915.  Thomas Wells, my own great-grandfather and the author of An Adventure in 1914, had traveled aboard the Lusitania in 1909.  German plots with Mexico, exposed in the Zimmerman telegram, were the catalyst that swept the nation into war.  The American experience in World War I was short but sharp.  America was involved in the war from April 1917 until the war ended on November 11, 1918 -- less than two years.  Yet World War I would claim over 110,000 American lives -- more than the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.  The Doughboys who went "Over There" paid a steep price.
American Recruitment Poster WWI
Museum of Flight, Seattle WA

The year 1942 was in many ways the most interesting year of the entire war.  1942 was the turning point of the war.  Before 1942 the Axis had been successful everywhere from Poland to France to Pearl Harbor.  In 1942 the tide turned decisively against the Axis.  In April of 1942, 75 years ago, Jimmy Doolittle launched his famous Raid on Tokyo. 

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

On June 6 and 7, 1942 the Battle of Midway was fought between American and Japanese naval forces in the Pacific.  The Japanese lost four precious and irreplaceable aircraft carriers against a lost of only one on the American side.  The 1942 Rose Bowl featuring Oregon State and Duke was played in Chapel Hill, North Carolina due to fears of imminent Japanese invasion.  After Midway, the Rose Bowl would return to Pasadena.  Japan would never again be in a position to win naval superiority in the Pacific.

1942 was also notable for the triumph of Commonwealth forces at El Alamein in Egypt and the Soviet Red Army at Stalingrad.
Vietnam Memorial
Spokane, WA
1967, VIETNAM, Fifty Years Ago
Fifty years ago the USA was fully engaged in fighting the Vietnam War.  LBJ was micromanaging the war from the White House to the consternation of his generals in the field.  The agony of the Tet offensive would follow in 1968.

In America Invades we wrote, "From 1964 to 1968, LBJ dramatically escalated the US military presence deploying over five hundred thousand troops in Vietnam. American bombers struck North Vietnam while American ground forces fought a counterinsurgency against the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. General William Westmoreland was in command, but LBJ was in the driver’s seat. LBJ, who with his team loved to micromanage the war, famously said, 'Those boys can’t hit an outhouse without my permission.'"

You can purchase signed copies of America Invades

Or regular copies on

You can purchase signed copies of An Adventure in 1914

Or you can find regular copies here on

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What they got Wrong in 8 Years

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State recently penned an article defending Obama foreign policy of the past with years titled "What we got right in 8 years".  In case you missed here it

Since 1945 the first imperative of American Foreign Policy has been "NOT TO BLOW THE WORLD UP".  Measured by that ultra-low bar, Obama did succeed in his foreign policy.   And he did manage, after following up on leads generated in the Bush administration, to kill Osama Bin Laden.  On these two scores Obama did succeed.

Kerry assures us that "most global trends remain in our favor and that America's leadership and engagement area as essential and effective today as ever."  Naturally Kerry seems to have left out what the Obama administration got wrong over the past eight years.  Here is a bit of what Kerry left out...

Tragedy in Syria
The latest estimates reveal a death toll in the Syrian Civil War of 470,000.  In addition around 1.9 million have been wounded in the conflict.  By those totals nearly 11.5% of the entire Syrian population has been either killed or wounded in the struggle which erupted in October of 2011 and continues unabated.

Obama famously drew a rhetorical "red line" in the sand over the use of chemical weapons.  After Assad crossed this line, Obama erased his line in the sand badly damaging American credibility.

Kerry congratulates himself and the administration on not creating a new "quagmire" for America by inserting ground troops into Syria.  But this ignores the fact that there is an enormous range of possible action between doing nothing and inserting the 82nd Airborne into Aleppo.  America Special forces have, of course, been engaged in Syria for some time now.  With little effect.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is not simply Obama's fault.  It is much worse than that.  It is a failure by the entire West to deal with anarchic tendencies in the world.   Obama's failure to provide Western leadership on Syria has, however, been a catastrophic blunder.  "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" or erase Obama's guilt in this matter.

Tyrant Disrespected
Obama promised a Reset in relations with Russia.  In a 2012 Presidential debate he contemptuously dismissed Romney's concerns about Russia by sneering, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years."

The recent attempts by Russia to hack the US election process are a pointed reminder of the abject failure of Obama to get Russian policy right.  Clearly Putin was acting in a desperate manner.  Why?

American Russian relations now teeter at their lowest ebb in decades.  In 2010 Obama was a no-show at the 65th anniversary of the end of WW2 (  The Russians lost over 23 million people in World War II so they are a bit touchy on the subject.  We Americans are accustomed to hearing a great deal of sentimental twaddle about the "Greatest Generation".  There might have been no surviving "Greatest Generation" of Americans had it not been for the enormous sacrifice of the Russian people.  No American President has EVER expressed proper appreciation for this fact of military history.  It is about time that Trump do so.

Winston Churchill
His bust is back in the White House!
In 2013 Obama became the first American President to EVER cancel a US / Russia summit (  The first rule of diplomacy, as formulated by Winston Churchill, is that "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."  Obama violated, therefore, the cardinal rule of diplomacy.  Does anyone seriously believe that the rights of the LGBT community in Russia are served by the American and Russian Presidents NOT talking to each other?  Or the straight community for that matter.

Obama was, of course, a no show for the Sochi Olympics.

There is a reason why the "hot line" was established between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.  The Russians and the Americans are nuclear armed countries that, no matter their differences, need to talk to each other.

Napoleon's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Hitler's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Obama's fatal mistake was to believe that he could scold Russia into compliance.  Putin really does not care about Op-Eds in NY Times.

Putin is the dictator of a kleptocracy.  He is a former KGB officer.  Putin has completely befuddled Obama.  He is not a Marxist college professor hanging out in the faculty lounge bloviating about his concern for the working class.  He is NOT and ideological Marxist.  Above all, he craves respect for Russia.  He seeks to advance the economic welfare of the Russian people.

Putin is, of course, a tyrant.  All tyrants have the same achilles heel.  From Julius Caesar to Mussolini to Czar Nicholas II they all fear being assassinated by their own people. They are never assured a peaceful transition of power.  They can never trust anyone completely.

American Presidents, on the other hand, can look forward to a future of  spending a comfortable retirement with golfing, lucrative book deals, Presidential libraries and high priced speaking engagements.

American Presidents have engaged successfully with Russian dictators.  In America Invades we wrote about the Teheran summit during World War II, "FDR mixed martinis for Churchill and Stalin. FDR asked Stalin how he liked his drink. Stalin answered that it was OK but cold on his stomach."   FDR engaged with Stalin who is, quite frankly, a much greater monster than Putin.  America sent lend lease to Russia and four out of five German soldiers in World War II were killed on the Eastern front.  Excellent deal making there!

Putin must be engaged with and he must be engaged with forcefully.  He understands best the language of economic and military power.  Obama, to his credit, was right to station American Marines in Norway ( and to forces to Poland and the Baltic Republics (;postID=7092829463494283693;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=9;src=postname).

Putin's goal for Russia has become the destruction of NATO.  He claims that Russia is surrounded.  Putin has increased the strength of his military.  In 2014 he invaded and annexed the Crimea.

American policy has, meanwhile, lacked direction and focus.  The new American policy must be to strengthen NATO which has been the most successful alliance in history.  NATO is "obsolete" in the sense that it could do a better job combatting terrorism and having all its members pay 2% of GDP on defence.  It is NOT obsolete in the sense that it must be scrapped.

Putin must learn that NATO works for its members preserving their self-determination.  The long term goal for NATO should be the incorporation of Russia into NATO as a full member.

The solution to the Syrian crisis runs through Moscow.  Who has greater leverage with Assad America or Russia?  The answer is clear.

Trump must now engage with Putin and attempt to enlist his aid in defeating ISIS.  Once ISIS has been destroyed Trump must make it clear that Assad must, after a decent interval, go into exile.  Perhaps with his family to a Dacha on the Black Sea?
Not the Louisiana Purchase
Kerry claims credit for arresting the progress of nuclear weapons in Iran.  The US has now given billions to a regime that has a long standing record of support for terrorism.  $400 million in cash was delivered in the dead of night on the same day that American hostages were released undercutting Americas policy of not paying for the release of hostages (  Israel, our only Middle East ally, remains highly skeptical of the Iran deal.  Only time will tell whether the Iran deal was worthwhile in spite of its enormous cost in treasure and American credibility.
Bad Hair Decade in N. Korea
North Korea conducted four successful nuclear underground tests during the Obama years.  Kim Jong Un has tested missiles that can reach Japan and Guam (  He remains an unpredictable source of tension in the years to come and the Obama administration made no progress with regard to North Korea.

Obama was highly critical of the policy of keeping Prisoners of the War on Terrorism in Gitmo.  But he never actually closed it.  He never seemed to realize or appreciate that Gitmo is useful in precisely the same way that St. Helena was useful to the British after the Battle of Waterloo.  Napoleon, after his second abdication was never tried.  His case would have become a circus.  Nor was he executed as this would have transformed him into a martyr.  He was imprisoned uncomfortably on St. Helena as he was a danger to the peace of the world.  America should apologize for Gitmo just as soon as the British apologize for St. Helena.

Obama conceived of the war in Afghanistan as the "good war" as opposed to the "mistake" in Iraq.  Obama, recognizing the surprising success of Bush's surge in Iraq implemented a similar surge in Afghanistan.  For a variety of reasons it did not really work.  America has now had troops fighting in Afghanistan for over 15 years.  It is now the longest war in American history.  There are men and women serving in Afghanistan who were toddlers at the time of 9/11 in 2001.

As we noted in the Afghanistan chapter of America Invades..."The attitude towards warfare in Afghanistan is very different from that in the technologically focused West. “Our enemies have the watches,” some Afghans used to say, “but we have the time.” It appears the Western presence may have run out of time in Afghanistan."  (

Perhaps now, after thousands of lives have been lost and trillions have been squandered and siphoned off to corrupt Afghan leaders, it is time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and send the drug companies in?
Gaddafi: Shot with own Golden gun
Obama, the professed non-interventionist, intervened in Libya.  At the urging of HRC and others, he actively supported the removal of Gaddafi.  The Libyan dictator was a tyrant who feared a violent death and realized the sum of his fears in 2011.

In 2012 four Americans, including my UC Berkeley classmate Christopher Stevens, were killed at the embassy compound in Benghazi.  The coverup which followed (who pushed the video) remains a scandal for the Obama administration.

Libya is a failed state and remains an ISIS stronghold today.  Even Obama has admitted that Libya was perhaps his greatest blunder telling Chris Wallace in a 2016 interview, "Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya."


The Obama administration got many things wrong on foreign policy.  The Trump administration has inherited a tornado of s*@tstorms around the globe.

Finally, let's remember rule one of American Foreign Policy...DON'T BLOW UP THE WORLD!  Trump must begin to repair the broken relationship with Russia.  This is possible.  And far more so than had HRC (AKA Circe) been elected this fall.  America has not had a territorial dispute with Russia since purchasing Alaska from Czar Alexander II in 1867.  "Seward's folly" is a historic reminder that it is possible for the US to do productive and mutually beneficial deals with the Russians.

In order to avoid BLOWING UP THE WORLD it is necessary to keep talking the the Russians.  It is better to jaw jaw than to war war!

Signing copies of America Invades
You can purchase signed copies of America Invades

Ore you can find regular copies on

You can find signed copies of An Adventure in 1914

Or regular copies

Congratulations "Mad Dog" Mattis!

"Mad Dog" Mattis
A Proud Bomber!

Congratulations to General "Mad Dog" Mattis on his confirmation to become the next Defence Secretary of the United States!  An astonishing bipartisan vote of 98 to 1 in the US Senate has recently confirmed the appointment of Mattis to the top Pentagon job.

Mattis has a long and distinguished service record.  But here is something that you might not know about Mattis...
Go Bombers!
Mattis is a native of my adopted home state of Washington.  Moreover, Mattis is a graduate of Richland High School (also known as Columbia High School).  The mascot of Richland High is "the Bombers".  Richland is only a few miles from Hanford where the Plutonium used to make the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was manufactured.  Jackets from Richland High still proudly display a mushroom cloud.  Mattis went on to earn an History degree from Central Washington University while serving in the US Marine Corps.

I wrote earlier about Hanford after touring it last summer.  See my blog Hanford, the Bomb and Madagascar.../

Mattis is a staunch supporter of the NATO alliance in spite of Trump's wobbly campaign rhetoric about the obsolescence of the Alliance.

Congratulations to "Mad Dog" Mattis and "Go Bombers!"

You can purchase signed copies of America Invades

Or regular copies on

Thursday, January 19, 2017

American Troops in Norway

Obama's Farewell to Putin
The Obama administration in its final days chose to deploy USA Marines to Norway (   Some Jarheads will soon be improving their skiing abilities.  What else does this move signify?

Clearly the outgoing US administration is sending a message to Putin's Russia.  The deployment seems to be a response to Russian attempts to hack the American election.  Norway shares a small border with Russia.  The outgoing administration is making the argument, quite properly in my view, that NATO is not only not "obsolete" -- it remains highly relevant for those interested in deterring Russian aggression and preserving the peace in Europe.  By such means TV fictions such as 2015's Occupied will remain fictional (see video below).  The self-determination of small nations that border much larger and more powerful neighbors must be protected.

The US military has not deployed ground troops to Norway since World War II.  As noted below, the US Air Force has had a long standing presence in Norway.

We related the story of America's earlier involvement in Norway during World War II in the Norway chapter of America Invades...

"The Nazis invaded Norway in April 1940 and occupied it for the remainder of the war in Europe. Haakon VII, king of Norway, fled with a government in exile to England. The king and his government landed in Rotherhithe on the Thames in southeast London—the same spot the Mayflower left from with the Pilgrims in 1620. King Haakon VII would worship with his family at St. Olav’s Church in Rotherhithe and would also give wartime broadcasts to the Norwegian people from this church.

In Norway, with German support, Vidkun Quisling formed a collaborationist government.
Not surprisingly, since we weren’t actually in the war at the time, we didn’t have anything much to do with the fighting in Norway in 1940. However, two incidents do stand out.

On April 21, 1940, Captain Robert Moffat Losey, serving as US military attaché in Norway, while trying to ensure the safe evacuation to Sweden of American diplomats, was killed by Luftwaffe bombs.
FDR Statue
Grosvenor Square, London
And in the summer of 1940, President Roosevelt sent a troopship, the USS American Legion on a special mission to Petsamo in what was then northern Finland (it’s now, after border changes, in Russia). Its main mission was to evacuate Crown Princess Martha of Norway, plus hundreds of other assorted civilians, including one Dane then called Børge Rosenbaum. This it successfully did, being the last neutral ship out of Petsamo. On arrival in the United States, Princess Martha went on to become close (very, very close, some suggest) to President Roosevelt while Børge Rosenbaum went on to become Victor Borge. However, it wasn’t just people that the USS American Legion rescued from Petsamo that day; it also carried away something that would make a huge contribution to the US war effort. Taken on board at Petsamo was a Swedish-made 40 mm twin-mount Bofors anti-aircraft gun. In America, the USN would adopt the type, order its domestic production, and fit it on its ships.
After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the Axis occupation of Norway became a particular thorn in the Allies’ side as Norwegian air and sea bases were used to prey on the arctic convoys that were bringing lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Film star Douglas Fairbanks Junior was a naval lieutenant aboard the USS Wichita in the summer of 1942 and witnessed the disastrous PQ 17 convoy that was almost wiped out by German attacks. Plenty of supplies did, however, get through on convoys.

In addition, the German presence in Norway helped assure the transportation of vital Swedish iron ore for use in building the Wehrmacht war machine. Consequently, Churchill repeatedly advocated Operation Anvil, a projected Allied invasion of Norway, to address these concerns. Eisenhower and others in the Allied staff, however, believed that Operation Anvil would be a distraction from the cross-channel invasion of France through Normandy; they prevailed in Allied strategy sessions.
As a result, most of the opposition to German forces in Norway came from brave Norwegians in the resistance. But not all of it.

We conducted assorted air operations over occupied Norway. For example, we were part of the campaign to prevent a Nazi atomic bomb. The Germans were attempting to make heavy water for their nascent nuclear program and using a hydroelectric plant in Vermork, Norway, to do so. In 1943, this plant was hit by a 143-plane raid of USAAF B-17s that did extensive damage.

William Colby of the OSS

But not all US operations in Norway during World War II were to be in the air. On March 24, 1945, a squadron of B-24 Liberators launched Operation RYPE (Norwegian for “grouse”) dropping a team of specially trained OSS forces near Jarlsbad in central Norway. The thirty-six-man group immediately linked up with Norwegian resistance forces. The 99th Battalion, who were proficient skiers and demolition experts, managed to destroy the Tangen bridge near Jorstad. On May 12, 1945, they took over Steinkjer from German forces. Major William Colby, who was later appointed head of the CIA by President Nixon, was the leader of the OSS team in Norway.

On June 10, 1945, the 99th Infantry Battalion would form the honor guard for Crown Prince Olaf’s triumphant parade through Trondheim.

Norway was a founding member of NATO in 1949. Norway’s strategic location on the northern approaches to the Soviet Union made it an important area for bases for the USAAF and USN during the Cold War.

Even after the end of the Cold War, tensions could still occur in the area. For example, on January 25, 1995, Norway launched a rocket to gather scientific data on the Northern Lights near Svalbard. The launch had not been publicly disclosed in advance, and its trajectory was near Russian territory, which caused a minor crisis with the Russians who briefly panicked, fearing that it was a US submarine-launched missile. Thus, Norwegian scientists nearly started World War III after the Cold War had ended.

And we still have strong military links with Norway. For instance, the USAF’s 501st Combat Support Wing remains based in Stavanger to this day. Norway is a NATO member. The Norwegians sent troops to fight alongside our own in the coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Norwegian jets played a major role in the operations in Libya in 2011."

With the dawn of the new Trump administration, one can only hope that the NATO will be strengthened rather than junking the system that has preserved peace in Europe since in 1948 (pace Yugoslavia).

You can find signed copies of America Invades

You can also find copies of America Invades on

Friday, January 13, 2017

WWI Centennial & Museum of Flight

100 Years Ago Wilson led America into WWI
1917 - 2017

2017 marks one hundred years since the start of American involvement in World War I.  In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson led America into the First World War on the side of the Allies versus the Central Powers.  Germany's policy of Unrestricted Submarine warfare was deeply unsettling for Americans.  Over a hundred Americans were, for example, killed in May of 1915 with the sinking of the Lusitania.  Thomas Tileston Wells, my great-grandfather had been a passenger on board the Lusitania in 1909 (  The disclosure of the Zimmerman telegram, a German plot to bring Mexico into the war on the side of the Central Powers if America joined the war, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

US Army Poster WWI
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
From 1917 to 1918 over two million American member of the American Expeditionary force were shipped "Over There" to join in the fighting on the Western Front.  They were called "Doughboys" because they tended to be bigger and taller than the British and French soldiers.  Many fought in the trenches.  Some took to the skies and fought in the air.  Eddie Rickenbacker became the greatest American Ace of World War I.  He flew in a French-built Spad XIII as the Americans had no aircraft industry at the start of the Great War.

My own great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was traveling in Europe with his family in the summer of 1914 at the start of World War I.  At Riva on Lake Garda he was arrested briefly by Austrian authorities, accused of being a Russian spy and threatened with immediate execution.  You can learn about how he managed to talk his way out of that in my newly published book -- An Adventure in 1914

Eyewitness Account of
History's Greatest Train Wreck

Over 17 million people were killed in the course of World War I including over 117,000 Americans.    In the epilogue to An Adventure in 1914 I noted, "The First World War was the costliest in Western history up to that point (exceeded perhaps only by the Taiping Rebellion in China, which may have cost twenty to thirty million deaths from 1850–1864). It was the original catastrophe of the twentieth century that sowed the seeds for future tragedies. The war shattered the stability of much of the world and destroyed four empires: Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia would have bloody consequences for the remainder of the twentieth century. The bitter peace of Versailles would lay the groundwork for World War II. France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch proved to be a modern Cassandra when he declared, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."  (See...
German Albatros D.Va
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

A visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle ( is an excellent way to remember the centennial of American involvement in World War I.  The aviation from the Great War can be found in the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing of the Museum.  They have an outstanding collection of World War airplanes from all of the principle nations involved in the war.

French Nieuport 24bis
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
There are many interactive and audiovisual elements at the World War I exhibit at the Museum of Flight.  One of my favorites involves a story about a German bomber that flew over Paris in the war and dropped a hand grenade onto the Champs-Élysées causing some consternation.  The German bomber returned again to the skies over Paris and dropped a rock over the famous boulevard.  The note said, "Surrender or we will drop another one!"  The Germans DO have a sense of humor!

You can get your signed copy of 
An Adventure in 1914

Or you can get regular copies on