Monday, January 22, 2018

Austria-Hungary: The Rabbit-Duck

Ludwig Wittgenstein

"Ludwig Wittgenstein, who served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I, ranks among the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. In his seminal work, Philosophical Investigations, he discussed the ambiguous ways in which we perceive a rabbit-duck image. Austria-Hungary in 1914 may be the ultimate rabbit-duck in history.


Wittgenstein was himself a rabbit-duck—a soldier-philosopher. During World War I, he was decorated for his service as an artillery spotter on the Russian front. He began writing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus when he was a soldier, and completed it when he was a prisoner of war. In it, he explores the relationship between language and reality.

Austria-Hungary was a diverse rabbit, a polyglot empire with at least nine major languages. Over 40 percent of the Austrian Tyrol that Wells* visited in 1914 was Italian speaking.

Hapsburg Eagle
Trent Cathedral

Yet Austria-Hungary was also a unified duck. Franz Joseph had been the emperor of Austria since his accession to the throne in 1848. In fact, the House of Habsburg, which traced its origins back to Charlemagne, had ruled Austria since the fourteenth century. Hungary became part of that empire in 1867. Because Hungary remained autonomous, Austria-Hungary was also known as the Dual
Monarchy. In 1914, the octogenarian emperor was a popular figure, although his life had been scarred by the suicide of his son Rudolph in 1889 and the assassination of his wife by an anarchist in 1898.
In terms of religion, the Austro-Hungarian rabbit was officially Roman Catholic. The Habsburg dynasty was a bulwark of the Holy Roman Empire. But the Austro-Hungarian duck included large populations of Jews, Orthodox Christians, and even Bosnian Muslims.

Austria-Hungary in 1914 was an empire on the brink of collapse. Many competing minorities were barely held together by an inefficient bureaucratic government.

Austria-Hungary in 1914 was in the midst of a golden age. The Dual Monarchy had a population of more than fifty million, and 80 percent of the population was literate. In 1914, Franz Kafka began writing in Prague. Sigmund Freud was revolutionizing psychology in Vienna. The music of Richard Strauss kept Austrians waltzing. Gustav Mahler’s symphonies sent music in new directions, while Gustav Klimt was transforming the art of painting.

Austria-Hungary was a paranoid police state (rabbit) that arrested an American tourist in Riva.** Austria-Hungary was a bungling state (duck) that allowed the assassination of its crown prince and might have allowed the Serbian prime minister to pass through its borders undetected in July 1914.
Austria-Hungary was the victim of a secret Serbian conspiracy. Austria-Hungary was the bully that invaded tiny Serbia and precipitated World War I.

Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Navy, was the Dual Monarchy’s war hawk. From 1906 to 1914, he advised in favor of wars with Serbia, Montenegro, Russia, Romania, and Italy. He advocated war with Serbia no less than twenty- five times during 1913.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand
1863 - 1914
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the duck to Conrad’s rabbit. The archduke was an advocate for peace and restraint who opposed Conrad at every turn. He told Conrad, “My policy is a policy of peace. Everyone must learn to live with that.” They did for a while. Ferdinand was a reformer who dreamed of creating a “United States of Greater Austria.”

And he might have pulled it off had he not made that fateful visit to Sarajevo in June of 1914."

Source: An Adventure in 1914 (

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* Thomas T. Wells, 1865-1946, New York Lawyer and my great-grandfather

** In August of 1914 the Austrian authorities in Riva briefly arrested Thomas T. Wells.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Invading / Panicking Hawaii

This past Saturday (January 13, 2018) the Hawaiian state government sent its population into a full blown panic after it sent out a warning about an incoming ICBM.  It took 38 minutes for the state to retract its warning which caused major disruption throughout the state.   Some children were even lowered into storm drains for their protection.  The New York Times declared that the "False Missile Alert Looms as Black Eye of Hawaii's Governor."  Fortunately, no one was killed as a result of the false alarm.

Hawaii WAS, of course, famously attacked on December 7, 1941 by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  (See earlier posts...,  And today it may be vulnerable to ICBMs launched from North Korea.  But the Pearl Harbor attack is merely part of the many "invasions" and fighting that has touched Hawaii over the course of its history.  We detailed the full story in the Hawaii chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (

"The beautiful islands of Hawaii are a popular modern-day tourist destination, where mainlanders go to escape stress, sip mai tais, and find a slice of paradise under the sun. But these islands have seen their share of fighting and invasions.

Around 1,500 years ago, Polynesian people first arrived in the Hawaiian Islands.  These hardy souls had journeyed 2,000 miles in outrigger canoes from other Pacific islands.

The Hawaiian culture was feudal and warlike.  The Hawaiian word for warrior is koa. Koa, lacking metallurgy, armed themselves with stone, wood, and even shark’s teeth.  Their principal weapon was the pololu—a long wooden spear that a warrior also used to vault forward. Warfare was highly ritualized process. Being a successful warrior enhanced a koa’s prestige or manu.

Interisland and civil wars flared up in the Hawaiian Islands almost continuously during the eighteenth century.  The Kona-Hilo war, for example, was fought between 1700 –1720 on the big island of Hawaii until it was resolved by a political marriage. During 1776, the year America declared her independence from Britain, the third Hawaii-Maui war was being fought.  This conflict featured an unsuccessful invasion of Maui by natives of the Big Island.

Captain Cook

In 1778, with the arrival of Captain Cook at Waimea Bay on the island of Kauai, two warrior cultures collided in mutual misunderstanding. Captain Cook of Britain’s Royal Navy was on his third voyage of exploration. His preferred technique for dealing with native populations was a combination of bluff, hostage taking, and firepower.

In his Journals, Cook explicitly described how his exploration method could be construed or misconstrued as an invasion:

We attempt to land in a peaceable manner, if this succeeds its well, if not we land nevertheless and maintain the footing we thus got by the Superiority of our  re arms, in what other light can they than at  first look upon us but as invaders of their Country; time and some acquaintance with us can only convince them of their mistake.

At first the Hawaiians regarded Cook with reverence. Many prostrated themselves at his feet, and some may have taken him for the god Lono. Some of the women were eager to trade sex for nails. His two ships were restocked with fresh water, fruits, and vegetables. Cook christened Hawaii the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich.

Cook departed the islands to voyage north to Alaska, but returned to Kealakekua on the Big Island in February of 1779. His ship, the Resolution, had a broken mast that needed repairing. Cook described the native Hawaiians in glowing terms: “these people trade with the least suspicion of any Indians I ever met ... It is also remarkable that they have never once attempted to cheat us in exchanges or once to commit a theft.”

Cook Monument

The death of Cook on February 14, 1779, in Hawaii remains something of a mystery to this day. His crew had earlier taken some sacred wooden palings from the Hawaiians for use as firewood.  is distressed the native people. Cook’s attempt to seize a local priest mis red badly. A mob of Hawaiians gathered. Cook  red his two pistols. He was stabbed with an iron dagger, which must have been procured or stolen from one of his ships. Four royal marines were also killed in the skirmish. Cook’s body was seized by the Hawaiians, mutilated, and partially devoured. Today, a white obelisk commemorates the spot near where Cook fell.

After Cook’s death, Hawaii’s greatest king rose to power. From 1783 to 1796, King Kamehameha led his people in the thirteen-year war of Unification.  is war was fought with muskets and gunpowder, and the king employed Westerners to help train his army.

King Kamehameha

The  first threats to the independence of the Hawaiian kingdom did not come from Britain or America. Astonishingly, they came from the Russians and the French. Georg Anton Schäffer, a German doctor working for the Russian-American Company, led an attempted invasion of Hawaii in 1816. Schäffer ordered the crew of the Myrtle, a Russian vessel, to build a fort near Honolulu Harbor. He also built Fort Hipo on Kauai. King Kamehameha had Schäffer and the Russians evicted from Hawaii in 1817.  The ruins of Fort Hipo are visible on Kauai today.

King Kamehameha died in 1819.  The following year, American missionaries began arriving in Hawaii.  They softened some of the warlike ways of the Hawaiians. Boxing, for example, was banned, though less on account of the violence than due to the gambling the sport engendered.

Protestant missionaries also managed to convince the Queen Regent Ka’ahumanu to have Catholicism made illegal.  is led directly to a brief French “invasion,” or rather, extortion of Hawaii. In 1839, Captain Cyrille Laplace of the French Navy’s L’Artémise arrived in Honolulu. Laplace insisted that the Hawaiian kingdom pay reparations of $20,000 for their affront to French Catholic interests, or his frigate would bombard their coast. Lacking a modern navy, the kingdom paid the ransom. In 1839, King Kamehameha III passed laws granting religious tolerance.

In 1843, the British captain of the Carysfort, Lord George Paulet, arrived in Honolulu and made a series of demands on the Hawaiian crown.  The Hawaiian  flag was lowered and the Union Jack was raised over Oahu. Later that year, Rear Admiral Richard  Thomas arrived in Honolulu and declared that Paulet had exceeded his authority.  The British impact on Hawaii (or the Sandwich Islands) persists to this day, however, with the presence of the Union Jack in one quadrant of its state flag.

American sugar planters arrived in the islands soon after the missionaries. American influence also spread from the West Coast of North America to the shores of Hawaii.

The US Civil War meant an economic boom for Hawaii, which supplied sugar, beef, salt, and more to the Union Army. King Kamehameha IV remained officially neutral during the war.  Native Hawaiians, however, served on both sides during the war. About thirty veterans of the Union Army are buried in Oahu Cemetery. Twelve Hawaiians served on board the CSS Shenandoah, a merchant raider that terrorized Union ships in the Pacific.

The late nineteenth century saw a period of increasing political turmoil in the Hawaiian kingdom. In a series of rebellions, political and commercial interests clashed over the future of the kingdom.  en, in 1893, a rebel militia called the Honolulu Rifles and led by Lorrin A. Thurston, a grandson of American missionaries, launched a coup d’état against Queen Liliuokalani. A landing party of marines and sailors from the USS Boston came ashore, ostensibly to protect US lives and property. It took no active part in the coup, but was perceived by many as a sign of support for it. Finally, in order to prevent bloodshed, the queen ordered her forces to surrender, and Hawaii was declared a republic. In 1993, in the centenary year of the coup, Congress passed a resolution apologizing for US involvement in it.

The start of the Spanish American War in 1898 dramatized the strategic importance of Hawaii. US Navy ships passed through Pearl Harbor to re-coal on their way to the war in the Philippines. Admiral Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. When the Philippines became an American colony, the critical, strategic need for Pearl Harbor was evident.

Finally in 1898, President McKinley annexed the Hawaiian Islands, which became an American territory. On August 12, 1898, soldiers of the First New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived on Oahu.

Hawaii kept the  flame of its monarchical past alive even after annexation. In 1916, the 32nd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Queen’s Own, was mustered at Schofield Barracks. The only royal regiment in the US Army marched on parade before the former queen.

From 1925 until 1927 George Patton served as an officer at the Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. Based on his Hawaiian experience, Patton authored a 1937 report in which he prophesied, “The unheralded arrival during a period of profound peace of a Japanese expeditionary force within 200 miles of Oahu during darkness; this force to be preceded by submarines who will be in the immediate vicinity of Pearl Harbor.... An air attack by [ Japanese] navy fighters and carrier borne bombers on air stations and the submarine base using either gas or incendiary bombs.”

On December 7, 1941, Patton’s prediction came true. Two-man midget submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy managed to penetrate Pearl Harbor undetected. One was sunk by the USS Ward, an antiquated World War I US Navy destroyer.  The  flotilla of midget subs did no real damage, and Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, the only survivor, washed up on shore at Waimanalo Beach, where he became the  first Japanese prisoner of war captured by the Americans in World War II.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

Shortly after 7:00 a.m. on the “Day of Infamy,” a large concentration of aircraft was detected by Oahu radar stations that were monitored by the Army Signal Corps. Misinterpreted as the B-17s scheduled to arrive that day at Hickam Field from California, the aircraft were not seen as a threat and no warning was sounded. Admiral Nagumo’s  flight of torpedo planes and bombers escorted by Zeros began their attack on Battleship Row.  The Arizona blew up after a hit near turret II and sank to her final resting place. Four battleships in all were sunk, and many more ships were damaged. Of the American planes on the ground, 188 were destroyed. Over 2,400 Americans were killed in Hawaii that day.

Fortunately, no US aircraft carriers were in Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nagumo, fearing for the safety of the six carriers in Operation Z, declined to order a second air attack. As a result, the vital fuel tanks on Oahu were not destroyed.

Japanese Zero
FHCAM Everett, WA

Admiral Yamamoto’s bold plan to strike at Hawaii had scored a devastating blow against the United States.  The Imperial Japanese forces would “run wild in Pacific for the next six months,” just as Yamamoto had predicted. But Japan had awakened a sleeping giant that was finally united and bent on swift vengeance. “Remember Pearl Harbor” became the rallying cry across all of America.
After December 7, Hawaii lived in fear of an imminent invasion that never really happened. Unlike the West Coast of the United States, however, the territory of Hawaii did not imprison its population of Japanese Americans, many of whom served loyally in US forces.

Nonetheless, although many know about December 7, 1941, few realize that there was a second Japanese attack on Hawaii during the war.

On March 1, 1942, the Japanese launched a second, much smaller air attack on Pearl Harbor. It involved coordination between the air and submarine arms of the Imperial Navy. A pair of Kawasaki H8K1  flying boats  flew from Wotje Atoll in the Marshall Islands to rendezvous with two large Japanese submarines at French Frigate Shoals.  is time, American radar detected the incoming aircraft and sounded the alert. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk  fighter planes were scrambled. One Japanese plane dropped its ordinance harmlessly on Mount Tantalus near Honolulu.  e other dropped its payload in the ocean miles from any target. The boldly conceived Japanese plan was well executed, but it also lacked proper intelligence and was ineffective.

The loss of four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway on June 7, 1942 (with an American loss of only one carrier), was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. Never again during the war would the Japanese credibly menace Hawaii.

In 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth and, thus far, final state to be admitted to the Union.
During the Cold War, Soviet submarines would prowl off the coast of Hawaii. On March 6, 1968, the Soviet Navy’s K-129, a diesel submarine equipped with ballistic missiles, sank with all hands about 1,500 miles from Oahu."

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018 in Military History


Happy New Year 2018!  This year will prove remarkable in its commemoration of major historic military events.

2018 marks the centennial of the end of World War I.  The Great War that claimed the lives of over 17 million men ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month -- 11/11/18.  We Americans know it as Veteran's Day while the British call it Remembrance Day.  The veterans we remember on that day served in a war that shattered four empires (Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman).  This war led directly to the creation of nation states such as Syria and Iraq.  This war also was the midwife of the twin scourges of the 20th century -- Fascism and Communism.  In An Adventure in 1914 (www.anadventurein1914.comI referred to the war as being "the original sin of the 20th Century".

Thomas Tileston Wells, my great-grandfather, was traveling through Europe via train with his family in the summer of 1914 when the Great war broke out.  Wells, a New York lawyer, was briefly arrested by Austrian authorities, accused of being a Russian spy and threatened with execution.  Fortunately, he managed to talk his way out of it and escape from Austrian territory into Italy.  On his eventual return to America, he wrote an account of his experiences and titled it An Adventure in 1914 but it was never published.

His manuscript sat on a shelf and gathered dust for a hundred years until my Aunt Catherine kindly gave it to me.  In 2015 I retraced the steps of my great-grandfather researching the mystery of his arrest and taking photography along the way.  Wells had been an eyewitness to the greatest traffic accident in history -- the start of World War I.  In 2016 I edited and published An Adventure in 1914.  Kirkus called it "historical scholarship at its best: rigorous, testimonial, and dramatic."

In the Epilogue to An Adventure in 1914 I noted that "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."  World War I, in many ways, proved to the cause of World War II -- the most devastating war in human history.

2018 also marks the 75th anniversary of 1943, a key year in World War II.  In the summer of 1943 Allied forces invaded Italy.  Americans, of course, participated in that year's invasion of Italy which we mentioned in the Italy chapter of America Invades (

"It all started on July 10, 1943, with Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. The  first day of the campaign was also one of the worst when the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Matthew Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne was decimated by friendly fire. About fourteen hundred Americans were tragically killed by  re from anti-aircraft batteries on allied naval vessels. From this painful experience, the Allies learned a valuable lesson. All Allied aircraft participating in the D-Day invasion were painted with black and white stripes prior to the Normandy invasion.
Once ashore, General Patton and British General Montgomery competed in the famous “Race to Messina” on the other side of the island. To Montgomery’s irritation, the indefatigable Patton won, but he didn’t have it all his way ending up being very nearly court-martialled for slapping a soldier suffering from battle fatigue.

West Point, NY
With Sicily under Allied control, it was on to mainland Italy. The Second World War in Italy was a long grueling affair in which Americans fought with great tenacity and bravery. For instance, The 442nd Regimental Combat Unit, composed mainly of Japanese-Americans, became the most decorated American military unit in our history winning a staggering 9,486 Purple Hearts. There were times when the possibility of a rapid advance north towards the heart of Europe seemed possible, for instance, after the Germans were initially surprised by the Allied landings at Anzio, but somehow the enemy collapse never came, at least not until right at the end of the war itself."

The Italian campaign (1943-1945) produced more Allied casualties than the campaign in Northern that was launched with D-Day in 1944 but it gets far less media attention.  Italy famously switched sides in 1943 though Mussolini was rescued by Hitler's special forces.  The Italian Co-Belligerent Forces fought alongside the Allies until the war's end.  Many Italian partisans (partigiani) came to aid of Allied airmen.

Stuart Laycock and I wrote Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World largely because of the stereotypes attributed to un-military Italians as a direct consequence of World War II (  In this work we pointed out that "one in twelve American soldiers in World War II was of Italian heritage including medal of Honor winner John Basilone of New Jersey."  Last year our work was translated and published in Italian (

In 2018 we are planning a paperback release of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (  We also hope to publish The Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur later this year.

Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year in 2018!

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Russia, Russia, Russia!

Russia, Russia, Russia!

Russia has been getting enormous attention in the American media in the past year or so.  What did Russia do in the 2016 election?  What is Russia doing now to interfere in the United States?  What are Putin's intentions?  Did members of the Trump team collude with the Russians in the course of the campaign?  And so on.

As an American historian with an interest in "invasions", "incursions" and "interference" I am fascinated by the too-often forgotten history of American invasions of Russia AND Russian invasions of America.

In the Russia chapter of America Invades ( we wrote about the Polar bear expedition of 1918-19...

"In 1918, Woodrow Wilson ordered American forces to form part of the Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force that was being readied to support the White forces that were battling the Bolshevik Red forces in Russia. American sailors  first landed in Murmansk from the USS Olympia on June 8, 1918.

Wilson had, for one of the few times in our history, granted authority to allow American troops to serve under foreign leadership. In November of 1918, just as the war in Europe was coming to a close, British Major General Edmund Ironside took over command of our force, what became known as the Polar Bear Expedition—great name, but not such a great outcome. In his diary, Ironside expressed doubts about his mission comparing the advance into Russia to sticking your hand into a huge sticky pudding.

Eventually, about  five thousand American troops served in Northern Russia alongside British, Canadian, Australian, and White Russian forces. Some of them would not return to America. On the Dvina front on September 16, 1918, Private Philip Sokol from Pittsburgh was the first American to be killed in combat in the Russian campaign.

After initial success, stiffening Bolshevik resistance rapidly put the intervention forces in an increasingly desperate situation. Throughout the bitter Russian winter of 1918, General Ironside had to order his forces to retreat into a smaller and smaller area until ultimately they would be fighting just to survive.

Nevertheless, as in almost all wars, there were occasional brief, happier interludes. Godfrey Anderson was a Michigan farm boy who served in the 337th Field Hospital Unit in the Polar Bear Expedition. He describes a Christmas dinner in Shenkursk that featured fricassee of rabbit and chocolate layer cake. A balalaika orchestra and a dozen or so Russian girls were invited to attend and dance with the troops. On occasions, fraternization could lead to more; Private Joseph Chinzi of the 339th Supply Company married a Russian bride in Archangel.

A further eight thousand American soldiers were sent to Vladivostok, along with a variety of other Allied troops, including Japanese. US General Graves had more modest, and perhaps more realistic, ambitions than some of the other Allied generals in Siberia, and our troops ended up protecting the Trans-Siberian railroad from Bolshevik raids. Nevertheless, the intervention in Siberia proved ultimately as pointless as the intervention in Northern Russia, as chaos and conspiracy weakened the White Forces and the Red Forces advanced.

Wilson feared that the presence of American troops in Russia after World War I had ended could impede settlement of the Versailles Peace Treaty where he sought the creation of the League of Nations. The war to end all wars was finished. The Americans wanted all their boys to come home, and there was a growing feeling in the United States that the Russian intervention was a disaster that had failed to achieve anything very positive. Eventually, we did pull our boys out.

Polar Bear Memorial
White Chapel Cemetery, Troy, MI 

Today, though you can find a polar bear sculpture in a Detroit cemetery, the Allied North Russia Expedition is largely forgotten in the United States. In Russia, a visitor to Archangel will find several memorials of Russian resistance to the expedition."  (Source:

Americans have fought in Russia but it is also true that Russians have fought in and invaded America too.  In America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil we explored Russian invasions of territory now occupied by several American states.  In the Alaska chapter we wrote...

Onion Dome Church
Sitka, AK

"In the eighteenth century, it was Russian traders who arrived in Alaskan waters in pursuit of seals and fur-bearing animals...In 1732, Mikhail Gvozdev was the  first Russian to investigate Alaskan waters. Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer who served in Czar Peter the Great’s navy, explored the coast of Alaska in 1741. He died, probably of scurvy, on the voyage, and is buried on Bering Island. In 1784, the Russians established their first settlement in Alaska, at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island...

In 1799, the Russian-American Company, a joint stock company, was founded. From 1804 to 1867, it enjoyed a monopoly on fur trading in Alaska.  The Russians built forts, intermarried with some of the native people, and attempted to convert them to Orthodox Christianity.

Resistance by the indigenous people to Russian colonization dated nearly from the Russians’ arrival. In 1802, the Tlingit tribe destroyed a Russian settlement at Redoubt Saint Michael. In 1804, the Russians won a victory at the Battle of Sitka, which was really more of a skirmish. At least twelve Russians were killed, and Governor Baronov was wounded. Tlingit casualties are unknown.

The Tlingit did not surrender after the battle. In 1805, the tribe wiped out a Russian settlement at Yakutat Bay. In spite of Russian pacification efforts, Tlingit resistance continued until 1858.

In 1867, Czar Alexander II, recognizing the growing power of the United States and unable to defend Russia’s overseas empire, sold Alaska to the Americans. American critics were quick to condemn “Seward’s folly,” which added nearly 600,000 square miles to the Union at a bargain price of $7.2 million.  The first American troops began arriving in Alaska in October of 1867. Regardless, Russian in influence on Alaska is still felt today, with the onion- domed churches of Sitka and the predominance of Orthodox Christianity among the native people."  (Source:

The Russians even probed south as far as California.  We wrote about Fort Ross in the California chapter of America Invaded...

Fort Ross, CA

Czarist Russia made a serious bid for California, which left a legacy that endures to the present. In 1806, officials of the Russian-American Company first visited San Francisco.  They sought mainly a source of food to supply their colony in Russian Alaska. In 1812, the same year that Napoleon invaded Russia, the Russians ”invaded” northern California, establishing Fort Ross in what is today Sonoma County.  e Russians already had an important colony established in Alaska, where the harsh climate made agriculture problematic. Eighty Aleuts and twenty-five Russians helped build a stockade.  The cannons of Fort Ross were never fired in anger. Today Fort Ross is a California state park.

The Russians traded with the native Kashaya people who had inhabited the land around Fort Ross for thousands of years. Some Russian colonists intermarried with Kashaya women.  The Russians and their Aleut allies pursued sea otters and planted orchards, growing peaches, apples, and pears.  They built a Russian Orthodox church. An outbreak of smallpox in 1837 decimated the indigenous people, and by the 1830s, the sea otter population had been greatly diminished (only about 2,500 otters remain in the twenty-first century).  The Russians opted in 1841 to sell Fort Ross to Captain John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss extraction, who later became famous for igniting the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Guns of Fort Ross

The Russian departure from Fort Ross in 1842 did not mean the end of Russian influence on California. A Russian Orthodox cathedral was built in San Francisco in 1881. The Russian River, popular with kayakers, cuts through Sonoma County. Fictional Russians would return to Northern California (doubling for Massachusetts) in 1966 to  film  The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming near Fort Bragg. In 2016’s Hail Caesar, a Soviet submarine is met o  the California coast by a boatload of leftist Hollywood screenwriters."  (Source:

We noted the Russian interest in the Sandwich Islands in the Hawaii chapter of America Invaded...

"The  first threats to the independence of the Hawaiian kingdom did not come from Britain or America. Astonishingly, they came from the Russians and the French. Georg Anton Schäffer, a German doctor working for the Russian-American Company, led an attempted invasion of Hawaii in 1816. Schäffer ordered the crew of the Myrtle, a Russian vessel, to build a fort near Honolulu Harbor. He also built Fort Hipo on Kauai. King Kamehameha had Schäffer and the Russians evicted from Hawaii in 1817.  The ruins of Fort Hipo are visible on Kauai today."  (Source:

Soviet Hydrophone
Ballard, WA

In my home state of Washington I took a photograph in front of a Fishing supply store in Ballard (reproduced in  The photo depicts a Soviet hydrophone that was caught in the nets of a Washington state based fishing vessel during the Cold War.   Though it is labeled "Putin's Hearing Aide" it really belonged to Brezhnev.

Americans have invaded Russia.  Russians have invaded America as well.  It really should be no surprise that Russians in the 21st Century continue to have an strong interest in the United States of America .

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Invading 'Bama!

Hearty congratulations to Alabama on their 26 to 23 victory over Georgia in the NCAA College Championship game!  The unusual tag team of Quarterbacks Hurts and Tagovailoa prevailed over the scrappy Bulldogs.  Coach Saban, with six national titles, deserves enormous credit for his winning strategy.

The game was played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta Georgia giving home field advantage to the Bulldogs.  So 'Bama had to "invade" Georgia to win the title.  Has Alabama itself been invaded?  We answered this question in our most recent book America Invaded (

In honor of the Tide here is the Alabama chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil...

"Sweet home Alabama has been invaded and fought in many times over its history.

Humans  first arrived in the area we know today as Alabama many thousands of years ago. Bows and arrows were introduced in the woodland era, from 300 BCE to AD 1000.  The Mississippian culture, which began around AD 700, featured mound builders.

The Alabama, Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek (or Muscogee) were the principal tribes of Alabama. Alabama is a Muscogee word meaning campsite.

 The  first Europeans to explore the area were the Spanish. For instance, as early as 1519, Alonzo Álvarez de Pineda was venturing into Mobile Bay.  The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto entered Alabama in 1540. It wasn’t an entirely auspicious start to European settlement in Alabama. At the Battle of Mabila, located somewhere in what is now Alabama, de Soto found himself outwitted and forced to  flee from an ambush by warriors under the command of the local ruler, Chief Tuskaloosa.

Other Spanish would follow him, but they too had little success in attempts to settle in the area. And then the French would arrive.

In 1702, the Le Moyne brothers—Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville—founded Fort Louis de la Louisiane and its adjacent settlement, La Mobile, as the capital of New France in the Louisiana territory. In 1711, after a flood inundated Fort Louis, Bienville moved Mobile to its current location.

However, while the French were trying to establish themselves in the region, the English had their own plans for the area, and English traders began to be active there.

The French would control Alabama until the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, when the territory passed to the British. Mobile brie y became the capital of British West Florida, thereby becoming part of the fourteenth British colony in the New World.

In January 1780, Captain William Pickles (great name!) of the Continental Navy rendezvoused with Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez, who was leading over 750 Spanish troops.  Their object was to attack the British outpost at Fort Charlotte in Mobile.  The two-week siege lasted from March 2–14 and ended with British surrender.  e city of Galveston, Texas, would later be named in honor of the Spanish general.

After the American Revolution, the southern half of what is now Alabama would form part of the Mississippi Territory. However, the section of Alabama that included the port of Mobile remained in Spanish hands.

The advance of American power in Alabama brought with it the usual process of pressuring Native Americans to relinquish control of their lands. Already, for instance, in 1805–6, lands were being opened up to settlers in large parts of western and northern Alabama, land that was held by Native American tribes such as the Muscogee and the Cherokee.

1768 - 1813
In 1811, Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief born in present-day Ohio, came down to Alabama in an effort to unite the Indian tribes against the encroachments of the American settlers. Most of the tribes ignored Tecumseh, but a portion of the Creek Nation known as the Upper Creeks did not.  They allowed him to address their general meeting at Tukabatchee in what is today Elmore County. Tecumseh is reputed to have said:

Brush from your eyelids the sleep of slavery; once more strike for vengeance; once more for your country. The red men have fallen as the leaves now fall. I hear their voices in those aged pines.  Their tears drop from the weeping skies.  Their bones bleach the hills of Georgia. Will no son of those brave men strike the pale face and quiet these complaining ghosts? Let the white race perish!  They seize your land; they corrupt your women; they trample on the bones of your dead! Back whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven!

The Creeks who were sympathetic to his message became known as the Red Sticks because of their red painted war clubs.  The great comet of 1811 was seen by some as a portent for an uprising in the south; Tecumseh’s name in Shawnee meant shooting star.

Tecumseh would align himself and the tribes of the Great Lakes with Britain against the Americans in the War of 1812.

The Creek War broke out in southern Alabama on July 27, 1813, with the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek. Colonel James Caller of the Alabama militia attacked a party of about two hundred Red Sticks led by Peter McQueen.  The Alabama militia had some initial success, but the Red Sticks launched a counterattack, driving the militia from the  field.

Fort Mims Massacre

One of the deadliest attacks ever launched by Native Americans on settlers took place in Alabama during the Creek War.  The Fort Mims Massacre, a reprisal for the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek, was fought on August 30, 1813. William Weatherford, known as Red Eagle, led thousands of Red Stick warriors against Fort Mims on the Alabama River. Around  five hundred men, women, and children were killed that day with only about thirty of the settlers managing to escape the carnage. Fort Mims Park, featuring a partial reconstruction of the fort, is operated today by the Alabama Historical Commission.

On November 12, 1813, the small but memorable Canoe Fight occurred along Randon’s Creek. Four Americans, led by Captain Sam Dale, fought and killed a canoe full of eleven Red Stick warriors. Among the Americans was a black man named Caesar, who paddled the boat through the hand-to-hand struggle.

 The Battle of Holy Ground was fought on December 23, 1813, between the US militia and Weatherford’s Red Sticks. Weatherford managed to escape by jumping, with his horse Arrow, off  a  fifteen-foot bluff.

The scale of the Fort Mims Massacre shocked Americans and drew national attention to Alabama. Andrew Jackson led a force of Tennessee militia south to  fight the Creeks in Alabama. General John Floyd led elements of the Georgia militia west against the Creeks.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a complicated man. He demonstrated both surprising compassion and horri c cruelty during the course of the Creek War. On November 3, 1813, Jackson oversaw a massacre of Red Sticks at the Battle of Tallushatchee. Nearly two hundred Red Sticks were killed in the space of a half hour. Jackson showed compassion on the  eld of battle by adopting an orphaned Creek boy and raising him as his own son, Lyncoya. Sadly, Lyncoya died of tuberculosis at age seventeen. Jackson and his wife Rachel had been planning to educate him at West Point.

On November 9, 1813, Jackson won a significant victory at the Battle of Talladega. Over three hundred Red Stick warriors were slain.

Andrew Jackson had another decisive victory over the Red Sticks on March 27, 1814, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. It must be noted that around six hundred Native American warriors from the Cherokee and Lower Creek tribes fought alongside Jackson against the Red Sticks. Approximately nine hundred Red Sticks were killed; Jackson’s forces lost fewer than eighty men.

Jackson ordered the cutting off of nose tips after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in order to count the bodies. Old Hickory became known to the Creeks as Sharp Knife for this harsh approach.
After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Weatherford, who was half Scottish and half Creek, walked into the American camp and surrendered. He declared to Jackson, “I am in your power.” Sharp Knife chose to pardon Red Eagle, who lived peacefully in Alabama until his death in 1824.

The Americans strongly suspected the Europeans of encouraging the Red Sticks in the Creek War. American forces discovered correspondence between the Creeks and officials in Spanish Florida. Major General James Wilkinson was ordered to seize Spanish-occupied Mobile. On April 14, 1813, Wilkinson landed with four hundred American troops.  The outnumbered Spanish garrison surrendered the next day. By the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, Mobile was the only territorial gain of the War of 1812.

In September of 1814, British forces under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Nicolls landed in Alabama in an attempt to seize Fort Bowyer near Mobile.  The attack was repelled. On December 5, 1814, British Admiral Alexander Cochrane penned a letter to the Creeks that was an attempt to fan the  re ignited by Tecumseh.

The Great King George, our beloved Father, has long wished to assuage the sorrows of his warlike Indian Children, and to assist them in regaining their rights and Possessions from their base and perfidious oppressors. ... If you want arms and ammunition to defend yourselves against your oppressors—come to us and we will provide you. ... And what think you we ask in return for this bounty of our Great Father, which we his chosen Warriors have so much pleasure in offering to you? Nothing more than that you should assist us manfully in regaining your lost lands,—the lands of your forefathers,—from the common enemy, the wicked People of the United States; and that you should hand down those lands to your children hereafter, as we hope we shall now be able to deliver them up to you, their lawful owners.

Even after Jackson’s decisive American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the British did not abandon hope. In February 1815, British troops landed in Alabama and assaulted Fort Bowyer a second time, capturing the fort on February 11, 1815.  The British would soon withdraw from Alabama after learning that the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, had been signed on December 24, 1814.

In 1819, Alabama became the twenty-second state to join the Union.

In the following decades, more Native American land was ceded to settlers.  e years 1836–1837 saw the Second Creek War, which culminated in 1837 with the Battle of Hobdy’s Bridge, the last battle against Native Americans that took place in Alabama. In 1838, Native Americans were sent westward on the Trail of Tears.

Alabama, a slave state, joined the Confederacy in February 1861. Montgomery briefly became the  first capital of the Confederacy, from February until May of 1861, when she was succeeded by Richmond, Virginia. Around 120,000 Alabamians would serve in the gray armies of the Confederacy. Alabama was also a center of iron manufacturing, contributing much-needed artillery to the rebel cause.  e state itself, however, was mostly on the periphery of military action during the Civil War.
However, some  fighting did take place there.

In February 1862, Union gunboats moved up the Tennessee River to Florence. And the Union established a stronghold in parts of northern Alabama.

In April 1863, Colonel Abel Streight led Union forces on a raid on Confederate communication lines. Despite a Union victory in the Battle of Day’s Gap, the raid turned into a disaster for Streight’s men, who eventually were forced to surrender to Confederate troops.

In July 1864, Major General Harrison Lovell Rousseau led a Union raid on Confederate targets in north and east-central Alabama, disrupting Confederate communications and destroying supplies.
 e year 1864 also saw Union land victories in the Battle of Athens and the Battle of Decatur.
 e naval Battle of Mobile Bay was fought o  the Alabama coast on August 5, 1864. At the battle’s crisis, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, the Union leader, famously exclaimed something like, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”  is Union victory contributed to Lincoln’s reelection in November of 1864.

The CSS Alabama, built near Liverpool, was the most famous Confederate commerce raider of the US Civil War. Her captain, Raphael Semmes, was born in Maryland but later adopted Alabama as his home. Under her bold captain, the Alabama terrorized Union shipping from the Atlantic to the Paci c for two years, capturing and burning sixty-five vessels. She was  finally sunk on June 19, 1864, in the English Channel off Cherbourg by the armored Union ship Kearsarge.

In 1865, the war would hit Alabama even more severely. In March, Union Major General James H. Wilson launched a cavalry raid deep into Alabama, defeating Confederate forces and taking Selma before heading for Montgomery.

In April, after the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely, Mobile itself—one of the Confederacy’s last deep-water ports—finally fell to the Union.

On May 4, 1865, General Richard Taylor, commanding the last major Confederate force in Alabama, surrendered at Citronelle.

USS Alabama, Mobile, AL

The USS Alabama is a South Dakota-class battleship that was launched in 1942 and supported the liberation of the Philippines in World War II. She can be found today at the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.

The training of African-American airmen at Tuskegee is also a note- worthy feature of Alabama’s war effort during World War II. In March of 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a passenger in a plane  own by an African-American pilot over Alabama.

German U-boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico in 1942 and 1943. During the month of May in 1942, they sank forty-one merchant ships in the Gulf."

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Friday, January 5, 2018

History Will Judge Trump!

Prior to the 2016 election a friend passed on to me an open letter written by a group identifying themselves as "Historians Against Trump".  It was signed by hundreds of American historians denouncing the candidacy of Donald Trump.  My immediate reaction was that they should have modified their group to call itself "Historians Against Trump Eternally" in order to give themselves the perfect acronym.

At the end of the day a Historians' view of Trump is simply another political opinion -- no better and no worse.  It is really NOT an historical opinion at all.  Why do I make this claim?

In the Introduction to my 2014 book America Invades ( I wrote this...

"In writing history about the recent past, there is something I like to call the “Bletchley effect.” Imagine that you were an objective fair-minded historian in the year 1970 attempting to write a history of World War II. Your account would necessarily suffer from an unawareness of the extraordinary impact of Bletchley Park and other Allied decoding efforts on the conduct of the war; these disclosures did not emerge until the mid-1970s, or thirty years after the war’s conclusion. In fact, the UK government to this day maintains some documents relating to Rudolf Hess’s  flight to Britain in 1941 on classified basis. Time must pass to allow political passions to cool, memoirs to be published, and secrets to be declassified—without this, history cannot be brought to light. In writing about recent American campaigns, our account—and those found in other sources—can be no more than a provisional judgment. Therefore, our accounts of the last thirty years or so are as much journalism as history."

Today we see the launch of Michael Wolff's best-selling book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.  It has catapulted to Amazon's #1 best-selling book on the heels of massive free publicity by the Trump-hating media.  Tony Blair and Anna Wintour have already suggested that Wolff's book misrepresents them (  The book is highly controversial with its accuracy called into question.

Obama was the best gun seller in America (;postID=6812362780498158699;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=link) while Trump has now emerged as the greatest book seller in America!

What we know for certain, however, is that Fire and Fury is NOT the verdict of History.  His work is a provisional judgement, a piece of journalism.  And the gulf between journalism and History is a vast yawning chasm.  According to accurate journalism of 1860, for example, Ulysses S. Grant was a drunk and a forgettable failure but, according to History (Ron Chernow, etc.), Grant was the greatest commander of the US Civil War.

History will indeed judge Donald Trump.  But not today.

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