History fascinates me therefore, unless they were inadequately introduced to the subject in the early years of school, I cannot comprehend why so few people share my fondness for this field of study. No television show can rival the passion and intrigue of the Tudors or the Romanovs. No movie, no matter how convoluted, can equal the devious machinations of the Borgia’s or the Medici. No work of fiction comes close to the true story of Rasputin or Robespierre. No video game can match the real exploits of Julius Caesar or Hannibal Barca.
Suppose you were to go to the local theater for a few hours of escapist fantasy. As you settle into the plush seat, popcorn and soda in hand, the lights dim and the movie begins. It is the improbable tale of a minor warlord who seizes power in a poor country torn by civil war. Once in control he rules as a brutal tyrant quickly dashing the peasants’ dreams of a just peace. Rebellion follows and the protagonist survives numerous attempts on his life only to fall victim to his own greed when he defaults on a debt owed a more powerful despot. As his enemy closes in, the man who would be king loots the treasury and flees the country.
If this sounds like one of the many high drama period epics depicting the dynastic struggles of China or, with a little imagination and some skillful editing, a gangster movie featuring two mobsters fighting for control of the mean streets of Chicago, it is not. In reality, it is a small portion of the tragic history of Albania. Ruled by the Ottomans for 500 years, Albania gained independence in 1912. Independence did not bring about unity or prosperity however for the nation was deeply and violently torn between religious beliefs (Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim) and tribal factions (Ghegs in the north, Tosks in the south) who still lived by the age-old creed of blood vengeance. To make matters worse, the social and economic structure of Albania remained largely unchanged since the days of Ottoman rule. Villagers were treated as serfs, forced to work the land held by feudal lords called Beys. In order to stabilize the new nation, the Great Powers appointed Prince William of Wied regent. Given the cultural, economic, political, religious and social conditions extant, it was an impossible task! After just six months (07 March 1914 – 03 September 1914), Prince William returned to the fatherland to serve in the German Army during World War I. In his absence, Albania descended into anarchy. For a decade, the terms of various factions and coalitions were measured in months, if not weeks. Finally, on 21 January 1925, the Constituent Assembly of Albania held an election to choose a new ruler. As a result of that election Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli,[i] who had at various times in the past held the positions of Governor, Minister of the Interior, Chief of the Military and Prime Minister, became the first President of Albania. By eliminating civil liberties, censoring the press, murdering political opponents and assuming broad executive and legislative prerogatives (including the right to appoint one-third of the upper house, name all major administrative personnel and the power to veto legislation) three years and nine months into his seven-year term Zogolli had gathered sufficient power to proclaim a constitutional monarchy. On 01 September 1928, he was crowned King Zog the First and Field Marshal of the Royal Albanian Army. Nominally a constitutional monarch, in practice Zog was now the dictator of a police state. Assisted by four military governors he began a reign of terror as corrupt as it was cruel. To his credit, King Zog did unite the country – with a hatred previously reserved for the Ottomans! Incredibly, King Zog survived fifty-six attempts on his life; among them, a gun battle with would be assassins on the steps of the Vienna Opera House where he was attending a performance of Pagliacci on 21 February 1931. Zog’s luck ran out however, when he defaulted on a loan from Italy. On 07 April 1939, Benito Mussolini sent five Fascist divisions to Albania to collect the money owed and bring what he considered a client state back in line. After just five days, the campaign ended with King Zog I fleeing to Greece with much of the nation’s gold and royal jewels loaded into a procession of state vehicles. After twenty-seven turbulent years, Albania became a protectorate of Fascist Italy and one of the first nations to fall to the Axis powers through military action.
The story does not end there;[ii] indeed the connections and ramifications of these actions just begin with King Zog’s exile. Albania was inextricably intertwined in the events resulting in the First World War. During the inter year wars she was a pawn in the game of international diplomacy played by the Great Powers and a victim of Greece, Montenegro and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Serbia) who perennially attempted to add territory at Albania’s expense.[iii] Until 1939, Albania miraculously survived a legion of external threats and constant inner turmoil. Now she would play a major role in the course of World War II.
Control of Albania brought the vainglorious Mussolini into contact with Greece. Envious of Hitler’s early victories and deceived by the ease of his Albanian conquest, in October 1940 Mussolini attempted to add Greece to his New Roman Empire. In Greece Italy bit off far more than she could chew. By December, the Greeks, with British support, were in control of southern Albania and the RAF was bombing Valona and Brindisi. The Romanian oilfields fueled the German blitzkrieg. Therefore in order to protect that vital resource and secure his southern flank a very frustrated Hitler dispatched thirty-three divisions (five of them panzer) to conquer the Balkans and Peloponnese. Many authorities, among them General Heinz Guderian, argue that this action, though necessary, delayed Operation Barbarossa for five critical weeks.[iv]
Follow the connections, for that is what makes history truly interesting; study the small causes, for as the following stories demonstrate, they are the genesis of great events.
Section One: The enemy of my enemy is my friend…until he becomes my enemy.
On 07 December 1941, Japan launched a blitzkrieg that swept across the Pacific. In just six months, Japan added Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines and much of the
British Western Pacific Territories to her empire. Japanese air and naval forces conducted raids on Darwin and Columbo. A push into the Solomons threatened to isolate Australia. In the wake of the Japanese juggernaut, the United States sought allies wherever she could find them regardless of their political stripe. One such group was the Viet Minh, an independence movement that first fought against the Vichy French and then the Japanese after they occupied what was then known as Indochina. The leader of that movement would play a major role in world events from 1938 until his death in 1969.
His name was Nguyen Sinh Cung (aka Nguyen Tat Thanh, aka Nguyen Ai Quoc). He was born in Hoang Tru, the village of his mother in 1890. He grew up in Lang Sen, the village of his father. As a concession to his father, a Confucian scholar, teacher and imperial magistrate, Nguyen received a French education – attending lycee (secondary school) in Hue. At twenty-one Nguyen signed on as a cooks helper on a ship bound for America. From 1912-1919 he divided his time between the United States and the United Kingdom working at various jobs – more often than not, as a waiter, chef or baker. In 1919, Nguyen settled in France where a friend introduced him to the Socialist Party of France. Socialism appealed to Nguyen but he felt its doctrines did not go far enough to address the injustice of colonialism. Increasingly radicalized Nguyen became a founding member of the Parti Communiste Francais. His political activities brought him to Moscow where he served as the Comintern’s Asian authority specializing in colonial warfare. Nguyen used this time to hone his expertise in propaganda, sabotage and revolutionary support. In 1923, he enrolled at the Communist University of the Toilers in the East and attended the Fifth Comintern Congress in June 1924. November 1924 found Nguyen in Canton organizing Youth Education Classes and giving lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. The anti-communist coup of 1927 led by Chiang Kai-Shek forced Nguyen into exile. He drifted from Moscow to Paris, then Brussels, Berlin, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong (where he was briefly jailed but released by the British), Milan and finally back to Moscow. In 1938, Nguyen returned to China serving as an advisor with the Chinese Communist army. In 1940, Nguyen took the name by which he is now most recognized – Ho Chi Minh (He Who Enlightens). In 1941, Nguyen / Ho took control of the independence movement in Vietnam fighting first the Vichy French and then the Japanese occupying forces. It was here that he perfected the craft of revolutionary warfare[v], which he pursued with a ruthlessness and single mindedness on a par with Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Ironically or tragically, depending upon your point of view, in April 1945 an OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA) agent with the unlikely name of Archimedes Patti met with Ho offering support in return for intelligence information on the Japanese. Ho readily agreed and the OSS began sending supplies, equipment and military teams to train the Viet Minh. In the interim Ho fell critically ill with malaria and dysentery. An OSS doctor assisted in his recovery.
The rest as they say is history. Following the August Revolution in 1945, Ho became Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On 02 September 1945, following the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh declared independence for Vietnam with himself as premier.[vi] A communist government on his southern border was an anathema for Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalist Chinese government, who, as the war with Japan ended, now found themselves in a life or death struggle with Mao Tse Tung. The Republic of China dispatched an army of 200,000 men to Hanoi ending Ho’s revolution. It was a temporary setback.[vii] When Chiang traded Chinese influence in Vietnam in return for French concessions in Shanghai, the Viet Minh quickly recouped their previous position. In the ensuing power struggle thousands of members of rival factions such as the Constitutional Party, the Party for Independence, National Party of Vietnam and Dai Vet National Party were jailed, exiled or killed. After a failed coup in July 1946, all opposition parties were abolished and the purges intensified in order to tighten control and eliminate any possible future resistance. These purges were but a harbinger of things to come. Of course, the French had other plans for their former colony in Indochina. The French saw the Viet Minh as a useful tool to eliminate Vietnamese nationalists and counter the Chinese who were also attempting to exert control in the region. They offered to recognize Vietnam as an autonomous state within a reconstituted Indochinese Federation; in other words a colony by another name within the French Union. Return to the status quo ante bellum was unacceptable to Ho. On 19 December 1946, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam declared war on France, beginning the First Indochina War. The debacle at Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement and the beginning of America’s war with her former friend, Ho Chi Minh.[viii]
Lessons Learned – None
You would think some corporate knowledge would have been passed down as the OSS evolved into the CIA or that President Truman would have left a cautionary note regarding former friends for his successors but that was not the case.
For thirty-five years, the United States followed President Truman’s policy of containment regarding the Soviet Union. Over time, containment devolved into detente and detente into accommodation allowing a government responsible for an estimated 100 million deaths to dominate nearly forty nations, shape events throughout the world and foment revolution from Angola to Nicaragua. In 1980 that paradigm radically changed – “We win and they lose.”[ix] Immediately upon taking office, President Reagan directed his National Security Council to formulate a strategy to defeat what he labeled “an evil empire” and the mortal enemy of the United States. The end product was a series of National Security Decision Directives summarized below:
– NSDD-32 support anti-soviet movements (including covert action)
– NSDD-66 disrupt the Soviet economy
– NSDD-75 bring about fundamental change
At every opportunity, President Reagan used the national and international stage to verbally attack the Soviet Union while lauding those who opposed it such as Lech Walesa. By implementing a massive build up of the United States military, including the Strategic Defensive Initiative or Star Wars program as its detractors called SDI, he forced the Soviet Union into an economic competition it could not win. In addition to the public relations campaign and what amounted to economic warfare in October 1983, President Reagan intervened in Grenada, directly challenging the Brezhnev Doctrine that the USSR would use force if necessary to ensure that a Socialist state remained Socialist as brutally demonstrated in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968. Another opportunity to “beard the lion” came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. During Operation Cyclone (1979-1989), the CIA provided money and weapons, most importantly Stinger missiles, to the mujahedeen through Pakistan’s Intelligence Service, which, in conjunction with the Pakistani Army, trained Islamic insurgents.
America prevailed. Due to Reagan’s multi-front offensive, the inherent internal contradictionsx of communism, resurgent nationalism in the Soviet Union’s client states and the fact that in the emergent electronic age the Political Bureau could no longer control the information its citizens received, the USSR ceased to exist in December 1991. Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, described this event as “on the same scale of historical importance as the fall of the Roman Empire.” Victory over the “evil empire” came a high price however, for in vanquishing one foe the United States played midwife to a perhaps even more dangerous, certainly more insidious enemy.
The son of a billionaire construction magnate with close ties to the Saudi Royal family Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim, bin Laden attended Al-Thager Model School and King Abdul-Aziz University. As an adult bin Laden inherited an estimated 25-30 million dollars, which he used to found his own construction company and, later on, to fund terrorist activities.
Increasingly radicalized bin Laden’s convictions came to include the belief that:
– the Saudi Royal family had betrayed Islam by allowing infidels to occupy the two holiest sites of Islam – Mecca and Medina
– the United States had oppressed, killed and exploited Muslims and as a decadent, multi-cultural society was the mortal enemy of Islam
– the imposition of Sharia law by violent jihad was God’s will and the only way to save true believers
– civilians, including women and children, were legitimate targets in the war against infidels
– non believers, to include Shia Muslims, were heretics that must be converted by the word or the sword
– Pan-Arabism, socialism, communism, democracy, etc. were an anathema to Islam
– Afghanistan under the Taliban was the one true Islamic nation and the model for a worldwide caliphate
Bin Laden was true to his beliefs, extreme though they were. In 1979 bin Laden went to Pakistan where he joined forces with Abdullah Azzam, using his own money to support the Mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. After five years, that effort grew into the Maktab al-Khidamat, an organization that funneled money, arms and fighters from around the Arab world to Afghanistan. Based inside the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, Al-Khidamat provided tickets, quarters, false identification and other paperwork, training camps, etc. to the “faithful” who sought to join the holy war. To assume a more active role in 1988 bin Laden split from al-Khidamat to form al-Qaeda a group that, in his words, would be an “organized Islamic faction, its goal to lift the word of God, to make his religion victorious.”
Emboldened by the defeat of the USSR and angered by the American “occupation” of Mecca and Medina the two holiest shrines of Islam bin Laden denounced the Royal family. Banished by Saudi Arabia he promptly established new base of operations for al Qaeda in Khartoum. There he came in contact with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. This group formed the core of al-Qaeda. In 1996, pressured to leave Sudan, bin Laden returned to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. There he forged close ties with Mullah Mohammed Omar. In that same year, he declared war on United States for its continued occupation of Saudi Arabia and its support of Israel. He also took over Ariana Afghan Airlines. Bin Laden used the airline to ferry Islamic militants, arms, cash and opium through the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. The international arms smuggler Viktor Bout helped run the airline that CIA agent Michael Scheuer termed a “terrorist taxi service.”
Bin Laden’s strategy, as it had been with the Soviets, was to lure the United States into a long war of attrition and “bleed America to the point of bankruptcy.”
In February 1998, he co-signed a fatwa with Ayman al-Zawahiri in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. In this declaration, he called for the murder of North Americans and their allies by any means and decreed it the duty of every Muslim to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Mecca) from their grip. Thus began the series of attacks and bombings culminating in the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001. He justified that action in the following statement:
“God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the Towers, but after the situation became unbearable – and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon – I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed – when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the US Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way: to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children.”
To understand why American efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are so difficult it is necessary to look beyond the purely military aspects of these operations to the broader political, social, economic and cultural elements that produce Muslim extremists and why they view the United States as vulnerable.
For all its wealth, the Middle East is a region in crisis. In the year 2000, its population stood at 304,055,000. By 2015 that figure is projected to rise to 400,085,000. The population is largely young (less than 20), poorly educated, impoverished, alienated and, consequently, easily manipulated. Far too many live in crumbling cities overwhelmed by a burgeoning population; victims of weak, often corrupt governments which fail to provide even basic public services such as education, housing, garbage collection, transportation and health care or utilities such as sewage, potable water and electricity. The government’s inability to fulfill or outright abandonment of its obligations creates a void in the social contract. The local mosque fills that void providing Islamic schools, clinics, hospitals and welfare services. In the hands of zealots such as the Wahhabis, these institutions are used to recruit new adherents and support extremist causes. The feral cities of failed states are breeding grounds for terrorists who exploit the alienated for their own ends. Palestine is a perfect example of a government, which deliberately keeps its people in poverty and ignorance in order to promote its political agenda perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence and hatred for its own ends.
Unlike Christianity Islam is both religion and sociopolitical system. There is no separation between church and state so revered in the west. In a system where God’s rule (Hakimiyat) and divine law (Sharia) originate from the same source, the Koran, man-made political orders are blasphemy. According to the righteous, those who live in moderate Arab states reside in ‘the abode of the infidels’ (dar al Kufur). It is the duty of the pious to struggle (Jihad), even wage holy war (Harb Mukaddasah) against the infidel until all know the blessings of Allah. No wonder a rich, secular and polyglot nation such as the United States is seen as the ‘Great Satan’ corrupter of the faithful. Support for Israel and our superpower status further exacerbates the problem.
President Clinton responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 bombings in Saudi Arabia, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1998 bombing of U. S. embassies in Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole with much rhetoric and token gestures. His timorous, ineffectual response to these events coupled with our perceived defeat in Somalia emboldened our adversaries especially Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden’s own words are noteworthy, “Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place in 1983? And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you leave Aden in less than twenty-four hours! But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where – after vigorous propaganda about the power of the United States and its post-cold war leadership of the new world order – you moved tens of thousands of an international force, including 28,000 American soldiers, into Somalia. However, when tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you…. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew. The extent of your impotence and weakness became very clear.” Osama Bin Laden viewed the United States as a ‘paper tiger’ and having defeated one super power in Afghanistan felt fully capable of and morally justified in taking on another.
Although Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is a hydra. As current events have amply demonstrated al-Qaeda, its affiliates and like-minded organizations are growing in reach and power throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Capitalizing on the fervor of religious extremists and utilizing the tactics of asymmetrical warfare terrorists will be a significant threat to the United States for the foreseeable future.
Section Two: The wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Shakespeare wrote, “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The converse is also true and the consequences can be significant.
Starting at Fort Monroe Army of the Potomac pushed to within seven miles of the Confederate White House during the Peninsula Campaign. When General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks as it was also called, Jefferson Davis appointed Robert E. Lee to command the Confederate forces protecting Richmond. General Lee ended that threat, albeit at great cost. In the Seven Days Battle (25 June – 01 July 1862) Lee drove the Union Army led by General George B. McClellan from the gates of the capital. Two months later, he soundly defeated General John Pope at the Second Battle of Manassas (29-30 August 1862). To recover after Second Manassas or Bull Run, as it was known in the south, the defeated Federal army retreated to the safety of Washington, which was heavily fortified, well stocked and strongly garrisoned.[xi] Encouraged by these victories, General Lee resolved to carry the war to the North. With the shattered Federal army temporarily out of action, Lee was determined to seize the opportunity for a bold strike that might change the calculus of war. Tactically an operation in Union territory would give Virginians time to bring in the harvest and recover from the ravages of successive Union campaigns in the Old Dominion. It would also provide an opportunity for his army to provision from the bountiful farms and vast stores located in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Finally, there was the prospect of drawing recruits from the Old Line state. Historically and geographically, Maryland was part of the south; politically, its population was deeply divided regarding the War of Succession. Strategically a victory on Union soil might bring Maryland into the Confederacy, force Lincoln to negotiate peace terms or provide the impetus for England (who viewed the United States as a growing economic rival) and France (who had imperial dreams in Mexico) to recognize the Confederate States. International recognition would greatly increase the possibility of diplomatic, economic or military intervention. Any of these outcomes would significantly enhance the Southern cause. With those objectives in mind, on 03 September 1862 the Army of Northern Virginia departed Centreville, where it had rested and refitted since the Second Battle of Manassas. As the regimental bands played Maryland, My Maryland, Lee’s “lean and hungry wolves” as one Maryland lad described them, crossed the Potomac River above Leesburg on 07 September 1862, halting at Frederick on 10 September. With the Union Army still in disarray following the debacle at Second Manassas, Lee did not expect it to move quickly. As Lee remarked to one of his generals, “He (McClellan) is an able general but a very cautious one. His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations – or he will think so – for three or four weeks. Before that time I hope to be on the Susquehanna.” Confident in his abilities and those of his undefeated army Lee divided his small force of just 38,000 men into four parts. Lee ordered General Jackson with 12,000 men to march to Williamsport, from there to Martinsburg, drive the Union garrison toward Harpers Ferry and then move up to Bolivar Heights. General McLaws with 9,000 men was detailed to march to Burkittsville and from there to descend on Maryland Heights. General Walker with 4,000 men was tasked with re-crossing the Potomac, marching up the south bank and seizing Loudoun Heights. Once in position these forces would surround and neutralize the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry thereby eliminating any threat to the army’s rear and securing its supply line through the Shenandoah Valley. Lee ordered General Longstreet to take the fourth element (8,000 men) to Hagerstown to threaten Pennsylvania. Lastly, Lee moved 5,000 men, General D. H. Hill’s division, from Frederick to Boonsboro to guard the passes (Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap and Crampton’s Gap) through South Mountain. Although extremely dangerous in the face of superior numbers, this disposition of forces would simultaneously threaten Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Furthermore, this course of action would confuse the enemy regarding his intentions. With so many objectives to protect, effective counter measures would be difficult. In addition, uncertainty breeds mistakes. An ill-advised move by his opponent might precipitate the decisive battle he sought in Federal territory.
As he had been in the Shenandoah Valley campaign (March – June 1862) Jackson was hugely successful. After a three-day siege (13-15 September 1862), Union forces capitulated. Jackson took 11,500 prisoners at Harpers Ferry securing the army’s flank. More importantly, he also took 13,000 small arms, 73 cannon and supplies desperately needed by the Confederate Army. During that short period however, the military situation had changed drastically for General Lee. Learning that Lee was on the march, President Lincoln, in desperation, restored McClellan to command. It was an extremely distasteful decision for Lincoln. His cabinet members were adamantly opposed. To a man, they signed a strongly worded letter of protest detailing McClellan’s unfitness for command. As Lincoln explained to his secretary John Hay however, “We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.” In this respect, Lincoln was correct. McClellan, who was a brilliant administrator and greatly admired by the rank and file, quickly reorganized the Union army. Leaving 72,000 men under General Nathaniel P. Banks to man the fortifications of Washington, the balance of that reconstituted and reinvigorated force (approximately 85,000 men) marched from Washington to find Lee and bring him to battle. The Federal army arrived at Frederick on 13 September. There the gods of war smiled on McClellan for the 27th Indiana Volunteers pitched their tents where D. H. Hill’s division had bivouacked just three days before. Among the debris of the Confederate camp Corporal Barton W. Mitchell chanced upon an envelope. Inside he found three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper. That sheet of paper was a copy of Special Orders 191, Lee’s precise plan of operation. By the afternoon of 13 September, Lee’s orders to his senior commanders were in McClellan’s hands. Alerted to the danger by a Confederate sympathizer Lee dispatched couriers to his commanders and began to withdraw, first to South Mountain, then to Sharpsburg where his far-flung regiments were ordered to rendezvous.
Never the less, the widely scattered Confederate army was now in grave danger of defeat in detail. For at that moment, Lee had 25,000 men at Harpers Ferry, another 8,000 at Hagerstown and just 5,000 at Boonsboro. McClellan on the other hand had 65,000 men at Frederick a scant fifteen miles away and another 20,000 men readily available a few miles to the south. An elated McClellan telegraphed President Lincoln, “I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but I am confident, and no time shall be lost. I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it. I have the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. Will send you trophies.” To his staff McClellan boasted, “Now I know what to do. Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”
Bellicose statements are one thing. Immediate and effective action is another. Fortunately for General Lee, McClellan’s words far exceeded his deeds in the days ahead. At West Point McClellan studied the noted military theorist Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini, who had served as Chief of Staff to Marshal Michel Ney. He attended seminars on Napoleon and Frederick the Great given by Denis Hart Mahan. Posted as an observer during the Crimean War he had the opportunity to study the French and British armies in action. There is no doubt McClellan was an accomplished student of war, a superb organizer and an excellent engineer. McClellan was not however, as he vainly thought, a master of his craft. Although he was well versed in the mechanics of war and able to devise sound operational plans, McClellan lacked the ability to successfully execute those plans under the vagaries and stress of battle. Secretive, arrogant, insubordinate and cautious to the point of paranoia, McClellan habitually over estimated the strength and capabilities of his opponent and consequently acted with excessive care. His men called him the “Young Napoleon” but McClellan had never taken Bonaparte’s maxims regarding rapid march, concentration of force, or leadership to heart:
– Rapid march augments the morale of an army and increases the chances of victory.
– A great captain supplies all deficiencies by his courage and marches boldly to meet the attack.
– When you have resolved to fight a battle, collect your whole force. Dispense with nothing. A single battalion sometimes wins the day.
– Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.
– An army of lions commanded by a deer will never be an army of lions.
– In war men are nothing; it is the man who is everything. The general is the head, the whole of an army. It was not the Roman army that conquered Gaul, but Caesar.
The gods of war are fickle. They gave McClellan the means to defeat Lee but not the character. If he had acted immediately, the Army of Northern Virginia could not have survived. For all his bold talk however, McClellan was psychologically incapable of bold maneuver. At a time when audacity might have saved the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, smashed the Army of Northern Virginia and possibly ended the Civil War in the fall of 1862 McClellan delayed an incredible eighteen hours. Not until the morning of 14 September did he engage Lee’s rearguard at South Mountain. Victorious there it took him another day to move on Sharpsburg only seven miles southwest and at that time garrisoned by a mere 16,000 Confederates. On 16 September, McClellan cancelled an attack due to morning fog. This further delay allowed Jackson’s and Walker’s men to complete their forced march from Harpers Ferry. The gift of four days from the time McClellan obtained the lost copy of Special Orders 191 to the opening volleys of the Battle of Antietam enabled Lee to recall all but one division of his widely scattered army and take up a strong position roughly following Antietam Creek and the Hagerstown Pike daring McClellan to attack. In light of McClellan’s numbers, with his back to the Potomac River and Boteler’s Ford his only line of retreat it was a defiant, many would argue suicidal move. For even then had McClellan used his vastly superior numbers properly, he could have overwhelmed the Army of Northern Virginia. Thus, the stage was set for the bloodiest day in American military history when about 38,000 Confederates clashed with approximately 85,000 Union soldiers.
Lee had formed the Army of Northern Virginia with Jackson on the left flank, D. H. Hill holding the center and Longstreet on the right flank. Arrayed opposite the Confederates from north to south were the forces commanded by General Hooker (I Corps), General Mansfield (XII Corps), General Sumner (II Corps) and General Burnside (IX Corps). McClellan placed all of Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, all of his cavalry and most of William B. Franklin’s VII Corps – a force by itself larger than the opposing Army of Northern Virginia – in reserve.
Of his plan McClellan wrote, “The design was to make the main attack upon the enemies left – at least to create a diversion in favor of the main attack, with the hope of something more, by assailing the enemies right – and, as soon as one or both of the flank movements were successful, to attack their center with any reserve I might then have in hand.” Under the circumstances, it was a good plan. Had McClellan followed his “design” the Army of Northern Virginia could not have survived. Had McClellan better communicated his concept to the Corps commanders responsible for executing the operation he would have indeed “punished” Lee as he had promised Lincoln. Instead of a coordinated assault however, the attacks went in piecemeal enabling Lee to shift units from relatively quiet sections of the line to more heavily contested areas.
Blood began to spill at 0600 when Hooker sent his troops through the North Woods and Miller’s Cornfield toward Jackson’s lines. Mansfield followed with an assault through the East Woods at 0730. Throughout the morning the Confederates repulsed each assault and immediately counter attacked. Of that portion of the battle one Union general wrote, “In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in ranks a few moments before.” One Union division caught enfilade in the West Woods suffered 2,300 casualties in twenty minutes. General Sumner continued the assault on the Confederate left at 0900 with an attack aimed at the Dunker Church. At 1030 he switched his axis of attack to the center of the Confederate line. There the Rebels had taken up a near impregnable position along a sunken farm road. Backed by several cannon they repulsed every attack and did not yield until a misunderstood order for one unit to withdraw caused a general withdrawal. Losses were so heavy on that track it earned the name “Bloody Lane.” Burnside began his attack on the Confederate right at 1000 but crippled the assault by funneling his men onto a single bridge across Antietam Creek disregarding fords above and below the span. 550 men commanded by Brigadier General Toombs entrenched on the high ground on the opposite bank were able to hold an entire Corps of 11,000 men at bay until 1300. Only when the Confederates ran low on ammunition were the Federals able to carry what to this day is known as “Burnside’s Bridge.” Rather than pushing the exhausted Rebels immediately, Burnside paused to bring reinforcements to the far side. When he renewed the assault at 1530, he easily drove the Confederates to the outskirts of Sharpsburg. Just when it seemed that Lee would be cut off from Boteler’s Ford, his only line of retreat, and trapped against the Potomac River General A. P. Hill’s division arrived on the field. The last unit to leave Harpers Ferry, exhausted from a forced march, they never the less took Burnside’s men in the flank with a furious charge. Caught by surprise the Federals retreated all the way back to the stream that had cost them so much to cross. In this manner, the fighting ended on 17 September 1862. Overnight Lee shortened his lines and on the 18th dared McClellan to renew the battle but the day passed with only skirmishing between the armies. Realizing there was nothing further to be gained; Lee crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown on 19 September returning to Virginia. McClellan still had all of Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, all of his cavalry and most of William B. Franklin’s VII Corps, who had not fired a shot during the battle, in reserve but declined to pursue the battered Rebel army allowing them to retreat unmolested. The Union army remained at Sharpsburg for five weeks. On 05 November 1862 an exasperated President Lincoln relieved McClellan for the second and last time replacing him with, as events would prove in December 1862, the unfortunate choice of General Ambrose Burnside. Outraged by the condemnation heaped upon him McClellan, as he had after the Peninsula campaign, accused the administration of sabotage. Even though he had outnumbered Lee by nearly three to one, he claimed, among other things, that he had been refused reinforcements. He became an increasingly bitter and vociferous critic of Lincoln. As the Democratic candidate he ran against his former Commander in Chief, the man he had on many occasions referred to as “nothing more than a well meaning baboon…a gorilla…unworthy of his high position” in the election of 1864. McClellan’s mortally wounded ego aside, General Porter Alexander, an artillery officer in the Army of Northern Virginia, had the truth of it. Thirty years after the war he wrote, “The only thing that saved the Confederate army was the Good Lord’s putting it into McClellan’s heart to keep Fitz John Porter’s corps entirely out of the battle and most of Franklin’s nearly out. . . . Common sense was shouting, ‘Your adversary is backed against a river, with no bridge and only one ford, and that the worst one on the whole river. If you whip him now, you destroy him utterly, root and branch and bag and baggage. Not twice in a lifetime does such a chance come to any general.” At Antietam McClellan violated all the basic maxims of war – effective communication, bold maneuver, concentration of force, inspired leadership. As noted by Theodore Ayrault Dodge however, “The maxims of war are but a meaningless page to him who cannot apply them.”
Except for the accounting, the Battle of Antietam was over. That accounting was horrendous. The Army of Northern Virginia suffered 1512 killed, 7816 wounded and 1844 missing or captured, a total of 11,172 casualties, thirty per cent of its strength. The Army of the Potomac lost 2108 killed, 9549 wounded and 753 missing or captured, a total of 12,410 casualties, fifteen per cent of its total force but twenty-five per cent of those actually engaged. At 23,582 casualties the Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single day in American military history.
Tactically a draw, strategically Antietam was a Union victory. Since Lee had conceded the field, Lincoln used the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation changing the dynamic of the war.
Section Three: Hidden Flaws and Unintended Consequences
Examples of hidden flaws and unintended consequences abound. Strict adherence to mobilization plans took the destiny of nations out of the hands of diplomats and placed the fate of the world into the even less capable hands of technocrats in 1914. The absolute obedience to precise logistic schedules and detailed timetables was matched only by the complete disregard for the ramifications of calling up reserves and the implications of total war on an industrial scale. Thus, the system devised by the brightest minds of the time to deter conflict or, failing at that, to ensure that any war would be short, decisive and winnable instead precipitated a four-year slaughter that destroyed four historic empires and fatally weakened two others. The chaos that followed the fall of the Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, Ottoman and Romanov dynasties provided rich soil, watered by the blood of millions, fertilized by ancient hatreds and newfound grievances that gave rise to the horrors of Communism, Fascism and Nazism.
The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States are two of the greatest political documents ever written. For all their brilliance however, they are not without flaws. For example, as originally drafted no one ran for the office of Vice President. After the Electoral College had determined the President, the person with the second highest number of votes became Vice President.[xii] The founding fathers intended this to be yet another check and balance in the system of governance they had devised. What seemed sound in theory proved unworkable in practice.
In the first election, both Washington and Adams were Federalists so no serious issues arose. When Adams became president however, Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican (forerunner of the Democratic Party of today) became his Vice President. Jefferson proved to be insubordinate and disloyal, almost to the point of sedition. Jefferson did everything in his power to circumvent and sabotage Adams, even going so far as to fund an anti-Adams newspaper. Jefferson was a learned man but apparently, he had never heard of karma. In the election of 1800 Jefferson and Burr, both Democratic-Republicans, tied in the Electoral College. Per the Constitution, the decision went to the House of Representatives. After six days and thirty-six ballots, Jefferson became the third President of the United States, Burr his Vice President. What Jefferson had done to Adams during his tenure in office, Burr now repaid Jefferson in kind, many times over.
The conflict between Jefferson and Burr was so egregious, so embarrassing to the executive branch of government that both the House and the Senate introduced bills to eliminate the Office of the Vice President. Those bills garnered little support. Finally, a bill came to the floor that directed the Electoral College to cast specific votes for President and Vice President. In case of a tie, the House of Representatives would determine the President. That task fell to the Senate in the case of the Vice President. This bill easily passed both chambers and when ratified by the states became the XII Amendment in 1804. Of all the amendments, only the twelfth changes the mechanical operation or structural organization of the Constitution. For that the nation should be grateful. Imagine the chaos if there were no Twelfth Amendment and Al Gore had become George W. Bush’s Vice President in 2000!
Section Four: The Missing Man
In his treatise on the fall of the Soviet Union, entitled 1989 WITHOUT GORBACHEV, respected historian Mark Almond writes:
|The collapse of Communism is now history. Already it seems inevitable. But it is worth remembering that no major event in modern history was less predicted by the experts than the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the hauling down of the red flag for the last time from the Kremlin in 1991. The rubble left behind by great revolutions and the collapse of great empires is always impressive and its very scale makes it tempting to look for fundamental, long-term causes. However, looking for the deep roots of historical change is the deformation professionelle of historians. Sometimes what happened did not have to be; or to put it another way, it only became inevitable very late in the day.|
I would argue that history, like sedimentary rock, is comprised of trillions of inter-connected details. Change any of those details and you change history. Previous articles demonstrated that for want of a nail the CSS Arkansas was lost and that for want of a decent horse Ulysses S. Grant was almost lost. Many will recall that General Winfield Scott offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union armies on the eve of the Civil War. Less well known is the fact that the hero of Mexico City and Harpers Ferry was nearly captured while on a scouting mission during the Mexican-American War. In that event, Lee may not have had the opportunity to decline Scott’s offer and accept a commission in the fledgling Army of the Confederate States of America. Even then, Lee, trained as an engineer, might have served as a staff officer throughout the war. His rise to prominence hinged upon the wounding of General Johnston during the Battle of Seven Pines. In the same vein the severely dyslexic George Patton barely gained entrance to West Point. While personally leading an attack on German machine gun positions during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918 Patton was seriously wounded in the left thigh. Prompt action by his orderly, Private First Class Joe Angelo, saved his life. In either case, George Patton would not have been a factor in World War II. This article continues that theme with a review of the missing man and the consequences of his absence.
In New York City for a lecture tour a famous adventurer, author, politician, soldier and statesman left the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where he was staying to visit the home of Bernard Baruch on Fifth Avenue. Late in the evening of 13 December 1931, the taxi in which he was riding dropped him off across the street from his intended destination. Accustomed to the traffic patterns in his native England he checked for cars as he normally would and stepped into the roadway. There an automobile driven by Mario Contasino struck him. Travelling between thirty to thirty-five miles per hour the vehicle dragged him several yards before throwing the unwary visitor to the street. Severely injured, but still conscious, the gallant gentleman told the investigating police officer, “I am entirely to blame; it is all my own fault.” Rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital, Doctor Otto Pickhardt treated his patient for a three-inch, “up deep to bone” cut on the forehead, a fractured nose, fractured ribs, shock, and “pleurisy, right, traumatic with hemorrhage.” The accident nearly killed him but it did not break his spirit. On 14 February 1931, he wrote that he had, “broken the back of the lecture tour without feeling any ill effects.” Displaying the pluck that had served and would continue to serve him throughout his life he capitalized on the event with an article in The Daily Mail entitled MY NEW YORK MISADVENTURE published 04 January 1932.
Automobiles were not the only impediments to Winston Churchill’s remarkable career. Prior to World War I, he earned a reputation as a warmonger. During World War I, his enthusiastic support of the doomed Dardanelles Campaign with the resultant disaster at Gallipoli added the epithet of bungler forcing his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty. The Labour Party despised Churchill for his hostility toward trade unions and the Russian Revolution. During the inter-war years, his controversial management of the economy as Chancellor of the Exchequer garnered the enmity of Liberals. Churchill also antagonized his own party with his views on reform in India and the abdication of King Edward VIII to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. The 1930’s found Churchill out of political office and in his words “in the wilderness.” Consequently, the sequence of events leading to his election as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940 was tenuous at best and easily sundered at any point along the chain. For example, had the pro-German, pro-appeasement, anti-communist Edward VIII remained on the throne, Churchill’s selection is doubtful. Had that been the case, who other than Churchill had the strength of character, the indomitable will to lead England when she stood alone against tyranny, through her “finest hour” to eventual triumph?
December 1931 was not an auspicious month for future leaders in regard to automobiles. Eleven days after Churchill’s accident Adolph Hitler was injured while riding in a vehicle with General von Epp. They were returning from the wedding of Doctor Joseph Goebbels at Kyritiz when they crashed into another car. Thrown against a window, Hitler, unfortunately, sustained only minor bruises and a broken finger.
February 1933 was not much better. On the 15th newly elected Franklin Roosevelt gave an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in the Bayfront Park area of Miami, Florida. Armed with a .32 caliber pistol Giuseppe Zangara, an impoverished Italian immigrant, fired five or six rounds at Roosevelt. Zangara missed Roosevelt but wounded Chicago mayor Anton Cermak (who was traveling with Roosevelt and later died of peritonitis) and four others who grappled with him after the first shot. His motives were unclear but in the Dade County Courthouse jail Zangara confessed stating, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” His final statement prior to execution[xiii] in the electric chair was, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! Push the button!” Had Roosevelt been hit and died rather than Cermak would his Vice President, John Garner, been able to lead the United States out of the Depression? Would his eventual successor have supported England during World War II or, given the prevalent isolationist sentiment, remained strictly neutral until 07 December 1941?
Such is the importance of the individual and the consequence of the missing man. As Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. asked at the 1955 Churchill Conference in Boston, “Would the next two decades have been the same had the automobile that hit him killed Winston Churchill in 1931, and the bullet that missed him killed Franklin Roosevelt in 1933? Would Neville Chamberlin or Lord Halifax have rallied Britain in 1940? Would John Garner have produced the New Deal and the Four Freedoms? Suppose in addition that Lenin had died of typhus in Siberia in 1895, and Hitler had been killed on the Western Front in 1916? Would the 20th century have looked the same? Individuals do make a difference in history.”
Section Five: Closer than you think
John Hennessey introduces his excellent article on the first day of battle at Chancellorsville with the remarks, “War is filled with turning points large and small. Some constitute great tides of history. More of them mark subtle changes in momentum or policy that reverberate in their own way. On May 1, 1863, on often-overlooked lands east of Chancellorsville, the Civil War took one of those turns, commencing a bloody tide of events that would climax two months hence at Gettysburg.”
General Joseph Hooker, fifth commander of the Army of the Potomac in just over two years, should have won the Battle of Chancellorsville. The war should have ended in the spring of 1863. Initially Hooker held all the advantages – superior numbers, superior position, the element of surprise and the initiative. He had caught Lee flat footed with a wide flanking maneuver. He held the Army of Northern Virginia in a vise, outnumbered two to one, caught between the Army of the Potomac and the forces he had left at Fredericksburg. No matter which way Lee turned his army would be taken in the rear. His reforms regarding daily rations, sanitary conditions, treatment of wounded and an improved furlough system had restored his men’s confidence and morale. His army was ready to fight, eager to redeem themselves after the Union fiasco at Fredericksburg. To his troops Hooker boasted, “I have the finest army on the planet. I have the finest army the sun ever shone on. If the enemy does not run, God help them. May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.” At the critical moment however, the general whose aggressiveness on the battlefield had earned him the nickname “Fighting Joe Hooker” lost his nerve. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Hooker surrendered all his advantages, most importantly, the initiative, to Lee. Dangerously dividing his army in the face of vastly superior numbers, Lee sent Jackson on a flanking maneuver of his own that rolled up the Union line, routing the Union right. Even at that point, Hooker could have regained the initiative for he still enjoyed superior numbers and Jackson’s advance following the headlong retreat of Slocum’s XII Corps had placed Sickles’ III Corps and Meade’s V Corps on his left. An attack on the open Confederate flank might have reversed the tide of battle. Instead Hooker withdrew. Lee’s decisive victory at Chancellorsville emboldened him to attempt his second and final invasion of the North. However, the loss of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville deprived Lee of his greatest Lieutenant, the one man who might have wrought a Confederate victory at Gettysburg as he had at Chancellorsville.
As for General Joseph Hooker, in a war infamous for the spectacular rise and equally dramatic fall of political generals, Hooker took the art of self-advocacy to a new level. Recklessly aggressive on the battlefield, he also aggressively used his political connections to embellish his reputation in Washington. In addition, he used those same connections to tarnish the reputations of potential rivals. Given senior command following the Union fiasco at Fredericksburg, he failed utterly. Adding insult to injury not only is his name linked with the Union debacle at Chancellorsville; it also became synonymous with those ladies of easy virtue who provided companionship at the notorious parties held by his Headquarters Staff. Captain Charles F. Adams, Jr. (1st Massachusetts Cavalry) described Hooker’s Headquarters as a cross between a “bar-room and a brothel.”
After World War II an “Iron Curtain” fell over Eastern Europe. Behind that impenetrable screen, in sham elections, the Soviet Union established communist governments in all of the nations the Red Army had “liberated” in the relentless dive that began at Kursk and culminated in Berlin. Powerful police organizations, such as the STASI in East Germany, ensured compliance with the new order by infiltrating and ruthlessly crushing all opposition. When internal spies failed, brute force prevailed as Hungary learned in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. To cement the relationship between the USSR and its client states the Soviet Union organized the nations of Eastern Europe into the Warsaw Pact. Having been invaded twice by Germany in less than thirty years and now facing hostile Western powers on that same front, the USSR felt justified in establishing an extensive buffer zone between the birthplace of Communism and its arch enemy, the capitalist West. Besides where the Marshall Plan was rapidly restoring Western Europe, including West Germany, to positions of prosperity and power, Soviet domination failed to deliver the promised “Workers Paradise.”
The theories of Marx and Engels – that capitalism would certainly collapse due to its own internal contradictions and inequalities; that the proletariat would inevitably rise up against the bourgeoisie in order to fully share in the fruits of their labor; that in this socialist utopia the state would eventually wither away – were not working out quite as predicted. Indeed rather than withering away, the Soviet state had become even more powerful. Commissars replaced Czars; the nomenklatura replaced the aristocracy. For the average Soviet worker the drudgery of ceaseless toil, the fear of a visit from the state police and long bread lines remained much the same as it had been for the serf prior to the revolution. Theories are one thing; implementation in the real world is another. Communism’s historic inevitability was proving to be neither historic nor inevitable. In these circumstances, the tenets of Marxism had to be altered to conform to reality. Strict control of the population and overwhelming military power were deemed necessary to further the revolution. If capitalism would not fall of its own accord, then the Soviet Union would bring about its demise by direct or indirect means. The glories of a classless society, the end of the coercive state, would have to wait until after world domination had been achieved.
To that end, the Soviet Union tightened its grip and maintained its military on a constant war footing. Furthermore, it began to actively foment revolution wherever possible. In addition to the Eastern Bloc states, China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba came into the Communist camp. Strong Communist parties developed in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and elsewhere. Soviet influence spread to the Middle East, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia through military assistance programs, construction projects, economic ties, etc.
In response to the growing Soviet presence throughout the world, the United States adopted a policy of containment forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect Europe and the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization to defend the Pacific. Both sides rushed to build up conventional forces and nuclear arms. The rapid development of nuclear weapons and the means to accurately deliver them brought about a balance of power and an uneasy truce known as the Cold War. Those who served in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere might take issue with that term but compared to nuclear annihilation the expression was accurate.
Such was the status quo when the United States deployed missiles to Turkey upsetting the balance of power. The USSR responded by sending medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles to Cuba. On 14 October 1962 a U2 spy plane photographed the Russian missile sites under construction. For fourteen days thereafter, the world teetered on a nuclear precipice while the lives of millions hung on the decisions of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.
In Khrushchev’s eyes, Kennedy was weak. Kennedy’s soft response to the Berlin Crisis (June – November 1961) and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (April 1962) confirmed that assessment. Speaking with Soviet officials, Khrushchev stated, “I know for certain that Kennedy does not have a strong background, nor generally speaking, does he have the courage to stand up to a serious challenge.” More bluntly, to his son Sergei, Khrushchev remarked that on the issue of Cuba Kennedy would, “make a fuss, make more of a fuss, and then agree.” Consequently, when confronted Khrushchev took a hard line stand. In this instance, Khrushchev badly underestimated Kennedy. For his part, Kennedy consulted with his closest advisors. Some recommended immediate air strikes to remove the threat with a follow on invasion if necessary. Others argued for a naval blockade. To gain time Kennedy opted for a naval blockade which for diplomatic reasons and to preserve the niceties of international law was called a “Quarantine.” However, should the blockade fail, he also directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a contingency plan telling them,”If we go in, we go in hard.” The pentagon responded with an operation that called for 500 bombing sorties followed by an invasion force of 90,000 soldiers and marines. Unknown to Kennedy the Soviet Union already had approximately 100 tactical nuclear missiles in place on the island. Had the United States invaded Cuba it is quite likely that the local commander would have responded with those weapons. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the established doctrine at that time, would have dictated a nuclear response by the United States precipitating World War III.
Fortunately, there was time before Soviet cargo ships transporting additional missiles, construction materials, supplies and personnel reached the blockade line for a final attempt at negotiation. President Kennedy sent his brother, Robert, to meet with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to convey his final offer – if the Russians agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba the United States pledged not to invade; if not America would take whatever actions were necessary in order to eliminate the threat regardless of consequences. In a secret protocol Kennedy also pledged to remove the US missiles from Turkey.
To fully understand how close the world came to Armageddon in October 1962, one must know something of Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev served as a political commissar during the Russian Civil War and during the Great Patriotic War. In World War II he often acted as an intermediary between Stalin and his highest-ranking generals. Khrushchev took great pride in and often referred to his service at Stalingrad. He was one of few members of Stalin’s inner circle with the political acumen and devious nature required in order to survive the paranoid dictator’s frequent, brutal and bloody purges. Not surprisingly, he denounced the blockade of “navigation in international waters and air space” as “an act of aggression propelling human kind into the abyss of a world nuclear missile war.” In a private letter that arrived on 26 October, Khrushchev further warned Kennedy not to, “pull on the end of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied.” Nikita Khrushchev was not a man who issued idle threats, especially when his bellicose public statements at the United Nations and elsewhere had backed him into a corner and when his political survival depended upon the continued support of the central committee. Nikita Khrushchev was not a man noted for an even-tempered nature; nor was he a man noted for a willingness to compromise. In short, in the game of international diplomacy, Nikita Khrushchev was not a man who blinked; yet on 28 October 1962, he blinked.[xiv] The Soviet supply ships en route to Cuba came about and returned to the Soviet Union, the existing missiles were removed from Cuba and from Turkey, nuclear annihilation was averted and the world stepped back from the brink of all out war.[xv] As the crisis abated, the Cold War, which had nearly boiled over into a nuclear holocaust, returned to a simmer.
Section Six: The Definition of Insanity
Albert Einstein described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” A tendency to continue failed policies regardless of consequences when other options are not only available but also obviously necessary seems to be the nature of government. Examples of such bureaucratic thinking abound providing not only evidence of the drastic impact upon millions caused by the policies formulated by a few people in positions of power but also ample proof of Einstein’s definition of madness.
Prior to America’s entry into World War I, the idealistic President Woodrow Wilson and his equally naive Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan thwarted attempts by the Army and Navy to formulate contingency plans, reorganize and modernize, much less mobilize, forces, or take other prudent precautions. Conscription was absolutely out of the question. Strong isolationists, they pursued a policy of non-intervention believing the best way to keep the United States out of what they deemed a European conflict was to refuse to prepare for it. Wilson won reelection in 1916 largely because of the veracity of the slogan “he kept us out of the war.” By ignoring Vegetius’ dictum, Let him who seeks peace prepare for war, the United States entered World War I in April 1917 with an army of 128,000 augmented by a National Guard numbering 170,000. In the rapid build up to 1.3 million men, training suffered due to the small cadre of regular army instructors available and the very real prospect of German victory before American forces could deploy to France in significant numbers. England and France provided much of our artillery and most of our machine guns, planes and tanks. Senior commanders had little experience above the regimental level for the Army had not fielded divisions, much less corps or armies in a major war since 1865. Logistic support on a vast scale, at which the Union had excelled, was a lost art, painfully relearned. As a result of Wilson’s refusal to prepare for the inevitable, thousands died needlessly.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson launched the “Great Society” in 1964. The centerpiece of that initiative was the “War on Poverty.” The exact cost of the war on poverty is impossible to calculate because this “temporary measure” has burgeoned into more than 126 separate, frequently redundant, Federal programs plus a multitude of state and local programs. Furthermore, the tax code hides much of the expense. In a form of accounting legal only in Washington D. C., the exemptions, credits, etc. built into income tax returns are not considered outlays and therefore, not included in calculations of total cost. The best estimate of total cost to taxpayers since 1964 is $15.9 trillion (in inflation adjusted 2008 dollars). To put this figure into perspective it cost the United States only $4.1 trillion to defeat the Axis powers in World War II; $6.4 trillion for all wars since the Revolution. Means tested welfare is the third largest portion of the Federal budget. It consumes five per cent of our Gross Domestic Product annually. We spend more on welfare than National Defense. What are the results of this massive outlay of public funds that coincidently equals our national debt? In 1964 the poverty rate stood at nineteen per cent, in 2011 fifteen per cent. Since inception forty-eight years ago, 10.5 per cent was the lowest level of poverty recorded. Apparently, the only people who have benefited from the war on poverty are the tens of thousands of bureaucrats who administer the plethora of federal, state and local programs. Clearly we need to try a different strategy to end poverty and thereby the attendant ills that plague so many people directly and society as a whole indirectly. Yet congress obstinately refuses to consider reform and continues to not only fund but also increase funding for the same failed programs year after year.
The proliferation of welfare agencies is not an isolated example. A 2011 GAO report cites 44 overlapping job-training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy and more than 20 for homelessness, each with an attendant bureaucracy to run them. In 2010, 130 subordinate agencies of 23 federal agencies sponsored 679 (not a typo – six hundred seventy-nine) renewable energy initiatives. Consolidating or cutting redundant programs would save 100-200 billion dollars per year. However no government program once implemented ever goes away. Income tax for example was a “temporary measure” introduced to pay for World War I. Instead, government programs continue to grow exponentially – even when their original purpose has been achieved, proven impossible to solve or simply ceased to exist – until the tail wags the dog.[xvi]
If anyone in the Executive Branch, State Department or Department of Defense had studied the history of Afghanistan paying any attention what so ever to the British and Soviet experience there, perhaps we would have found a better way to deal with the Taliban. This is especially true since eleven and one half years later, with 1,712 killed and 18,360 wounded (DOD casualty figures for US personnel as of 27 March 2013) we are now negotiating with the very terrorist group we allegedly set out to destroy on 07 October 2001. This makes about as much sense as signing a truce with the Nazis in January 1945 or invading Iraq and leaving Saddam Hussein in power. Cleary the lunatics are running the asylum.
The founding fathers feared government for good reason and took great care in the form of numerous checks and balances to ensure it did not grow too large or too powerful. Our first president, George Washington, sent a clear warning to succeeding generations when he wrote, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is a force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Colonization of Vietnam began, innocently enough, in the late 1700’s when the first Catholic missionaries arrived from France. After the slaughter of millions, foreign domination ended two centuries later. Initially accepted and allowed to follow their call to proselytize freely, religious persecution began during the reign of Emperor Tu-Duc (1847-1883). Tu-Duc viewed the growing French presence as a threat to Vietnamese autonomy. In this, he was correct, for where missionaries went, traders and settlers soon followed altering the economic, political and social landscape of his kingdom. Strict sanctions, harshly imposed, gave Emperor Napoleon III the excuse he needed to send military forces to Saigon in 1858 to protect his citizens, not to mention, to secure the potential wealth of an additional colony. In 1862 the French forced Tu-Duc to sign a treaty guaranteeing religious tolerance and ceding the Mekong delta region to France. In the Treaty of Hue (June 1884) China renounced its historic claim to Indochina allowing France to formally establish a protectorate over Vietnam. From this nucleus French influence and power eventually spread to all of Indochina. At that time, Indochina included what is now known as Vietnam (the historic kingdoms of Cochin China in the south, Annam in the center and Tongking in the north) plus Cambodia and Laos.
During the period of empires colonization ranged from the relatively benign to the moderately exploitative to the ruthlessly rapacious. French administration of Indochina fell into the latter category. They ruled with a proverbial iron fist using French Foreign Legionaries and troops from their North African colonies to maintain strict control of a reluctant population. They appropriated land to form large rubber plantations overseen by French managers, worked by Vietnamese labor. The wealthy lived in lavish villas. The peasants lived as peasants have always lived. In this climate, an array of resistance groups, such as the Quoc Dan Dang, grew. None thrived however, for the various factions viewed each other with almost the same degree of hostility that they felt for the French. Religious and tribal distinctions further complicated the political picture. For example, the Montagnards of the mountainous central region were ethnically and culturally distinct from the more populous regions of the North (Hanoi) and the South (Saigon). In that environment, it was relatively easy for the French to play one group against another in order to maintain control. That dynamic changed radically in 1940.
When France fell to Germany Indochina became part of Vichy France, a situation the Japanese were quick to exploit. The Japanese demanded access to the region and began to construct bases from which to pursue her ambitions in the Pacific. The Japanese disarmed all military forces but allowed the French civilian administration to continue to function. In that manner Vichy France maintained nominal control until March 1945. Concerned about Allied efforts in the region, the Japanese ended the charade at that time, taking full control under the puppet government of Emperor Bao Dai just as they had in Manchuria. French humiliation at the hands of the Japanese emboldened the various resistance groups, which ranged from Monarchists to Nationalists to Communists. The Japanese ruthlessly crushed all dissident elements regardless of political stripe. Nonetheless, by the end of the war the League for the Independence of Vietnam, Viet Nam Doi Lap Dong Minh Hoi, shortened to Viet Minh had established sufficient power to set up a Provisional Revolutionary Government in the north. Capture of French and Japanese arsenals supplied a corresponding National Liberation Army with 60,000 rifles, 3,000 light machine guns, artillery and large stocks of ammunition. The United National Front opposed attempts by the Viet Minh to take over in South. British occupation forces stymied both sides.
Under the terms of the surrender agreement control of Vietnam would revert to France as soon as she was in a position to reassert her authority in the region. In the interim occupation duties fell to the 20th Indian Division commanded by Major General Douglas Gracey. Thrown into the chaotic situation that was post war Vietnam, Gracey used his Gurkas and Punjabis, rearmed French colonial forces and even Japanese forces awaiting reparation to maintain order. Events rapidly escalated into near civil war. Peaceful protests turned violent fomenting ever larger and more aggressive demonstrations and general strikes. British / Indian forces met violence with even greater violence exacerbating the already precarious situation. In a preview of the First Indochina War, sabotage escalated into ambushes and outright attacks. Martial law became the norm, the use of maximum force encouraged. Following a disturbance on the streets of Saigon, it was common to see long lines of prisoners being led to detention centers secured by a strand of wire pushed through the palms of each man’s hands.
As the French forces grew in number, the British / Indian units rotated home. By March 1946 only a single company of Punjabis remained to guard the Allied Control Commission in Saigon. One can imagine the relief of these troops when they departed on 15 May 1946 as French forces, commanded by General Jacques LeClerc, officially assumed responsibility for the region once again. Where moderation of previous colonial practices might have brought about reconciliation French officials adamantly insisted on a return to the status quo ante bellum. Refusal to accept and deal realistically with a drastically changed post war world may have stemmed from a desire to reclaim great power status, an attempt to salvage former glory after humiliating defeat, short sightedness, bureaucratic bungling, obstinate inflexibility or a host of other reasons. Whatever the motive, continuation of failed policies precipitated a war that raged until 1979.
Déjà Vu all over again. (Yogi Berra)
The debacle at Dien Bien Phu (March-May 1954)[xvii] ended French involvement in Vietnam. The importance of this event cannot be over emphasized for its ramifications continue to influence revolutionary / terrorist groups and therefore shape world events to this day. As the noted military historian Martin Windrow observed, Dien Bien Phu was “the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier in pitched battle.” The Geneva Accords ended the First Indochina War, dividing Vietnam along the 17th parallel with a communist government in the north under Ho Chi Minh and more or less democratic government in the south under Ngo Dinh Diem. Scheduled elections to reunite the nation never materialized inciting civil war. Supported by China and the Soviet Union, North Vietnam sought to unify the country by overthrowing the government of South Vietnam using conventional and non-conventional means. In light of Soviet and Chinese efforts to extend their sphere of influence throughout the world, the United States adopted a policy of containment. The first military advisors arrived in 1950. The CIA also began covert operations in support of South Vietnam. The scale of both of these efforts grew throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s. With the benefit of hindsight lent by the passage of sixty plus years, these policies may seem flawed. One must remember however, that given the bellicose statements and ruthless actions of our former ally Joseph Stalin from 1945 to 1950 and the victory of Mao Tse Tung over Chiang Kai Shek in 1949, the threat of global domination by Communism seemed very real in 1950. The first American combat units arrived in 1965. The story of how that came about is of particular interest in light of the influence of one event and one man on the lives of millions.
In 1961 the CIA began Operation Plan 34 Alpha (OP PLAN 34-A), a Top Secret program of covert actions to support South Vietnam in its struggle against the North. Using foreign mercenaries and South Vietnamese personnel in order to maintain plausible deniability for the United States, the CIA launched air, sea and land attacks on the North. In 1964 the Department of Defense (DOD) took control of the program with the innocuously titled Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV – SOG) assuming direct responsibility for the operations.
On 02 August 1964 the navy destroyer, USS Maddox (DD-731), steamed into the Tonkin Gulf to conduct a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) operation codenamed DESOTO. She may or may not have been part of a larger operation concurrently underway under OP PLAN 34-A. What the United States saw as containment, the North Vietnamese saw as a continuation of the colonial war she had fought with the French. Consequently, although the Maddox was underway in international waters the North Vietnamese viewed her presence as an attempt to escalate the war. In response to this perceived provocation, they sortied three P4 torpedo boats from the 135th Torpedo Squadron to intercept the Maddox. Both sides claimed the other initiated the ensuing engagement. However the battle may have begun, at some point the Maddox called for air support and either opened or returned fire. Four Navy F8 Crusader jets from USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) responded to her call for assistance. The Maddox took one hit from a 14.5 MM gun that caused minimal damage and no casualties; all three torpedo boats were damaged. Both sides then withdrew.
In company with the USS Turner Joy (DD-951), the Maddox returned to the Gulf of Tonkin on 04 August 1964 to continue the DESOTO operation. That night they encountered rough weather with heavy seas. These conditions caused numerous conflicting and confusing radar, radio, sonar and other electronic anomalies. Believing themselves to be under attack, the ships reported[xviii] the perceived threat and opened fire. For two hours they engaged what were probably false radar returns. As no wreckage was ever found, the claim of two enemy vessels sunk proved incorrect. Indeed, Captain Herrick, commanding officer of the Maddox, later reported, “Review of actions makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” One hour later, he added the following to his after action report, “Entire action leaves many doubts except for apparent ambush at beginning. Suggest thorough reconnaissance in daylight by aircraft.” Flying overhead at the time of the 04 August incident was squadron commander James Stockdale. In his book, Love and War, published in 1984, Admiral Stockdale wrote, “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets – there were no PT boats there. There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.”
In all of recorded history politicians have never been hindered by facts nor have they been deterred from implementing policy by anything so trivial as the truth. Shortly before midnight on 04 August and again on the morning of the 5th President Lyndon Baines Johnson spoke to the American people describing the attacks and stating that, “The determination of all Americans to carry out our full commitment to the people and to the government of South Vietnam will be redoubled by this outrage.” At 1140 planes launched from the aircraft carriers USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation bombed four torpedo boat bases and an oil storage facility in North Vietnam. Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf incidents, one factual, one fabricated, to pressure Congress for freedom to take additional retaliatory actions. Only Senator Wayne Morse (Democrat – Oregon), questioned the President’s pretext and motives for deeper involvement in Vietnam. His concerns were ignored until years later. In a regrettable precedent, Congress obliged the president with the Southeast Asia Resolution (H.J. RES 1145). The resolution granted the president authority to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war. It also gave approval to “take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”
With the passage of H.R. RES 1145, American involvement in Vietnam rapidly escalated. Troop levels peaked in 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive. Despite initial setbacks, the United States won that engagement, all but destroying the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and National Liberation Front (NLF) aka Viet Cong (VC) forces. What the United States won tactically on the battlefield during Tet it lost strategically in the wider propaganda war. The fact that the North Vietnamese had gambled everything, throwing their entire strength into the Tet Offensive and had suffered a crushing defeat after admittedly spectacular initial gains, was lost on the American press and therefore on the American public. Support for the war eroded; with it political will and consequently military commitment. Vietnamization replaced victory, just as politically motivated artificial withdrawal timetables have replaced success in Afghanistan.[xix] US military involvement ended on 15 August 1973, a result of yet another act of Congress, the Case-Church Amendment. Saigon fell in April 1975.
More than 58,000 names etched into the black granite panels of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. stand in mute testimony to the honor, courage and commitment of America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and the dubious wisdom of her political leaders.
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[i]. In 1922, Zogolli legally changed his name to Zogu, which sounded more Albanian.
[ii]. Nor does it end in 1939. After WWII Albania was once again torn asunder, this time between Nationalist, Royalist and Communist factions. The Red Army ensured the Communists prevailed. Even though the Soviet Union and the vassal states of the Warsaw Pact no longer exist the tribal hatreds and religious differences that have divided the Balkans since 1400 continue to plague the region.
[iii]. For example, at the Paris Peace Conference France, England and Greece secretly agreed to divide Albania between Italy, Greece and the newly created state of Yugoslavia. Without the intervention of Woodrow Wilson Albania would have ceased to exist in 1920.
[iv]. Originally scheduled to begin 15 May 1940, Barbarossa actually began on 22 June and ended on the frozen fields just outside Moscow in December. Another month of good weather might have made all the difference for the Wehrmacht.
[v]. Dau tranh (struggle) consists of two primary elements – dau tranh vu trang (armed struggle) and dau tranh chinh tri (political struggle). Together they form a hammer and anvil to crush the enemy at every level, on and off the battlefield. The concept of armed struggle includes strategies utilizing regular forces for short-term objectives and irregular forces for protracted conflicts. The concept of political struggle encompasses dich van (action among the enemy), binh van (action among the military) and dan van (action among the people). While the enemy might overcome one or more elements of dau tranh at any given moment, over time (the Viet Minh were willing to fight for generations if necessary), this multi faceted approach proved superior to French and American political will.
[vi]. Ho began his speech by citing the Declaration of Independence. He continued with the statement, “The whole Vietnamese people, animated by a common purpose, are determined to fight to the bitter end against any attempt by the French colonialists to re-conquer their country.
[vii]. Ho Chi Minh justified this maneuver with the observation, “The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years. The French are foreigners. They are weak. Colonialism is dying. The white man is finished in Asia. But if the Chinese stay now, they will never go. ”
[viii]. After thirty-five years of continuous conflict, taking the lives of millions and spilling the blood of millions more, North Vietnam prevailed. Tragically, for the Vietnamese people victory over the United States and the Republic of Vietnam signaled not peace but the beginning of massive purges as thousands of former South Vietnamese were “re-educated”, exiled or killed outright and thousands more fled, many to the United States. Nor did victory mean the end of war. Vietnam fought with Cambodia (December 1978 – January 1979) and its former benefactor but hereditary enemy China (February – March 1979) to maintain its sovereignty.
[ix]. Ronald Reagan, January 1977
[x]. The Soviet Union promised bread. It delivered bread lines. It promised equality. It delivered a ruling class of privileged political elites who lived in luxury and a long-suffering working class who lived in poverty. It promised peace and delivered near continuous war. For the life of the Soviet Union “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs” remained an unfulfilled pledge.
[xi]. Fortress Washington consisted of 48 mutually supporting strong points connected by earthworks and 480 heavy cannon, served by 7,200 artillerymen. At Lincoln’s insistence, for he was well aware of the political significance of the nation’s capital, the army also maintained a large garrison of infantry and cavalry.
[xii]. Article II. Section I. The electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be President. In every case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President.
[xiii]. Zangara has one other interesting claim to fame. When sentenced to death the state prison at Raiford had only a single “death cell” and it was already occupied. Since Florida law stipulated that convicted murderers must be incarcerated separately prior to execution prison officials were forced to add an additional cell. Hence, the term “death cell” became “death row.”
[xiv]. Khrushchev may have been bellicose but he was not suicidal. Although he boasted that the Soviet Union was building missiles “like sausages” he knew that was propaganda. In October 1962 the USSR had approximately 20 ICBM’s and 700 MRBM’s. Including tactical missiles, submarine launched missiles and strategic air force assets the USSR could deliver about 3,600 nuclear warheads. The US on the other hand counted in its inventory 170 ICBM’s plus eight SSBN’s each carrying sixteen Polaris missiles. With the addition of tactical and SAC assets the US could deliver about 27,000 nuclear warheads. Throughout the Cold War US intelligence agencies greatly overestimated Soviet nuclear capabilities. The disparity notwithstanding nuclear war would have been a disaster for both nations. In conventional arms, the opposite was true. The Soviet Union vastly outnumbered the United States in infantry and especially tanks and artillery. The US held an edge in air force and navy assets.
[xv]. Reliance upon cables, letters and diplomatic messages exacerbated the Cuban Missile crisis. In the age of ICBM’s when time from launch to time of impact was measured in minutes, standard methods of communication simply were not fast enough. Consequently, direct telephone lines, the famous RED PHONE, were established between the White House and the Kremlin.
[xvi]. The Romans viewed democracy as the rule of the mob; placing the government in the hands of the man who promised the greatest benefits to the most people. This they accomplished by stripping the assets of productive citizens to buy the votes of the crowd. The founding fathers wisely avoided direct democracy by establishing a Republic. This Republic, they warned, would last only until the public realized they could vote themselves largesse from the public treasury or congress realized they could bribe the public with public funds. Be that as it may, it is undeniable that the government has grown so large that its multiple right hands have no idea what its multiple left hands are doing and, apparently, there is no mechanism or no will to effectively or efficiently supervise its myriad functions, constitutionally mandated or self imposed. A wise man once compared government grown too large to an immense dead beast that crushes its citizens beneath its inert weight, a beast so huge that its limbs have not yet heard the news of its own death and so, although dead, beyond revival, those limbs continue to move through sheer momentum. Byzantium was such a beast. In its last stages the government of the Byzantine Empire had grown so vast, so complex, so convoluted, so characterized by devious intrigue that the word byzantine is now synonymous with anything overly complicated, needlessly intricate or grossly involved such as our current tax code. In a thousand years will the word ‘federalism’ undergo the same etymologic transformation?
[xvii]. In an attempt to interdict North Vietnamese supply lines along the Laotian border into South Vietnam, the French constructed a major base of operations at Dien Bien Phu. Their strategy was to cut off materiel support to Vietnamese forces in the South, force the Vietnamese into a major conventional battle and destroy the Liberation Army. The French badly underestimated North Vietnamese abilities and capabilities however. The Viet Minh covertly moved heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns through extremely difficult terrain, manhandled them up the reverse slopes of the mountains surrounding the French defenses, dug tunnels through the hills and emplaced their weapons overlooking the French fortifications. With command of the surrounding high ground, the Viet Minh were able to bombard the French in the valley below with impunity for their weapons emplacements were impervious to counter battery fire. The siege began on 13 March 1954. Reminiscent of Stalingrad the French attempted to supply their trapped forces by air with the same result. As French positions fell one after another the siege lines contracted, anti-aircraft fire became increasingly effective and fewer and fewer supplies reached the beleaguered garrison. The French capitulated on 07 May 1954 effectively ending the First Indochina War. Per the Geneva Accords, France withdrew its forces from all of Indochina and Vietnam was temporarily divided along the 17th parallel pending elections to determine its future as a unified nation. North Vietnam hoped to achieve similar results when it besieged Khe Sanh (January – April 1968). Pitted against United States Marines the outcome was vastly different.
[xviii]. Captain George Stephen Morrison commanded local US Navy assets from his flagship, the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). Outside the Navy, Captain Morrison is little known. His son, lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison, will probably never be forgotten.
[xix]. It is worth nothing that although Coalition Forces control the populated areas of Afghanistan the Taliban still controls the countryside. We have seen this dynamic several times before – In China Chiang controlled the cities, Mao the rural areas; in Vietnam the US controlled the cities, the VC controlled the rural areas – always with the same result.
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