If you study history long enough and in sufficient detail you begin to understand the sweeping statements regarding vast movements presented in so many textbooks, while appropriate to lay the foundation for more extensive study, are, at best, simplified overviews, at worst, gross generalizations. As such these texts are truly inadequate for they give the impression the outcomes of great events such as the American Revolution or the Bolshevik Revolution were inevitable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The great arcs of history boil down to small moments of chance; significant decisions frequently turn on trivial matters. In the case of the American Revolution most colonists considered themselves to be Englishmen seeking to preserve their traditional rights as Englishmen under the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628) and the Bill of Rights (1629). The majority wanted reform not revolution. Initially, at least, there were very few ardent revolutionaries. Given a more enlightened monarch and legitimate representation in Parliament we might have avoided the whole bloody affair and speak proper English today. Think about the implications for a moment. In this scenario as a member of the British Empire, later Commonwealth, slavery ends by the passage of a law rather than civil war; we enter the Great War in 1914 rather than two years later; as a result the Great War ends in 1916 rather than 1918; consequently the Great War remains the Great War for the seeds of fascism which foment World War II are never sown; Tsarist Russia totters along long enough to enact sufficient reform to placate the masses undercutting the revolutionaries; Lenin remains in exile; Communism remains a political theory; millions of Kulaks live and prosper. The possibilities are endless and endlessly fascinating. Speaking of the Russian Revolution, no group has espoused dialectic materialism to prove the historical inevitability of a cause more ardently than the Bolsheviks – publically at least, privately they were ruthlessly pragmatic. Nothing was inevitable about the victory of the Bolsheviks however, nor, as history has shown, the ultimate triumph of Communism. The Bolsheviks were actually the smallest of the three major revolutionary groups calling for the overthrow of the Tsar. They succeeded through better organization and the coldblooded extermination of all opposition. After crushing the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries and other competing factions a three year civil war ensued during which fourteen foreign nations sent weapons, funds, materiel and even troops to support the White Armies. American, Austrian, British, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese and Turkish forces fought on Russian soil against the Red Army. The Reds outlasted rather than defeated their war weary enemies. The truth is nothing in history is inevitable for the chronicle of man is far more complex, far more intricate, far richer, far more interesting and far more malleable than it appears on the surface. The great movements, the wars, the lists of dates, names and places that we memorized in high school which seemed so fixed were in fact the outcome of trillions of lesser events leading up to that particular moment. Change just one or two of these pivot points and you change everything that follows. These hinges of history are critical to a full understanding of who we are, where we are, how we got here and what might follow. They are also a hell of a lot of fun. Consider the following hinges of history.
Section One: Bella regit fortuna non sapientia
The Seven Days Battles of 1862 (Oak Grove – 25 June, Mechanicsville / Beaver Dam Creek – 26 June, Gaines Mill – 27 June, Savage Station – 29 June, Glendale / Frayser’s Farm – 30 June and Malvern Hill – 01 July) were a strategic victory but a tactical disaster for the Confederacy. True the Union host had been driven from the outskirts of Richmond but at great cost. Seldom if ever in the annals of warfare had what Clausewitz termed, “the friction of war” been more evident. Poor staff work, inexplicable and unpardonable delays, communication failures, unclear or misunderstood orders, inaccurate maps, terrain well suited to defense but poorly suited to maneuver, faulty troop dispositions, erroneous reports, inertia in some officers, impetuousness in others, outright incompetence in more than a few, resolute defense by a tenacious enemy and a veritable host of other problems plagued the Confederate Army throughout the campaign bringing the best laid plans to naught. More to the point, green troops led by green commanders had resulted in poorly coordinated, piece meal attacks rather than crushing blows allowing the Federals to escape one potential trap after another with a butcher’s bill of 21,000 casualties, nearly one fourth of the Confederate force. Such victories the South could not afford. As a very frustrated Robert E. Lee put it, “Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed.” To make matters worse, for all that sacrifice, for all that profusion of blood the Union threat had not been completely removed. Beaten but not destroyed as it might have been, as it should have been McClellan’s Army of the Potomac remained on the Peninsula. There had been no rout as had followed First Manassas / Bull Run. The Federals had conducted an orderly retreat. Now encamped at Harrison’s Landing on the James River, well supplied by Federal transports and protected by the heavy guns of the Union Navy, the Army of the Potomac remained a potent force and posed a serious threat to the capital less than twenty miles away as the crow flies.
In April when he learned that Lee had replaced the wounded Joseph E. Johnston, McClellan had written Lincoln, “I prefer Lee to Johnston- the former is too cautious & weak under grave responsibility – personally brave & energetic to a fault, he yet is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility & is likely to be timid & irresolute in action.” The characterization was absolutely accurate. Unfortunately for the Army of the Potomac it applied to McClellan not Lee. In truth the Union troops fought well; it was their commander who, when faced with the ultimate test of command responsibility, had failed.
Finally on 02 July 1862 the fortunes of war smiled on Robert E. Lee. Word reached him from General Stuart that the enemy was entrenched at Harrison’s Landing but had neglected to fortify nearby Evelington Heights. Stuart’s cavalry had easily driven off the few defenders posted there and was now digging in. If the army moved quickly Lee had one last chance to strike a crushing blow. Previously Lee had issued general orders and left execution of those orders to the discretion of his subordinates. Determined now to leave nothing to chance or interpretation Lee took personal control of the operation driving his weary, wounded army forward in a forced march along roads churned into mud by heavy rains and the passage of thousands of Union troops, artillery caissons, 3800 supply wagons and 2500 head of cattle. Gone were the orders which ended with the caveat “if practicable.” Commands were forceful and direct causing quite a stir among his senior subordinates unused as they were to such brusque behavior from the gentleman who led them. But it paid off. By the morning of 03 July the forces of Jackson and D. H. Hill were entrenched on Evelington Heights protecting every heavy gun the Confederates could drag into position and emplace including fifty Union pieces captured during the preceding week. Longstreet, Ewell and Huger were dug in north of the River Road which ran from Malvern Hill eastward past Evelington Heights while A. P. Hill, Magruder and Holmes had fortified the far (west) side of Kimages Creek which flows into the James River.
With Confederate forces entrenched to the west, north and east and the James River to his back McClellan was trapped. To attack Evelington Heights, a mile long elevation rising about one hundred feet above Harrison’s Landing, Union forces would first have to cross Herring Creek, a tributary of the James River which formed, in effect, a moat one hundred yards wide protecting the high ground beyond, and then scale the bluff in the face of concentrated musket and artillery fire. Any attack on the River Road to the north or Kimages Creek to the west would be enfiladed from the natural fortress of Evelington Heights. From this position Lee had a commanding view of the Federal host encamped on the plain below. More importantly from Evelington Heights Confederate guns could reach every portion of the teeming Union base stretching two and one half miles along the James River and one mile inland while Federal artillery could not elevate sufficiently to conduct counter battery fire. To make matters worse for the Federals, all trees had been cleared years ago in order to fully cultivate the rich soil of Harrison’s Landing leaving a level plain with no place for the doomed Union troops to take shelter or to mask operations, every movement would be obvious to the watching Confederates and immediately receive the concentrated fury of their artillery.
Ironically McClellan had ordered Evelington Heights fortified when his men first reached the James River but his orders had not been carried out, instead a mere squadron of Federal cavalry was posted there. Those had been easily driven off and Confederate artillery now had a clear arc of fire on the entire Union camp. In the words of Lee’s Adjutant-General, Walter H. Taylor, “Those heights in our possession, the enemy’s position was altogether untenable and he was at our mercy.” The Army of the Potomac now found itself in the position the Confederates had been previously, forced to attack an enemy in fixed positions. In the age of rifled muskets and canister from massed smooth bore cannon that was not war, it was slaughter.
Lee sent McClellan terms of surrender at 0800 on the third of July. McClellan defiantly refused. The bombardment began promptly at noon raining death and destruction on the helpless Federal forces until dusk when Lee ordered the cannonade to cease in order to conserve what little powder and shot remained. Although the Union Army fought gallantly as they had all week the situation was hopeless for in retreating to the James River over the objections of his Corps commanders McClellan had squandered numerous opportunities to counter attack a divided Confederate army defeating it in detail. Now there was no room to maneuver, no place to retreat, no options left but one. In an operation that would not see its equal until Dunkirk seventy-eight years later McClellan evacuated as much of his army as the Union Navy could carry off during the night. After a brief bombardment beginning at daylight on the fourth of July 1862 McClellan surrendered the remainder of the Army of the Potomac along with enough supplies, equipment and ordnance to provision the Army of Northern Virginia for six months. Although the Union fought on for another year, the Battle of Evelington Heights was a blow from which it never recovered.
In reality General Stuart did occupy Evelington Heights. Stuart did send word to General Lee regarding its tactical potential. Lee did move quickly to seize the opportunity to smash his opponent. Ignoring the strong objections of his artillery commander, Captain Pelham however, Stuart rashly opened up on the Union encampment at Harrison’s Land with the one (1) howitzer immediately at his disposal rather than waiting for the bulk of the Confederate army. The barrage caused a great deal of panic, very little damage and alerted McClellan that his orders to fortify Evelington Heights had not been carried out. McClellan immediately sent an entire division to secure the position. When Lee and Longstreet arrived on 03 July the Federals could not be driven off. Without the benefit of Evelington Heights and its commanding view Lee deemed his badly bloodied army (some units had suffered as much as fifty percent casualties) too weak to carry out a successful attack. One impulsive decision by one impetuous man and one of the greatest opportunities for decisive victory, that military objective which proved so elusive during the Civil War, was lost. Consequently, thousands would bleed for another three years.
Section Two: Happenstance, Close Calls & Random Elements of Chance
Generalissimo Francisco Franco might have remained a relatively obscure figure in the history of the Spanish Civil War had not the first choice to lead the Nationalists been a peacock obsessed with his ceremonial military plumage. In July 1936 the Nationalists offered General Jose Sanjurjo command of the army in its fight against the Republicans. Sanjurjo accepted. A vainglorious man he overloaded the small plane bringing him from Portugal with dress uniforms causing it to crash. The pilot warned Sanjurjo the plane was too heavy to safely take off and land to which Sanjurjo haughtily replied, “I need to wear the proper clothes as the new Caudillio of Spain.” Franco had one other rival for supreme leadership. Less than a year later he died in yet another plane crash leaving Franco to assume the title of Generalissimo. Eager to test new weapons and new doctrine Hitler and Mussolini sent small arms, ammunition, artillery, planes, tanks and men, most famously – the Kondor Legion – to Franco. With this aid the Nationalists defeated the Soviet supported Republicans and Franco ruled Spain until his death in 1975.
Franco may have been indebted to the Fascist dictators for his victory but he was less than grateful. After the fall of France Hitler met with Franco on 23 October 1940 at Hendaye, a small French town on the Atlantic coast near the border with Spain. In an epic clash of wills lasting over nine hours the ruthless megalomaniac Hitler sparred with the equally determined and uncompromising Franco. Hitler proposed that Spain join the Axis by attacking Gibraltar. This move would close the Mediterranean to the Royal Navy making the British position in Egypt and the entire Middle East for that matter, untenable. Franco accepted on the condition Spain receive compensation in the form of French Morocco at that time part of Vichy France. Since Hitler also hoped to enlist the aid of Marshall Petain in the war with Britain this concession was unacceptable. After nine hours the failed artist and former Corporal who had bested Chamberlain, Daladier and Schuschnigg at diplomacy admitted defeat. Hitler met with Petain the following day with similar results. Although Petain agreed in principle the two leaders reached no firm commitment to bind Vichy France to the Axis. Hitler’s personal disappointment and frustration aside, the unsatisfactory outcomes of these two meeting held a much larger significance for they played no small part in Hitler’s decision to invade Russia when it became apparent England would not capitulate. How differently 1941 might have played out had excess baggage fees been in effect when Sanjurjo flew from Portugal to Spain.[i]
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On 18 April 1943 a squadron of United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Lockheed P-38 Lightning’s intercepted and shot down a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M bomber (Allied designation Betty) escorted by six Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes. On this particular mission the Betty was not loaded with ordnance but was transporting Admiral Yamamoto from Rabaul to Bougainville. After the Japanese defeat on Guadalcanal Yamamoto thought it important to tour the front lines to rally the troops. American code breakers had deciphered the message traffic pertaining to this inspection tour however. Armed with the specifics of the tour to include dates, locations, arrival and departure times an ambush was planned utilizing the long range American P-38 fighter. A Japanese patrol found the wreckage and located Yamamoto’s body the following day. The story may have been embellished to preserve his reputation but according to the report Yamamoto had been thrown from the plane and was seated under a tree clutching his ceremonial Katana in a white gloved hand. Fortunately for the Allies and unfortunately for the Japanese Yamamoto’s most likely successor, the brilliant Rear Admiral Yamaguchi, had gone down with the carrier Hiryu at Midway the year before.
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Born and raised in Kansas Dwight David Eisenhower dreamed of the ocean and had his dreams come true he would have made his career in the Navy. When it came time to matriculate his first choice was the Naval Academy. West Point was an afterthought. On the entrance exams he placed first for Annapolis and second for the Military Academy. By the time everything had been processed however Eisenhower was too old to enter the Navy. His disappointment was short lived for soon thereafter the number one candidate for West Point dropped out. Eisenhower promptly accepted his spot. The rest, as they say, is history but consider this. Many debate Eisenhower’s strategic and tactical ability but nearly everyone agrees that very few, if any, of the senior American Officers available in 1941 could have held together the often contentious, even rancorous alliance or dealt with the monumental egos of Montgomery and Patton much less Roosevelt and Churchill. That took discipline, self-control, tact and political acumen which Eisenhower possessed in abundance. Many of his contemporaries were suspicious of the English if not outright Anglophobes. Few possessed his extensive staff experience or his organizational talent. An Admiral Eisenhower would have greatly weakened, if not completely jeopardized the alliance.
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In 1947 a young baseball player named Fidel Castro tried out for a spot with the Washington Senators. Unfortunately for the United States, Cuba and the world at large Castro did not make the team. In his alternative profession Castro would reduce his once prosperous country to abject poverty, drive thousands into exile, dispatch Cuban mercenaries to South America and Africa fomenting revolution, sowing the seeds of endless misery, poverty and strife in those regions that continue to this day and bring the world to the brink of nuclear war when the United States and the Soviet Union squared off during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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Another young man, Adolf Hitler, dreamed of becoming either an artist or an architect. He applied twice to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and was twice rejected. The Academy’s Dean thought Hitler displayed an aptitude for architecture however and recommended him to that department. A high school diploma, which Hitler did not have, was required to enter the School of Architecture. To the detriment of the entire world the school declined to waive the requirement.
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It is well known that President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in April 1865. Less well known is the fact that General Grant and his wife were to have been guests of the Lincoln’s that evening but declined earlier the same day. Had Grant not chosen to board a train to visit his children in New Jersey the United States might have lost not only the current President but also a future President.
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While serving on the Western Front during World War One then Major Winston Churchill was ordered to attend a meeting at Corps Headquarters. Shortly after he left for the conference a German artillery barrage destroyed the Company Command Post where he had just been working killing his orderly. This was not Winston’s first brush with death, nor would it be his last for like Teddy Roosevelt Winston led an adventurous life. In 1899 Churchill escaped from a Boer Prisoner of War camp in Pretoria and with a £25 “Dead or Alive” bounty on his head managed to trek over 300 miles through enemy territory to the safety of Portuguese East Africa. This exploit made him famous throughout England launching his career in Parliament at the unheard of age of twenty-five. Imagine English history without Winston Churchill. Could anyone else have rallied the British during the dark days of World War II?
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During the Battle of Antietam / Sharpsburg 17 September 1862 Jackson’s position on the Confederate left flank came under heavy attack by the Corps commanded by Hooker, Mansfield and Sumner. Intense fighting would immortalize the West Woods, the Cornfield, Dunker Church and Bloody Lane where thousands would fall in mere minutes. Savage fighting see sawed back and forth through repeated charge and counter charge. When Jackson requested support for his faltering lines Lee sent General Walker’s two brigades from the right flank which would not see combat until later on that bloody day and General Lafayette McLaws’ troops resting in town after their forced march from Harper’s Ferry. McLaws rode ahead of his unit to confer with Jackson. As they discussed where his troops would go in an artillery shell plowed into the ground at their horses’ feet but did not explode. Two things are worth noting here. One, the fate of the Confederacy had Jackson been lost at Antietam rather than Chancellorsville seven months later; the other, the squandered opportunity to end the Civil War in the fall of 1862 had McClellan ordered his Corps commanders to attack simultaneously rather than sequentially. By attacking piece meal McClellan allowed Lee to use his interior lines to shift units from quiet sectors to staunch threatened breakthroughs in other areas. Concurrent, coordinated attacks would have crushed the much weaker Confederate army. With its back to the Potomac River and only one ford available there was no place for Lee to retreat!
On 29 August 1862 as Longstreet’s Corps hurried to join Jackson’s embattled wing at Manassas Junction for what would become the Second Battle of Manassas / Bull Run, General Lee and his aides forged ahead of the army. As they neared Manassas, Lee and his party heard sounds of skirmishing. Halting at the edge of a woodlot Lee walked forward alone to survey the situation. When Lee returned a few minutes later his face bore the mark of a bullet that had grazed his cheek. According to Major Charles Venable a member of his personal staff, Lee calmly remarked, “A Yankee sharpshooter came near killing me just now.” This was not Lee’s first brush with danger. During the War with Mexico he had barely avoided capture or possibly death while on a similar reconnaissance mission.
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In the movie The Life of Brian one would be agitator asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” The response is not what he anticipated. One by one members of the group reply with surprising honesty: Roads, bridges, schools, sanitation, medicine, public order, irrigation, public health, aqueducts, law, baths, peace. It is politically incorrect to speak well of Empires however the truth is colonization was and is (in the guise of “spheres of influence”) a part of history and was not all evil exploitation; there were some benefits to being dominated by a more advanced power. For example the Mongol conquests brought cheap paper, moveable type, the astrolabe and gunpowder to Europe. Sadly the negatives far exceeded the benefits in the case of English rule over Ireland. One would be hard pressed to find a colony in Africa, Asia or the Americas subjugated by any Imperial power that suffered more, for a longer period of time than Ireland at the hands of the English. During its long history of oppression in the Emerald Isle the English routinely practiced flogging, hanging and drawing and quartering in order to keep the unruly Irish in line. The British also came up with a unique and very effective method of interrogation to root out plots against The Crown. It was called the Tar Cap. The suspect’s head was covered with a mixture of tar and gunpowder. When the Tar Cap was lighted the alleged insurrectionist could do little more than scream in agony before he or she died. Those fitted with a Tar Cap did not reveal anything of consequence but it certainly loosened the tongues of their compatriots next in line for questioning. It is a safe bet recipients of the Tar Cap would have cheerfully chosen water boarding given an option. Interesting how mores change. Be that as it may the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was brutally, cruelly, mercilessly and pitilessly put down. Coming as it did during the dark days of World War One, the suppression of the Dublin Uprising on Easter Monday 24 April 1916, was equally swift and sure. Realizing they would never obtain justice or achieve any measure of independence through direct confrontation the Irish began to resort to low level conflict, intense propaganda, sympathy in the court of public opinion and politics to realize their goals. Ireland became one of the first in a long series of much smaller, weaker nations to defeat a vastly larger, more powerful Western nation utilizing the strategies and tactics of asymmetric warfare. One very interested observer of this revolutionary process was a young man working in Paris, sometimes as a photographer’s assistant, occasionally as a waiter and now and again as a cook, named Nguyen Ai Quoc. You know him as Ho Chi Minh.
Section Three: Politics and War
In the run up to the 1968 Presidential election Lyndon Johnson tried to swing the vote to his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, with false claims of a breakthrough in the ongoing Paris Peace Talks with Vietnam. Johnson even went so far as to temporarily halt the strategic bombing campaign giving the North Vietnamese a reprieve just when they were beginning to feel its full effect. Unknown to Johnson the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, had a spy or perhaps spies in the White House who alerted him to Johnson’s maneuver. Nixon also had back channel contacts with the President of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, from whom he learned Thieu had no intention of making peace with the North. Consequently Nixon was able to circumvent Johnson’s maneuver. A furious Johnson ordered members of Nixon’s campaign wiretapped. Never the less Nixon won the election handily. Johnson was notoriously crooked, even by Washington standards. From his first day in politics to his last Johnson’s career was marked by corruption, cronyism, graft and quid pro quo kickbacks as vast as his native state of Texas. His campaigns were models of voter fraud that would make the Daley Political Machine of Chicago envious and he was never hesitant to use the apparatus of government against his opponents. Nixon, a paranoid master of deceit in his own right, would eventually be hoisted on his own petard at Watergate. The machinations of these two men who put politics ahead of their sworn duty as Commander in Chief would extend the war in Vietnam until 1975 with grave consequences both at home and abroad. If this sounds all too familiar you have been paying attention to the news.
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On 16 January 1917 the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmerman, sent a coded message to the German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, requesting him to approach the President of Mexico, Venustiano Carranza, with an offer of alliance should the United States enter the war on the side of the Entente. Germany promised generous financial support and the added inducement of reclaiming the territories lost to the United States in Mexican-American War (1846-1848). US / Mexican relations were at an all time low following the Ypiranga incident and numerous border clashes. Consequently, President Carranza actually seriously considered the proposal going so far as to appoint a military commission to study the feasibility of a war with the United States. Given the deplorable state of the US Army at that time, this idea was not as farfetched as it may seem at first glance.[ii] Fortunately for both nations the commission concluded that such an undertaking impossible, given Mexico’s weakened state after years of civil war. Mexico remained officially neutral although German advisors worked with the Mexican army and the German saboteur Lothar Witzke, responsible for the March 1917 munitions explosion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, was based in Mexico City.
Unknown to the Germans, British analysts based in Room 40 at the Admiralty were deciphering their message traffic. The English knew they had to get this volatile information to President Wilson. The question was how to do so without alerting the Germans to the fact that their codes had been compromised. Several cover stories were concocted which almost backfired on the British when German and Mexican diplomats initially disavowed the note and several American newspapers, most notably the Randolph Hearst empire, ran stories that the Zimmerman Telegram was a clever British forgery thereby fueling the anti-British sentiment rife among German-Americans as well as Irish-Americans angered by the suppression of the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin,. The British would face a similar problem in World War II when they broke the Enigma codes but had to restrict the operational use of the intelligence gathered for fear of tipping off the enemy. All doubt was removed in March 1917 when Zimmerman publicly admitted the telegram was genuine.
If the Zimmerman Telegram had been an English ruse it would have been a stroke of genius on the part of the British for it hardened public opinion against Germany. Previously the American public had been strongly isolationist. As the genuine article it was a colossal diplomatic blunder. Germany had hoped a second Mexican-American war would divert men and materiel from Europe to the Southwestern border. The Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 obviated that requirement. Without the provocation of the Zimmerman Telegram in January, and the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany in February, Wilson’s political hands would have remained tied. In the absence of those catalysts rather than declaring war in April, America probably would have remained neutral. With Russia out of the war Germany was able to transfer 42 of 80 divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front. Without the American Expeditionary Force in France to counter balance that influx of veteran troops World War One would have ended quite differently.[iii]
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On the other hand had had Kaiser Frederick lived there might not have been a World War One at all. As it was misdiagnosed throat cancer took Kaiser Frederick’s life after only 99 days on the throne of Imperial Germany allowing his ambitious, bombastic and erratic son, Wilhelm , to begin his quest for Empire precipitating an arms race with France, a naval race with England, ill-advised alliances and eventually war. Married to the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, older, wiser, more experienced and certainly more stable than his son, Kaiser Frederick was not likely to provoke his Royal mother in law by declaring war on England. Without World War I to sow the seeds of Fascism, there is no World War II. Of course how such a world deals with the Great Depression brings into play an entirely different set of factors and potential outcomes.
Section Four: Turning Points
History is replete with turning points upon which the fate of millions rest. Relatively unknown battles can have consequences that extend far beyond their immediate aftermath; results that alter the world for centuries to come; effects that continue to impact national and international dynamics long after the details of the event have been all but forgotten.
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A Persian victory at Salamis or Plataea and the world never knows Aristotle, Euclid, Plato or Socrates – in short Western Civilization ends before it begins. In due course Imperial Rome absorbs Greek culture and spreads its influence throughout the Western world. For a thousand years after the fall of Rome the Byzantine Empire holds at bay the barbarian hordes of the East ensuring the traditions of Greece and Rome survive long enough to take root and thrive in the West. Without the political acumen of Justinian, the organizational skills of Narses and the military genius of Belisarius Byzantium might have imploded during the Nika Rebellion of 532. Instead of falling into civil war the Eastern Roman Empire thrives. The Byzantines reconquer North Africa and Italy, Justinian codifies Roman law which spreads throughout the realm greatly influencing the legal systems that follow. In short Constantinople becomes the repository of western culture and holds that ancient learning in safekeeping until its fall in 1453.
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An arrow to the eye of Harold II turned the tide of battle at Hastings (14 October 1066) resulting in the Norman conquest of England. William II became King of England as well as Duke of Normandy. From that point forward English Kings could claim hereditary lands and titles in France. French monarchs considered their English counterparts vassals and could and did demand oaths of fealty and proper homage. Thus the stage was set for centuries of conflict between the two emerging nations. Arrows (and heavy rain the night before) again played a decisive role at Agincourt (25 October 1415) when the common yeoman archer armed with his powerful English longbow slaughtered the flower of French nobility.
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The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, due more to gales and poor Iberian seamanship than British naval skill, ensured that England would retain its sovereignty, remain Protestant rather than be forcibly returned to the Catholic church, become a maritime power and eventually supplant the Dutch, French and Spanish as the dominant colonial power. This amalgam of Celts, Vikings, Romans and Franks forged on the anvil of war produced the uniquely English culture that found its way to the New World and grew into America.
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In 9A.D. the XVII, XVIII and XIX Legions commanded by Quintilius Varus were led into an ambush by a Germanic Chieftain called Arminius. Varus thought Arminius loyal to Rome and accepted his offer to lead the Romans against his countrymen. In fact Arminius harbored bitter resentment toward the Empire and had forged a coalition of like minded tribes to oppose Rome’s incursions beyond the Rhine. Against the advice of his senior officers Varus followed Arminius through the Teutoburger Wald. There on a narrow neck of land between the dense forest and a near impassable marsh the Germans struck. Caught in a long column of march the Romans were unable to form defensive squares. With the column broken in several places, fighting degenerated into separate mêlées. Under the circumstances Roman tactics, usually dominant on any battlefield, could not prevail against German numbers and the battle became a slaughter. The loss of three legions plus auxiliaries ensured the Roman frontier in Gaul remained the Rhine rather than the Elbe. Italy, France, Spain and England were profoundly influenced by centuries of Latin domination. Northwest Europe, for better or for worse, was shaped by the Germanic tribes.
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In 636A.D. the forces of the once powerful Byzantines, now known as the Eastern Roman Empire, a domain in eclipse, met the armies of Khalid Ibn al Walid at Yarmuk. A victory by the Byzantines might very well destroy the nascent religion which had stormed out of the desert just four years after the death of Mohamed or, at the very least, confine it to the Arabian Peninsula from which it had sprung. As fate would have it the Muslims won a decisive victory paving the way for the expansion of Islam throughout the Middle East, Anatolia and Egypt. Over the next one hundred years the word and the sword would carry the banners of Islam through North Africa and into Spain. In 1453 Constantinople fell; Greece, Macedonia and the Balkans followed. By 1529 Vienna itself was under siege. At the time the Islamic juggernaut seemed unstoppable and but for a handful of critical battles Western Civilization would have died in its infancy.
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At the Battle of Tours also known as Poitiers (732) Charles Martel routed the forces of Abd ar Rahman earning his sobriquet ‘The Hammer’ but more importantly his victory checked the Arab advance into Western Europe thereby preserving its Roman heritage. Latin culture formed the foundation of the Carolingian Empire forged by his son Pippin III and grandson Charlemagne that would evolve over the centuries into modern France. The Muslims or Moors as they were known continued to hold Spain but would eventually be driven into North Africa during the Reconquista.
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Selim the Sot, contrary to the Koran’s prohibitions, had a fondness for Cypriot wine and to ensure ample stocks of the vintage for his table, captured the island in 1570. The reaction in the west was unprecedented. The Holy League of Venice, the Habsburg dominions, Malta, Genoa and other Italian City States stopped feuding among themselves long enough to assemble a fleet of 210 galleys and fregatas armed with cannon. In 1571, off the western coast of Greece near Lepanto (Navpaktos) on the Gulf of Patras, the Allied fleet commanded by Don Juan of Austria clashed with 275 Turkish galleys. The Ottoman Turks, who still favored the ancient naval tactic of ramming and boarding, were no match for the well protected and well armed Christian fleet. In the battle that followed Don Juan destroyed or captured over 200 Turkish galleys at a cost of just fifteen of the Holy League’s vessels. The near total destruction of the Ottoman fleet, its first defeat in over two centuries, resounded through the East and the West. Although Barbary Pirates would continue to plague the Mediterranean for centuries to come, the major naval threat had been removed allowing Western commerce to flourish.
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Lepanto was not the first naval battle between Christians and Muslims. Equally important but much less well known was the engagement that took place in 1509 on the Indian Ocean near the port of Diu. 1500 years after the birth of Christ, Christianity was largely confined to Europe and Western Europe was a dark, stagnant, semi-barbaric land living in the shadow of the glory that had been ancient Rome. In half that time Islam had spread from Arabia west into Spain, east as far as the Philippines, north to the gates of Vienna and south along the coast of Africa. In contrast to an impoverished feudal Europe where learning had all but vanished and as for the fine arts only the art of war flourished, the Caliphate was an enlightened, thriving empire made enormously rich by its trade with China, Indonesia and India. The Mamluks ruled in Egypt, their rivals, the Ottomans, in Anatolia.
Ironically it was the crusades that brought about a renaissance in Europe. Contact with the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire rekindled the lamp of learning in the west; trade with the Muslims sparked a desire for the riches of the Far East; both worked in conjunction to foster the spirit of exploration. As the general level of education improved technology improved and as technology improved ships and seamanship improved and the European explorers pushed further and further. In addition to castles feudal lords began to erect universities and great cathedrals. Cathedrals required some means to summon the faithful. Guilds arose to provide massive bronze bells. From the casting of bells it was but a short step to the casting of large caliber cannon. With England and France embroiled in near continuous dynastic wars Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands enjoyed a period of supremacy. Since the Venetians, Genoese and Turks controlled the Mediterranean daring Portuguese merchants seeking to eliminate the Muslim middleman and gain direct access to the wealth of the Far East pushed around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and thus into the maritime source of Muslim wealth. Determined to rid Islam of this Christian threat the Mamluks persuaded the Ottomans to aid them. Between the two great powers the Muslims assembled a fleet of 200 galleys. Near Diu the Portuguese met the enemy with just seventeen vessels. Comrade Stalin famously noted, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” In this case however the Portuguese ships were so far superior numbers could not prevail. Much larger with numerous cannon in broadside the Portuguese ships made short work of the Muslim galleys ill suited as they were for open ocean warfare. Its navy destroyed the Mamluks could not protect their merchant fleet which gradually disappeared from the Indian Ocean. The loss of trade so weakened the Mamluks that they fell victim to their one time allies the Ottomans eight years later. What the Mamluks lost the Portuguese gained and for a time they were a power to be reckoned with. Eventually they succumbed to the Dutch who in turn gave way to the French and English.
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In 1683 the Ottoman Turks again laid siege to Vienna. At the direction of Sultan Mehmed IV, his Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, invested the city. The Grand Vizier took defensive measures to prevent any rescue attempt but did not go so far as to build lines of contravallation thinking the city would fall to his army estimated at 90,000 long before any relief forces could be organized and arrive. Pope Innocent XI called upon the faithful to aid Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg and the 16,000 defenders of the beleaguered city. Duke Charles of Lorraine, Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria, Johann Georg III of Saxony and Jan III Sobieski of Poland answered the Papal summons. At the Battle of Kahlenberg the allied forces of the Holy League broke into the Ottoman camp and in the panic that followed routed the Turkish forces. In the aftermath Kara Mustafa was executed, Sultan Mehmed IV deposed and more importantly Vienna relieved. By 1699 Ottoman forces had been driven out of all of Hungary. Over the next two centuries the Ottomans would be driven back into Anatolia and Greece and the immensely troubled and troublesome Balkan states would achieve independence.
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If you think all this is just ancient history of no consequence to anyone today mediate a debate between a Serb (Orthodox Christian), a Croat (Catholic) and a Bosniak (Muslim) ; seriously contemplate the never ending conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Grow up, scrape the COEXIST sticker off the bumper of your car and think rationally vice emotionally about how the West will deal with the mortal threat of militant Islam.
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On to something closer to home. On 05 September 1781 the French West Indies Fleet did something extremely rare in the annals of history – they soundly defeated a British fleet off the Virginia Capes sealing the fate of the Army besieged at Yorktown. Cut off from supply and with no means of escape Cornwallis was forced to surrender on 19 October 1781, another rarity in British history up until that time. This defeat brought about the fall of Lord North’s cabinet in March 1782. The Marquis of Rockingham formed a new government pledged to negotiations with the Americans. On 12 April 1782 the British destroyed the French West Indies fleet in a naval battle off Iles des Saintes. Had that engagement occurred six months earlier the outcome of the Revolutionary War is much less certain for the British still held the major cities of New York, Charleston and Savannah. The conflict might have dragged on, then again, the colonies were at the end of their economic tether and morale had plummeted among soldiers and civilians alike.
Section Five: Words and War
Wars have many causes, some lofty and noble, some base and selfish, some absurd and trifling. Battles have raged over women (Helen of Troy, Eleanor of Aquitaine), an oaken bucket (Modena vs. Bologna 1325-1337), misunderstood orders and officers too proud to clarify their commands (The Charge of the Light Brigade), shoes (Gettysburg July 1864) and a host of other reasons ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. The expression “a war of words” is significant for many conflicts begin and end with words.
Japanese is a convoluted and deliberately imprecise language. In a culture obsessed with honor great semantic pains are taken to avoid specifics and thereby circumvent anything that might give offense. Context means everything therefore unless you are raised in the culture misunderstandings are inevitable; sometimes lethal. When the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration in July 1945 their intent was quite clear:
We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.
This message was broadcast repeatedly and tens of thousands of leaflets were dropped throughout Japan to ensure the announcement was not concealed or suppressed by the government but reached as many of the Japanese people as possible. As should be expected this call for Unconditional Surrender was an anathema in a culture steeped in the traditions of Bushido. Never the less it precipitated a fierce debate in the senior leadership between the hard liners ready and willing to die in the rubble of Japan and those with a more realistic point of view who saw that defeat was inevitable, continuation of the war madness and therefore sought to save what remained of the nation and her people. As the debate raged reporters asked Prime Minister Suzuki how the government might reply. In typical political fashion when no firm position has been established he replied, “No comment.” The word he used was Mokusatsu. Literally the word means – take no notice of; treat with silent contempt; ignore by keeping silent; remain in a wise and masterly inactivity. Depending upon context the meanings of mokusatsu range from the extreme to the reasonable: kill with silence, treat with contempt, not worthy of comment, wait in silence until we can speak about something wise, ignore, wait in silence until we can speak with wisdom, or refrain from comment, i.e. taken under consideration, not worthy of comment or, the neutral, no comment. Unfortunately for the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki American translators were not well versed in the nuances of the Japanese language and took the meaning as ‘ignore.’ Given the increasing fanaticism and ferocity of Japanese resistance as the Allies moved inexorably closer to the Home Islands this interpretation was a logical conclusion. Ask any Marine who survived Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Peliliu, Guam, Iwo Jima or Okinawa what engaging an enemy sworn to die fighting was capable of.
Perhaps the Japanese might have made peace given more time. They did make overtures to the Soviets who, expecting to seize territory in the Far East and consequently not wanting the war to end before they could get involved, did not pass on their overtures. On the other hand the Japanese had stockpiled 10,000 planes, 350 Koryu and Kairyu midget submarines, 400 Kaiten manned torpedoes and 800 small boats called Shinyo to use as kamikazes. By recalling troops from Manchuria and Korea the army grown to 900,000 men organized into sixty divisions including several tank units. In addition the government had formed a Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps, arming, albeit badly, twenty-eight million men and women creating a huge irregular army.
During the Battle of Okinawa the Japanese committed about 8000 planes approximately half of which were used as kamikazes to support General Ushijima’s 32nd Army of 114,000 troops (approximately 66,000 army personnel, 9000 naval personnel, 24,000 Boeitai or Home Guard and 15,000 impressed laborers). Almost all of the planes were shot down but they managed to sink twenty-eight naval vessels including fifteen landing craft and twelve destroyers. In addition 368 ships including 120 amphibious vessels were badly damaged and 763 U.S. aircraft destroyed. While the kamikazes ravaged the supporting fleet at sea inflicting 9,700 casualties (4900 KIA, 4800 WIA) to naval personnel the 32nd Army had fought to the death. Only 7,400 Japanese, mostly Boeitai and recently conscripted laborers, surrendered. The remainder inflicted 65,400 casualties (7,500 KIA, 31,700 WIA and 26,200 non-battle losses) on the soldiers and Marines assaulting Okinawa. In addition an estimated 50,000-150,000 Japanese civilians died during the eighty-two day battle. After Okinawa there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind the Japanese had the will to commit national suicide rather than surrender as they had claimed for years prior.
Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, Admiral King, Admiral Leahy, General Marshall and General Arnold used Okinawa in planning Operation Downfall, Olympic – the invasion of Kyushu followed by Coronet – the invasion of Honshu. Based on the casualty figures for Okinawa and given the fact that the Japanese planes would have to fly much shorter distances and therefore be more effective the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated 250,000-500,000 casualties for Olympic and another 250,000-500,000 for Coronet. Casualty estimates for the Japanese were five to ten times higher than those of the Allies, approximately 1.5 to 10 million. Considering the math and the reluctance of the Japanese, perceived or real, to surrender the decision to use the atomic bomb was understandable.
Like it or not the atomic bombs did save lives. As devastating and as terrible as the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the firebombing of Tokyo was far worse and the cost of invasion was unthinkable not only to Allied personnel but also to the Japanese. Admiral Nimitz advocated blockade to starve the Japanese into submission. That scenario would have prolonged the war indefinitely as the Soviets devoured Korea, Manchuria and part of China. Had the United States restricted itself to conventional weapons General Curtis LeMay would not have left one stone standing on top of another in preparation for invasion. LeMay intended to assemble a fleet of 5,000 B-29’s augmented by 5,000 B-24’s and B-17’s plus 1,000 British Lancaster bombers to carpet bomb and totally incinerate all of Japan prior to any American landing, in other words, finish the job he had already begun. There is also one more factor to be considered, as cold blooded as it may seem. As soon as the war ended in Europe Stalin began laying the foundations of the future Warsaw pact by setting up puppet states in the territories occupied by the Red Army. The atomic bombs sent an unmistakable message from Truman to Stalin that this would not be tolerated in Asia.
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An American journalist interviewed Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg shortly after the 1918 Armistice was signed. He posed the question, “Who won the war?” Hindenburg replied, “The American infantry in the Argonne won the war. Without American troops against us and despite a food blockade which was undermining the civilian population of Germany and curtailing rations in the field, we could still have had a peace without victory. But the balance was broken by the American troops. The Argonne battle was bitter and used up division after division. I repeat, without the American blow in the Argonne, we could have made a satisfactory peace at the end of a stalemate or at least held our last positions on our own frontier indefinitely – undefeated – the American attack won the war.” This is important not only as a testament to the valor of the American doughboy in WWI but also as a cautionary warning about demagogues past, present and future. Taking advantage of the crisis created by the Great Depression and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles during the 1920’s and 1930’s radicals were able to twist the truth into the “stab in the back” myth. People and nations were divided, pitted against each other, just as radicals now are polarizing not only our nation but the entire world. Exact casualty figures are impossible to ascertain for many records were destroyed and many deaths were never recorded to begin with however best estimates are that 55 million people were killed during World War II. How many victims will the current “war of words” claim?
Part Six: The Influence of Sea Power
In 1865 the United States Navy mustered 700 ships (many of them iron clad and steam powered), mounting 5,000 cannon (many of those rifled, shell guns of the latest design), crewed by 6,700 officers and 51,000 men. In just five years 92.6 per cent of the fleet had been sold, scrapped or laid up. Only 52 ships mounting 500 guns remained in active commission. These, with a few notable exceptions, were crewed largely by the dregs of the waterfront for, as promotion and advancement opportunities stagnated, officers and enlisted personnel left the service in droves taking with them hard won battle experience and years of training. In this environment the eighteen knot USS Wampanoag[vii] , first warship to employ super heated steam, was scrapped as congress mandated a return to sail in order to save money on coal. A post war, isolationist, defensive mentality exacerbated the rush to disarm. Costal fortifications were deemed less provocative and considerably less expensive than a credible blue water navy.
As the United States bound its wounds and gradually recovered from reconstruction the nation began to look outward again. Of the forty-eight contiguous states by 1896 all but the Indian Territories had been tamed and entered the Union. Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma followed shortly after the turn of the century. Having settled the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific people began to consider transcontinental acquisitions as a natural extension or continuation of “Manifest Destiny.”[viii] In addition to the social and moral factors at work, a resurgent and increasingly industrialized America faced the prospect of saturated domestic markets further fueling the desire for overseas expansion. A renewed interest in foreign trade required a strong Navy to compete with Britain, France and Germany who were building empires in Africa, India and Asia through colonies and spheres of influence. Following the lean years of the 1870’s, the government was naturally interested in stimulating the economy. The burgeoning steel and ship building industries also looked with favor on a revitalized Navy for obvious reasons. In this atmosphere policy makers began to question the traditional commerce raiding strategy of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Increasingly they called for a fleet of capital ships, which could break any attempted blockade, prevent invasion and expand and protect American interests abroad. Modern warships required large capital investment at home and bases overseas to take on coal, replenish provisions and make repairs. Thus the requirements for a rejuvenated navy dovetailed neatly with an expanding economy, territorial acquisition and popular opinion.
In November 1884 as the forces of change grew in the United States a reluctant sailor perused the elegant library of the English Club in Lima, Peru. Invited to give a series of lectures at the recently established Naval War College he searched the polished shelves seeking inspiration. Taking up a leather bound copy of Mommsen’s The History of Rome the middle aged officer settled into an overstuffed chair and began to study Hannibal’s invasion of Rome during the Second Punic War. In that moment was born the most influential book on naval strategy and foreign policy of his era. In time this event would transform his heretofore undistinguished career and alter world events.
It is ironic that one of the worst seamen to ever command a ship underway should become one of the most influential naval theorists in maritime history. In 1861 Mahan drove the Pocahontas into the anchored Seminole. In 1874 Mahan scored a humiliating hat trick. While commanding Wasp he struck a barge at anchor, damaged an Argentinean warship during a storm off Buenos Aires and wedged the hapless Wasp into a dry dock caisson where it remained stuck fast for ten days much to the amusement of the citizens of Montevideo and his chagrin. On a calm sea in broad daylight in 1883 while commanding the Wachusett he collided with a bark under sail. His most embarrassing moment however came in 1893 when he hit the Naval Academy Training Ship Bancroft with the Chicago at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn. In addition to his notable achievements as a historian, Mahan holds the dubious distinction of grounding or colliding every ship he ever commanded except the Iroquois. This accident-prone Captain alternated his time at sea with tours at the recently established Naval War College where he was noted for his absolutely stultifying lectures.
Unable to bear the stress of command at sea again Mahan retired in 1896 in order to follow his true calling, that of historian and author. His twenty-one books, 137 articles and 107 letters to the editor had a profound influence not only in the United States but also throughout the world. His most important work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, published in 1890, grew out of a series of lectures given at the Naval War College. This book received worldwide attention. Hailed in England he dined with the Queen. Cambridge and Oxford conferred honorary degrees. Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered copies of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History placed onboard every ship of the Kaiserliche Marine and in every school, library and government office. Japan followed suit issuing translations to all army and navy officers, political leaders and schools.
Like many of his age Mahan believed that every element of human enterprise, be it science, history, social behavior or war, was governed by natural, universal laws ordained by God. With the proper application of reason these laws could be deduced and applied to ones benefit. Mahan sought to do for war at sea what Jomini and Clausewitz had done for land warfare. He argued that geographical position, physical conformation, extent of territory, number of population, national character and character of government formed the basis of sea power and formulated strategic and tactical principles for the application of sea power based on his study of history. In his work he called for concentration of force at critical points and preached the ideal of decisive victory. In Mahan’s mind battleships were the instrument of decisive victory and thus the measure of national power and international prestige.
In 1881 the United States Navy ranked 12th in the world behind Chile, China and Denmark. When a wealthy socialite lamented America’s lack of antiquities the satirist Oscar Wilde remarked, “No ruins! You have your Navy!” Mahan’s writings came at an opportune moment, lending the weight of history and science to popular sentiment for a revitalized navy. As Mahan grew in status as a scholar he gained influence with powerful men such as Theodore Roosevelt. As a direct result of his work, the United States embarked upon a massive shipbuilding program devoting as much as 20.7% of the Federal budget to the Navy. From 1895 to 1918 the United States commissioned no less than forty-three battleships in addition to cruisers, torpedo boat destroyers and other craft.
Although his tactical observations were on a par with his seamanship and he has been blamed for precipitating the naval race between England and Germany as well as the exponential growth and aggressive nature of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Mahan’s fundamental principles remain sound:
• Naval power is national power
• Sea power and world involvement are crucial to national security
In its time, Mahan’s writings on maritime strategy placed the Navy front and center on the national stage. As a result the Navy was able to transcend its commerce raiding traditions and become the premier instrument of national policy. As a result the United States Navy was the only branch of service even remotely prepared for World War One and Two, in both cases transporting millions of men to Europe without the loss of one soldier.
Part Seven: Intelligence has its limits; stupidity knows no bounds.
Some wars are fought for freedom or other lofty ideals; some conflicts are caused by baser motives; and some confrontations have their origins in folly. Occasionally nations manage to avoid war but you never know what trivial incident will ignite the powder keg of national antagonisms. Whatever their casus belli all hostilities can have severe if not catastrophic consequences.
|The Paraguayan War|
As a child Francisco Lopez liked nothing more than playing soldier. As he grew older he fancied himself the South American Napoleon Bonaparte. As President of Paraguay recurring border disputes and tariff issues with Brazil gave him the opportunity to realize those youthful dreams. In 1864 he declared war on Brazil. In 1865 Argentina and Uruguay joined Brazil in a Triple Alliance against Lopez. The resulting war was an unmitigated disaster for Paraguay. After the utter destruction of his army on the battlefield Lopez lead what we would now call an irregular or asymmetric war causing the decimation of his civilian population. The devastation continued until Lopez was killed by Brazilian troops on 01 March 1870. It took decades for Paraguay to recover its losses and Brazil, although victorious, incurred ruinous debt which severely hampered that nations growth. The only country to reap any benefit from this ill advised war was Argentina. As the Franco-Prussian war set the various German states onto the path to unification so the Paraguayan War galvanized the Argentinean people helping her to emerge as a nation state.
|War of the Stray Dog|
Greece and Bulgaria fought repeatedly over Macedonia and Western Thrace – by proxy from 1904 – 1908, with conventional forces during the Second Balkan War of 1913 and yet again during the last two years of World War One 1916-1918. The Armistice brought an end to overt fighting but not peace; tensions between the two rivals remained high. On 19 October 1925 a dog strayed across the border. When its master, a Greek soldier, ran after his dog, Bulgarian sentries fired upon the soldier killing him. The Bulgarian government apologized for the incident but Greece, looking for any pretext to continue the struggle, was not satisfied. The dictator of Greece, General Theodoros Pangalos issued an ultimatum. Forty-eight hours later Greek soldiers occupied Petrich where the incident had occurred intending to hold the border town until Greek honor had been satisfied. Bulgaria appealed to the League of Nations to intervene. In one of its rare success stories the League was able to prevent yet another war between Bulgaria and Greece.
|The Aroostook or Pork and Beans War|
Great Britain and the United States fought two major wars and nearly came to blows twice again. In the Aroostook War of 1838-1839 the United Kingdom and the United States faced off over the international border between the colony of New Brunswick and the state of Maine. The Treat of Paris (1783) ended the Revolution but did not clearly define the border between Canada and the United States. The Jay Treaty (1794) clarified some issues but left others unresolved. During the War of 1812 the British sent troops into Eastern Maine intending to annex the region. The Treat of Ghent (1814) ended that war but reestablished the 1783 boundary line effectively sending both parties back to square one. In 1820 Maine broke away from Massachusetts becoming the 23rd state further complicating the border issue with Canada. People from both nations settled in the region and both American and Canadian lumberjacks harvested timber in the disputed territory fomenting conflict. Following the Battle of Caribou and other incidents on 24 January 1839 the newly elected Governor, John Fairfield, sent volunteer militiamen to the upper Aroostook to settle the matter. The citizens of New Brunswick on the Canadian side responded in kind. If you have ever hiked in the dense forests of northern Maine you can appreciate what conditions were like for the militiamen bivouacked there 175 years ago. Posted at the far end of a tenuous supply line rations were limited to whatever they could pack in supplemented by wild game. Fortunately the forces on both sides did little more than build fortifications and glare at one another. No shots were fired but there were casualties from accidents and disease; not surprising since the soldiers diet in the deep woods consisted largely of pork and beans simply sitting around the campfire had to be hazardous. For once trade trumped war and Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, First Baron of Ashburton, were able to agree to terms. The Treaty of Washington (1842) settled the Canadian – Maine boundary as well as the border between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota averting a third war between England and the United States.
|The Pig and Potato War|
The Washington Treaty did not settle all border disputes between Canada and the United States however. Another disagreement, this time on the west coast, nearly precipitated yet another war. The Oregon Treaty of 15 June 1846 established the Canadian / United States boundary so as to follow “along the 49th Parallel of North Latitude to the middle channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the Pacific Ocean.” Sounds precise but there are three channels through the seaway – the Haro Straight, the Rosario Strait and the San Juan channel. Consequently both nations claimed and settled San Juan Island. The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay better known as the Hudson’s Bay Company built a sheep ranch on the island while Americans, per the Donation Land Claim Act, moved there to farm. On 15 June 1859 Lyman Cutlar found a large black pig rooting in his potato patch. This being the latest in numerous such incidents the exasperated farmer shot and killed the swine. As it turned out the pig belonged to Charles Griffin an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Cutlar offered ten dollars by way of compensation. Griffin demanded one hundred. Things rapidly escalated from there.[x] British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar; American settlers appealed to the United States for military protection. The Commander of the Military Department of Oregon, Brigadier General William S. Harney, sent the soon to be famous Captain George Pickett with a detachment of soldiers to San Juan Island with orders to keep the British out. The British countered by dispatching three warships commanded by Captain Geoffrey Hornby. In response to the threat of British invasion Pickett defiantly remarked, “We’ll make a Bunker Hill out of it.” By 10 August 1859 the American garrison had grown to 461 men supported by fourteen cannon. They stood in opposition to an English flotilla now mustering five warships, seventy guns total, and carrying over 2000 men. The Governor of Vancouver Colony, James Douglas, ordered Rear Admiral Robert L. Bayner commanding the powerful British squadron to land his Marines. Fortunately for the badly outnumbered and out gunned Americans the more level headed Rear Admiral Bayner refused to involve “two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig.” In September President James Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to negotiate with Governor Douglas. With tensions rising between the north and the south the United States could not afford a war with England, especially one whose casus belli was a swine. The two sides agreed to a joint military occupation until the matter could be resolved by arbitration. As soldiers will whenever a truce is declared former antagonists became quite friendly there being little to do on the Island other than trade rations, swap stories, celebrate respective national holidays, hold athletic competitions and toast one another’s health with strong spirits. So much alcohol was consumed it was a marvel fighting did not break out as the result of a drunken brawl. England could have easily seized all of Puget Sound at any time from April 1861 to April 1865 but showing remarkable forbearance did not. The joint military occupation continued until 1872. By that time the Colony of Vancouver had merged with the Colony of British Columbia which in turn had been incorporated into the Dominion of Canada. Yet another Treaty of Washington finally settled the differences between the two nations who have enjoyed a halcyon relationship ever since.
|The Football War|
If you still think borders are passé and immigration laws outmoded after reading the previous four accounts perhaps the story of The Football War will convince you that mankind is not quite ready to embrace the “citizens of the world” concept. Ironically the pretext for this conflict was the deadly riots that followed the second qualifying round of the 1970 FIFA World Cup between El Salvador and Honduras. Soccer was just the excuse for war however. Tensions had been growing between the two nations since the turn of the century. Honduras is five times the size of El Salvador but El Salvador although significantly smaller has twice Honduras’ population. A large number of people and a small amount of land in a nation with little appreciable industry is a recipe for poverty. Seeking opportunities not available at home and to escape the privation of the land of their birth Salvadorians had been migrating in mass to sparsely populated Honduras eventually reaching twenty per cent of the peasant population. In 1962 Honduras enacted a land reform law and began taking land from Salvadorian immigrants redistributing it to native born Hondurans. Now landless and penniless thousands of displaced Salvadorians were deported to El Salvador creating great hardship and even greater animosity. The second qualifying round of the 1970 FIFA World Cup happened to coincide with the rapidly escalating hostility between the two nations. Honduras outscored El Salvador 1-0 in the first game played on 08 June 1969 amid severe fan violence. The second game, played on 15 June 1969, went to El Salvador 3-0 during which fighting escalated. El Salvador won the decisive play-off game 3-2. Although the third game was played in Mexico City, supposedly neutral territory, that did not prevent further bloodshed. That same day, 26 June 1969, El Salvador broke diplomatic relations with Honduras accusing Honduras of genocide and demanding reparations. When their demands were not promptly met El Salvador launched an air attack on 14 July 1969, followed by a ground invasion. The following day the Organization of American States (OAS) intervened and by 02 August the war was over.
The consequences of this short war greatly exceeded the casualties incurred by both sides. To the detriment of all of Central and South America the Central American Common Market that had been set up to counteract the influence of Communist Cuba was suspended for twenty-two years allowing Castro to make inroads in the region. Democracy took a back seat to military power as the army blatantly manipulated elections for its own benefit. The nascent reform process also became a casualty of war. Institutional fraud which had always been problematic became endemic. The economic and social situation in El Salvador worsened and within ten years the country would be engulfed in civil war. Parts of South and Central America remain in turmoil, convulsed by strife, hamstrung by acute poverty, without hope. And where law and order fails, narco terrorism prevails. Consequently the by product of crime and corruption floods our porous borders every day.
The purpose of this series is to:
1. Show by example how seemingly insignificant events can have widely felt, long term consequences that reach far beyond the direct participants and the immediate moment
2. Demonstrate through illustration how everything in human affairs i.e., history is connected forming a fragile chain of events through time.
Fail to stop Hitler when the Rhineland is remilitarized and the result is World War II. Fail to stop Putin in the Crimea and he will take the Ukraine. Fail to stop ISIS in Syria and it spreads to Iraq, Kurdistan, Jordan and from there, only time will tell. If you find a Fer-de-Lance in your back yard where your children play you do not negotiate with it, you do not reason with it, you do not open a dialogue with it, you do not place sanctions upon it, you do not move to the other side of the lawn and hope that it will go away or at the very least respect your boundaries and stay on its side of the grass. No, you kill it! You kill it and all its brothers and sisters and cousins every time and every place you find them without hesitation, without regret, without second thoughts. You must understand that a Boomslang cannot transcend its nature; nor can a Blue Krait rise above its character; a Death Adder can only be and always will be a cold blooded, lethally venomous reptile, therefore dangerous, and act accordingly. That does not mean you are uncivilized. That does not mean you are callous. That means you are using the rational portion of your brain to see the world as it actually is vice the emotional side and how you would like it to be. Pity our leaders are not so clear headed and strong willed as our enemies.
[i]. Franco did send troops to support the German invasion of the Soviet Union with the strict condition they would fight exclusively against Communism on the Eastern Front. In that manner Franco could repay Hitler for his support during the Spanish Civil War but not overtly provoke any of the Western Allies. Officially designated the Division Espanola de Voluntarios by the Spanish government and incorporated into the Wehrmacht as the 250th Infantry Division the unit was comprised of 2,612 officers and 15,492 enlisted men, a total of 18,104 soldiers. Organized in triangular fashion its three regiments named Madrid, Valencia and Seville each contained three battalions comprised of four companies plus two weapons companies. The infantry units were supported by an artillery regiment of four battalions consisting of four battalions with three batteries apiece. Approximately fifty per cent of the volunteers were professional soldiers. The remainder was a mix of Falangists (members of the Spanish Fascist party), Carlists and defeated Republicans hoping to redeem themselves in the eyes of the victorious Nationalists. Forbidden to wear the uniform of the Spanish Army they adopted the red berets of the Carlists, the khaki trousers of the Spanish Legion and the blue shirts of the Falangists as their dress uniform, hence the nickname Division Azul in Spanish, Blaue Division in German or Blue Division in English. After training in Bavaria the Blue Division joined the German 16th Army, part of Army Group North providing commendable service on the Volkhov River Front and the Izhora River Front during the siege of Leningrad. Heavily attacked during the Battle of Krasny Bor the Blue Division cemented its reputation as a solid unit. Between its inception on 24 June 1941 and its disestablishment on 10 October 1943 forty-seven thousand men would rotate through the ranks on crucible of the Eastern Front. During this period 4,954 were killed, 8,700 wounded and 372 captured. When recalled to Spain and disbanded by Franco approximately 3000 men, mostly Falangists, ignored their orders and continued to fight primarily in Waffen SS units such as the Wallonien and Nordland Divisions serving until the fall of Berlin.
[ii]. In January 1917 the US Army ranked 17th in the world – 107,641 Regular Army soldiers posted in small detachments throughout the country and 132,000 National Guardsmen of dubious quality. The best trained, immediately available combat force was the Marine Corps but it mustered only 15,500 personnel and these were scattered around the world. Divisions existed only on organizational charts; the Army had conducted no large scale operations since 1865, it had no tanks, planes or other heavy equipment in its inventory worth mentioning and lacked the logistic capability to conduct distant, lengthy campaigns. That said America’s military potential was vast. By March 1918, just over one year later, the AEF in France numbered 318,000 men, by August the total deployed reached an astounding 1,300,000 and not one lost to German U-boats while crossing the Atlantic. This amazing effort and Hindenburg’s assessment that, “The American infantry in the Argonne won the war……..without the American blow in the Argonne, we could have made a satisfactory peace at the end of a stalemate” makes one truly question Hitler’s sanity when he declared war on the US in 1941 and the sanity of our leaders who gut our military after every war rather than maintaining a credible deterrent force. This policy guarantees the unnecessary deaths of thousands each and every time the next war is forced upon us.
[iii]. The general public does not give World War I the attention it merits. Compared to the Blitzkrieg campaigns of World War II, the stagnant trench warfare of the Great War is dismissed as an unnecessary bloodbath. While there is a kernel of truth in that outlook the wider repercussions are missed. Had the Kaiser been victorious the rise of Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy, Imperialism in Japan and Bolshevism in Russia is much less likely. As it was Allied victory came at a terrible price: 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the British and French Empires, the financial capital of the world shifted from London to Wall Street, the United States became the world’s leading industrial power, slighted at the negotiating table Japan would side with the Axis twenty years later, the division of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire without regard to religious sects, tribal loyalties or history laid the foundation for the unrest that continues to play out in the Balkans and Middle East to this day.
[iv]. To be fair to Kaiser Wilhelm there is ample evidence that he was little more than a figure head without real power. Divided by competing factions the Reichstag also wielded little influence on matters of foreign affairs and military strategy. The real power behind the throne was the Army General Staff.
[v]. When the Christians and Muslims were not killing one another they were trading and European lust for the pearls of Persia, the gold of India, the silks of China and the spices of Indonesia made the land of Islam fabulously wealthy, in effect funding the very armies they were fighting. In the same manner today, when we purchase oil from the Middle East we fund the very people who have vowed to destroy Western Civilization proof, if you needed any, that we never learn anything from history.
[vi]. While the Ottomans ruled the Balkans the Muslims abused both Protestant Serbs and Catholic Croats. During its reign the Austro-Hungarian Empire held all parties in an uneasy truce. At the end of World War I the Allies carved Serbian dominated Yugoslavia out of the Hapsburg corpse. As a result from 1918 to 1941 the Croats and Muslims suffered. During World War II the Croats collaborated with the Nazis taking their revenge tenfold. While Tito was in power the Communists ruthlessly suppressed all factions. When The USSR and consequently the Warsaw Pact dissolved, independence came with a terrible price. The lid came off the pot that had simmered for decades boiling over into genocide.
[vii]. Quite advanced for their time the Wampanoag class had sleek clipper-ship hulls designed by Donald McKay and powerful engines provided by Benjamin Franklin Isherwood. Armed with ten nine-inch smoothbore cannon and three sixty pounder rifled guns these ships were 3-4 knots faster than any vessel in the British fleet. Their existence greatly influenced England’s agreement to arbitration of America’s damage claims regarding the commerce raider CSS Alabama.
[viii]. The term “Manifest Destiny” has a long and fascinating history. Having conquered Wales, Ireland and Scotland, England’s expansionist impulses found outlet in the New World in the form of the thirteen colonies. Born of colonization and given its vast, open frontier continued expansion came naturally to colonial America. The roots of Manifest Destiny in the United States can be traced to John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” sermon given in 1630. He was echoed by Thomas Paine, who wrote in Common Sense in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world again.” To this concept in 1787 James Madison added, “This form of government in order to effect its purposes, must operate not within a small but an extensive sphere.” Thomas Jefferson took concrete action of this idea with the Louisiana Purchase. First termed, “Continentalism” John Quincy Adams, instrumental in obtaining Florida from Spain and formulation of the Monroe Doctrine, wrote to his father in 1811, “The whole continent of North America appears to be destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation. . . I believe it is indispensable that they should be associated in one federal Union.” In 1843 Andrew Jackson described the process as “extending the area of freedom.” In 1845 New York journalist John L. O’Sullivan gave nave to America’s self-imposed mission in the world when he wrote of, “our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” The appellation struck a resonant chord with congress and the general public. No less a luminary than Herman Melville took up the call for continental and maritime expansion, writing in 1850, “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time: we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.” In 1863 Abraham Lincoln described the United States as, “the last, best hope of Earth.” This romantic notion took a more commercial form at the turn of the century when Theodore Roosevelt wrote that it was “of the utmost importance” that the United States secure “the commanding position in the international business world…especially at a time when foreign markets are essential.” Even the noted progressive idealist Woodrow Wilson acknowledged, “If America is not to have free enterprise, then she can have freedom of no sort whatever…We need foreign markets.” Only later did he speak of making the world “safe for Democracy.” In one form or another, the concept of Manifest Destiny continues to influence American foreign policy to this day.
[ix]. During the period under consideration the American economy grew fourfold – from $9.1 billion (GNP 1869-1873) to $37.1 billion (GNP 1897-1901).
[x]. The story is probably apocryphal but it is worth repeating. Reportedly Cutlar and Griffin had previously lived amicably. When Cutlar complained to his neighbor, “It was eating my potatoes” Griffin replied, “It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.”
[xi]. The Football War may have been the last conflict in which piston driven fighters clashed. Both sides flew World War II era aircraft: P-51 Mustangs, F4U Corsairs and C-47 Skytrains modified to serve as bombers.
[xii]. If you think graft is rampant in the United States – it is, however it has not quite reached Central American standards. During the Football War the Third Military Zone of the Honduran Army mustered only half the personnel listed on its Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E). The funds allocated for the missing soldiers had been pocketed by senior army officers.