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From Small Causes, Great Events
By Larry Parker

Chapter 1


Everyone should understand and appreciate the significance of great events and great men upon history. Had either Darius or Xerxes emerged victorious in any of the Graeco-Persian wars, Greek and, as a result, Western civilization would have been terminated in its infancy, completely changing the world as we know it. Had Islam triumphed at Chalons (451), Poitiers (732), Lepanto (1571) or Vienna (1529 & 1683) Mohamed's vision of a worldwide caliphate might now be a reality. Had the Battle of the Virginia Capes (1781) followed the usual course of events in English versus French encounters during the period when the Royal Navy ruled the waves, the American Revolution might have ended in defeat rather than victory at Yorktown.

Everyone should also understand the relationship of cause and effect upon history. Everyone should appreciate that in the interplay of the myriad details that bring history into being everything is connected, yet nothing about the chronicle is inevitable, nothing about the saga is fixed. Few, however, do. Indeed some experts would have us believe there are no great events, that history is the inexorable result of wide spread trends, mass movements, the realm of ideas; that individuals do not matter, there are no great men; that details are inconsequential, minutiae swept up in the vast and overwhelming tide of human actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Events balance precariously on the fulcrum of human interaction and the smallest details can tip the outcome of those events one way or another. Great men can rise or fall due as much to random chance as to their own abilities. Great events sometimes hinge on the most trivial, even absurd things. When the present becomes the past and scribes put pen to paper the details are lost in the broad sweep of their musings. In time the element of chance is forgotten. Only then do scholars speak of destiny or inevitability.

In his treatise, Bellum Gallicum, no less a history maker than Julius Caesar observed, "In Bello Parvis Momentis Magni Casus Intercedunt." (In war great events are the results of small causes.) Caesar had the truth of it. Undeniably, there are cycles and trends to history. As the stories that follow demonstrate however, the details are just as crucial to the account of great events and great men that is history. Follow the connections, for that is what makes history truly fascinating; study the small causes, for they are the genesis of great events.

Part One - Chance and the Rise and Fall of Great Men

Battle is a capricious affair. In the maelstrom of shot and shell one man is struck down while the man at his side escapes unscathed. In the ebb and flow of combat the reputation of one man is gilded while that of another, equally capable man, is destroyed. Consider the case of Lieutenant General William Henry Ewart Gott. A large man with an aggressive, extroverted personality, Gott served with distinction as part of the British Expeditionary Force in the trenches of France during World War I. His record as General Officer Commanding, 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) during Operations Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader in North Africa during World War II however, was not impressive. As the historian J. A. I. Agar-Hamilton noted, "It has not been unknown for a commander to pass from disaster to disaster, but it is quite without precedent for any commander to pass from promotion to promotion as a reward for a succession of disasters." In spite of his record, Gott was brevetted to Lieutenant General and given command of XIII Corps in early 1942. In August, when Churchill decided to remove General Sir Claude Auchinleck as Commander in Chief Middle East and acting General Officer Commanding Eighth Army, Gott was selected as Auchinleck's replacement. Churchill made his decision over the objections of General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who felt Gott, having served continuously in the desert since the war began, had lost his customary energy and determination and lacked the experience necessary for army command. En route to Cairo to take leave prior to assuming command, Gott was killed when the Bristol Bombay transport plane in which he was a passenger was jumped by two Bf-109's of JG27. The flight leader, Emil Clade, piloting one of the German fighters, scored the initial hits on the hapless transport. UFFZ Bernd Schneider then strafed the downed plane and is credited with the kill. Only the pilot, second pilot, navigator, wireless operator and medical orderly escaped the crash. Gott and fourteen sick or wounded men trapped inside the fuselage died in the flaming wreckage. Gott's chosen replacement was Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery. The rest, as they say, is history. But imagine the ramifications of the North African campaigns of 1942-1943 with the Eighth Army, in less capable hands, pitted against the Afrika Korps under Rommel, the Desert Fox.

Consider now the events of 06-07 April 1862, the Battle of Shiloh, forty-eight hours that will make and break careers and consequently, have a monumental impact on the outcome of the American Civil War.

War Comes to Shiloh

Following his victory at Fort Donelson, Major General Ulysses S. Grant moved the Army of the Tennessee (45,000 men) to Pittsburg Landing where he established his Headquarters. There he planned to join forces with Major General Don Carlos Buell, marching southwest from Nashville with 37,000 men of the Army of the Ohio, later renamed the Army of the Cumberland. Together they planned to strike a decisive blow against Corinth, Mississippi - junction of the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads. From Corinth lines ran east to Chattanooga and south to Mobile connecting the trans-Mississippi states and the Gulf Coast to Atlanta and, from there, to Richmond. Supplies from those areas were vital to the success of the Army of Northern Virginia and therefore, the survival of the nascent Confederate nation. Recognizing the logistic and strategic importance of Corinth, General Albert Sidney Johnston and his second in command General P. G. T. Beauregard determined to attack Grant before he could unite with Buell, defeating the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio in detail. By concentrating various scattered commands Johnston gathered about 45,000 men and, seizing the initiative, began the twenty-three mile march from Corinth to Pittsburg Landing on 03 April. Rain and inexperience turned what should have been a one day march into a three day ordeal of mud and confusion, negating Johnston's carefully crafted time table. Exhausted, the Confederates finally finished their approach march late on 05 April. Johnston feared he had lost the element of surprise but resolved to give battle regardless, stating "I would fight them if they were a million." He need not have worried. The six divisions of the Army of the Tennessee were encamped from Crump's Landing (four miles north of Pittsburg Landing) to Shiloh Meeting House (four miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing), had made no effort to form defensive works and, in spite of skirmishing between Union pickets and Confederate scouts, Grant and Sherman dismissed numerous reports of Rebel activity from subordinates as 'nerves.' Consequently the Union army remained peaceably bivouacked.

Topography and Battle Plans

In 1862 Shiloh was a wooded area, dotted with about two dozen fields that had been cleared for farming. Numerous streams drained the region forming steep hills and deep ravines where they flowed into the Tennessee River. In short, ideal ground for defense, which Grant, convinced the Confederates could not or would not attack, failed to utilize. Instead Grant opted for comfortable billets and the opportunity to train his many raw recruits in drill while he waited to join forces with Buell. When the Confederate blow fell however, the rough terrain allowed Union troops to quickly form a series of defensive lines, most notably at the Hornet's Nest, a nearly impassable copse of oak and tangled undergrowth.

In so far as the ground favored the Union defense by the same measure it severely hampered the rebel attack. Johnston's grand Napoleonic alignment of four corps in echelon, designed for a massive, concentrated assault was broken up more by terrain than by Union resistance. As units moved forward they became separated, then hopelessly co-mingled with other units, adding to the confusion resultant from fallen officers and general inexperience. Most significantly, Johnston's plan to assault Grant's left flank, push the Union host away from the Tennessee River and trap it against Owl Creek was compromised by the numerous ravines along the river bank. The rebels would have been better served had Johnston assigned each Corps a designated sector with one Corps in reserve to reinforce success in any one area. Even so, tactical surprise nearly carried the day for the Confederate army.

0500-1200 The Battle of the Camps

Under the cover of darkness the Confederates formed line of battle with the troops of Major General William J. Hardee commanding III Corps (three brigades totaling approximately 7000 men) followed by those of Major General Braxton Bragg (II Corps consisting of six brigades, 16000 men), Major General Leonidas Polk (I Corps, four brigades, 7000 men) and the Reserve Corps commanded by the former Vice-President of the United States (1857-1861) Brigadier General John C. Breckinridge (three brigades, 7000 men). Greatly aided by Union complacency regarding reports of Confederate troop movements, Johnston completely surprised Grant with his dawn attack on 06 April 1862 near Shiloh Meeting House, a Methodist Church whose name means Place of Peace. Charging Confederates under Hardee caught Union forces emerging from their tents or at breakfast and initially swept them from the field. As resistance stiffened Bragg joined the assault and the hastily formed Union lines at Shiloh Church, Seay Field and Spanish Field disintegrated.

1200-1800 The Hornet's Nest

But for a heroic delaying action by men under the command of Brigadier General Prentis in an area that would become known as the "Hornet's Nest" and a breakdown in Confederate command and control the rebels might have pushed the Army of the Tennessee into its namesake river on the morning of 06 April. Under the inspired leadership of Prentis, the remnants of his division rallied and, reinforced by two brigades of the 4th Division under the command of Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut, plus the 2nd Division commanded by Brigadier General W. H. L. Wallace, held off repeated Confederate attacks on the Federal center for nearly seven hours. Due to poor coordination the rebels made no less than twelve piecemeal attacks on the Hornet's Nest, each one repulsed with heavy losses. Finally, around 1600, Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles massed eleven batteries, some 62 cannon, on Duncan field and began pounding the Union line. Under the cover of this devastating fire the Confederates were able to outflank the position that had cost them so dearly in time and blood, taking 2,300 Yankees captive.

1400 The Death of A. S. Johnston

After a final conference with Beauregard early on 06 April, Johnston mounted his horse, Fire Eater, and rode to the sound of the guns to supervise troop movements at the front. Beauregard remained at the Confederate Headquarters in the rear to coordinate activity there and channel reinforcements where they were needed. Around 1400, as he was organizing an assault, Johnston was wounded in the right calf, directly behind the knee. In the heat of battle he did not realize he had been seriously hurt but the shell had torn the popliteal artery and, as his boot filled with blood, Johnston slowly bled to death. Johnston continued to give commands until he fell from his saddle around 1430. Earlier Johnston had dispatched his personal physician to tend Union wounded. A simple tourniquet would have saved his life but Johnston expired before the nature of his wound was discovered and he could receive medical attention. Upon Johnston's death command passed to General Beauregard.

1800-2000 Grant Holds

Given precious time to rally his men and form a defensive line just north of the Dill Branch and east of Tillman or Tilghman Creek (on some maps annotated as Glover Branch) along the Pittsburg Landing and River roads and supported by the gunboats USS Tyler and USS Lexington who enfiladed the rebel lines with heavy naval cannon, Union forces held. At the front General Bragg attempted to organize a final push to dislodge the badly shaken Union forces securing a Confederate victory before Buell could add his weight to that of Grant. He was overruled by General Beauregard who concluded the men were too tired and too disorganized to mount an effective assault so late in the day. Besides, he reasoned, surely Grant would use the cover of darkness to cross the Tennessee River and slip away. In this Beauregard misjudged Grant completely.

07 April Counterattack

The following day, reinforced by advance elements of the Army of the Ohio and the Third Infantry Division under Major General Lewis "Lew" Wallace, Grant was able to muster 54,000 effectives in spite of his losses on 06 April. Mauled on the first day, Beauregard had only 34,000 men able to carry on the contest. In a mirror image of the first day, Grant launched a broad front counterattack that drove the battered rebel forces from the field where 13,000 Union and 10,700 Confederate soldiers gave their all. As the Union troops had the day before, the Confederates made several attempts to hold but the weary rebels no longer had the strength to oppose the Union juggernaut and by the end of the day found themselves back at Shiloh church.

Fallen Timbers

Unable to resist the resurgent Union army, General P. G. T. Beauregard left Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest to cover the rebel retreat back to Corinth. Pursued by Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Forrest and his cavalrymen fought a short, sharp rearguard action at Fallen Timbers. During that engagement Forrest was severely wounded and Sherman nearly captured. In his after action report Sherman wrote, "I, and the rest of my staff ingloriously fled, pell mell, through the mud, closely followed by Forrest and his men." At the annual meeting of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee in 1881 Sherman elaborated, stating, "I am sure that had he (Forrest) not emptied his pistols as he passed the skirmish line, my career would have ended right there." The rains that had plagued both armies since 03 April picked up again that evening and Grant, his army as disorganized in victory as the rebels were in defeat, made no further serious effort to pursue the beaten enemy.


Shiloh has been called "The Battle of Blunders." This should come as no surprise for in 1862 untrained, untested recruits far outnumbered seasoned veterans. In many units officers were elected by the rank and file based on popularity rather than experience. Others were lead by men who had purchased their commission, obtained command through political connections, or simply were wealthy enough to raise a unit when the various states issued their call to arms. Armies exceeding 100,000 had never taken the field in America before. Therefore even those few West Point graduates who had served in the Mexican-American War had no experience leading hosts of such magnitude. Technical advancements in rifles, pistols and cannon had far outpaced theories of war. Indeed there had been little or no change in tactics since Napoleon had marched through Europe. The learning curve in 1861-1862 was steep and every lesson cost dearly in blood. There were many errors in judgment and more than enough blame to go around in the early years of the Civil War. Then as now, culpability was not shared equally.

Over 100,000 men fought at Shiloh, the first major engagement in the Western Theatre. In just two days, twenty per cent of the Union forces and twenty-four per cent of the Confederate forces engaged were killed, wounded or missing. The enormity of the butcher's bill, nearly 24,000 casualties in just one battle, more than all previous American wars combined, appalled the civilian population, North and South, disabusing the illusion that this would be a short, glorious war. In the furor that followed Shiloh, Grant's superior, General Halleck, and others envious of his growing reputation, called for Grant's removal for incompetence. Fortunately Grant's career was salvaged by President Lincoln who stated, "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Contrast that outcome with the fate of General Lew Wallace whose Third Division was in reserve at Pittsburgh Landing approximately five miles from Shiloh when the Confederates attacked at 0500 on 06 April. Due to confusing orders and washed out roads his hapless troops spent the entire day marching and counter-marching, not arriving where they were badly needed until after 1900, too late to take part in the first day's battle. Although he acquitted himself well on the second day, rightly or wrongly Wallace's here-to-fore promising career ended in disgrace at Shiloh. He was blamed for the near disaster on the first day and Wallace spent the remainder of the war in inconsequential commands on secondary fronts.[i]

What If

Imagine the Civil War fought without Grant had he suffered the same fate as his subordinate, General Wallace, after Shiloh. Suppose Grant had been denied the support of his most trusted and most competent lieutenant had Sherman been killed or captured at Fallen Timbers. For the South, the death of General Johnston is hard to measure. Had he survived would he have become the Robert E. Lee of the Western Theatre? On that historians can only speculate. What is known is that his successors, Beauregard and Bragg, despite their impressive pre-war records, proved unequal to the task and John Bell Hood was a disaster for the Southern cause when he assumed command in July 1864.

Ripples of Battle

As Victor Davis Hanson brilliantly noted, the ripples of battle carry far beyond the immediate military repercussions to influence all aspects of society, as the rest of the story of Lew Wallace and other notables present at Shiloh will attest.

Lew Wallace spent the remainder of his life trying, vainly, to remove the stain of Shiloh from his military career. Although he failed in that endeavor he found great success in other areas. He served on the court that tried Lincoln's assassins and was President of the Court that heard the case against Henry Wirz, former commander of the notorious Andersonville Prisoner of War camp. Most famously, while serving as Governor of the New Mexico Territories in 1880 he wrote the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Ben-Hur remained the bestselling American novel from 1880 until 1936 when Margaret Mitchell published Gone with the Wind. Ben-Hur was adapted to stage and played to sold out crowds throughout the world for twenty-one years. With the advent of film, movie adaptations of Ben-Hur were released in 1907, 1925, 1959 and 2003. The 1959 version, staring Charlton Heston, won eleven academy awards and was the highest grossing film of 1960.

Like many ambitious men throughout history, James Abram Garfield saw military service as an opportunity to further his political career and, conversely, politics as means to further his military career. Using his connections he obtained a commission, enjoyed some minor success in battle and by 1862 had risen to the rank of Brigadier General commanding the 20th Brigade, 6th Division, Army of the Ohio. In October 1862 Garfield's military reputation helped him win a seat in Congress as a Representative from Ohio. So far all was going according to design. Then he hit a snag. His unit was the last to reach Shiloh. Consequently he saw no action in that engagement. Needing further glory for further advancement, following Shiloh he hitched his wagon to the rising star of General Rosecrans, accepting the position as his Chief of Staff. The best laid plans however often go awry. Rosecrans was soundly defeated at Chickamauga. To make matters worse, the retreat to Chattanooga and the prolonged siege that followed were an unmitigated disaster. Garfield managed to avoid any guilt by association but astutely realized this was an opportune time to leave the Army. Garfield resigned his commission to take up the seat he had won in October 1862 entering in Congress in December 1863. He served in the House of Representatives for eight straight terms before being selected to the Senate in 1880. Garfield attended the Republican National Convention that same year intending to nominate John Sherman, younger brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, as the Republican Party's candidate for president. When the convention became deadlocked between Sherman, Grant and Blaine however, Garfield became the compromise choice. After lengthy debate, he was nominated on the thirty-sixth ballot. In the election of 1880 Garfield defeated his Democratic opponent, another distinguished Union officer, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, to become the 20th President of the United States. He took office on 04 March 1881. Garfield was a reformer and might have gone down in history as one of the better presidents. Regrettably, he did not complete his term. At the pinnacle of his political career, when all his plans had come to fruition, this survivor of Shiloh was shot by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, on 02 July 1881. [3] Garfield lingered for eighty days, battling blood poisoning, bronchial pneumonia and infection. A massive heart attack and a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm ended his life on 19 September 1881. Garfield was the only man ever elected to the Presidency directly from the House of Representatives and was for a short time a sitting Representative, Senator-select and President-elect, but he is now best known as the second American president to be assassinated. Chester A. Arthur succeeded Garfield. To his credit, Arthur implemented many of Garfield's reform policies.

When civil war came to Louisiana, John Rowlands enlisted as a private in Company E, 6th Arkansas Infantry. His unit was part of 1st Brigade, Confederate III Corps at Shiloh. During a charge on the first day Rowlands was struck in the abdomen by a Minie ball and knocked to the ground. When he recovered his senses Rowlands found his belt buckle dented. Otherwise he was unhurt. During a charge on the second day at Shiloh, Rowlands found himself well ahead of his comrades, surrounded by Yankees. Along with hundreds of other captured Rebels, Rowlands was interned at Camp Douglas, a former stockyard near Chicago. Conditions were so deplorable at Camp Douglas that Rowlands deserted the Confederacy and enlisted in the Union Army as what was known as a "Galvanized Yankee." His service lasted only eighteen days. Rowlands was discharged at Harpers Ferry on 22 June 1862 for poor health, a result of his imprisonment at Camp Douglas. Two years later Rowlands had recovered sufficiently to reenlist on 19 July 1864 - this time in the Union Navy. He served onboard the USS Minnesota, rising to the rank of Petty Officer. Shipboard life did not suit John Rowlands however. He jumped ship in February 1865, earning him the dubious distinction of deserting from both sides during the same war.

The story does not end there however. After the war Rowlands became a journalist, working overseas as a reporter for various newspapers. In 1869 he became a correspondent for the New York Herald, landing an assignment that would make him famous around the world. You see John Rowlands, born in 1841 in Denbigh, Wales, the illegitimate, impoverished son of Elizabeth Parry, left Saint Asaph Union Workhouse for the poor in 1859, serving as a cabin boy on a ship bound for New Orleans. There he was adopted by a wealthy merchant and took the name Henry Morton Stanley. Following the "Doctor Livingstone, I presume" incident Stanley became an explorer in his own right, most notably, charting the Congo river, an epic journey that lasted 999 days and claimed the lives of two-thirds of the expedition.[iii] Stanley lived a remarkable life, even by Victorian standards, capping his storybook career by serving in Parliament from 1895-1900. For service to the British Empire he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1899. From Welsh poorhouse to international fame, from deserter to Knight, the fantastic chronicle of Rowlands aka Stanley came to a close with his death on 10 May 1904.

Part Two - Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Circumstances, Great Events

History is replete with examples of courage under fire; gallant stands by a handful of men against overwhelming odds, small battles that greatly influenced the outcome of major wars.

In 480 B. C. Xerxes led a Persian host estimated at 200,000 against the Greek city-states. The upstart Greeks were fomenting trouble in Ionia with their radical ideas regarding democracy, ideas the all-powerful autocrat despised. Knowing they could not match Persian numbers in open battle the Hellenes abandoned northern Greece choosing instead to make a stand at Thermopylae. At the middle gate the defile along the coastal plain spans a mere fourteen feet. At this perfect defensive point superior Greek arms, armor and tactics negated Persian numbers. For three days Leonidas, King of the Spartans, with 7000 hoplites mustered from the various Greek city-states stood firm. Then a traitor revealed a little used mountain track around their position to the enemy. Outflanked by the ‘Immortals’ Xerxes elite infantry, many Greek contingents fled. Spurning surrender Leonidas and his Spartans fought to the death buying precious time for their countrymen to prepare. Despite their sacrifice at Thermopylae, Athens was lost. When combined with the subsequent naval victory at Salamis however, Greece was saved.

In 1854 French, British and Turkish forces besieged Sevastopol. On 25 October Prince Alexander Sergeievich Menshikov attempted to lift the allied siege. After a three hour preliminary bombardment Russian infantry charged and carried a Turkish redoubt. Russian heavy cavalry poured through the broken line and raced for Balaklava the British supply base. In a bloody clash the remnants of the retreating Turkish forces and the ‘Thin Red Line’ of the famous 93rd Highlanders threw the Russian Cuirassiers back.

Great men may figure prominently in history but they have no monopoly on great events. As the stories outlined above demonstrate, ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances can and do effect epic changes - the Battle of the Alamo, Rorke’s Drift and the RAF during the Battle of Britain also come to mind. Another example that deserves to be included occurred in 1942 when a handful of 'diggers' changed the course of World War II in the Pacific. Outside Australia, their story is little known.


The editors of Life magazine could not be accused of sensationalism for their 02 March 1942 cover page banner headline, NOW THE U. S. MUST FIGHT FOR ITS LIFE. In the spring of 1942 Allied prospects were indeed grim. Rommel was on the offensive in North Africa. In Europe the Wehrmacht survived the debacle at Moscow, blunted the Russian winter counter attack and would shortly launch campaigns in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The Japanese blitzkrieg continued unabated in Burma, China, the Dutch East Indies, French Indo-China, Malaya and the Philippines. Feature articles pondered Japanese invasions of Australia, Hawaii, even the United States. With only 100,000 hastily mustered, poorly trained, ill-equipped and inadequately supplied troops to defend the entire Pacific coast these stories were not as farfetched then as they appear now.

If America was unready, then Australia was even less prepared. Her best units were fighting with the British 8th Army or languishing in Japanese POW camps after the fall of Singapore. Protection by the Royal Navy sank with HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. With the remainder of the fleet fighting for England’s survival in the Atlantic no additional ships could be spared for the Pacific.

Strategic decisions during World War II in the Pacific centered on airfields. Land based air power projected sea control / sea denial capabilities out 300 miles or more. If Imperial Forces captured the airstrips around Port Moresby, New Guinea isolation of Australia was possible; invasion of Queensland quite probable. In either case damage to the Allied cause might be irrevocable. The naval battle of Coral Sea (3-8 May) ended the sea borne threat to Port Moresby. Well aware of New Guinea’s strategic significance, on 21 July 1942 the Japanese countered by landing 11,000 troops at Buna and Gona on New Guinea’s northern coast. With 6000 troops Major General Tomitaro Horii immediately pushed inland toward Port Moresby 130 miles south. It was now a race against time for both the Australians and the Japanese. Thousands would fight and die in some of the worst terrain imaginable along the Kokoda Trail, the narrow track that crosses the Owen Stanley Range linking Gona and Port Moresby.

New Guinea

The world’s second largest island, New Guinea is geologically young with volcanic peaks reaching 16,000 feet. The Owen Stanley Range divides the island North and South. Numerous streams and rivers further split the island East and West. Located just eleven degrees below the equator, constantly inundated with heavy rainfall, covered with dense vegetation, most of New Guinea is a hot, humid, equatorial jungle. Violent rains dump up to an inch of water in five minutes. Rivers rise as much as nine inches per hour. Yet at altitude trekkers suffer from hypothermia brought about by sudden hailstorms. To call New Guinea inhospitable is an egregious understatement. It is a primordial world, like something penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Jules Verne. Not even the discovery of gold in the 1930’s could tame New Guinea. As James Bradley writes in The Boys Saved Australia, “a road just seventy miles long was deemed impossible to build and planes had to ferry supplies in and ore out.”

To reach their objective the Japanese first had to traverse the formidable Owen Stanley Range via the Kokoda Trail. Trail implies a peaceful, winding path. The Kokoda Trail is nothing of the sort. A dangerous, narrow track hacked out of the jungle and carved out of the mountains, it crosses the Owen Stanley Range at 7000 feet via a series of twisting switchbacks and rough-hewn steps cut into steep slopes. Prior to the war it was considered passable only by natives and provincial officers. The optimistic figure of 130 air miles from Gona to Port Moresby held a far different reality on the ground where exhausted soldiers struggled first through dense jungle followed by a backbreaking climb. As if thick rain forests, rugged mountains, swift, treacherous streams and muddy, precipitous drops were not daunting enough obstacles in themselves a plethora of poisonous insects, dangerous wildlife, tropical diseases and cannibalistic headhunters awaited those who strayed too far from the beaten path.

Australian versus Japanese Forces

To counter the Japanese threat Australia rushed a militia unit, the AMF 39th Battalion, up the Kokoda Trail. Clad in khaki uniforms appropriate for desert conditions but completely unsuited for jungle warfare, shod in leather boots which soon rotted away, equipped with World War I vintage Enfield rifles the Aussies were supported by nothing heavier than light mortars and Bren and Lewis machine guns. Further the 39th had just completed basic training, had no combat and certainly no jungle experience.

In contrast Major General Horii’s command, designated the South Seas Detachment (Nankai Shitai), was comprised of elite troops, veterans of earlier campaigns. Clothed in green camouflage uniforms, shod in functional jungle boots, they carried little food (hoping to live off the land and captured supplies) but large quantities of ammunition. They also carried heavy mortars, heavy machine guns and even mountain artillery for support.

For the Japanese, success depended upon speed. They must cross the Owen Stanley Range capturing Port Moresby before Allied reinforcements arrived in substantial numbers. Once in Japanese hands, its airfields would ferry in the troops, supplies and equipment necessary for further operations. Foregoing provisions for mobility, Horii counted on Yamato Damashii (Japanese Spirit) and overwhelming firepower to carry the day. Pushing forward relentlessly, scouts sprinted ahead of the main body sacrificing their lives to flush out and target enemy positions.

For their part, the 39th pushed across the Kokoda Trail first halting the Japanese at Wasida 23-27 July. Outnumbered and outgunned, for sixty days the Aussies conducted a heroic fighting withdrawal, turning to face their determined opponents at Kokoda (28 July), Deniki (29 July-11 August), Seregina (2-5 September), Efogi (8 September), and Menari (16 September). The final confrontation took place at Ioribaiwa 17-26 September. At that point the depleted South Seas Detachment held positions within thirty miles of Port Moresby. At night, its lights beckoned the weary Japanese. Scourged with malaria, racked with dysentery, weakened by hunger, the Japanese could advance no further. On 23 September, two months after the Japanese landings at Buna and Gona, the 7th Australian Division counterattacked. Now it was the Japanese who conducted a bitter fighting withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range. By November, the remnants of Horii’s force were entrenched in the Buna – Gona area. Reinforced by the American 32nd Division, Gona fell to Allied forces on 9 December. Buna finally capitulated in January 1943.

The Human Cost

Fighting in New Guinea was especially gruesome. Rugged terrain, foul climate, tenuous supply lines and, with so much at stake, the desperation of both combatants magnified the always-brutal nature of close quarters combat.

Provisions were limited to what the soldiers carried and what could be packed in. Ammunition got top priority, food second, hospital supplies third. Consequently medicine was always in short supply, often non-existent. Lacking any other medical, care Jim Moir and many other soldiers allowed blowflies to lay eggs in their wounds. The resultant maggots ate their rotten flesh keeping the wound clean and preventing gangrene.

Out of necessity, stretcher-bearers were limited to only the most severely wounded. When Japanese machinegun fire shattered Charles Metson's lower leg medics fabricated a splint out of banana leaves. Refusing a litter, Metson wrapped his hands and knees in rags and crawled down the trail he had so laboriously climbed just days before. Such was the spirit and the fortitude of the 39th Battalion.


The Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific never visited the front, ignored reports on conditions and dismissed intelligence estimates on Japanese strength. Far removed from the desperate fighting, comfortably housed and safely ensconced at their Brisbane Headquarters the “Bataan Bunch” (as the Aussies derisively labeled MacArthur and his staff) railed against the Australians, first over their continuous retreat, then for the time-consuming counter offensive. In a dispatch to Washington, MacArthur cabled, “The Australians lack fighting spirit.” MacArthur further damaged relations when he signaled, “Operation reports show that progress on the trail is not repeat not satisfactory.” Given an undeservedly deficient reputation by the refugees from the Philippines, Australian units were relegated to secondary fronts for the remainder of the war.

MacArthur’s questionable opinion does not bear close scrutiny. Fighting horrendous conditions as well as the Japanese, the Australians gave Japan its first defeat on land. The significance of that achievement cannot be overstated.

Japanese victory in New Guinea changes the entire strategic picture. Japanese planes based in Port Moresby could have interdicted Allied supply lines isolating Australia. To ensure she remained in the war, troops earmarked for the Solomons would have been diverted, postponing Guadalcanal for six months or a year. Given additional time to dig in the inevitable Allied counterattack becomes even more costly.

The battles described in the prologue were not chosen randomly. The naval victory at Salamis overshadowed the deadly confrontation at Thermopylae, just as the naval engagement at Midway eclipsed the battle of the Kokoda Trail. Even though they fought courageously in the Crimean War, the Turks were vilified by Lord Raglan (covering his own desultory performance and deadly tactical mistakes) and used as human pack animals for the remainder of the conflict. So too MacArthur used the Australians badly, maligning them publicly, giving them subordinate roles in inconsequential areas for the balance of World War II.

Never the less, if Midway was the turning point for the United States, then New Guinea was the defining moment for Australia. Although comparatively few troops were engaged their spirit was unmatched and the battle of the Kokoda Trail greatly influenced the outcome of the Pacific War. On 29 August of each year Australians rightfully observe ‘Kokoda Day’ to honor the young men who endured so much to protect their homeland.


Then as now, a precious few ordinary men and women in distant lands confront the forces of terror under extraordinary conditions, preserving the freedoms others take for granted. Outside their friends and family their names are largely unknown, but by their sacrifice they preserve and carry forward the legacy of Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda; through their service they influence great events yet to come to pass.

Part Three - Consequences / Connections

All man’s activities impact not only the present but also the future [iv] , none more so than war. As Winston Churchill remarked, “Great battles change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations.” War sends major and minor shock waves through time affecting distant generations in ways unimaginable in the present. These influences may be as trivial as shorter hemlines to conserve fabric or steel pennies in place of copper, or as significant as an ‘Iron Curtain’ separating former allies and heralding a fifty-year Cold War. On a grand scale, empires may rise or fall with a single battle. More immediately, wars dramatically impact families, continuing some lines, brutally ending others. As Herodotus observed, “In war, fathers bury sons rather than sons fathers.”

This section examines the Japanese / Soviet confrontation at Nomonhan, a relatively minor battle that had a major impact on World War II, appraising not only the immediate consequences of this encounter but also its long-term connections.


An editorial in the 20 July 1939 New York Times described the conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan on the border of Outer Mongolia and the puppet state of Manchukuo as, “A strange war raging in a thoroughly out-of-the-way corner of the world where it cannot attract attention.” Indeed, geography, the compulsive secrecy second nature to both combatants and the subsequent outbreak of World War II in Europe combined to overshadow this little known but nonetheless critical, battle. Boasting the most extensive use of tanks and aircraft since World War I, Nomonhan, or Khalkin Gol as it was called by the Soviets, impacted World War II in areas far beyond the immediate scope of the battlefield.

Nomonhan was the culmination of nearly fifty years of Russo – Japanese rivalry in the Far East. The Russo – Japanese War of 1905 followed Japan’s occupation of Korea. Japan then antagonized the new Soviet state when she intervened in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Japan’s seizure of Manchuria, renamed Manchukuo, in 1931 created a 3000-mile border between two suspicious, hostile, diametrically opposed ideologies. The Changkufeng / Lake Khasan incident of 1938 was but a dress rehearsal for further hostilities. Consequently, what began as a minor clash between Soviet sponsored Mongolian cavalry and Japanese supported Manchukuoan cavalry on the Halha River rapidly escalated into a major campaign with far reaching consequences.


In May 1939, Soviet units crossing the Halha River into disputed territory were driven back by Japanese forces but returned the following day in greater strength. Reacting to this affront the Kwantung Army dispatched the Yamagata Detachment with orders to drive out the Russian invaders and seal the border. In the ensuing battle one Japanese regiment was encircled and destroyed, the remaining Japanese troops routed and driven from the field. Acting against direct orders from Tokyo the Kwantung Army unilaterally decided to retaliate sending the 23rd Infantry Division, the 26th and 28th Regiments of the 7th Infantry Division, the 3rd and 4th Armored Regiments (the Yasuoka Detachment) plus significant artillery and air support to settle the issue.

Phase two of the offensive began in early July with the 23rd Division crossing the upper reaches of the Halha while mechanized elements struck directly at Soviet forces on the right bank of the river. After making some initial gains the Japanese attack stalled. When the Soviets counterattacked, the Japanese found their lightly armored and under gunned tanks hopelessly outclassed by Soviet BT models. The Japanese rushed additional infantry, armor, aircraft and heavy artillery to the front, renewing the offensive in late July. Stopped cold, the Japanese now dug in and waited. Hoping to restrain the defiant Kwantung Army HQ and end the conflict before it escalated any further negatively impacting the ongoing offensive in China, the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff in Tokyo designated the units around Nomonhan 6th Army and dispatched a cadre of officers to manage the situation. This effort was a classic case of too little, too late for the initiative had passed to the USSR.

The Soviets also pushed strong reinforcements, many of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War, to the region and their logistics system proved remarkably adept considering the distances involved. On 20 August, they launched a two pronged mass attack. In a pattern that would become all too familiar to the Wehrmacht, mechanized units, heavily supported by artillery and aircraft, spearheaded the assault. Japanese lines crumbled. Threatened with encirclement, her shattered forces fell back. Only the German invasion of Poland prevented their complete destruction and further Soviet exploitation. Recognizing Hitler as the greater danger and anxious to avoid a two front conflict, the Soviets offered a cease-fire in mid September, which the battered Japanese eagerly accepted in order to concentrate its efforts on China.

Consequences / Connections

At the battles' peak the Japanese fielded approximately 75,000 men, the Soviets perhaps 100,000. While the Russians claimed 50,000 enemy casualties the Japanese acknowledged losses of 8,400 killed and 8,766 wounded. The Soviets conceded 9,284 casualties. A relatively minor engagement by World War II standards, why is Nomonhan significant?

• The Kwantung Army demonstrated it was a law unto itself making policy decisions rightfully the purview of the government. Its continued obsession with China and independent actions there eventually destroyed Imperial Japan .[v]

• Nomonhan launched the career of General Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov [vi] , future Marshal of the Soviet Union, savior of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad, and architect of the crushing Soviet counteroffensive that began at Kursk and ended in Berlin.

• Zhukov’s methods – elaborate defense in depth; [vii] intricate deceptive measures; meticulously planned, carefully coordinated and skillfully executed attacks with overwhelming masses of infantry, artillery, aircraft and armor; battles of encirclement followed by methodical destruction; complete disregard for human cost – became the stock and trade of the Red Army.

• Observing Soviet actions in Finland rather than Nomonhan, Hitler drew erroneous and ultimately disastrous conclusions regarding the Red Army’s capability and resilience.[vii] Stalin’s purges decimated the Red Army Officer Corps. Consequently inexperience, inadequate training and pure fear of Stalin’s displeasure resulted in a prodigious waste of manpower. However, when capably led by an experienced general such as Zhukov (one of the few of the old guard who managed to avoid Stalin’s paranoid cleansing of all possible rivals) the Red Army was still a credible force.

• Nomonhan revealed critical weaknesses in Japanese arms, armor, tactics, doctrine and especially logistics. The lessons learned led to the creation of triangular (heavy) divisions designed and equipped to meet the Soviets on equal terms and pentagonal (light) divisions organized to fight the Nationalist Chinese and for counter insurgency operations.

• Most importantly perhaps, until Nomonhan the Japanese favored a Northern or Army strategy of continued expansion in China and eventual war with the Soviet Union. The shocking defeat at Nomonhan convinced the Japanese to adopt a Southern or Naval strategy centered on the vital resources of Southeast Asia even at the cost of bringing the United States into the war. In so doing Imperial Japan turned away from possible victory (a coordinated Axis attack on Russia in 1941) to certain defeat (war with America).

Part Four - Cause and Effect

While inspecting General Banks’ army at Carrollton 04 September 1863 General Grant was given a large, nervous horse to ride for the pass in review ceremony. In his Personal Memoirs Grant recounts, “The horse I rode was vicious and but little used, and on my return to New Orleans ran away and, shying at a locomotive, fell, probably on me.” Grant lay insensible in a nearby hotel for over a week and was on crutches for two months afterward. Imagine the American Civil War fought without Ulysses S. Grant, thrown from his horse and killed two months after the fall of Vicksburg. Consider the case of Premier Canovas of Spain, a strong man whose policies might have suppressed the growing insurrection in Cuba. Assassinated in 1897 by Miguel Angiolillo, an obscure Italian anarchist long since forgotten to history, the Cuban rebellion escalated into the Spanish – American war one year later. San Juan Hill launched the career of Teddy Roosevelt who succeeded to the Presidency when yet another anarchist assassinated William McKinley. No Miguel Angiolillo, no Spanish – American war, no San Juan Hill, no Teddy Roosevelt Presidency, no Bull Moose Party to split the Republican Party and, consequently, Woodrow Wilson loses in 1912, altering the course of World War I. In the realm of cause and effect such possibilities are endless and endlessly fascinating. Given the scope of World War II, opportunities for the human factor to make itself felt are especially numerous, the ramifications particularly noteworthy; the probability of some minor element to unhinge major plans frequent, the implications exceptionally intriguing.

What If

Standing on the bridge of his flagship, the converted battle cruiser Akagi [ix] , Admiral Chuichi Nagumo watched with satisfaction as his well trained air crews moved purposefully about the flight deck refueling and rearming the Nakajima B5N (97-2) 'Kate' torpedo bombers, Aichi D3A (99-1) 'Val' dive bombers and Mitsubishi A6M (0-3) 'Zeke' or 'Zero' fighters. Scanning the task force steaming with Akagi, Nagumo noted similar activity on the fleet carriers Hiryu, Kaga, Shokaku, Soryu, and Zuikaku. Escorting the aircraft carriers of the Kido Butai were the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Chikuma and Tone, and the light cruiser Abukuma. Twelve destroyers and seven auxiliary oilers completed the Pearl Harbor Strike Force.[10]

The reports from the first two strikes had been staggering. At a cost of nine fighters, fifteen dive bombers, and five torpedo bombers his men had sunk the battleships Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Utah[xi] , and West Virginia, badly damaged the Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee and destroyed or severely damaged over three hundred military aircraft stationed on Oahu.[xii]

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, still in his flight gear, reported to Nagumo. Recognizing the rare opportunity that beckoned Fuchida argued vociferously for follow on strikes. Nothing in Nagumo's face revealed his inner turmoil as he listened impassively. Fuchida's arguments were sound but where were the American carriers? Were the Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga lurking over the horizon; their planes inbound even now, manned with grim faced crews seeking vengeance? With his flight decks fouled with planes, ordnance and fuel, a few well placed bombs would turn triumph into disaster in a matter of moments. With a barely perceptible nod Nagumo finally gave his assent. Saluting smartly Fuchida hurried to brief his waiting pilots.

The third strike completed the destruction of battleship row and added numerous cruisers and destroyers to the growing list of stricken ships. In addition the submarine base where four subs were berthed was targeted. The fourth strike focused on the repair facilities, machine shops and power plant, making salvage of the ravaged fleet impossible. The coup de grace however, was the destruction of the oil tank farms containing 4.5 million barrels of fuel. Rendered useless as a forward operating base the American fleet abandoned Hawaii. Her remaining carriers, cruisers and destroyers were ordered to Long Beach, San Francisco and Seattle. In addition, much to the delight of Admiral Donitz and his U-Boat commanders and the dismay of Prime Minister Churchill and his naval staff, ships were withdrawn from the Atlantic fleet to help defend the now vulnerable American west coast. Quickly taking advantage of the strategic situation, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto ordered the conquest of Wake, Midway and the Aleutian Islands, forming a strong outer perimeter.

During the Japanese blitzkrieg that followed, Admiral Nagumo and the 1st Air Fleet supported campaigns throughout the Pacific. Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Borneo, Java, the Celebes, the Philippines, New Guinea, Papua and Guam fell in rapid succession. Without the American Pacific fleet to oppose the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy, the Japanese tide of conquest rolled unabated across the Coral Sea to the Fiji Islands severing the sea lines of communication with Australia and New Zealand. This incredible feat of arms was capped by the Indian Ocean Raid. The operation began with an attack on the British naval base at Columbo, Ceylon destroying 27 aircraft and sinking the destroyer HMS Tenedos and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Hector in port, followed by the sinking of the British aircraft carrier Hermes, the heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, the destroyer Vampire, the corvette Hollyhock, the depot ship Athelstane and the oiler British Sergeant at sea. This stunning blow to the Royal Navy, coupled with the sinking of the battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse east of Kuantan, plus the loss of Hong Kong and Singapore, devastated British sea power in the Pacific causing Admiral James Sommerville to abandon the Indian Ocean and retreat to East Africa. The sheer scope of her Pacific conquests gave the Japanese Empire nearly limitless resources to draw upon, immense depth to absorb the inevitable American counter attack and, perhaps most importantly, the precious gift of time for her tenacious soldiers and sailors to prepare a formidable defensive network. These factors added two bloody years and tens of thousands of casualties to the war before the brutal conflict reached its final conclusion.

What Was

In reality of course Admiral Nagumo took counsel of his fears [xiv] and withdrew after the second strike on Pearl Harbor. As the Kido Butai slipped away Japan's best chance to win the Pacific war sailed with it. Remarks attributed to Admiral Yamamoto indicate his keen assessment of the situation and proved remarkably prophetic, "In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success. . . I fear all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve." The Japanese flood tide of victory was stemmed at the Battle of Coral Sea and ebbed completely at Midway when Admiral Nagumo's fear of American carrier borne airpower became reality. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor all ships but the Arizona, Oklahoma[xv] and Utah were raised, repaired and, christened "The Ghost Fleet", served gallantly in the great campaigns that followed. Joined by hundreds of new ships and thousands of planes, the survivors of Pearl Harbor exacted a terrible retribution on the Kido Butai.

Admiral Nagumo's decision proved disastrous; Admiral Yamamoto’s prediction remarkably prescient. But there was more at work here than the relative skill of these leaders. Three days short of six months after Japan’s incomplete but nonetheless stunning victory at Pearl Harbor the American navy decisively defeated the Imperial fleet at Midway. Phase One of the Pacific War, the Japanese Blitzkrieg, ended and Phase Two, the build up for an Allied counter offensive, began. This section will examine several seemingly insignificant incidents, elements of the human factor and chance in the vast equation, that greatly influenced the war's outcome.

Pearl Harbor, 07 December 1941

Fleet exercises conducted in 1928, 1932 and 1938 thoroughly demonstrated the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor to attack by carrier borne aircraft. Ignoring the results of those war games, disregarding repeated (if conflicting and confusing) warnings from Washington D. C. and displaying a remarkable lack of caution for a senior naval officer, Admiral Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC) did nothing to ensure the security of the American Pacific fleet moored at Pearl Harbor. Misplacing his confidence in Lieutenant General Short, Commander Hawaiian Department, charged with the land and air defense of Hawaii and abrogating his responsibilities to Rear Admiral Bloch, Commandant of the 14th Naval District, tasked with the naval defense of Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel invited disaster upon the Pacific fleet. As a result of his inaction, as enemy planes approached, American sailors were complacently enjoying Condition Four, holiday routine on that notorious Sunday morning. He did, however, take steps to reinforce the garrisons at Wake Island and Midway.

On 01 December Admiral Kimmel ordered a squadron of Marine fighters transported to Wake Island via USS Enterprise. On 05 December, another squadron embarked upon USS Lexington bound for Midway. By chance, USS Saratoga was in port on the West Coast as that infamous day dawned. Accordingly these three warships with their cruiser and destroyer escorts were spared the carnage visited upon the remainder of the Pacific fleet by Admiral Nagumo’s first wave of 140 bombers and 50 fighters and second wave of 132 bombers and 81 fighters. The consequences of Admiral Kimmel’s inaction at Pearl Harbor are well documented. The results of his decision to protect Wake Island and Midway are three fold:

• Concerned with the location of the American carriers Admiral Nagumo adamantly disapproved the coup de gras ardently requested by Commanders Fuchida and Genda. A follow on strike against the fuel tank farms, repair facilities, sub pens and remaining surface ships would have truly crippled the American fleet setting back any counter offensive for at least a year or more. Given additional time to prepare, the bloody island hopping campaigns of 1942 – 1944 would have been even more costly in time, manpower and materiel. It is ironic Admiral Nagumo did not display the same concern for American carriers at Midway six months later.

• Prior to World War II, many of America’s senior admirals stubbornly clung to the unfulfilled promise of Jutland – decisive battle at sea whose outcome hung on weight of shell and depth of armor plate. The loss of America’s battleships forced even her most hidebound Admirals to accept and utilize the aircraft carrier as the dominant surface warship it truly was.

• War Plan Orange and its successor Rainbow 3 called for immediate relief of the Philippines by the Navy. Charging into the guns of the Imperial fleet reinforced by carrier assets and supplemented by land based air support invited disaster worse than Pearl Harbor. The loss of America’s battleships forced a revision of those war plans to suit remaining assets, namely the carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga. The resultant strategy was not only more prudent but also took advantage of America’s overwhelming industrial superiority and proved more effective in the long term.

04 June 1942 Midway

The Japanese were quick to exploit their tactical success at Pearl Harbor. Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Burma rapidly fell to combined army and navy forces in a Japanese blitzkrieg. At this point most Japanese admirals argued for a concerted push toward Port Moresby, Papua to complete the conquest of New Guinea, combined with a continued drive to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands to seize control of the Coral Sea region. Capture of these critical areas would isolate Australia and, quite possibly, lure the remnants of the American navy to its destruction leaving Hawaii, Midway and the Aleutian Islands vulnerable.

On 18 April 1942, American audacity changed everything. The Doolittle raid on Tokyo humiliated the Imperial Army and Navy causing grave loss of face. While tactically insignificant those sixteen B-25 twin engine bombers flown from the aptly named carrier Hornet stung the Japanese psyche, radically altered Japanese strategy, focusing complete attention on Midway, the perceived weak link in the Empire’s defensive perimeter.

Overriding all opposition with his tremendous prestige, Admiral Yamamoto pushed forward a convoluted plan calculated to finish the destruction of the American fleet begun at Pearl Harbor. Practically every unit in the Imperial surface fleet (sixteen submarines, seven aircraft carriers, eleven battleships, ten cruisers, sixty destroyers, eighteen troop transports, five seaplane carriers and four minesweepers) played a part in Yamamoto’s master stratagem. Designed to deceive and confuse the Americans, luring her carriers into an enormous trap, Yamamoto’s plan took into account every contingency except American capabilities and intentions and the element of chance, what Clausewitz called the “friction” of war and others term the fortunes of war. The primary objective, destruction of the American carriers, got lost as the grandiose scheme evolved. Disregarding the basic principles of war Yamamoto divided his enormous fleet into five separate forces. The Midway Occupation Force was further subdivided in five distinct groups. Sailing independently none of these forces or groups could support the others. J. F. C. Fuller aptly describes Yamamoto’s strategic concept with this analysis, “This plan was radically unsound and the distribution of forces was deplorable. Both were complex; the aim was confused and the principle of concentration ignored.”

Even so, even taking into account the intelligence gathered through cryptographic analysis, Yamamoto’s Carrier Striking Force consisting of four aircraft carriers, two battleships, two cruisers and twelve destroyers under the command of Admiral Nagumo should have been more than a match for the American fleet lurking northwest of Midway. The United States could muster only three carriers, seven cruisers and fourteen destroyers for this crucial battle.

Battle is Joined

Nagumo’s Carrier Striking Force turned into the wind, launching the first wave of fighters and bombers against Midway at 0430. Search planes from the carriers Akagi and Kaga as well as seaplanes from the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma immediately followed seeking the American fleet. Completed in 1938 and 1939 respectively, Tone and Chikuma were Japan’s latest, most modern cruiser design. Measuring 650 X 61 X 21 feet and displacing 15,200 tons, they carried eight 8-inch guns in four turrets forward, eight 5-inch guns in secondary batteries amidships, up to fifty-seven 25mm antiaircraft guns and twelve 24-inch torpedo tubes. Purpose built for scouting operations, the after decks were fitted catapults, cranes and facilities for five seaplanes. Ideal reconnaissance platforms Tone and Chikuma were given the center lanes of the planned search pattern.

As it had at Pearl Harbor however, the human factor intervened once again. The catapult aboard Tone malfunctioned delaying the launch of its aircraft until 0500. Engine trouble also prevented the Chikuma from launching her seaplane as scheduled. Its flight path would have taken it directly over the American carriers a scant 215 miles away but further engine trouble caused it to turn back early. Consequently it was not until 0820 that Nagumo received confirmation of the presence and location of the American carriers from Tone’s aircraft. By then it was too late. American torpedo planes and dive-bombers were already inbound.

Although the torpedo planes were ineffective, their near suicidal attack prevented the Japanese carriers from launching additional planes and drew the fighter cover down to sea level setting up the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu for the follow on dive bombers. Poor operational planning by Yamamoto, engine trouble on the Chikuma ’s aircraft, a catapult malfunction onboard the Tone and a series of poor tactical decisions by Nagumo doomed the Japanese Carrier Strike Force. Decks crowded with planes, fuel and ordnance the pride of the Imperial Fleet were soon flaming wrecks. 300 miles astern with the main body consisting of three battleships, one carrier, two seaplane carriers and twelve destroyers Yamamoto could do nothing to avert disaster.

In exchange for the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann American forces sank all four carriers of Nagumo’s Striking force as well as the heavy cruiser Mikuma. Badly damaged, the cruiser Mogami spent the next year in Truk undergoing repairs. More importantly the Japanese lost their best naval pilots and most experienced aircrews. This was a loss from which they would never recover. Midway ended the Japanese threat to Hawaii and Australia, halted Japanese expansion and restored the balance of power in the Pacific. The initiative now passed to the Allies. To drive the fanatical and tenacious Japanese back to the Home Islands required another three years of bloody combat under some of the worst conditions in military history but Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines proved equal to the task. Its initial advantage squandered at Midway, Japan could not compete with the industrial leviathan that was the United States as Yamamoto had predicted.

Part Five - The Devil is in the Details

After the disaster at Dieppe, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) was painfully aware of this maxim. Consequently, it went to great lengths to cover all possible contingencies when the Normandy invasion plan was drafted. In order to coordinate the movement of 7000 ships, 12000 planes and 160000 men on D-Day and with the specter of Dieppe in mind, the final plan for OPERATION OVERLORD [xvi] was necessarily a massive document, broad in scope and meticulous in detail. Prepared in an age before computers it was a monumental achievement, a tribute to the dedication of the Allied staff involved in its preparation and is still studied to this day. Yet, in spite of thousands of man hours spent in study and analysis, numerous reviews and revisions, the planners overlooked several critical factors - among them, the presence of the 352nd infantry division, one of the few first rate units in Normandy which savaged the Americans on Omaha beach, and the boscage which greatly aided the German defense, hindering an Allied breakout until 25 July.

Many will remember the aphorism attributed to Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1757) entitled A little neglect may breed great mischief:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost, For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost, For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Less poetically but with the same conviction born of experience, any commander of any ship worth his salt will tell you, "The devil is in the details." The story of the CSS Arkansas illustrates the truth of this maxim.

Too Little, Too Late

Construction began on CSS Arkansas and CSS Tennessee at Fort Pickering, just below Memphis, in October 1861. Scheduled for completion no later than 24 December 1861, difficulties locating and transporting lumber, armor, boilers, marine engines, and heavy naval guns severely delayed construction. So humble an item as nails were obtained only by an appeal to Governor Pettus. Oakum could not be found anywhere, for any price. Cotton served as caulking. With materials finally in hand, shortages of skilled labor caused further delay. Appeals to the army to release carpenters and ironworkers fell on deaf ears. Leaving CSS Tennessee unfinished, the builder, John Shirley, concentrated all available manpower on the Arkansas. When news of the fall of New Orleans reached Memphis, the senior naval officer for the area panicked. Union forces would not approach for over a month. Never the less, he ordered Arkansas removed to Greenwood, Mississippi and her sister ship, the Tennessee, burned on her stocks to prevent capture. The Arkansas languished at Greenwood until Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, her new Captain, arrived. Reporting for duty, Brown found an incomplete hull, engines in pieces on the deck and guns without carriages. Railroad iron, intended for her armor, lay at the bottom of the river, the barge containing it having sunk. A twenty-seven year Navy veteran and a man of enormous energy and an indomitable will, Brown knew how to get things done. Recovering the railroad iron, he ordered the Arkansas towed to Yazoo City, Mississippi where construction facilities were somewhat better. Driving his crew, the civilian workers and enlisting the help of Army labor, Arkansas got underway under her own power five weeks later. With sixty soldiers to help crew his gun deck, Arkansas steamed down the Yazoo River on 14 July 1862 toward Vicksburg and the combined fleets of Admiral Farragut, Admiral Davis and Admiral Porter. On 15 July Arkansas engaged, heavily damaged and scattered the ironclad Carondolet, the wooden gunboat Tyler and the ram Queen of the West that had been sent to intercept her. Soon after the Union fleet of about twenty ships hove into view. Captain Brown described the sight as “a forest of masts and smokestacks.” Ringing up full speed, Arkansas smashed through the federal fleet, taking grievous damage but giving much more. Surviving the gauntlet of enemy ships, Arkansas tied up at Vicksburg to the sound of wild cheering. Elated citizens rushed to board her but recoiled in horror at the sight of the carnage on her gun deck. Awash in blood and brains and body parts, the interior of the casemate resembled a slaughterhouse or a scene from Dante’s Inferno. For the next week Arkansas endured repeated attacks from the humiliated Union fleet. Her crew dwindled to twenty able bodied men but she survived each attack, taking and giving great damage. Unable to destroy the Arkansas, and with water levels on the river dropping, the Union fleet dispersed. Admiral Davis retreated to St. Louis; Admiral Farragut retired to New Orleans. They would not return for four months. The first siege of Vicksburg was over.

In the interim Arkansas was lost. General Earl Van Dorn ordered Arkansas to support a land attack on Baton Rouge. Steaming down river both engines failed within sight of the federal fleet and Arkansas drifted ashore. Unable to move or bring her guns to bear, Arkansas was helpless. Under heavy fire from USS Essex, her crew opened the magazines, scattered powder and shells about the gun deck, fired her and abandoned ship. Breaking free of the shore she drifted down river with Union vessels following at a respectful distance. After an hour she exploded, raining debris on USS Essex and others.

Consider the possibilities if the Arkansas had survived and had been present when General Grant and the Union fleet returned to Vicksburg in 1863. Consider the possibilities if both the Arkansas and Tennessee had been completed in a timely manner and available to defend Memphis in early 1862. For the want of common iron spikes, history literally turned on a lack of nails. The devil is indeed in the details.


Emperor Frederick III, head of the House of Hapsburg, German King (1440-1493), Holy Roman Emperor (1452-1493) and last Emperor receiving an Imperial Coronation at Rome is noted for reuniting the family lands under Hapsburg dominion. His greatest coup however, was the acquisition of Burgundy, the Netherlands and Belgium setting Austria on the course to Empire. To be sure there were numerous setbacks in this process for Frederick was not a particularly strong king. He was however, an astute politician, single minded of purpose and had the good fortune to outlive most of his opponents. Frederick’s guiding principle throughout his long reign is summed up in the initials A. E. I. O. U., which he had inscribed on all his personal possessions as a constant reminder of his ultimate goal and daily affirmation of his final objective. In Latin his dictum read, “Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo.” (It is Austria’s destiny to rule the world.) In German the maxim reads, “Alles Erdreich Ist Oesterreich Unterthan.” (The whole world is subject to Austria.)

The fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire began on 28 June 1918 near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand [xvii] escaped a bombing attack at 10:10 A.M., only to fall victim to a 9mm slug fired from a Belgian Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol that same afternoon. En route to the hospital to visit those injured that morning, the Archduke's driver took a wrong turn. That mistake placed the Archduke and his wife in the path of Gavrilo Princip, [18] a Serbian nationalist, as he emerged from hiding after the failed bomb attack. That the Hapsburgs no longer rule anywhere, not even in Austria, is apt commentary on the transient nature of political and military power. Continuing conflicts between Serbian, Croatian and Muslim groups in the Balkans serve notice on the limits of nation building in the former Austria-Hungary (or anywhere for that matter) and the far-reaching effects when Empires fall. How the Hapsburgs and Austria met their demise is further testament to Caesar's dictum, "Great events are the result of small causes."

Chapter 2


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."

Déjà Vu

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.

Chapter 3


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]

* * * * * *
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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

Chapter 4


Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy 24-27 July 1944, began with one of the most concentrated and intense carpet bombings in the history of modern warfare. 1500 B-17s and B-24s dropped 2000 tons of High Explosive and an even greater payload of fragmentation bombs on an area five miles wide by one mile deep. The heavies were augmented by 1000 medium bombers and fighter bombers. In just under three hours 2500 planes disgorged over 5000 tons of ordnance plus white phosphorus and a new agent called napalm, saturating the target zone with over 11,000 bombs per square mile. The Panzer Lehr division defending the area, already weakened by six weeks of fighting, was devastated. So great was the concussion that twenty-five ton tanks were flipped onto their turrets. The blast smashed radios and obliterated Headquarters sundering command and control. General Fritz Bayerlein, commanding the elite Panzer Lehr, estimated that seventy per cent of his men were dead, wounded or rendered senseless and incapable of resistance by the shock effect. Regrettably precision munitions were thirty years in the future. Cloud cover, flak, nerves and aim point miscalculations resulted in the fratricide of American forces waiting to begin the ground assault once the air armada had completed its mission. 136 men were killed, another 621 wounded, primarily from the 30th Infantry Division. Indeed the 30th suffered more casualties in three hours from the Army Air Force (AAF) than from the enemy on any day of the war.

A survivor of Operation Cobra wrote, “One’s life is held in balance by a little piece of metal smaller than a man’s finger.” Depending upon the vagaries of combat that “little piece of metal” might kill, wound, graze or miss completely. Should that “little piece of metal” kill the outcome seems inevitable; at that point we tend to disregard the fact that up until the moment of impact, the moment of finality, the preceding moments were infinitely variable, containing a multitude of possibilities. We forget how unpredictable the world looked mere seconds before the fragment struck. This is the trap of hind sight bias. To use another example, because the West dominated much of recent history we assume that dominance was inevitable. It was not. Western dominance was and remains a close run thing. Had the Persians won at Salamis, had Pilate pardoned Christ, had the Chinese harnessed steam power before the West, had any one of thousands of events turned out differently, what would the world look like today?

Instead of using cause and effect to limit possibilities, to close our minds to all the ways the course of history might have progressed, we should take the opposite view. Indeed we must take the opposite view for if cause and effect is valid then the assumption that if key links in the causal chain were broken history would have followed a completely different path is equally valid. This approach to history has a number of things to recommend it. Among them:

• The world we live in is but one of many possible worlds that might have come to pass had key details changed but a little.

• Without cause and effect and its handmaiden counter factual examination history would be limited to a strictly narrative description of what happened; a catalogue of events rather than the rousing tale of triumph and tragedy that fascinates and educates the reader.

• With the use of “what if” scenarios we gain a greater appreciation of the fragility of history and with that heightened awareness a greater understanding of how and why things turned out as they did.

• The recognition that history is contingent rather than inevitable puts current events into even greater perspective. For example neither the continuing dominance of the West, nor its demise is foreordained. That chapter is still being written in the ongoing clash between Western civilization and the forces of radical Islam.

• In addition to its educational value, thoughtful consideration of alternate realities is a hell of a lot of fun.

Section One: Roads not taken

Reflecting on the meeting between General Jackson and General Lee prior to the battle of Chancellorsville, Captain Justus Scheibert, a Prussian Army officer attached to the Army of Northern Virginia as an observer, wrote, “There are going to be great events and many a mother’s son will embrace the grass! When those two men get together history becomes pregnant and bears bloody for us and hell for the Yankees!” Conversely, when great men do not keep their rendezvous with destiny, either through fateful personal choices or the hazards of providence, history is not made.

Raymond Gram

Everyone remembers Raymond Gram right? Born in Cortland, New York on 25 March 1887 Gram was the quintessential preacher’s son. After just one year at Oberlin College where his father taught Theology Gram dropped out. A series of various and sundry jobs followed until he found his calling in journalism. Determined to prove himself after what he considered to be his early failures Gram drove himself to succeed in his chosen career and he did. By twenty-three Gram was Managing Editor of the Indianapolis Sun. He went on to become the London Bureau Chief for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. 1913 found Gram working as the Bureau Chief for Berlin and Germany writing for the Chicago Daily News. Gram truly made his mark in 1914 covering the great opening battles of World War One. He was also the first to report on the existence of BIG BERTHA, the 420MM howitzer built by Krupp used to crush the fortresses at Liege. Gram then cemented his burgeoning reputation with his coverage of the disastrous Allied landings at Gallipoli.

After World War One Gram moved into and excelled in the new medium of radio where his expertise in world events, reassuring manner and articulate voice garnered him a large and loyal audience. Indeed so strong was his following that in 1932 CBS offered Gram a job. Gram declined choosing instead to work for the Mutual Broadcasting System. The position with CBS eventually went to a man who would become the archetype of radio and television journalism; a man who would set the standard for all broadcast journalists who followed; the icon of early nightly news - Edward R. Murrow. Although Gram performed yeoman service prior to and during World War Two broadcasting early warnings about Hitler and Nazism to an isolationist American public and later on the war itself and he remained a very popular radio commentator his career had reached its zenith. After the Second World War Gram worked successfully for ABC, BBC and VOA. Ironically however, during the early 1950’s Gram was hired to write news copy for none other than Edward R. Murrow. Sic Gloria Transit Mundi.

General Frederick N. Funston

And who could forget the colorful General Frederick N. Funston commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during the Great War. Standing five feet, five inches tall and weighing 120 pounds what this bantam rooster of a man lacked in stature he more than made up for in personality. Born 11 September 1865 Funston did not show much promise as a youth; after failing the admissions test to West Point in 1884 he attended the University of Kansas from 1885 – 1888 but did not graduate. Following his aborted academic career Funston worked as a trainman for the Santa Fe Railroad, as a reporter in Kansas City, Missouri and as a botanist on an exploration and surveying expedition in Death Valley in 1891. He then traveled to Alaska where he worked for the Department of Agriculture for two years.

The Cuban Revolution changed everything for the itinerant Funston. In 1896 he attended a speech given by the Civil War hero, General Daniel E. Sickles at Madison Square Garden in New York City. So moved was Funston by Sickles’ rousing speech that he joined the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting for independence from Spain. Funston served with distinction in Cuba but its tropical clime took its toll. Suffering from malaria Funston was granted leave to recuperate in the United States shortly after America entered the war with Spain. While convalescing Funston was commissioned as a Colonel in the 20th Kansas Infantry on 13 May 1898. That same year he landed in the Philippines where his bravery in battle launched a meteoric career. His heroic actions at Calumpit, Bulacan earned Funston the Medal of Honor and promotion to Brigadier General of Volunteers. The citation regarding his actions in April 1889 reads in part while under heavy fire he “Crossed the river on a raft and by his skill and daring enabled the general commanding to carry the enemy’s entrenched position on the north bank of the river and to drive him with great loss from the important and strategic position of Calumpit. In 1901 he played a key role in capture of Filipino President Emilio Aginaldo. That exploit made Funston a national hero. It also saved his career. As a volunteer, prior to that feat of arms, Funston had been slated to be mustered out. In recognition for his service however, the Army appointed him a Brigadier General in the Regular Army, a remarkable achievement for someone who had been commissioned just three years earlier.

Funston next saw combat during the conflict with Mexico (1914-1916). He took part in the occupation of Veracruz and the hunt for Pancho Villa. Promoted to Major General in November 1914 Funston finished the Bandit War commanding US forces protecting the Texas border from Seditionista raiders.

When America entered World War One Funston was one of the most highly decorated and best known Generals on active duty and President Wilson’s first choice to lead the AEF. Unfortunately for Funston, fortunately for the United States Funston died of a massive heart attack before the appointment could be made and the position went to John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. I say fortunately for in addition to the qualities that made him successful on the battlefield – personal bravery, tactical brilliance and extreme ruthlessness – Funston was also impulsive and intemperate, in truth, positively incendiary – qualities that made him a loose cannon off the battlefield. For example, when questioned about the brutal handling of Filipino insurgents Funston stated, “I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without a trial, so what’s all the fuss over ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more, the war would have been over long ago.” He then threw fuel on the fire by adding, “Impromptu domestic hangings might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.” Political Correctness was not Funston’s forte!

As Pershing and, a quarter of a century later, Eisenhower would quickly learn, coalition warfare with the British and the French required the utmost effort to ensure any measure of cooperation and coordination; on the grand strategic level tact trumped tactics, statesmanship surpassed strategy, in other words, maintaining a working alliance was a diplomats game. Diplomacy, statesmanship and tact were skills Funston did not possess. Had he commanded the AEF who knows what the repercussions would have been?

General Richard O’Connor

Richard Nugent O’Connor future General and Knight was born on 21 August 1889 in Srinagar, Kashmir, India the son of a Major in the Royal Irish Fusiliers stationed there. During his adventurous life, his biography reads like a Kipling novel, O’Connor became a General, was Knighted (Knight of the Order of the Thistle and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath), and earned the Distinguished Service Cross twice, the Military Cross, the French Legion of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre with palm and the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor. O’Connor received his baptism of fire in the trenches of France during World War One serving at Arras and Bullecourt finishing the Great War as a brevet Lieutenant Colonel. Sadly the War to End all Wars merely sowed the seeds for further conflict. World War Two found O’Connor in command of the Western Desert Force facing a numerically superior Italian army dug in near Sidi Barrani, Egypt. The Western Desert Force consisted of the 7th Armored Division, the 4th Indian Infantry Division and two detached Brigades totaling 36,000 men. The opposing Italian army was five times as large with more tanks, artillery pieces and planes in support but was severely handicapped by a lack of infantry mobility and logistical transport. O’Connor launched Operation Compass on 8 December 1940 with just 31,000 men, 275 tanks and 120 guns. Never the less by 10 December the Italians had been completely driven out of Egypt leaving behind 38,000 prisoners. That was just the beginning of the Italian disaster. Bardia fell on 3 January 1941 along with another 40,000 men and 400 guns; Tobruk on 22 January with an additional 27,000 men captured. By 9 February 1941 the victorious Brit’s were at El Agheila deep inside Libya. The Italian army had ceased to exist having lost over 130,000 men, 400 tanks, 1292 artillery pieces and huge stocks of military supplies. There was nothing to prevent a continued push all the way to Tunisia uncovering the soft underbelly of Europe. The Axis invasion of Greece however, ended that bright prospect. Churchill ordered all available forces to Greece with disastrous results. Meanwhile Hitler sent General Erwin Rommel and the lead elements of what would become the Deutsches Afrika Korps to Libya to bolster his floundering ally. Realizing the British had no intention of attacking and in fact troops were being withdrawn Rommel lost no time in launching a counter offensive on 24 March 1941 pushing all the way to Buq Buq, Egypt by 25 April. As luck would have it on 6 April O’Connor was captured by a German patrol near Martuba. By this chance event the Germans removed the one man in the British chain of command at that time who, given the resources, had the skill and audacity to match the Desert Fox. As a result the North African war would see saw back and forth until 12 May 1943.

O’Connor spent the next two and one-half years as an Italian POW at the Castello di Vincigliata near Florence. He made three attempts to escape finally succeeding after the Italians surrendered in September 1943. Upon his return to England O’Connor was promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of VIII Corps for the Normandy invasion. VIII Corps fought from Caen to the Rhine. On 27 November 1944 O’Connor was transferred to India. Promoted to full General he finished the war as General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Northwestern Army in India.

Drang Nacht Osten

Conventional wisdom holds that the rigidly binding alliance system made World War One inevitable once the initial spark had been struck; that when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia the other Great Powers were drawn into the vortex like rudderless ships into a maelstrom. That perception is true as far as it goes but is not entirely accurate. There were alternative scenarios that could have played out. In the same manner conventional wisdom holds that Germany was locked into the Schlieffen Plan. That impression is also not entirely true. The Schlieffen Plan dominated strategic military thinking however, Germany had numerous contingency war plans including a plan to hold in the west and strike first against Russia. Under this plan General Hermann von Staab, Chief of the Railway Department, guaranteed delivery of four armies totaling one million men to the Eastern Front in ten days. Regular exercises were conducted, just as they were for the Schlieffen Plan, to ensure mobilization schedules, railroad timetables, etc., were kept up to date. The fact that General Staab put seven armies totaling nearly two million men on the Western Front in a similar period of time gives credence to the validity of the Russia First Plan.

For a brief moment Kaiser Wilhelm II, grandson of Queen Victoria, considered implementing the Russia First alternate plan, rather than go to war with his English cousins. Summoning his closest advisors to the Charlottenburg Palace Wilhelm expressed his concerns regarding the events that were beginning to spin out of control. Unfortunately for millions of young men General Helmuth von Moltke II (Moltke the Younger), Chief of the German General Staff, after a heated and protracted argument convinced the Kaiser to press forward with the Schlieffen Plan over the strenuous objections of Admiral Tirpitz who was not eager to throw his prized fleet against the Royal Navy. The rest as they say is history but consider for a moment the possibilities had Germany marched east. Without the violation of Belgian neutrality there was no casus belli for England to enter the war, hence no need for the U-Boat campaign that eventually drew the United States into the fray. If France had honored her commitments to Russia she would have been forced to attack on a narrow and heavily fortified front or been placed in the awkward position of drawing worldwide censure for crossing the Belgian border herself. The onus of armed aggression would have fallen on France and Russia rather than Germany, an important diplomatic distinction and a clever political maneuver had it been made. Under those circumstances Italy might have honored her commitment to the Central Powers rather than joining the Triple Entente (Allies) as she did historically. Considering what Germany accomplished at Tannenberg with 170,000 men and the Masuria Lakes with 215,000 men the prospects for Russia would have been dismal at best. It is a pity that no one in a position of power recalled the words attributed to Otto von Bismarck, “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.”

Section Two: Close run things

In an interview with Thomas Creevey regarding the Battle of Waterloo and using the word ‘nice’ in its archaic form meaning “uncertain or delicately balanced” Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington remarked, “It has been a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” The Battle of Waterloo is but one of countless examples of “damned nice things” that had the contest gone the other way would have changed the outcome of the conflict and thus the course of history as we know it.

Glendale 30 June 1862

Strategically Glendale or Frayser’s Farm, the fifth of the Seven Days Battles, was the most promising. Had Lee’s Lieutenants moved as ordered McClellan’s army could have been cut in half and defeated in detail. For a host of reasons, none of them sound, the planned convergence of overwhelming force at the vital crossroads at Glendale did not materialize; out of 70,000 Confederates in the area 49,000 did not reach the battlefield. Jackson, noted for the rapid marching of his famous “foot cavalry” moved with a completely uncharacteristic somnambulistic slowness; finding their path blocked by felled trees Huger’s column cut a new road rather than remove the obstacles; only the forces of Hill and Longstreet actually engaged the enemy. These gallant men penetrated the Union line near Willis Church, routing a Federal division but without the support of the remainder of the Confederate army Union counterattacks sealed the breach. The result was a tactical disaster for the South as it allowed McClellan to withdraw to an even stronger position on Malvern Hill where Lee’s much smaller army would bleed profusely again. Writing after the war, Confederate Chief of Artillery General Edward Porter Alexander declared that “on two occasions in the four years, we were within reach of military successes so great that we might have hoped to end the war with our independence. ... The first was at Bull Run [in] July 1861 ... This [second] chance of June 30, 1862 impresses me as the best of all.” A dejected General Lee summed up the outcome stating, “Under ordinary circumstances the Federal army should have been destroyed.”

South Mountain 14 September 1862

After his victory at Second Manassas (Bull Run) General Robert E. Lee was determined to carry the war to the North. In order to secure his line of communications the first step in the campaign was to take Harper’s Ferry. Dividing his army of just 40,000 men into four columns Lee sent his Lieutenants to surround and lay siege to that critical position. Armed with a copy of Lee’s Special Orders 191 giving him perfect intelligence regarding Lee’s planned movements and leading an army of 87,000 men General George B. McClellan was in position to utterly destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. Only the South Mountain range screened by a few troops stood between Lee and disaster. As McClellan pressed forward intense fighting flared up at Fox’s Gap, Turner’s Gap and Crampton’s Gap drawing increasing numbers of troops from sides. By dusk the Confederate defenders had been driven back with heavy casualties. Had McClellan seized the moment and pushed forward he could have defeated Lee’s Army in detail. Crippled by extreme caution bordering on paranoia McClellan instead delayed twenty-four hours. That one day reprieve gave Lee time to consolidate his army at Sharpsburg precipitating the bloody Battle of Antietam and discarding the best chance of ending the Civil War in 1862.

Monocacy 9 July 1864

Desperate to at least weaken, if not break the siege at Petersburg General Lee resorted to the maneuver that had worked so well previously when Richmond was threatened. Hoping to draw off at a significant portion of General Grant’s massive army he sent General Jubal Early to demonstrate against Washington and vulnerable points north. After ransoming the cities of Hagerstown and Frederick, Maryland Early encountered a hurriedly assembled force on the banks of the Monocacy River. These scratch Union troops, commanded by General Lew Wallace, who as the scapegoat of Shiloh had been relegated to minor posts, were able to delay Early long enough for reinforcements to man the extensive defenses of Washington. Repulsed on 11 July 1864 at the Battle of Fort Stevens Early retreated into Virginia. Had the Confederates arrived one day earlier, as originally planned, Washington would have been theirs for the taking. It is highly unlikely Lincoln would have survived such a disaster in the 1864 elections.

A few bad men.

Orson Scott Card wrote, “The great forces of history can be manipulated by astonishingly small groups of determined people.” For example, the Bolsheviks were only one of numerous groups agitating for reform or revolution in Czarist Russia. Others included the Social Democrats (Russia’s largest Marxist party), the Socialist Revolutionaries (the largest Socialist party in Russia), the Constitutional Democrats or Kadets, the Octobrists and, of course, the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were merely the best organized and most ruthless of the competing groups. By the same token, when the German Army sent Adolph Hitler to spy on the German Workers Party (DAP) in 1919 it numbered a few hundred members. Ironically Hitler liked what he heard, joined and eventually took over changing the party’s name to the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Under Hitler’s leadership the party grew from a small fringe group into a force to be reckoned with. Even so as late as the Reichstag elections of March 1933 the NSDAP took only 43.9% of the vote, earning only 288 out of 879 seats. Again however better organization and greater ruthlessness enabled Hitler and the Nazi’s to maneuver their way into complete and total power. So when someone tells you radical, militant Islam is not a mortal threat to the United States standby for serious trouble in the near future.

Section Three: The Devil is in the Details.

Details bore us. Details are the bane of our existence. Who has time for a multi-page instruction manual or insurance policy or closing contract with all its fine print, much less an extensive check list for something we have done hundreds of times? Details equal tedium. Details also frequently mean the difference between success and failure.

A Matter of Life and Death / A Matter of Seconds

Regarding the planned assault on Cemetery Ridge popularly known as Picket’s Charge General Longstreet opined, “General (Lee), I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.” Longstreet was correct in his assessment. In order to reach the enemy the units led by Anderson, Pettigrew, Picket and Trimble would have to cross 1400 yards of open ground crisscrossed by fences that would delay and disorganize the attacking ranks. At seventy yards per minute or ‘common time’ the standard rate of march during the Civil War, that meant spending twenty to twenty-five minutes subject to the fire of well sited Union batteries. Those who survived that storm of shot and shell and canister then had to charge uphill against 5,300 entrenched infantry with thousands more Federals close at hand for support. The only way Lee’s grand frontal assault could have succeeded would have been through an effective artillery barrage that destroyed the Union works and drove the Federal cannon from their positions. Lee’s master artillerist Edward Porter Alexander assembled some 150 cannon that spit death and destruction at Cemetery Ridge for nearly two hours for just this purpose. Their efforts were in vain.

Throughout the war Confederate artillery units lacked sufficient long range ammunition and were plagued with notoriously poor powder and fuses. These things they had learned to compensate for. On 03 July 1863 another factor came into play. An explosion at a factory in Virginia had destroyed their normal source of fuses. Just before setting out on the Gettysburg campaign they had received a shipment of fuses from Charleston, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to the artillery officers and men these new fuses burned slower than rated. The vast majority of their shells sailed harmlessly over the Federal position, detonating well beyond the Union lines. Through all the dust and dirt, smoke and confusion, what seemed to be an effective barrage was in fact an illusion created when their Union counterparts’ simply ceased fire to conserve ammunition or temporarily pulled their artillery pieces off the ridgeline to the safety of the reverse slope. As a result Lee’s brave men faced a largely intact Union line and were decimated in the course of their gallant charge.

So Close and yet So Far Away

During the numerous Maori uprising in New Zealand the British encountered a particularly formidable fortification at Rangiriri. Built on an isthmus the stronghold’s flanks were protected by the Waikato River and Lake Waikare leaving only a narrow approach available for attack by infantry. Following a two hour bombardment by artillery and four armored gunboats 600 men of from the 12th, 14th and 65th Foot launched a ground assault. The British carried the two outer trench systems but the attack came to an abrupt halt when they reached the inner redoubt. The scaling ladders they carried did not reach the top of the citadel’s ramparts.

They Also Served

Seventy-five per cent of the American Expeditionary Force carried this weapon. Sergeant Alvin York earned the Medal of Honor with this weapon. What was it – the iconic 1903 Springfield? No. When the United States entered World War One the Army had 600,000 Springfield’s and 160,000 obsolete 30-40 Krag’s on hand in inventory. Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal could not produce enough of these superb rifles to fully equip the rapidly expanding American Army. So the government turned to Remington, Eddystone and Winchester who had recently completed production of the Pattern 1914 Enfield for the British. Designated the M1917 Enfield and re-chambered from 303 to 30-06 these factories produced 2,193,429 American Enfield’s during the war. After the Great War the 1903 Springfield was retained as the standard service rifle and the Enfield was relegated to storage however it would see action again in World War Two. During the 1930’s thousands of M1917 Enfield’s were shipped to China and the Philippines. 618,000 veteran rifles were exported to the British in 1940. In 1941 the M1917 Enfield served the American soldier again alongside the 1903 Springfield and the M1 Garand.

What’s in a Name?

On 29 May 1453 after a seven week siege that began on 06 April 1453 the last bastion of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire fell to the twenty-one year old Sultan Mehmed II. The defeat of Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos marked the end of the world’s longest lived empire and was a severe blow to Christianity for without this bulwark of western civilization standing guard between Europe and Asia Minor the armies of the Ottoman Turks were now free to ravage the Balkans and march to the very gates of Vienna. Not all the consequences of this loss negative however. Fearing forced conversion to Islam or persecution thousands fled the doomed city, many to Italy where their intellectual abilities helped fuel the Renaissance. Under Ottoman rule all churches including the famed Hagia Sophia were converted into mosques and Constantinople itself was renamed Istanbul. If you were to search Ottoman literature for the significance of this name you would find nothing for Istanbul is but a corruption of Eis Stin Bolin, Greek for “to the city.”

Section Four: Missed Opportunities

“Look into my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also cal’d No-More, Too-late, Farewell.” Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Ghost Fleet

Upon taking command of the Pacific Fleet after the disaster of Pearl Harbor Admiral Nimitz wrote extensively of the dire situation the Navy faced, three crucial errors made by the Japanese and one stroke of luck that “helped very materially to shorten the war.” First, the Japanese left the shipyards and other naval repair facilities intact. Had those been destroyed what remained of the fleet would have been forced to operate from the west coast of the United States initially. Second, the 4.5 million barrels (247,500,000 gallons) of fuel oil stored in above ground tanks were not attacked. Had those stocks been destroyed it would have taken years to accumulate that much fuel severely restricting operations. Three, the submarine base at Quarry Point was left unscathed. The American sub fleet sailed immediately after Pearl Harbor and would account for seventy-five per cent of Japanese merchant marine shipping sunk during the course of the war. Many officers in the Japanese strike force argued passionately for follow on strikes to accomplish just these things but Admiral Nagumo took counsel of his fears and broke off the attack. As for the stroke of luck, Nimitz was thankful that the fleet had been in port. Had the fleet been at sea as many as 20,000 men would have been lost and the ships sunk in deep water. As it was all the ships sunk or damaged in the relatively shallow waters of Pearl Harbor except the Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah were raised, repaired and christened “the ghost fleet” re-joined the fight.

Hard pounding this, Gentlemen; let’s see who will pound the longest.
Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington

The curriculum of West Point includes the great strategists, the great tacticians, and the great battles. By graduation Cadets are well versed in Clausewitz, Jomini, Cannae and Jackson’s Valley Campaign. They fully understand the value of maneuver warfare and flanking attacks. In the crucible of battle however senior commanders all too often ignore the lessons of their youth. No more was this unfortunate truth found to be valid than during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest 19 September through 16 December 1944.

Seldom in the annals of military history has there been ground better suited for defense. Densely forested with few roads or open areas the fifty square mile area of the Hurtgenwald was cut by numerous streams and steep ravines negating the American advantage in mobility, artillery and air superiority. To this already formidable defense the Nazi’s had added the bunkers, barbed wire and mines of the West Wall or Siegfried Line giving the Wehrmacht’s depleted divisions and the second rate Volksstrum units parity with the much stronger, better equipped and better supplied Americans. Severe winter conditions exacerbated the difficulties faced by the attacking GI’s.

The Germans had to hold the Hurtgen Forest. It protected the Ruhr dam and served as a staging area for the impending Ardennes Offensive. Courtney Hodges’ First Army did not have to take it. To the southeast lay open terrain where superior mobility and airpower would have been decisive. The Hurtgen Forest could have been enveloped and its defenders starved into submission with little risk as the German forces stationed there were far too weak to attack out of that area and were therefore a negligible threat in that regard.

Once battle was joined however its successful conclusion seemed to become a matter of pride. Division after division was fed into the meat grinder in a replay of the worst of World War One style fighting. In three months the American army sustained 33,000 casualties killed, wounded, captured or incapacitated through frostbite, trench foot and other effects of the severe winter conditions.

Charles B. McDonald, a US Army historian and former company commander who served in the Hurtgen battle, described it as “a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that should have been avoided.” Unfortunately for the GI’s involved the Hurtgen Forest was not the first time nor would it be the last time the US Army brass would pound its way to victory.

Section Five: Conclusion.

We know what events occurred historically therefore that path seems more plausible than others. For example, few experts in the 1980’s would have predicted the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. In hindsight its fall seems inevitable. Given a few changes however it might have staggered along for decades longer. After all the Eastern Roman Empire and Ottoman Empire survived for hundreds of years on sheer momentum; long after a growing, thriving, vital culture had passed away.

As the preceding stories have shown nothing in history is fixed. There are far too many variables, great and small, for that to be the case. It just seems that way in retrospect. Peter Tsouras explains this phenomenon best in his introduction to OVER THE TOP, ALTERNATE HISTORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, “All this need not have happened in just the way it did. Nothing was preordained or inevitable. Europe was not subject to some god curse pronounced from the Oracle of Delphi. History does not roll down some prearranged groove. It rolls all over the place. It is contingency writ large, subject to vast and ever-shifting influences. It most resembles a kaleidoscope in which every turn of the tube presents a new picture, with no two ever alike.”

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Show Notes

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© 2024 Larry Parker

Written by Larry Parker.

About the Author:
Lieutenant Commander Larry Parker, United States Navy, served as a Surface Warfare Officer, with afloat tours onboard USS De Wert (FFG-45) as Ordnance & Fire Control Officer, USS Portland (LSD-37) as First Lieutenant, and USS Butte (AE-27) as Operations Officer. Rotations ashore included Navy Reserve Center Cheyenne, Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center Denver and Navy Reserve Readiness Command Region 16 Minneapolis. He retired in July 2000 and taught Navy Junior ROTC until June 2011. LCDR Parker holds a Bachelor's degree in English and History from the University of Kansas and a Master's degree in Military Studies - Land Warfare from American Military University. In his free time LCDR Parker pursues a lifelong passion for military history. His articles are the result of extensive research and personal experience in surface warfare, fleet logistics and amphibious operations.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.

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