Monday, May 11, 2015

VE Day + 70 Reflections

VE Day at 70
Royal Albert Hall, London

Last night I was delighted to attend with my son a concert entertainment titled VE Day at 70 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The concert was sponsored by Classic FM ( featured the singer Katherine Jenkins and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  In addition to musical selections from the likes of Holst and Elgar there were dramatic readings.  George Batts, a British Army veteran who landed on D-day, gave a poetry recitation that brought a thunderous ovation.

 Randolph Churchill, the Great-Grandson of Winston Churchill, even delivered the same speech 
his great grandfather had given just over 70 years ago....

This is the lesson: never give in,
Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small,
Large or petty—never give in except to convictions of
Honor and good sense.  Never yield to force: never yield
To the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
God bless you all.  This is your victory!"

About a week prior to VE Day, Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. About three months later, VJ Day, marking Victory over Imperial Japan would be celebrated around the world.

By August 1945 the worst war in human history came to an end.  Finally, many Americans and other Allied soldiers would return from captivity in German and Japanese POW camps.  At last young men would be re-united with their families.  Demobilization would follow as the troops began to come home to the states.  The GI bill would kick in and millions of world-weary soldiers would be transformed into students.

Over the course of just under four years over 16 million American men and women had served in some capacity in the war.  Today in 2015, less than one million WW2 service vets are still alive.

Florence-American Cemetery, Italy
Just over 400,00 mostly young Americans would never return from their duties in the Second World War.  Many are buried overseas in twenty-four different overseas cemeteries in eleven different countries.  (

Most of us know about the carnage that took place on Omaha beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.  But there are many nearly forgotten stories of World War II that deserve to be remembered.  For example…

1) How the USS Wasp helped deliver Spitfire aircraft to the beleaguered island of      Malta during its long three year siege and bombardment by Axis forces. Later that year, the Wasp would be torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine.

2) How in the invasion of Sicily nearly 1,400 Americans were killed by friendly fire on July 10, 1943 when the 504th Parachute Regiment was hit by naval gunfire.

C-47F Dakota, IWM Duxford
3) How black and white Stripes would be painted on the undercarriage of all Allied that flew on D-day in order to avoid a repeat of what happened in Sicily.  Look for the D-day stripes on airplanes in your local aviation museum.

4) How in September 1944 young Americans invaded the tiny 13 square mile island of Peleliu in a country (Palau) that most of us have never heard of.

Dwight Eisenhower
Grosvenor Square, London
On of the ironies of World War II was that American forces in Europe were led by a Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was of German descent.  Grosvenor Square in London, where the D-day landing were planned, was referred to by local wags as “Eisenhowerplatz”.  Today it is the home of the American Embassy in London.

In the Spring of 1945 Americans were discovering the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. After Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf Concentration Camp that had been liberated by American troops on April 4, he declared: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against.

This is why we must always remember and teach our children about VE day and its eternal significance to freedom-loving people around the world.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

French Foreign Legion Musem

French Foreign Legion Parade Ground
Aubagne France

The French Foreign Legion was founded in 1831 by King Louis Phillipe of France.  It would take undesirables off the streets and put them on the frontline of the French colonial empire.  The Legion's Latin motto "Legio Patria Nostra" means (roughly) "the Legion is our home".  The French Foreign is still going strong to this day with a strength of around 8,000 men with bases in France and on Corsica.

Legio Patria Nostra
The Legion is our Home
The Legion celebrates Camerone day in honor of a desperate bayonet charge that was made in Mexico on April 30, 1863.  Napoleon III had sent the Legion in support of the doomed Emperor Maximilien, his puppet ruler of Mexico.  Maximilien would be shot twice; once by a Mexican firing squad and again by Edouard Manet.

Legionnaire in Mexico

The Legion suffered its highest casualty rate in the French Indochina war of the 1950s.  Legionnaires fell like flies at the trap of Dien Bien Phu.

Aubagne, FR
In our work, America Invades (, we noted that Americans have also served with honor in the French Foreign Legion...

"Americans had also volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, and it’s worth mentioning here some of the better-known names that have been linked to the legion over the decades:

John F. “Jack” Hasey, CIA
Peter Julien Ortiz , one of the most decorated US marines of WWII, OSS, actor in John Ford’s Rio Grande
William Wellman, director of the legion epic, Beau Geste, and many more
Alan Seeger, poet (see Rendezvous with Death below)
Arthur Bluethenthal, member of College Football All-American Team from Princeton, pilot killed in WWI
Eugene Bullard, first African American military pilot
Norman Kerry, actor

Cole Porter told many of his friends that he had joined the French Foreign Legion, though conclusive evidence is lacking. The lyrics for “War Song,” written for the London stage during World War I have been attributed to Cole Porter ...

And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them.
We spent our pay in some cafe,
And fought wild women night and day.
’Twas the cushiest job we ever had.
And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them,
There was a front, but damned if we know where.

(Source: A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Leahman, 2009,

Legionnaires in Film

The French Foreign Legion has been celebrated in fiction and in film from Beau Geste to Laurel and Hardy comedies.

The most famous poem of this legendary unit was written by the American poet Alan Seeger...

Rendezvous with Death

I HAVE a rendezvous with Death  
At some disputed barricade,  
When Spring comes back with rustling shade  
And apple-blossoms fill the air—  
I have a rendezvous with Death          
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.  
It may be he shall take my hand  
And lead me into his dark land  
And close my eyes and quench my breath—  
It may be I shall pass him still.   
I have a rendezvous with Death  
On some scarred slope of battered hill,  
When Spring comes round again this year  
And the first meadow-flowers appear.  
God knows 'twere better to be deep   
Pillowed in silk and scented down,  
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,  
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,  
Where hushed awakenings are dear...  
But I've a rendezvous with Death   
At midnight in some flaming town,  
When Spring trips north again this year,  
And I to my pledged word am true,  
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

The Museum of the French Foreign Legion can be found in Aubagne -- a town in Provence near Marseilles.  Here is their web site...

Marco Kelly
French Foreign Legion Museum
If college and rugby plans don't work out for my son...there is always the Legion!

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

America and Malta in WWII

Malta in the Med.
Malta was definitely a British show in World War II.  The British had controlled Malta since 1800 and created a key naval base in the center of the Mediterranean.

The Axis siege of Malta lasted from Mussolini's declaration of war on June 10, 1940 until Italy surrendered and joined the allies in the summer of 1943.  During this time Malta was subjected to the most intense and prolonged bombing of any part of the world during the Second World War.  RAF pilots provided critical air defence of the island during countless bombing raids.  Royal navy submarines sank and harassed Axis convoys which were supplying Rommel's Africa Corps from Italian ports.  Malta was desperately short of essential supplies including food, ammunition and, most importantly aviation fuel.
USS Wasp, Malta Maritime Museum
America provided vital assistance to the defence of Malta during the war.  Even prior to Pearl Harbor, Churchill communicated to FDR Malta's desperate need for additional fighter aircraft and the recently commissioned aircraft carrier, USS Wasp, was dispatched by FDR to Glasgow to assist the beleaguered island.  In April and, again in May, of 1942 the USS Wasp ferried Spitfires and their pilots, including Denis Barnham, the author of Malta Spitfire Pilot, to Malta.  Winston Churchill himself rang up the captain of the USS Wasp* and said, "Many thanks to you all for your timely help.  Who said a Wasp couldn't sting twice?"

Art Roscoe, a 21-year old Californian, longed to fly, but had a slight astigmatism in one eye and was turned down by the US military.  Instead he joined one of the American Eagle squadron's of the RAF ands was trained as a Spitfire pilot in Essex.  Transferred to Malta, he became a decorated RAF ace.  He was shot down by cannon fire from an ME-109 in October 1942 but managed to survive the crash and the war.

Maltese kids waving US Flag
Arrival of Operation Pedestal Convoy
The USS Ohio was an American built (though English crewed) Liberty ship that was past of the critical convoy called Operation Pedestal.  Hit by numerous bombs and torpedoes, she barely managed to reach Valletta harbor delivering her precious cargo of airplane fuel.  Other American ships resupplying Malta, such as the Santa Elisa, did keep their American crew.

After the siege of Malta lifted in 1943 there was a flood of American troops and officers into Malta.  In June of 1943 General Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces North Africa, planned Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, from his headquarters in Lascaris (on the island of Malta).  Many British felt that the arrival of the better paid American troops drove up prices on the island.

FDR himself paid two visits to the plucky island once in December of 1943 and again for the Malta Conference with Churchill in February 1945.  On December 7, 1943, the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor, while in Malta, FDR declared as follows...

FDR quote, Valletta, Malta
"In the name of the people of the United States of America, I salute the Island of Malta, its people and defenders, who, in the cause of freedom and justice and decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above and beyond the call of duty.

Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone, but unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness—a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come.

Malta's bright story of human fortitude and courage will be read by posterity with wonder and with gratitude through all the ages.

What was done in this Island maintains the highest traditions of gallant men and women who from the beginning of time have lived and died to preserve civilization for all mankind."

FDR Statue
Grosvenor Square, London
Malta became independent on 21 September 1964 and the Royal Navy base was withdrawn in 1979.

* The USS Wasp was later sent to the Pacific theatre where she was sunk by a Japanese submarine at the battle of Guadalcanal.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

Sunday, March 8, 2015

If You Can

How many young Americans graduate from college without knowing the difference between a stock and a bond?  My unscientific answer would range from "a helluva lot" to "far too many".

If You Can: How Millennials can get Rich Slowly (, published in 2014 by William Bernstein, is the antidote to the disease of economic ignorance.  If you are a millennial, this is an excellent introduction to basic economics and the necessity of saving for retirement -- if you don't relish the prospect of eating cat food in your golden years then buy this book!  If you are the parent of a millennial who is concerned about your child's long term well being this may be the best gift you could give your child.

Simply put, this is a roadmap to a comfortable retirement that almost anyone can follow and benefit from.

William Bernstein, a former Portland Neurologist, is an amazing writer who has helped to bring economic history to vibrant life.  He is the author of A Splendid Exchange -- a history of the phenomenon of trade which I reviewed earlier  He also wrote The Birth of Plenty, a fascinating economic history of Western capitalism (

This is a quick read that can be digested in an hour's time.  The writing is easy to comprehend and straightforward.  Yet the content is right on target for those unschooled in economics.  Bernstein explains to the reader basic economic concepts such as the difference between a bond and stock.

Bernstein offers sage advice for those trying to navigate through the Scylla of disappearing social security and the Charybdis of perpetually turbulent free markets.

Here is more good news.  If you don't want to buy this book you can still get it absolutely free on Bernstein's web site...

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Churchill Factor

Boris's New Book

This is an outstanding book that crackles with insight on every page. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, writes about WSC with verve and flair. As a fellow politician, he writes from a perspective that shows his strong empathy for the greatest Briton of all time.  Does Boris wish to follow in WSC's footsteps and serve as Prime Minister?  Most likely the answer is "yes".

Johnson points out Churchill's remarkable and undeniable physical courage. He notes that when WSC was learning to fly aeroplanes one in 5,000 flights was fatal while 1 in 14 million bicycle rides in today's London is fatal. His aeroplane adventures make harrowing reading. Churchill's life story is not merely a political tract; it is one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.

Johnson has great admiration for his subject, but he is not afraid to point out WSC's many failings. WSC was politically disloyal, wrong on Gallipoli, bone-headed on India, given to racist pronouncements, frequently wrong on wartime strategy -- in short he was human. In spite of these failings he was the one man who was capable of leading Britain during her maximum crisis in 1940. By doing so, he also assumed moral leadership of all freedom-loving peoples and we remain forever in his debt. Churchill was not great because of his flaws, but rather in spite of them. Revisionist historians who belabor his failings utterly miss the essential point about this great and good man.

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
It is absurd to flail Churchill for his "racism" and "militarism" while missing the obvious fact that a victory by Hitler would have meant the triumph of the most virulent form of racist militarism ever seen on the planet.

My only real quibble with the book is its omission of the strange case of Rudolph Hess ( Johnson covers the familiar ground of Halifax's challenge in the spring of 1940. No doubt this was the critical time for Britain. He could have pressed his points even further by mentioning Hess' peace mission of May 1941 and Churchill's indomitable opposition to these overtures.

Johnson notes that Churchill would frequently scrawl the initials KBO onto memos that he received. This stood for "Keep Buggering On" -- words to live by.

Churchill was a factor in the making of the modern world in countless ways. For better or worse, he shaped the modern middle east.  Johnson notes also that John Lennon's middle name was...Winston.

CK with WSC's grave at Bladon

Buy Commander Kelly's first book here...

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Commander is on Tour!

America Invades
Invades America!

Commander Kelly is now on a 36 state tour of the USA to launch our new book...America Invades: How we've invaded or been Militarily Involved with nearly every Country on Earth.

I would love to meet you in person and sign a copy for you.

Here is my tour schedule...

You can follow our progress on our new tour blog here...

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

See you on the road!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Russell Brand and the Substitution Game

Russell Brand
Britain's Enfant terrible

Why is it when you hear the word "banker" you tend to think of this....?

Bankers per
Parker Brothers
Put another way, why is it that you hear the word "banker" this image of a real banker does not usually come to mind?
American Banker
Jackie Robinson was a founder and the first Chairman of the board of Freedom National Bank in Harlem, NY (for more on Jackie Robinson see...

Next time you read or hear about "greedy bankers" doing this or that why not try playing the substitution game?  Put "Jackie Robinson" into the sentence instead of "bankers" and see if the proposition still holds true.  You might, for example, get something like, "Jackie Robinson was paid an exorbitant bonus..."

Russell Brand and many on the left are quick to condemn the sinister machinations of corporate interests.   These dark forces, they allege, are behind many resource-based American led wars (see video below).  These wars are fought to advance the economic interests of a tiny minority of wealthy Americans -- the infamous "one percent" that was popularized by the Occupy movement.

In a recent interview Brand specifically asserts that politicians are "only interested in servicing the needs of corporations."  (Source:  Brand is an advocate for Revolution and a massive redistribution of wealth.

But here's the rub.

Over eighty-eight million American participate in some form of a benefits plan such as a 401k. (Source:  As of August 2014, there are 146.3 million Americans in the workforce (source:   This means that just over 60 percent of American workers own stocks or bonds in our public markets.

The working people of America own most of America.  The corporate interests of America are aligned with the interests of their owners -- a clear majority of American workers.

So, again, let's try playing the substitution game.

Had Brand said that politicians are "only interested in servicing the needs of about 60 percent of the American work force" would anyone have raised an eyebrow?

Had the Occupy Wall Street crowd complained about the "60 percent" that foots the bills to enable their grousing would that have gone over well?  Would the simple truth have generated such media hoopla?

The demonization of corporations for political purposes has been a time-honored tradition for those on the left on both sides of the pond.

Aureus of Julius Caesar
Non-working capital?
We tend to forget that corporations are simply a means of diversifying risk over many individuals.  They are simply a more efficient capital structure that allows entrepreneurial risk to reside outside of only individuals and families -- see my earlier post on William Bernstein's A Splendid Exchange  The ancient Roman world had no corporations which meant that all liability lay with individuals; this was a major governor to the engine of economic progress.  Wealth in the ancient world consisted largely of coinage made of precious metals.  All too often these riches were buried and forgotten by their owners buried for centuries until the arrival of an archaeologist or treasure hunter.  This forgotten capital could not, of course, be used to construct buildings, build businesses or create job; quite unlike the funds in your checking account.

We tend also to forget that it was these corporations that helped to slay totalitarianism in the 20th century and

Brand suggests also that corporations are destroying the planet with environmental damage.  Yet it was Communism that created Chernobyl.  China, a Communist state is, by far, the world's greatest polluter  Corporations such as Toyota, meanwhile, have been at the forefront of technological innovation that has reduced emissions from motor vehicles.

If a majority of people in a given community want a cleaner environment, then it will be corporations that provide the most efficient means to satisfy that need.

Need a substitute for Russell Brand?  How about, "Sophomoric entertainer and ex-husband of Katie Perry"

What would Russell say about this...?

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ISIS - It's all about the Violence!

ISIS in action
The Practice of Terror

ISIS or ISIL is not really about ideology or about Islam.  It's all about the violence.

The guillotine operators of the French Revolution were the direct ancestors of the the ISIS swordsmen.  The practice of terrorism creates terrorists in much the same way that the practice of tennis creates tennis players.  There is an endless vicious loop with regard to the generation of fanaticism and violence.

Eric Hoffer
1902 - 1983
Eric Hoffer, the great longshoreman and philosopher, is too often forgotten in the 21st century.  Writing in 1951 in his classic work, The True Believer, Hoffer got right to the heart of the ISIS threat that confronts us today.  Hoffer wrote these prophetic words...

"It is probably true that violence breeds fanaticism as that fanaticism begets violence.  It is often impossible to tell which came first,  Both those who employ violence and those subject to it are likely to develop a fanatical state of mind.  Ferrero says of the terrorists of the French Revolution that the more blood they "'shed the more they needed to believe in their principles as absolutes.  Only the absolute might absolve them in their own eyes and sustain their desperate energy.  (They) did not spill all that blood because they believed in popular sovereignty as a religious truth; they tried to believe in popular sovereignty as a religious truth because their fear made them spill so much blood.'  The practice of terror serves the true believer not only to cow and crush his opponents  but also to invigorate and intensify his own faith."

The True Believer, Eric Hoffer,

Ronald Reagan awarded Hoffer the Presidential medal of Freedom just before his death in 1983.

You can now find Commander Kelly's first book America Invades or on Amazon

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Obama...ISIS, and American History

Obama worries about Isis, his legacy
and Reagan
A recent (9/15/14) article in the International New York Times was titled Obama reflects on past wars and campaign against ISIS.  Peter Baker wrote about a foreign policy meeting held in the White House, "It was clear to the guests how aware Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership.  He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.

'He's definitely feeling it,' said one guest.  At one point Mr Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Mr Reagan, he noted is hailed as a titan striding the earth."

This article raises a number of interesting points.

First, even the New York Times seems to have noticed Obama's lack of leadership!

Second, Obama is desperately sensitive now about his historical legacy.  His vanity and ego are pricked at the thought of being compared unfavorably with past Presidents.  He may fear that his primary historic legacy will be 1) a house and senate in Republican hands and 2) record gun sales.

Third, Obama's near total lack of historical perspective on the American experience is jarring.

I categorically assert that ALL American Presidents have been human beings and none has been perfect. Many Presidents have made many mistakes in their role as Commander in chief.  That does not always make them losers.
George Washington
USMA, West Point, NY
George Washington, our first President, lost more battles than he won during the American Revolution. But it was his valor, persistence and astonishing integrity that is recalled today by Americans.  His courage at Valley Forge and his leadership at Yorktown are his enduring legacy to our nation (

Abraham Lincoln was a disastrous Commander in Chief during the early stages of the US Civil war.  Lincoln the lawyer had virtually no military experience before becoming President.  First Bull Run, the first major battle of the US Civil war, in 1861 was a farce for the Union.  Lincoln appointed a series of dangerously incompetent Union general before eventually discovering talent such as Meade, Grant and Sherman.  Yet Lincoln is justifiably remembered as one of the great winners of American history.

Grosvenor Square, London
Do we remember FDR as the leader on whose watch the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor?  Do we think of FDR as C in C for the battle of Kasserine pass in Tunisia where thousands of Americans were captured and many more fled at the approach of the Wehrmacht?  No, we think of FDR as the victorious war time President who helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II.

Moreover, FDR was unafraid to articulate a clear strategy that the American public could understand and support: Unconditional Surrender.  Could the American people have ever found a negotiated peace with Hitler politically or morally acceptable?  Is FDR's clear cut approach not exactly what is needed in our current dealings with ISIS?  Did FDR ever suggest that he wanted merely to degrade the Third Reich?  No, he wanted to annihilate it.

Ronald Reagan
Grosvenor Square, London
What about Obama's specific charge against Reagan?  In my recent book with Stuart Laycock America Invades we write, "on October 23, 1983, a suicide truck-bomb loaded with TNT attacked the US Marine barracks, and 241 US and fifty- eight French servicemen were killed."  (  Shortly after Reagan withdrew this peacekeeping force and a civil war did ensue in Lebanon.  Our withdrawal from Lebanon may even have emboldened Saddam Hussein prior to his invasion of Kuwait.  Reagan's Iran Contra arms for hostages deal was also a costly mistake which nearly derailed his second terms.

New this month!
Order now at or on
It would be absurd, however, to judge Reagan as a Commander in Chief solely on the basis of Lebanon or the Iran-Contra scandal.

Reagan's heart and faith informed him that the use of nuclear weapons by any nation was a sin.  Many have been astonished to learn that he hated these weapons just as much as the long-haired anti-war crowd that had such contempt for him.  Remember the "Ronnie Ray-gun" signs and Democratic conventions?

Reagan's great insight was simple but also masterful.  Reagan, unlike any previous American President of the Cold War, was clever enough to realize that the Cold war was winnable. We remember him as a "titan" because he helped steer the West to victory in the cold War without firing a shot.
Stinger missile
USS Essex
Reagan helped to win the Cold War by strengthening the US military, by arming the mujahideen with stinger missiles that could shoot down Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan, by countering Soviet and
Cuban adventurism in the Caribbean and Central America and, finally, by calling for the execrable human rights scar of the Berlin Wall to be torn down.

Reagan, of course, did not win the Cold War single-handed.  Many people (Thatcher, Pope John Paul, Lech Walesa, Truman, Eisenhower, George Kennan, etc.) in many countries deserve enormous credit for helping the Soviet Union to implode.

To judge the Reagan Presidency on the basis of the tragedy that took place in Lebanon in 1983 is simply to lack any real sense of historical perspective.  Obama's partisan take on Reagan is just as shrill and unconvincing as the right wing loonies of the post war period who accused FDR of sinister betrayal at Pearl Harbor (

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Thursday, September 11, 2014

12 Caesars

Suetonius dishes the dirt on old Rome
Making the Case for Limited Government
Suetonius' Twelve Caesars ( belongs on the short list of books designed to bring active minds closer to the founding principles of Conservatism (along with Voltaire's Candide on the error of Utopian socialism... and Orwell's Animal Farm on the nature of political extremism...  Suetonius wrote a gossipy, superstitious series of biographical sketches of the first twelve Roman Emperors that continues to fascinate to this day.  Suetonius dishes the dirt on Rome's first twelve Emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian.  He informs us of the personal lives of the Emperors and the portents that seemed to predict their usually grisly deaths.

The 19th century English historian, Lord Acton, once wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  Suetonius, living 1,900 years ago around the zenith of the Roman Empire, would surely have agreed.   Suetonius was the private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian.  His intimate portrayals of the Roman emperors demonstrate the corrupting influence of power.  The Roman Emperors had absolute power over the lives of their subjects; they were also, with good reason, terrified of assassination.  Their savage example provides the classic rationale for the necessity of limited central government.

They were also the chief inspiration for Mussolini's fascist state.

When master storytellers such as George Lucas and George R.R. Martin go looking for plot-lines it is to colorful histories like the Twelve Caesars that they turn.  Star Wars' Galactic Federation devolves from Republic to Empire much like the Roman Republic.  Game of Thrones has no more lust for power and erotic content than Suetonius' biographical sketches.
Julius Caesar
Mixed more than Salad
100 BC - 44 BC
Julius Caesar was  the accomplished Roman general who crossed the Rubicon ("the dye is cast.") and became the founding father of Imperial Rome or the chief destroyer of the Roman Republic.  Caesar was not just a winning general;  he was an excellent writer who, like Churchill, chronicled his own accomplishments.  He famously subdued Gaul -- "Veni, Vedi, Vici" -- and divided it into three parts.  He led a raid of Britain perhaps for its oysters and pearls which were extraordinarily rare and valuable in the ancient world.  His troops adored him.

Julius Caesar lived large.  Suetonius tells us that, "his affairs with women are commonly described as numerous and extravagant."  The most famous of these was surely with the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra who bore him a son.

On the Ides of march 44 BC it all ended very badly when he was stabbed twenty-three times by daggers in the Roman senate in one of the best documented conspiracies of all time (   The night before he had dined at Marcus Lepidus' house where he had publicly declared that "the best sort of death" would "come swiftly and unexpectedly".  Finally, Caesar's ambition was realized.

The Divine Augustus
63 BC - 14 AD
The month of August is named in honor of Augustus even though he was born Octavian.  Augustus was adopted by Julius Caesar at the age of eighteen.  After Caesar's assassination he joined with Mark Antony and avenged him.  Suetonius informs us that very few of the dictator's assassins "outlived Caesar for more than three years."

Augustus would later fight and win a civil war with Antony and Cleopatra. But Augustus was not always a victorious Roman leader.  In the wilds of the German forests three Roman legions led by Varus were massacred to a man in the Teutoburger Wald.  Augustus was so shaken by these events that he beat his head against a door and shouted, "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!"

Augustus was undoubtedly a tremendous builder.  He famously said, "I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble."

It was during the month of August in 14 AD that the emperor died falling victim to an intestinal complaint.   Some spread the rumor that his wife Livia may have helped him to the afterlife with poisoned figs.
"A wolf by the ears"
42 BC - 37 AD
Tiberius was Augustus' stepson, the oldest son of Livia.  Tiberius distinguished himself as a Roman commander leading successful campaigns in Illyricum (roughly modern Croatia), Panonia (modern Hungary) and Germany.

Suetonius fairly blushes to tell us that "some aspects of his criminal obscenity are almost too vile to discuss, much less believe.  Imagine training little boys , whom he called his 'minnows', to chase him while he went swimming and get between his legs to lick and nibble them."
Tiberius was the Caesar that Jesus Christ himself told his followers "to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto god the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21)  He was also Caesar at the time of the crucifixion.

Tiberius had a fondness for islands interrupting his meteoric career to exile himself to Rhodes in 6 BC.  Later as Emperor he would retreat to beautiful isle of Capri of the coast of Sorrento.  Reigning Rome from afar, he used the equestrian Sejanus to do his dirty work for him until he turned against him and wiped out Sejanus and his entire family.

Tiberius said that being emperor of Rome was like 'holding a wolf by the ears'.

Some sources suggest that his heir, Caligula, had Tiberius poisoned.  Others assert that he was suffocated to death with his own bedclothes.  We know for certain, however, that he his passing was little mourned.  Suetonius writes that 'the first news of his death caused such joy at Rome that some people ran about yelling "To the Tiber with Tiberius!"

Gaius Caligula
Bad Boy or just Nickname Victim?
12 - 41 AD
The cruelty of Tiberius meant that the ascension of his nephew Gaius Caligula to the throne was greeted with general rapture; little did they suspect the horrors to come.  Tiberius himself had prophesied that Gaius would prove to be a "viper in Rome's bosom".

Gaius had been raised in a Roman army camp where he had acquired the nickname "Caligula" or "little Soldiers boot" or "bootie-kins".

Caligula would become perhaps the most notoriously depraved Emperor in the long history of Rome. His brief life and bloody reign would become fodder for pornographers.  He slept with boys, men, married women, all three of his sisters and even had time for his own wife, Caesonia, with whom he had a daughter.

He squandered the roman treasury with his extravagance.  He would drink valuable pearls that had been dissolved in vinegar.

Gaius had nothing but contempt for the Roman senate.  He even tried to award his horse, Incitatus, a consulship.

Finally, at the age of 29, he was assassinated along with his wife Caesonia and infant daughter by a conspiracy of Praetorian guards.

10 BC - 54 AD
After butchering Gaius Caligula, his assassins began to search the palace.  Suetonius writes, "A common soldier who happened to be running past noticed a pair of feet beneath the curtain, pulled their owner out for identification, and recognized him.  Claudius dropped on the floor and clasped the solder's knees, but found himself acclaimed emperor." 

Claudius was the grandson of Augustus's wife Livia.  He was assumed to be dull-witted on account of a series of diseases which struck him in childhood.  He would, in fact become one of the most literate Roman emperors writing long historical works which, alas, have not survived.

He had notable successes such as the conquest of Britannia which even Julius Caesar had failed at.  He went personally to Britain and earned a triumph.

The 'mis-underestimated' Claudius rates as one of the better Roman emperors who was proclaimed 'divine' after his death.  Though he did mange "to execute thirty-five senators and 300 Roman equities" with little apparent concern.

Claudius was unhappy in love.  His wife Messalina was notoriously unfaithful going so far as to enter into a bigamous 'marriage' with her lover Silius.  After having her executed, a befuddled Claudius went in to dinner and asked, "Why is her ladyship not here?'

In his 64th year the emperor Claudius died.  Suetonius relates that most Romans believed him to have been poisoned by a dish of mushrooms -- his favorite food.

"Angler in the lake of Darkness"
37 - 68 AD
It is a damned lie that "Nero fiddled while Rome burned"!  He was actually 35 miles away in the town of Antium by the sea on the night Rome caught fire;  besides, his preferred instrument was the lyre.

Shakespeare summed up Nero best in King Lear describing him as "an angler in the lake of darkness."

According to Suetonius, Nero raped the Vestal Virgin Rubria.  He dressed in the skins of wild animals and "attacked the private parts of men and women who stood bound to stakes."

Suetonius informs us that he killed his second wife Poppaea by kicking her to death.  She was pregnant and had complained about him coming "home late from the races".  He was rumored to have had a hand in the death of Claudius. He did poison Britannicus who was a rival to the throne.

Suetonius blandly informs us that under Nero, "punishments were inflicted on Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous superstition." 

Nero embarrassed Romans with his extravagant philhellenism and grotesque vanity.  He visited Greece and participated in Lyre competitions always managing to win the laurel.  Nero really didn't want to be emperor; he wanted to be a contestant on Rome's Got Talent.  Some of the crowd at these competitions feigned death in order to escape these excruciating performances.  Nero was angler who didn't mind fishing for compliments in a stocked pond.

Inevitably Nero's excesses led to the formation of a conspiracy.  Before being stabbed to death by one of his slaves, "he muttered through his tears, 'Dead!  And so great an artist!'"
The chaos begins
3 BC - 69 AD
On Nero's death the aged Galba assumed the purple.  He would only reign for seven months.  His accession marked the beginning of 69 AD an orgy of civil violence known as the "year of the four emperors".  Successive Roman generals of dubious pedigree would battle to win the Roman game of thrones.

Galba committed the unpardonable sin of slighting the Roman army.  Suetonius tells us simply that "he outraged all classes at rome, but the most virulent hatred of him smouldered in the army." 

He was murdered and decapitated by Roman soldiers beside the Curtian lake.

Died well
32 - 69 AD
Otho led the rebellion against Galba.  On the night of his ascension he was said to have been haunted "by Galba's ghost in a terrible nightmare."

He reigned for three months which ended in his suicide.

Just before his death, he told his nephew, "Do not altogether forget, and do not too well remember, that you had a Caesar for an uncle."
"Sphincter Artist"
15 - 69 AD
Vitellius, his name says it all -- "emperor veal"!  Could you imagine in America a President Porkchop or Senator Sausage?

Suetonius confirms his eternal status as a glutton.  He writes, "Vitellius' ruling vices were gluttony and cruelty.  He banqueted three and often four times a day, namely morning, noon, afternoon, and evening -- the last meal being mainly a drinking bout -- and survived the ordeal well enough by vomiting frequently."

Roman legions began repudiating him.  Soldiers grabbed while a rabble began hurling insutls such as "Greedy guts" before he was tortured, killed and beheaded.  His pathetic final words were, "And yet I was your emperor."
"Pitch me into the Tiber!"
9 - 79 AD
The ascension of Vespasian, acclaimed "divine" after this death, ended the brutal civil war that wracked Rome throughout the 'Annus horribilis' of 69 AD.  He was the founder of the Flavian dynasty that brought a measure of stability back to an empire in turmoil.

In Matthew Dennison's Twelve Caesars ( he tells us that Vespasian "was a stranger to snobbery and too canny to allow himself to be rebranded in the Julio-Claudian mould.  Even in his portraiture (see Aureus above) he eschewed their model, a bull-necked, bald-headed, warts and all imagery of age and its imperfections replacing the classicized perfection of those god-like Augustans."

Vespasian rolled up his sleeves and set to work rebuilding a shattered Rome.  Suetonius writes that "he personally inaugurated the restoration of the burned Capitol by collecting the first basketful of rubble and carrying it away on his shoulders."

Vespasian delivered the funniest line attributed to ANY Roman emperor.  On his deathbed Vespasian said, "I think that I am becoming a god."
Sacked Jerusalem
39 - 81 AD
Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus who was an effective Roman military tribune in Germany, Britain and especially in Judea where he crushed a Jewish revolt, sacking Jerusalem.

Titus ruled with compassion providing assistance to the survivors of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Campania.  He stripped his own mansions to provide relief for the victims of fire and plague.
Titus completed me in 80 AD!
Colosseum, Rome
Titus managed to complete construction of the Roman Colosseum that tourists gawk at today.

After a short but productive reign of just over two years Titus died of a fever at the age of forty-two.

"Ah, to be as good-looking as Maecius thinks he is."
51 - 96 AD
Domitian, Titus younger brother, succeeded Titus to the throne.  He was a frustrated young man who had lived under the shadow of his successful father and older brother.

He staged expensive entertainments such as sea battles in the Roman Amphitheatre but could never seem to purchase his people's affection.

Domitian's cruelty was heightened by cunning.  He imposed heavy taxes upon the Jews.  Suetonius tells us that, as a boy, he witnessed a ninety year old man stripped naked to determine whether he had been circumcised.

Again Suetonius dishes the dirt on Domitian writing that he "was extremely lustful, and called his sexual activities 'bed wrestling'".

It all ended very badly for Domitian who was stabbed in the groin and seven more times by the inevitable conspirators.  Eventually, it would end badly for the Roman empire as well.


History may be nothing more or less than the record of man's crimes and follies, but Suetonius' lively and gossipy tales from two millennia ago prove that history can be entertaining.

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