Friday, July 15, 2016

America's Military Connection to Turkey

Chaos in Turkey 2016

The failed coup which roiled Turkey comes at a time of heightened fear due to terrorism and the prolonged agony of the Syrian Civil War.  The worst refugee crisis since World War II has had a devastating impact on Turkey in addition to the Middle East and Europe.

Americans and particularly our military have played a surprisingly large role in Turkish history for many years.  This is the Turkey chapter of our book America Invades...

"Turkey’s ancient capital, Istanbul, was once Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium and the Eastern Roman Empire. Digging deeper into its past, Heinrich Schliemann found the ancient ruins of Troy in Turkey in the nineteenth century.

A Turkish-American trade treaty was signed in 1830. And Americans helped start the process of modernizing the Turkish navy, operating the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Haliç. Two Americans, Charles Ross and Forster Rhodes, served as naval advisors to the sultan.

In 1849, the USN intervened in Smyrna (now Izmir) when an American was detained there. And in 1856, the navy returned to Smyrna for what has to be one of the navy’s more unusual missions. Jefferson Davis wanted to form an experimental United States Army Camel Corps for service in territory recently acquired from Mexico. So the USS Supply was sent to Smyrna to get camels. And get camels it did and took them to Indianola, Texas.

In the later nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was described, perhaps by Tsar Nicholas I, as being “the sick man of Europe.” Their once vast empire seemed to many observers to be in a protracted period of disintegration and decline.

In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out, which removed from Ottoman control most of what remained of its territory in Europe. And towards the end of that year, American troops were put on duty guarding the American legation in Istanbul.

Admiral Bucknam
Turkey's American Admiral
Meanwhile, one North America deeply involved in the Balkan Wars was Rear Admiral Bucknam who continued the tradition of American links with the Ottoman Navy by heading it. Ransford D. Bucknam was born in Canada but had been working in America and, according to some sources, became an American citizen. He had arrived from Philadelphia on board a gunboat built for the Turks and stayed on to captain it for them. During the First Balkan War, he engineered a sortie through the Dardanelles by a Turkish cruiser, which sank a number of Greek ships and shelled coastal fortifications. He died in 1915.

In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was allied to the Central Powers. The United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, declared war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1917, shortly after our declaration against Germany. US forces were not deployed against Turkey, although the American reporter Lowell Thomas launched his career by promoting Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign against the Turks in the Middle East.

American marines landed in Turkey shortly after the war. In 1919, during the Greek occupation of the city, marines from the USS Arizona were sent to guard the US consulate in Istanbul. And again in 1922, troops were landed in Smyrna (Izmir) to protect US citizens and property there.
Actually, we could have ended up running part of Turkey after World War I because there was discussion among the Allies about forming an American mandate in the area.
Kemal Atatürk
In 1923, Kemal Atatürk became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern secular Turkish state.

Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II, and consequently, Istanbul became a hotbed of espionage intrigue. The OSS maintained an important base in neutral Istanbul during the Second World War as Axis and Allied espionage and diplomatic services all plotted to bring Turkey over to their side in the war. The question of chrome shipments to Germany was also vital with Germany wanting them to continue and the Allies keen to stopping them. In the end, Turkey joined the Allied side in February 1945 and became a founding member of the United Nations.

The Turkish ambassador to the United States, Mehmet Munir Ertegun, died suddenly in Washington, DC, near the war’s end. A naval task force built around the USS Missouri was charged with returning the ashes of the ambassador to his home country. US authorities wished to send a message to Stalin to deter any aggressive moves against Turkey. The battleship was received with great pomp and circumstance by the Turks.

Mutual fear of the Soviet Union brought Turkey and the United States into a close partnership after the war, and that was reflected in extensive military links that have remained, with occasional hiccups, to the present. What follows will, therefore, be only a summary of some of the key elements in those links.

During the Korean War, a Turkish brigade served on the peninsula alongside American forces.
Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952 at the same time as Greece. And a formal defense treaty with us followed in 1959.

The Jupiter missiles, which may have been Khrushchev’s strategic target in the first place, were removed from Turkey after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The US military has made use of a range of facilities in Turkey. The most important is Incirlik Air Base, first used by the United States in 1951. It has long been a major US base and remains the home of the USAF 39th Air Wing with about five thousand personnel. It was a key base for operations during the crisis in Lebanon to the south of Turkey in 1958 (see “Lebanon”). The USN has made use of the major Turkish naval base at Aksaz. Turkey is also home to some key NATO headquarters.
Links between Turkey and the United States were strained in the 1970s due to the conflict in Cyprus and subsequent arms boycotts authorized by the US Congress but gradually recovered.

During the Gulf War, sorties were flown from Incirlik into Iraq. After the Gulf War, the base played a central role in efforts to help the Kurds in northern Iraq and in enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. In 2001, it again played a crucial role in facilitating air operations in Afghanistan. And 2001 was a big year for Incirlik in another sense. After Ocean’s Eleven’s premiere in Los Angeles, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, with director Steven Soderbergh visited the base.

In 2003, the Turkish parliament, with grave concerns over the future of the Kurds, denied use of Turkish territory for the Allied campaign against Saddam’s Iraq. Links between the United States and Turkey experienced something of a brief chill.

A battery of Patriot missiles is currently deployed in Turkey to defend against possible attacks from Syria, and Turkey and the United States have cooperated to help the Syrian opposition in its attempts to force Assad out of power in Syria. A flood of refugees has streamed across the border into Turkey fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Turkish troops have served in Afghanistan. Turkey has received billions of dollars of military aid from the United States, and its military has made use of a lot of American-designed equipment. Turkish forces regularly take part in military exercises alongside US personnel."

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy Bastille Day 2016!

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Vive la belle France!

To celebrate our relationship with our nation's oldest ally I present the complete France chapter of America Invades.  For much more on America's impact around the world please visit

This was written long before the appalling terrorist attack in Nice which claimed the lives of at least 80 innocent victims.  Our prayers and condolences go out to the French people.  Today we Americans stand with you more than ever.  "Dieu protege la France!"

"Ah, the beautiful land of france, la belle France.

France is our oldest ally and the site of the most famous American invasion of all time. More American military cemeteries (eleven) are located in France than in any other foreign country in the world.
George Washington & the Duc de Grasse, Yorktown, VA

When the American Revolution broke out, Louis XVI saw aid to the thirteen colonies as a means of avenging England’s defeat of France in the Seven Years War, but he was reluctant to commit to the American cause until gentleman Johnny Burgoyne surrendered his force after the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in American that same year serving as a major-general in the Continental Army where he grew very close to General George Washington, who thought of him as a son. The great inventor, author, and statesman Benjamin Franklin helped to negotiate a treaty of alliance with France in 1778. The direct intervention of the French began with Rochambeau landing a force of about six thousand French soldiers in Providence, Rhode Island. These forces and, critically, the French Navy led by the Comte de Grasse helped secure the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown.

John Paul Jones Tomb, Annapolis, MD, USNA

John Paul Jones led his 1778 raid on Whitehaven (see “United Kingdom”) from the French port of Brest. His frigate that defeated the British Serapis in 1779, the Bonhomme Richard (during which he uttered his famous “I have not yet begun to fight”) was a converted French merchant ship, the Duc de Duras.
Thomas Jefferson, Paris, France
Even though France is our oldest ally, we have fallen out with the French on occasion as well. The Quasi-War with revolutionary France was fought by the USN on the high seas between June 1798 and March 1801. On February 9, 1799, for instance, Captain Thomas Truxton of the Constellation fought and captured the French frigate L’Insurgente. The war was settled by the treaty of Mortefontaine after Napoleon Bonaparte assumed control as first consul.

France and the United States also very nearly came to blows over the French invasion of Mexico, which was launched by Napoleon III during the US Civil War. The United States supplied Mexico with arms and support to drive the French out of North America.

In 1886, the people of France sent us an iconic gift—the Statue of Liberty that would welcome immigrants to our shores (“La Liberté éclairant le monde,” “Liberty enlightening the world”).

Americans in the Legion
But it was to be with the two world wars that our forces became most deeply involved with France.
Even before America’s entry into the Great War, Americans were fighting and dying in France. For instance, young American pilots volunteered to serve in the French air force forming the Lafayette Escadrille hoping to repay America’s debt to France. Ten out of the “Valiant 38” American men who served in the Lafayette Escadrille were killed in action.
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:
1. John F. “Jack” Hasey, CIA
2. Peter Julien Ortiz , one of the most decorated US marines of WWII, OSS, actor in John Ford’s Rio Grande
3. William Wellman, director of the legion epic, Beau Geste, and many more
4. Alan Seeger, poet
5. Arthur Bluethenthal, member of College Football All-American Team from Princeton, pilot killed in WWI
6. Eugene Bullard, first African American military pilot
7. Norman Kerry, actor
8. 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)

American Doughboys, Central Park, NY
After President Wilson led the nation into war on the Allied side, American doughboys were shipped to France and the trenches of the Western Front. They were called “doughboys” because they tended to be larger and better fed than their French comrades in arms.

Eddie Rickenbacker's Spad S.XIII, IWM, Duxford, UK
The earliest units of the American Expeditionary Forces to see action were engineering units rushed into the British line in November 1917. But it was in 1918 that our men were really to have an impact on the Western Front. Eddie Rickenbacker, flying French-built aircraft, such as the SPAD S.XIII, became the leading American fighter ace of World War I scoring twenty-six air combat victories. A few American land and air units and even our First Gas Regiment were committed to action in April 1918 in a desperate attempt to stem the German Spring Offensive, which used German troops released from the Eastern Front by peace with Russia in an attempt to deal a knockout blow before American troops could be deployed in large numbers.

In late May and June, the Germans tried to push forward in the Chemin des Dames along the Aisne River. Aisne bridges were captured, Soissons fell, and the Germans reached Château-Thierry on the Marne with Paris less than forty miles distant. American troops battled fiercely to prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne and then, on June 6, a date that would later become famous for other reasons, successfully counterattacked at Belleau Wood, where the US marines earned the nickname “teufel hunden,” or “devil dogs.” Further German attacks on the Marne followed and were fought off by American troops, earning the 38th Infantry of the 3rd Division its name “Rock of the Marne.” The Germans were now exhausted, and it was the turn of the Allies to attack. American troops played a key role in July in helping destroy the German-held Marne salient. From then on, American units assisted major campaigns by the British and the French, but Pershing had also gotten his wish for an independent American operation, and in September, about half a million Americans of the US First Army went into action against the German-held St. Mihiel salient. The operation was a significant success. Finally, from September to November 1918, First Army ground through the Meuse- Argonne offensive. The fighting was bitter, and casualties were at times heavy, but major progress was made, and by the Armistice, First Army had dealt a huge blow to the German divisions facing it.

The American Expeditionary Forces had played a vital role in liberating France and in winning the war against Germany, but it had come at a high cost in American blood. The beautiful Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, for instance, next to Belleau Wood and just six and a half miles from Château-Thierry, contains almost twenty-three hundred war dead, most of whom fought in the area and in the Marne valley in summer 1918. After the guns fell silent ending the “war to end all wars” on November 11, 1918, President Wilson came to Versailles with his Fourteen Points. A
bitter peace was settled that helped sow the seeds of the next war. Between the wars, Paris was subjected to an “invasion” of Lost Generation American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and others. Hemingway said Paris was the city he loved best in the world. Wealthy American philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, helped to restore the Reims Cathedral that had been shelled by the Kaiser’s artillery in the Great War.
In 1942, shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s entry into World War II, the United States invaded French colonies in North Africa that were under the control of the Vichy government (see “Algeria,” “Morocco,” and “Tunisia”). After about three days of fighting, the French switched sides and joined with the Allies to drive the Axis out of
North Africa.
Ike, Grosvenor Square, London, UK
Even before D-Day, Americans began the liberation of France with
the invasion of Corsica in the fall of 1943. Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22, served as a bombardier on a B-25 based on Corsica. The USAAF dropped its share of the six hundred thousand tons of bombs on occupied France. The French national railway system was smashed to prevent the Germans from making a strategic redeployment against the Normandy landings.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, marked the start of the most famous American invasion in all history. With a terse, “OK, let’s go,” Eisenhower had resolved all doubts in the Allied deliberations over weather conditions prior to the invasion. The time had finally arrived. Ike later wrote comparing the invasion force to a coiled spring ready to “vault the English Channel.”

Private John Steele, St. Mere Eglise, France

The vaulting began on the night of June 5 when private John Steele, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, got his chute caught on the tower of the church at Ste.-Mère-Église. He survived the conflagration and firefight that shook the sleepy Norman town that night by playing dead. A visitor to Ste.-Mère-Église today will find a stained-glass window in the church has the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers. The American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Divisions would secure the western flank of the Normandy invasion.

On Utah Beach, fifty-six-year-old Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (oldest son of President TR) was landed about a mile away from his intended target and, when asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, said simply, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Bloody Omaha had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only thirty-five minutes. Its bare beaches offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches. The US Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers; their mission was to destroy artillery pieces that threatened to sweep the landing zones. Their commander that day was Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held the position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by Allied naval bombardment on D-Day.

General Patton, USMA, West Point, NY

As commander of the US Third Army after D-Day, Patton, led an army that advanced farther and faster than just about any army in military history, crossing twenty-four major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than twelve thousand cities and towns. Patton loved to quote Danton who said, “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” (“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity”).

In August of 1944, American troops participated in a much less widely known invasion, Operation Dragoon that landed in the south of France. Everyone knows about June 6, 1944, but how many know about August 15, 1944? Yet the parachute drop by the 1st Airborne Task Force, landings by American troops, primarily the 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions, and a French armored division were highly successful. Allied casualties were light, and German resistance mainly crumbled fairly fast. By mid- September, they had pushed their way up the Rhone Valley near the German border. Some of the invasion targets, like the beach of St. Tropez, famous for film stars in the post-war era, are now more readily associated with pleasure than with war, which may be one reason Dragoon is less familiar to Americans.
General Charles DeGaulle
La Musee de L'Armee, Paris

Meanwhile to the north, on August 25, 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division, led by General Leclerc, was allowed the honor of being the first Allied force to liberate Paris. Ernest Hemingway personally led a group of irregulars that liberated the Ritz Hotel drinking seventy-three martinis that night in its bar. General de Gaulle spoke from a balcony at the Hotel de Ville, “Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the help of the whole of France!” De Gaulle seems to have temporarily ignored the contribution of the Americans, British, Polish, Canadian, and other Allied troops that fought so hard to liberate France.

Robert Capa
Robert Capa, the famous war photographer, rode into Paris on an American-built tank that day.
And there was still much fighting remaining before all France was liberated. It wasn’t until November 22, 1944, after American troops had captured the vital, strategic pass at Saverne, that French troops liberated Strasbourg, the most easterly major city in France. And at about the same time, after bitter fighting, to the northwest, the US Third Army was finally taking Metz, a heavily fortified French city, close to the border with Germany.

The liberation of France would claim 134,000 American casualties. Thousands of Americans would be buried in French cemeteries, such as the beautiful one that overlooks Omaha Beach.
France became a founding member of NATO in 1949. France, though strained by its Indochina and African commitments, contributed an infantry battalion that served alongside Americans in the Korean War. My (Chris Kelly’s) father, Robert E. Kelly, served as a clerk typist in the US Army based in Verdun, France, during the Korean War. He liked to say that he “kept the North Koreans out of France.”

Fifty-six French troops would be killed alongside American marines in the Beirut bombing in October 1983. French forces would also serve in the Gulf War of 1991 that liberated Kuwait. And French forces have served alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
France still has assorted territories around the world, which used to be part of its empire. So we need to deal with American military involvement there in this chapter.

For instance, our navy built an advance base on Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas Islands, now part of French Polynesia, in 1813. Captain Porter briefly claimed Nukuhiva for the United States and named it Madison Island and the fort built there Madison’s Ville, and the water next to it, Massachusetts Bay. Yep.

It’s also worth mentioning Nouméa, in the French territory of New Caledonia, which is situated east of Australia. This became an important US base during World War II. In fact, it became, the US headquarters for the whole of the South Pacific with tens of thousands of US personnel stationed there.

The most fun of the French territories from the point of American invasions is Clipperton Island. Few people have heard of it, and even fewer know how we invaded it. It doesn’t sound very French (unless you call it Île de Clipperton or its other name, Île de la Passion, when it does sound a lot more French).

It’s an uninhabited coral atoll lying in the Pacific Ocean west of Costa Rica and northwest of the Galapagos Islands. The French were the first Europeans to find it, and it’s French today, and, even though it’s not the most attractive bit of real estate in the world, it’s been invaded by others over the years, including, yes, Americans.

The Guano Islands Act of 1856 was supposed to promote American use of islands that had plenty of guano on them, and this being one of the few things Clipperton did have on it, the American Guano Mining Company claimed it. Guano mining caused a minor diplomatic incident in 1897 when the French found that three American guano miners had raised the Stars and Stripes. The State Department eventually gave in to the French. However, during World War II, we returned because FDR thought the place might be useful as a flying base. In December 1944, we occupied the island and raised the American flag again, not admittedly against much, or indeed any, resistance, sending in a meteorological team protected by troops. However, the mission didn’t last long and was eventually withdrawn, leaving Clipperton and its seabirds to the French."

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fourth of July 2016

The author with Minuteman statue
Concord, MA

As we pause to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence it seems appropriate to consider the vital role played by the American military in the creation of our nation and its transformation of our world.

We are not a militaristic nation but we are a nation that is deeply proud of our military.  We are not a perfect people.  We have made many mistakes.  We have not always lived up to our noble ideals.  It is important to remember what happened at Wounded Knee, My Lai and Abu Graib.  But it is also important to remember the amazing things that the US military has done in our world.

Lexington Green, MA
On April 19, 1775 British soldiers marched from Boston to Lexington and Concord to seize a cache of arms.  They were confronted on Lexington green by citizen soldiers who were farmers, merchants and tradesmen.  The “shot heard round the world” was fired that day on Concord bridge.  Liberty was not a gift of the English crown; she had to be taken by force by an armed rebel populace.

Later that year American forces invaded British Canada.  My own ancestor, James Van Rensselaer, was a citizen soldier in the siege of Quebec and his commanding officer was Benedict Arnold.

The American Revolution is often portrayed in rosy-hued colors due to its remoteness and patriotic outcome.  It was, in fact, a horrendously bloody conflict.   Recent scholarship has placed the total number of Americans killed in the American Revolution at around 25,000 which compares to a total US population of the thirteen colonies in 1775 of 2.4 million.  Thus over one percent of the total population of the thirteen colonies were killed over the course the nearly eight and half years of the war’s duration.

After the American Revolution we would fight Britain again in the War of 1812.  We fought our way westward across the continent in many brutal wars against the Native Americans.

Polk Campaign Flag
Smithsonian Museum
In 1846 president Polk launched a war against Mexico.  This was and remains a controversial chapter in American history.  Congressman Abraham Lincoln opposed the war.  Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support the war and was briefly jailed.  Even Ulysses Grant, who fought in the war, condemned its prosecution in his Memoirs.    But without the Mexican American war the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico would never have been added to the Union.  Without the Mexican American war the United States might never have become a coast to coast superpower.
Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI
Imagine for a moment what World War II might have been like had Polk not fought the Mexican American war.  The Japanese would never have sunk the Arizona at Pearl Harbor to start the war because Arizona would have belonged to Mexico.  It is unlikely that an American naval base at Pearl Harbor would have been built without Polk.  The atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima to finish the war as it could not have been tested at Alamogordo in New Mexico.

Nearly a hundred years ago in 1917 America Citizen soldiers went “over there” with the American Expeditionary Force to fight the Central Powers in World War I.  By 1918 the Kaiser would abdicate.  In 1941 they would get the call to combat Hitler and Imperial Japan.  Just over 71 years ago American soldiers would be liberating the Nazi concentration camps like Buchenwald and Dachau thereby helping to end the Holocaust.  Without American invasions at places like the beaches of Omaha and Anzio the world would undoubtedly be a darker place.

After World War II American forces remained engaged with Europe garrisoning the nations of former adversaries during the Cold War.  NATO was founded and the Cold War was won without a shot being fired.

Today we face the threat of global terror networks that have perpetrated horrors in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino and, most recently, Orlando.

Our enemies must know that Americans do not love war for war’s sake.  To do so is the definition of fascism.  We are and always have been reluctant warriors.  But, when provoked, we know how to fight and will endure until victory and a lasting peace is won.

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those American patriots who have served in our military and those that serve today we are able to celebrate the 4th of July and to confront the challenges that face us around the world.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit's Meaning

Brexit: Farewell to all that

Britain has voted for Brexit -- to leave the European Union.  They did so in spite of the united opposition of the political class across the spectrum of British politics.  Blair supported remain as did Labour's current leader Jeremy Corbyn.  The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, supported remain and now, having lost, he will be exiting.  Even the tragic assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox, a remain supporter, did not tip the scales towards the remain side.

Americans might appreciate the enormous historic implications of Brexit better if they thought of it in these terms:  Imagine a US referendum on some topic where President Obama and Donald Trump held exactly the same position...and a majority of American voters rejected it anyway.  That is what just happened with Brexit.

Business elites, fearful of change, overwhelmingly supported the remain position.  Londoners voted to remain but were swamped by opposition outside of the metropolis.

President Obama weighed in on the Brexit debate in a particularly ham-fisted manner telling Brits that our allies in two World Wars would need to get to the "back of the queue" if they opted for Brexit.  Most Americans would not use the term "queue" so it was clear that Obama was simply parroting talking points supplied to him by Cameron.  Will foreign leaders be less keen on an Obama endorsement / meddling going forward?

Fundamentally, British voters recognized that the EU has turned into a pretty rotten deal.  The membership dues to this club no longer justify the expense.

We know the short term results of Brexit.  Global markets tanked.  The Pound weakened.  Hand wringing ensued.  401ks were diminished this past week.  The media had a field day with dire predictions.
British Pride still sparkles
We do not, of course, know what the longer term consequences of Brexit will be.  We do know, however, that nothing will really change for two years.  Most likely the current market swoon will be followed by an eventual recovery.  Britain will remain an important trading partner with Europe and the world.  EU member states will still want to trade with the world's fifth largest economy.  Tourists will still visit the Tower of London to see the Queen's jewels.  Britain's exit from the EU is unlikely to destabilize the European peace which has endured now for over 71 years since the end of World War II.

There could be a Corbyn government which would likely be disastrous for Britain.  Corbyn is Bernie Sanders without the chutzpah.  Brexit will also likely force another Scottish referendum which would pose a challenge for the UK government.

But Brexit is far from the end of the world.  We ought to remember Monty Python's advice to "always look on the bright side of life".
Boris Johnson: Brexit Winner
More likely, however, this is a huge victory for the leadership of Boris Johnson.  Johnson was a successful charismatic Mayor of London.  He is bright, cosmopolitan and in touch with British sentiment.  He has more than a touch of Churchill about him.  His book, The Churchill Factor, was outstanding (See my review...  Boris now heads up the Foreign Office for Britain.

The Brexit vote dealt an enormous blow to the reigning political establishment worldwide.  It is a clear vote against open borders and unlimited immigration.  It is a vote for local over transnational.  It is a vote against bloated bureaucratic meddling which is despised around the world.  It is a vote in favor of national identity but it is not really a vote for a more bellicose foreign policy.  For better of for worse, this vote should cause major shockwaves in the Hillary campaign which is the embodiment of establishment politics.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

D-Day Plus 72

Omaha Beach, France
Seventy-two years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied troops waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. The night before, on June 5, American airborne forces had landed on the western flank of the invasion area near Sainte-Mère-Église, while British airborne forces secured the eastern flank and Pegasus Bridge. They jumped out of C-47 Dakota transport planes, through darkness and into glory. Some arrived by glider. Private John Steele of the 82nd Airborne landed on the steeple of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. He managed to survive by playing dead.

John Steele Mannequin, St. Mere Eglise, France
Today a visitor to Sainte-Mère-Église can observe a mannequin representing Steele hanging from the church tower. Inside the church is a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers.
Pointe du Hoc, France
On Utah Beach—all of the landing sites had code names—fifty-six-year-old Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (the oldest son of former president Teddy Roosevelt) landed about a mile away from his intended target. When asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, he simply said, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Prior to the landing, Omaha Beach, also known as Bloody Omaha, had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only thirty-five minutes. The bare stretches of beach offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches. The US Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers. Their mission was to destroy artillery pieces targeted on the landing zones. Their commander was Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held their position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the German’s 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by the Allied naval bombardment.
Normandy American Cemetery
The Canadians stormed ashore on Juno Beach. James Doohan, who later played Scotty on Star Trek, was among the Canadian soldiers that day. Sword and Gold Beaches were reserved for the British forces. A small contingent of French commandos joined the British on Sword and helped capture Ouistreham, destroying the casino there. One French officer who had previously lost at the tables was not sorry to see the casino in ruins that day.

With the D-Day landing, the Allies, in spite of the vast size of their armada and the relative openness of their societies, achieved a remarkable strategic surprise over the Germans. On June 6, Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife's fiftieth birthday. Hitler was persisting in the mistaken belief that the Normandy invasion was a feint and that the real blow would be struck at Pas de Calais.

Eisenhower planned the invasion from his offices at 20 Grosvenor Square in London. Number 1 Grosvenor Square was the wartime location of the American embassy. Averell Harriman presided over lend-lease aid from 3 Grosvenor Square, helping to fund our wartime Allies. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), forerunner of the CIA, had its offices at 70 Grosvenor Square. Small wonder that this neighborhood was known as Little America at the time. Some wags even referred to Grosvenor Square as Eisenhowerplatz.

Imagine if an operation like the Normandy landing were to occur today in 2016, in the age of social media! Interactive polls would ask: “Which beach do you prefer, Normandy or Pas de Calais?” Could all the members of the 101st Screaming Eagles, painted in Indian war paint with Mohawk haircuts, be counted upon not to post their pictures on Facebook? That seems doubtful.

The author at Grosvenor Square, London, UK
This June 6, raise a glass and toast the heroism of all those young men who fought to liberate America’s oldest ally from Nazi occupation. Without their service and sacrifice, our world might be a darker place.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Spain?

Church Door, Haro, Spain

I was delighted to "invade" Spain recently on a Duvine bicycle tour through the Riojo wine region (highly recommended!).  The Italians, of course, got there long before me.  Here is the Spain chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
Me and Stuart Laycock with Trajan -- A Spanish-born Emperor
"The Roman invasion of what is now Spain took place over a long time and involved a number of campaigns and numerous clashes. The emperors that ruled Rome at the apex of its power, Trajan and Hadrian, both grew up in what is now Spain.

The Romans first arrived in Spain during the Second Punic War. With Hannibal off to invade Italy, the Romans took the opportunity to attack the Carthaginian Empire that Hannibal’s family had built up on the Iberian Peninsula.

After a long series of campaigns involving multiple armies and commanders, the Romans eventually defeated the Carthaginian forces in Spain and took control of areas previously controlled by Carthage, mainly along the southern and eastern coasts of Spain.
Trajan's Column, Rome, Italy
And Rome’s campaigns in Spain had only just begun. The first decades of the second century BC saw assorted rebellions and clashes; and then in 181 BC, the First Celtiberian War broke out after more tribes rebelled. The result was a Roman victory, and the war ground to a halt in 179 BC.
Then in 155 BC, the Lusitanian War broke out, involving much action on what is now Spanish soil. A massacre by Roman troops ended that war in 150 BC; but war erupted again in 146 BC as a man who would become legendary, Viriathus, led the Lusitanians against the Romans. This bitter war, fought both on territory that is now Portuguese and on territory that is now Spanish, dragged on until 139 BC, when Viriathus was assassinated by three of his own men.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Romans had become engaged in a titanic struggle against the city of Numantia. The war finally ended in 134 BC when Numantia fell to besieging Roman forces.
In 132 BC, the Romans took the Balearic Islands.
Roman columns in Barcelona, Spain
Temple of Augustus (
War broke out in Spain in 80 BC, in which Roman commander Sertorius allied with local rebels to take on pro-Sulla Roman forces. Sertorius was eventually assassinated by his own side.
Plenty more fighting linked to Rome’s civil wars followed in Spain. Then in 29 BC, Augustus launched the Cantabrian Wars to take control of an area in northern Spain that remained outside Roman control. Within ten years, the war was mainly finished. More minor clashes would ensue, but after a process of conquest taking about two hundred years, the Roman occupation of Spain was finally finished.

In the early fifth century, invaders who had crossed the Rhine and then crossed Gaul arrived in Spain, producing yet more fighting.

15th Century Castle (Castillo), Spain
And Italians were fighting again in Spain during the Middle Ages. For instance, Benedetto Zaccaria commanded Castilian forces in the late thirteenth century; and Spain became deeply involved in wars in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the Renaissance, the Spanish Borgia family would rise to the height of the papacy with the ascension of Pope Alexander VI. His bastard son, Cesare Borgia, would launch many an invasion in Romagna before his ultimate exile and imprisonment in Spain.
Lord Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London
And more Italians fought in Spain after the Renaissance too. (More Spanish troops fought in Italy as well.) For example, during the Napoleonic Wars, Italians could be found fighting on both sides. Significant numbers of Italians troops were in Napoleon’s forces in Spain, but the British commanders also had Italians on their side. For example, at the Battle of Castalla in Spain in 1813, two Anglo-Italian divisions were among the forces that repelled desperate French assaults on their defensive position near Alicante. And about 115 Italians were among those serving on Admiral Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Italians again fought in the Carlist Wars in Spain in the nineteenth century; and in 1870, an Italian, Amadeo of Savoy, a son of King Victor Emmanuel II, was selected to be King of Spain. He found the job impossible, and in 1873, he had had enough and gave it up.

In the twentieth century, Italian troops played a central role in ensuring victory for Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This Italian-assisted victory had long-term consequences on the development of Spain that were felt into the Cold War.

The Italian effort during the Spanish Civil War started with air power, as Italian aircraft attacked the Republican fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar. They then airlifted Nationalist troops from Africa to Spain, a crucial step in giving Franco the ability to challenge the Republican government on the Spanish mainland.
Corpo Truppe Volontarie, Spanish Civil War
Soon Italy was also sending tanks and trainers to help the Nationalist side; and then it was sending troops to fight the CTV, Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops), supported by heavy artillery and aircraft.

An Italian offensive in March 1937 against Madrid— the Battle of Guadalajara—achieved only limited gains against determined Republican opposition, and Mussolini gave orders to increase Italian efforts. In October of that year, the Italian presence was openly and officially admitted.
Italian troops fought on all fronts in the war and in a large number of clashes. Italian aircraft also saw extensive action, and 175 pilots died in action. Three Italian planes participated in the bombing of Guernica. At sea, Italian Navy surface ships and submarines also sank Republican vessels and merchant ships.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
Italian troops played a decisive role in some of the key actions of the war. In the north in August 1937, they were heavily involved in the capture of Santander. In the spring of 1938, they took part in the Aragon Offensive, which struck a decisive blow against the Republican forces in that part of northeastern Spain. And in early 1939, they played a leading role in an offensive in Catalonia that eventually reached the sea and cut the Republic in half. In April 1939, the Nationalist victory was complete.

Over three thousand Italians, however, fought on the Republican side in Spain, joining units such as the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigade.

During World War II, Spain remained neutral, though it was friendly to the Axis cause. The Italian Navy took advantage of a derelict tanker, the 4,900 ton Olterra moored in the waters near Algericas, by installing members of the X Flottiglia MAS inside its hull. From this base in Spanish waters, they launched a series of attacks against shipping in the Bay of Gibraltar with two-man minisubmarines called Maiale (pig).

Spain joined NATO in 1982."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Have Americans Invaded Spain?

Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Spain
Have Americans ever invaded or fought in Spain?  You might be surprised by our answer from the Spain chapter of America Invades...

"Fantastic place to visit with loads and loads of amazing sights and history, Spain is a big country by European standards.

With Spain at the very western end of Europe (along with Portugal, of course) and the Spanish a major naval power for much of their history, it’s hardly surprising that they played such a big role in the European exploration and settlement of both North and South America. The Brits, of course, were not far behind them, and with a long history of hostility between the two countries, there was bound to be trouble.
Ezcaray, Spain
So interestingly, among the first Americans fighting in Spanish regions is one from before the Revolution on behalf of the Brits—although fighting may not be quite the right word since John Halsey, born in Boston, was a privateer, a sort of pirate with official government permission to be a pirate but only attacking enemy ships. In 1704, with Britain at war with the Spanish (or at least some of them since confusingly there were Spanish on both sides), Halsey arrived in the Spanish Canary Islands (popular holiday destination and part of Spain, even though they’re stuck out in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa) and attacked assorted Spanish ships.

After all the wars between Spain and Britain, Spain was only too delighted when we rebelled against English rule, and the Spanish crown supplied the rebel colonies with food, ammunition, and intelligence during the American Revolution. King Charles III of Spain even sent livestock to George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon. Very friendly.

22 Americans fought on board HMS Victory at Trafalgar
However, on October 21, 1805, Admiral Horatio Nelson led the Royal Navy to one of the most decisive victories in its history off the coast of Spain at the battle of Trafalgar. Twenty-two Americans served aboard Nelson’s flagship, the Victory, with many more throughout his fleet. A percentage of these were, no doubt, pressed men, those forced to serve in the fleet. Serve, though, they did with honor and shared in the victor’s prize money, as was their right.

In 1815, we again ventured into Spanish waters when, during the Second Barbary War, Commodore Stephen Decatur scored naval victories over Barbary pirates based in Algiers at Cape Gata and Cape Palos off the coast of Spain. On that occasion, even though we were in Spanish waters, we were actually fighting the Barbary pirates rather than the Spanish.
Virgin Mary, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Spain
But things were getting distinctly less friendly between the United States and Spain. In 1818, Andrew Jackson led a successful invasion of Florida during the First Seminole War, and the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, which is how Jacksonville, Florida, got its name.
In 1898, the United States, led by President William McKinley, went into a full-scale war with Spain. In the Spanish-American War, however, despite occasional plans for us to do things, like attack the Canary Islands (again), in the end, there was no actual fighting in Spain. Therefore, we cover that war in the Cuba and Philippines chapters.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War, as sort of a pre-game warm up for World War II, broke out. It’s a fascinating and important war and deserves to be better known. When General Franco mounted a right-wing military coup against the left-wing Spanish government, foreign volunteers flooded in from across the world to defend the republic, and among them were plenty of Americans. The Soviet Union supported the republic. Hitler and Mussolini supported Franco.
Oliver Law, First African American to Command American forces
The best-known American unit sent to aid the floundering republic was the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, or Battalion, many of its volunteers being members of the Communist Party United States, but there was also a George Washington Battalion, later amalgamated with the Abraham Lincoln unit. The fighting was ferocious, and Americans were in the thick of it in bitter struggles battles, like the Battle of Jarama and the Brunete and Aragon offensives, with horrifying casualty rates to match. Something like eight hundred of the approximately twenty-eight hundred Americans who served in the Spanish Civil War were killed. Oliver Law was a US Army veteran, a Chicago taxicab driver, and a Communist party member; during the Spanish Civil War, he became the first African-American officer to lead an American military unit. Many US veterans of the Spanish Civil War would go on to serve in the OSS during World War II.
The Moment of Death, Robert Capa
Ernest Hemingway and the woman who would later become his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, went to Spain to report on the war. Robert Capa, a friend of Hemingway’s, took his famous dying soldier photograph in the Spanish Civil War (see...

Even Errol Flynn, a naturalized American citizen, went to Spain as a war correspondent. The Loyalist side attempted to recruit Errol to their side in the conflict and gave him a machine gun, but he decided that killing people for politics in somebody else’s war wasn’t really his cup of tea.
Not all our military involvement with the Spanish Civil War was unofficial, For instance, in August 1936, the destroyer USS Kane was sent to Bilbao in Spain to rescue American citizens. On the way into Bilbao, a three-engine monoplane dropped bombs within a hundred yards, and the ship’s crew had to open fire three times to drive it away. Kane then joined up with USN Squadron 40-T under the command of Arthur P. Fairfield, which during its time in the area rescued hundreds of Americans and others from the war.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
With German assistance, Franco eventually led the Nationalists to victory in the bitter civil war.
Spain officially remained neutral during World War II, though it did send the so-called Blue Division to fight alongside the Germans in Russia, and German U-boats were able to utilize the “neutral” ports of Spain to resupply. Amidst fears that Franco might still join the Axis cause “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS, visited Madrid, and an OSS detachment was established in Spanish Morocco. The OSS made contact with the remnants of the Republican underground and exiled Spanish government to explore the possibility of subverting Franco’s regime, but that was about as far as it got.
Pub / Cafe in Logrono, Spain
"The Wayne in Spain is not to be disdained!"
After the war, fascist Spain was a political pariah for a time, but today Spain is a constitutional monarchy and a member of NATO and the EU.

We have major bases in Spain. Rota, once a sleepy fishing village near Cadiz, has served as a US naval base from 1953 to the present. It is referred to as the “Gateway to the Med” for the US 6th Fleet and other NATO forces since it’s very close to the straits that lead from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The USAF also maintains Morón Air Base in Andalucia."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of Duvine for guiding me and our group through Spain.

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