Friday, August 30, 2013

British Parliament Acts

American Middle East Policy?

This week the Russian Deputy Prime Minister accused the Americans of "acting alike a monkey with a hand grenade" in the Middle East.

Richard I, Houses of Parliament, London
Britain does not feel "Lion-hearted" now
Yesterday the British Parliament, the oldest deliberative body in the world, respectfully asked the American monkey to please re-insert the pin on the hand grenade we are currently waving about over Syria (  The last time a British Parliament rejected a Prime Minister's call to war was in 1782.  Would we Americans be wise to listen to our "cousins" across the pond on this issue?  The last significant conflict that the United States fought without our closest ally was...Vietnam.

The venerable Peter O'Toole will not, therefore, be coming out of retirement to lead a march on Damascus (See...

London theatre-goers in the West end might have received this insertion into their playbills: "We apologise for the inconvenience, but due to a fit of Democracy, the role of Obama's poodle will be played tonight by François Hollande."

I have been a long-term and consistent supporter of American and Western intervention in Syria (see... and  I believe that both Presidential candidates last year displayed an unsurprising moral and intellectual cowardice in dodging the issue of Syria.  A vast humanitarian crisis is engulfing Syria and its neighbouring countries.  Over 100,000 people have been killed and a million have been made refugees.  Assad is a brutal dictator who has crossed the line with his recent use of chemical weapons agaisnt his own people.  He has perpetrated crimes against humanity which are far worse than the "moral obscenity" decried by Secretary of State Kerry
Some in the Obama administration argue that American Tomahawk cruise missiles fired on Syria will represent "a shot fired a cross the bow that will deter future Syrian use of chemical weapons".  I find this view dangerously naive.  All historical evidence suggests that the use of cruise missiles in isolation will have a minimal effect on the Assad regime in Syria.  The use of cruise missiles is certain to cause property destruction and loss of life, which will be fully exploited by the SEA (Syrian Electronic Army) for propaganda benefit.  Make no mistake about it, the use of cruise missiles would be an act of war and would have serious consequences.  Assad's Russian allies have already deployed naval surface ships to the Eastern Mediterranean.  Assad's Iranian allies may also move against Israel in retaliation.

Ryan Crocker, the former American ambassador to Syria, commenting on the limited military actions now being contemplated by the U.S. administration said, "We've done that before in Sudan in retaliation for bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  In Sudan, we hit the wrong place.  We did it twice in Iraq to no effect and we did it in Afghanistan to little effect...So he (Assad) continues on in defiance, maybe even launches another chemical attack to put a stick in our eye -- and then what?"  Source: IHT 8/31/13

Commander K. and his buddies, London
Meanwhile we seem to have informed our potential enemies about the exact nature and limitations of our contemplated strike against them.  I don't recall reading about FDR and IKE employing a similar strategy before D-day...?

An effective intervention in the Syrian Civil war must be preceded by 1) the creation of a coherent strategic plan for victory in Syria and 2) the presentation of this plan to A) the U.S. congress, B) Our regional and NATO allies and, most of all, C) the American people.  If the American administration wants to be taken seriously in the world it will carefully, deliberately and patiently build its case for a coordinated intervention.  This would be my blueprint...

Most Americans are currently focused on 1) getting their children back to school, 2) the MLB play-off season 3) the start of the NFL regular season and 4) the antics of Miley Cyrus.  Unlike their British counterparts, they have given little consideration to the tempests brewing in the Middle East aside from perhaps wondering "how might this affect gas prices at the pump?"  To all of my American friends I would suggest that now would be an excellent time to begin worrying, thinking and speaking out on the dire situation now confronting us in the Middle East.  Let the national debate begin.

Churchill, Parliament Square, London
Assad is a brutal dictator.  Churchill said, "Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."  The key question we must ask is ""What can be done by the West to loosen Assad's saddle?  The ideal endgame in Syria would be for Assad to be devoured by Syrian tigers -- a fate which he has richly earned.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CK's Unsolicited Advice for Obama

Commander K. + Cannon

How would Commander Kelly advise President Obama on the current situation in Syria?

President Obama, though I did not vote for him, is my President too and I have great respect for the office that he holds.   Decisions of war and peace are the most serious challenges that any President can face.  These are the times that try men's souls and give American Presidents their grey hairs.  Assad's regime has used chemical weapons on its own people (see...  A civil war has been raging there for three years with over 100,000 casualties -- more than in all Arab-Israeli wars combined.  Neither side in the conflict is untainted by terrorist connections.

Assad is allied with Putin's Russia which has supplied millions worth of arms and the Mullahs of Iran where the centrifuges continue to spin.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has colorfully described America in the Middle East as acting like "a monkey with a hand grenade".

What would Winston do?
I would begin by reminding Obama of the words of Winston Churchill who said, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent, or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations — all take their seats at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance."  (For more Churchill quotes see...

Second, I would counsel that he expand the range of military options.  

What are the military options at the disposal of the U.S. Commander in Chief?

1) CRUISE MISSILE STRIKE.  This is the one that everyone is talking about and the Syrians are expecting.  U.S. Navy destroyers and submarines (including one form the UK) are already in place.  The upside is that this is easy to execute and would cost no American/Coalition lives -- at least in the short term.  The downside is that a series of cruise missile strikes were of limited military value when utilised by the Clinton administration.  If cruise missiles are used against the chemical weapons stockpiles they risk many civilian deaths  and will certainly cause collateral damage.  They will stir up the hornet's nest but not rid us of the Assad regime.

2) A DECAPITATION STRIKE.  Presuming that the CIA has any kind of accurate intelligence (granted a big "if"), there may be the possibility of a decapitation strike directly against Assad himself with either drones and/or cruise missiles.  The upside of this would be swift regime change with relatively few Syrian casualties.  The downside would be that much of the world would be horrified by the gross immorality and cynicism of the act.  Assad, the brutal dictator would become a martyr for generations to come.  Then again, how many people today remember JFK's role in the assassination of the Diem brothers in South Vietnam -- certainly few visitors to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas (see  Note, however, that this approach was tried and failed at the beginning of the 2003 war in Iraq.

Commander K. with Lawrence
St. Pauls, London
3) COVERT AID TO THE REBELS.  Let's not kid ourselves, this had been going on for some time now already with very limited success.  Could it be stepped up?  Yes, but there are hazards in terms of the spread of deadly weapons (such as surface to air missiles) that could be diverted to terrorist targets (commercial jetliners?).  Do we have reliable Arab-speaking Hum-int operatives that could help lead a popular uprising against the brutal Assad regime?  In other words, could we channel the spirit of Lawrence of Arabia and lead a drive to Damascus?  Far-fetched, romantic, but not impossible (see...  Churchill said, "Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."  What can be done by covert forces to loosen Assad's saddle?

4) U.S. GROUND TROOPS.  Let's face it, this is a non-starter for so many reasons.  Reagan's deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon in 1983 followed by the death of 241 American servicemen was, perhaps, the greatest debacle of his administration.  Our subsequent withdrawal led directly to Saddam Hussein's perception of the U.S. as a "paper tiger" with disastrous consequences.  The use of U.S. ground forces would merely create "targets of opportunity" for Assad and all those hostile to the West.  Any use of American ground forces would be tremendously unpopular at home and strategically foolish.

5) CYBER WARFARE.  There is a Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) that is actively spreading disinformation throughout social media and the Internet right now.  Do not, for example, trust anything you see on Facebook about what is going on in Syria right now!  What are we doing to help counter the SEA and to undermine the Assad regime?  Can we step up our Psy-Ops activities?  Perhaps.  The downside here is that this would largely target Syria economically and the Syrian Economy is already in a shambles after three years of civil war.  Moreover, the economy and particularly the oil markets are likely to become a "second front" in any open conflict with Assad's Syria.  Spiralling gas prices and the disruption of a fragile economic recovery are rightly viewed as the West's Achilles heal in this potential conflict.

6) AIR AND SEA BLOCKADE.  This would involve A) the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria and B) a naval blockade of the country.  The Syrian air force, Assad's main advantage over the Rebel army would be taken away.  The flow of Russian arms into Syria would be stopped.  This is the Python approach that would slowly constrict Assad's ability to fight the rebels.  This strategy plays to U.S. military strengths in terms of air and naval power.  It would cause the least collateral damage and civilian casualties.  The downside is that it requires patience, determination and leadership which seem to be in short supply.  It would also require the deployment of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean which would be a rich target for Assad's regime.  Technically a blockade is an "act of war," but, then again, so is a cruise missile attack.

Commander K. in Churchill War Rooms
If pressed for a recommendation I would urge the President to pursue a combination of 1), 3), 5) and 6).  Targeted cruise missiles would be useful in degrading the Syrian air forces, radar and airbases.  Aid to the rebels must be increased in spite of their evident imperfections.  Churchill said, "It's not only the good boys who help to win wars. It is the sneaks and stinkers as well."  The only way for the U.S. to have any influence in the region is to pick a pony and resolutely stick with it.  Non-intervention has already cost 100,000 lives.  Cyber Warfare will be important as the SEA tries to kick into high gear to disrupt the West and its economy with propaganda of their own.  We must also be careful about maintaining good relations with friendly powers such as Turkey who have long term interests in the region.  The imposition of 6) will be required in order to effect lasting change in Syria.

If we yield to "war fever" as Churchill stated, we must expect "ugly surprises", reversals, hurricanes and disappointments.  There will be a cost to our actions, but also to our continued inaction.  If ultimately we do not have the intestinal fortitude to effect regime change with a coherent long term strategy for winning in Syria over a prolonged campaign, then the West is better off staying out.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Napoleon on Elba

Commander K. in terraced garden of Villa dei Mulini
2014 will mark the bicentennial of the beginning of the Emperor Napoleon's exile to Elba in 1814.  The Allied coalition (England, Austria, Russia, Prussia, etc.) had invaded France and forced Napoleon to abdicate.  The treaty of Fountainbleau sent him to exile on Elba allowing him a lavish income, his Imperial title and sovereignty over the Kingdom of Elba.

Napoleon I,  Villa dei Mulini, Elba
Able was I ere I saw Elba
After arriving in Porto Ferraio on May 3, 1814, a restless Napoleon (See earlier post Obama, Putin and...Napoleon set about reforming the tiny island.  He reduced trade restrictions and eased the tax burden on Elbans.  Napoleon was supply-sider on Elba!  "He suppressed customs duties and tolls, as well as laws requiring stamp duties to be paid or the onerous registration of various types of transaction."  Source: Napoleon on the Island of Elba, Antonio Giubelli.  He improved existing roads and built new ones.

Napoleonic Eagle, Villa San Martino, Elba
Napoleon (see stayed on Elba for 300 days.  He enjoyed riding his beautiful horses over the islands' many hills.   He divided his time between two palaces -- his winter home the Villa dei Mulini ("Villa of the Mills") and a summer home, the Villa San Martino.

Villa dei Mulini, Porto Ferraio, Elba
The Villa dei Mulini ( is located in the hill above Porto Ferraio.  It was built in 1724 by a Medici Grand Duke.  The Villa is being restored for the celebration of the Napoleon bicentennial in 2014, but it is still open to visitors.  Napoleon's sister Paolina was the only sibling to visit him on Elba.  This was Paolina's bedroom...

Paolina's bedroom, Villa dei Mulini
The Villa San Martino ( is about 5km away from Porto Ferraio up in the mountains.

Villa San Martino, Elba
Napoleon complained that his summer residence was too hot.  Either Villa would have been a vast improvement over his ultimate fate on St. Helena.

Napoleon and Marie Lousie...?
There is an allegorical fresco on the ceiling of the Villa San Martino that symbolises Napoleon's forced separation from his wife, Empress Marie Louise.  Two doves are tieing a knot as they fly in opposite directions.  Marie Louise, for her part, found consolation for her lost Empire in the arms of Austrian Count von Neipperg who became her Chamberlain with benefits.
Marie Walewska 1786 - 1817 
Napoleon was also visited on Elba by his beautiful Polish mistress the Countess Walewski and their son, Alexandre Walewska (See " Enemy of Love?"

Napoleonic Eagle, Villa San Martino
On 26 February 1815 Napoleon fled Elba on the brig Inconstant with a small force of about 600 loyal soldiers.  Sir Neil Campbell, the Allied Commissioner from England, was charged with keeping a watchful eye on the Emperor.  Instead he was at the time visiting Livorno on the Italian mainland to pay his compliments to Contessa Miniaci, his Italian opera-singing mistress.  Napoleon landed near Antibes in France to begin the "100 Days" that ended with his defeat at the battle of Waterloo.  Over 60,000 men in the Waterloo campaign may have died on account of Opera!

Napoleon had gambled and lost; he exchanged the paradise of Elba for the prison of St. Helena.
Elba Today, view from the Hermitage Boodle
Elba today is an Italian island about 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany.  It has a population of roughly 30,000 people (12,000 in Napoleon's time).  It has many beautiful beaches and is a popular tourist destination.  The Elban white wines accompany the excellent local seafood admirably.  We spent a too brief two night exile at the family-friendly Hermitage Biodola ( which was convenient to the ferry and Napoleon's residences.

Napoleonic Brew
In Porto Ferraio you will find a brewery that makes Birra Napoleon (  I tried the blonde Paolina; it was refreshing and delicious!

Commander K. in Napoleon's Garden
Villa San Martino, Elba

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Moral Obscenity"

John F. Kerry

The American Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently declared, "Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity."

Webster's dictionary defines "Obscene" as follows, "1. disgusting to the senses : repulsive : abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravity".  It goes on to cite "indecent, blue, bawdy, nasty, raunchy and pornographic as synonyms.

Let's charitably leave aside the fact that "a moral obscenity" is a contradiction in terms; the statement of an oxymoron.

If Assad had used the "F-bomb" at a football match that would be an obscenity.  If Assad had sponsored Miley Cyrus at the recent MTV Video Music Awards show that could be called an "immoral obscenity".  When Secretary Kerry calls the use of chemical weapons "a moral obscenity" he trivialises what was in fact a crime against humanity -- an abomination, a holocaust in miniature.

Is it too much to ask of our Secretary of State that he speak with some precision when matters of war and peace are being considered?  John Kerry was widely known as one of the least popular members of the U.S. Senate.  Many of his colleagues were happy to see his backside after his confirmation by the Senate (a vote of 94 to 3) this January.  Confirmation as Secretary of State meant expulsion from the Senate.  "America is the world's only remaining superpower; what harm can he do at Foggy bottom?," they may have thought.  Time will tell.

We live in an age of lowered standards when our petulant President is given to making foreign policy pronouncements on the Tonight show (see..

Over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in their 3 year long civil war.  Thousands of refugees have streamed into neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.  The policy of the Obama administration has been to dither and avoid making any kind of a decision (see my "Solution for Syria

By postponing any kind of intervention for three years we have certainly made the ultimate price of intervention much higher.

On second thought, that truly is obscene.

Moral Obscenity...?

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Obama, Putin and...Napoleon?

Obama + Putin

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
Winston Churchill

Earlier this month President Obama recently decided to cancel his upcoming summit with Putin in St. Petersburg.

The White House said, "Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda".

A chorus of American politicians including Chuck Schumer, Condi Rice and John McCain has endorsed President Obama's decision to cancel this summit.

Many do not realize that this was an UNPRECEDENTED decision of a U.S. President to take.  The last time a summit meeting was cancelled was by Kruschev in May of 1960 (over U-2 spying) near the height of the Cold War (  Prior to Obama's action, no summit has ever been cancelled by an American President.  The silence of the mainstream media on Obama's saber rattling move is truly deafening.  Where is the anti-war left when we really need them?

What is behind Obama's decision?  In an interview given on the Tonight show with Jay Leno he mentioned, "I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."  Obama claims to be concerned about the treatment of gay athletes at the upcoming Sochi Olympics in 2016.

Does this mean that President Obama has "no patience" with our ally Saudi Arabia as well?  Does this mean that he has lost patience with Iran whose leadership has denied the very existence of homosexuality in its country?

Why is it that the GLBT community is being thrown under the bus by the Obama administration to justify its saber rattling against Russia?  Surely many of these people are among the least bellicose humans on the planet?

Regardless of where one stands on GLBT issues, does it not make more sense for President Obama to raise these issues with Putin directly at the summit rather than simply walking away and refusing to have a discussion?

We are all aware that America itself is divided on GLBT issues.  Some are staunchly in favor of marriage equality and see this as the civil rights issue of our time.  Others favor traditional marriage and see Gay marriage as a path to gay Babbitry.*  Regardless of one's views on GLBT issues, Obama's unwillingness to advocate directly to Putin does nothing to advance the cause of gay civil rights in Russia.

It has been suggested that Obama's concern about gay civil rights in Russia is merely a pretext for his decision to cancel the summit.  Some argue that his real concern is the Russian amnesty for Snowden which has thwarted U.S. efforts to extradite and try him in  court of law.  Others suggest that differences over the ongoing civil war in Syria are at the root of the problem.

Lord Palmerston said, "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

During World War II the Soviet Union was out ally against Hitler.  During the Cold war the Soviet Union was our global superpower rival.  With the collapse of communism Russia has become less of a rival and sometimes even a partner in the war on terrorism.

Russia is not a perpetual enemy, still less an eternal ally.  The U.S.A. and Russia each have eternal interests some of which are aligned and some of which are divergent.  On the topic of Edward Snowden ( and his revelations the two countries interest seem clearly to diverge.

How does boycotting the summit help the U.S. to exert any pressure on Putin to reverse course with regard to Snowden?  Does it not make more sense to use this as an opportunity to discuss ALL the issues on which the two countries differ?

What would Churchill do?  We know that he great man, an ardent summiteer, said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

What is Obama really afraid of with regard to meeting Putin?  Does he dread a public humiliation of some kind?  This would be a meeting between a lame duck President and an even lamer duck dictator.  Neither man has any concern about job security.  That, of course, may be part of the problem; neither man has sufficient fear of what the consequences of their actions could be.  Perhaps the better question is "Why aren't these two men afraid of igniting a second Cold War?"

Commander K. at Museo Napoleonico
Rome, Italy
Barack Obama and Napoleon Bonaparte share more than a birth month (August) and an astrological sign (Leo).  Both men lost their fathers at a young age and were raised largely by their mothers.  Both men soared to the height of power at a young age.  Both were educated and spent time away from the land of their birth -- France and Indonesia.  Napoleon was a tactical military genius.  Obama has been a tactical political genius.  Both men benefited politically from the tumultuous times (French Revolution / Financial crisis) that preceded their arrival on the scene.  Both men have argued and worked toward expanding the central powers of the state (Napoleonic Code / Obamacare).

Stendahl, a stout Bonapartist and liberal, wrote of Napoleon, "Prosperity had gradually altered and vitiated his character.  He made the mistake of being too surprised by his success...He drank great gulps of the poison of flattery.  He believed that there was nothing personally impossible for him.  He could no longer stand contradiction and soon the slightest remark appeared to him an impertinence and what was more, stupid.  As a result of his bad choice (of men CK) he was used to seeing only those things succeed which he did himself.  Very soon his ministers appeared to do no more than set down his ideas slavishly.  It is impossible, in this age, for genuine ability not to be allied to fairly liberal ideas.  Napoleon himself is an example of this, and it is considered the greatest crime of all."  Source: A Life of Napoleon, Stendhal, 1818

Could the same words not apply to President Obama in 2013?

Recall Obama's slip in the third Presidential debate in 2012 when he said, "This Nation. Me."

Napoleon had a formidable secret police led by Fouché.  He also had strict control of the media and sometimes wrote articles for Le Moniteur.  Obama has a fawning media and has used the NSA to spy on American citizens.  The Obama administration has also used the IRS to intimidate its ideological opposition.

Napoleon I + Alexander I
Imperial Bro-mance?
Banned at Sochi 2016...?
In 1807 Napoleon sought a "reset" with Russia as well.  He met Tsar Alexander I on a barge in the middle of the Neman river near.  They agreed to the treaty of Tilsit  that divided the world between France and Russia.  This "reset" lasted 5 years until Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812.

History does not always repeat itself, but it often tends to rhyme.

History is often freighted with irony.  An anti-war congressman who vehemently opposed Polk's Mexican-American war, Abraham Lincoln, would later lead the United States in the bloodiest war in its history.  Today our Nobel-prize winning President is rattling a saber that could relaunch a new Cold war and no one seems to care.

*  Has no one warned our gay brothers and sisters about the hazards of marriage?  Can the reading public now expect a gay "Monsieur Bovary", a lesbian "Anna Karenina", and a transgender "Stepford Wives/Husbands/Wives..."?

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Alamo

Commander K. at the Alamo, San Antonio, TX
"The Cradle of Texas Liberty"

1836 was the momentous year in the history of Texas, Mexico and the United States.  In that year a small group of Texians and Tejanos gathered at a fortified church in San Antonio called the Alamo.  This was the year of the Texas Revolution.

The mission of the Alamo ( had been built by the Spanish in 1744.  It was intended to help settle a desolate sparsely populated land and to convert native Americans, mainly Comanches, to Christianity.

In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain.  Texas was still a desolate land with few settlers.  The Mexicans launched a campaign to bring more people to Texas by offering generous land grants.  The only catch was that new settlers had to convert to Catholicism and that slavery was illegal.  This brought many Americans, mostly from the Southern states, to Texas.  Stephen Austin was and American Impresario in the Texas territory who actually changed his first name to "Estaban".  Austin today is politically the "bluest" part of Texas.

Then the government in Mexico changed.  The dictator Santa Anna came to power.  Suddenly the Anglo immigrants seemed to be a threat to Mexican rule.

The occupation of the Alamo by about 250 Texians was a direct threat to Mexican authority.  From the Mexican perspective, the Alamo insurgency was the result of a failed immigration policy that needed to be revised and the rebellion put down.  Santa Anna arrived with a force of over 2,000 Mexican soldiers to subdue the mission.

The leaders of the Texas Revolution who became the martyrs at the Alamo had no desire for martyrdom.  Most had come to Texas to get rich.  They were not perfect people.  Many were slaveowners.  There were classic American stories of men who had come to Texas looking for life's "second chance".

Bowie Knife, Alamo Museum, San Antonio, TX
Jim Bowie, born in Kentucky, was a forger and a land swindler who was wanted in several U.S. states.  He had also invented the Bowie knife.  Bowie was ill (either pneumonia or tuberculosis) and bed-ridden for most of the Alamo siege.

In 1831 William Travis was an Alabama school teacher who abandoned his pregnant wife and child to make his way to Texas.  At age 26 the Alamo was his first command.  Travis brought his slave Joe to the Alamo.

David Crockett was a legendary frontiersman from Tennessee.  He was elected to Congress in 1826, but lost his re-election bid in 1834.  Crockett responded, "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas."

Commander K. at Alamo
The siege of the Alamo lasted 13 days.  Travis wrote a famous letter begging for assistance...

Commandancy of the Alamo------

Bejar Fby. 24th 1836

To the People of Texas & 
all Americans in the world------

Fellow citizens & compatriots------

I am besieged, by a thousand 
or more of the Mexicans under 
Santa Anna ----- I have sustained 
a continual Bombardment & 
cannonade for 24 hours & have 
not lost a man ----- The enemy 
has demanded a Surrender at 
discretion, otherwise, the garrison 
are to be put to the sword, if 
the fort is taken ----- I have answered 
the demand with a cannon 
shot, & our flag still waves 
proudly from the wall ----- I
shall never Surrender or retreat

Then, I can on you in the 
name of Liberty, of patriotism & 
every thing dear to the American 
character, to come to our aid,
with an dispatch ----- The enemy is 
receiving reinforcements daily &
will no doubt increase to three or 
four thousand in four or five days. 
If this can is neglected, I am deter 
mined to sustain myself as long as 
possible & die like a soldier 
who never forgets what is due to 
his own honor & that of his 
country ----- Victory or Death 

William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt

Commander K. and the Texas Heroes
Tomb of Travis, Bowie and Crockett
San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio TX
Early in the hours of March 6 the final assault on the Alamo was launched.  This was a clever tactic on the Mexican side which allowed them to reach the outer walls with minimal casualties.  The bravery of the assaulting Mexican forces is indisputable.  Travis was one the the first defenders to be killed that night.  His slave Joe survived the battle.

Travis' defiant "Victory or Death" defence of the Alamo recalls Leonidas' defence of Thermopylae against the Persians.  "Come and take it" would  become a motto for Texans just as it had been for Leonidas.

Mexican forces had won a victory at the Alamo.  Due to the savage no quarter policy ordered by Santa Anna, it would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Mexicans.  After the Alamo, Santa Anna also ordered the murder of over 342 unarmed Texian prisoners at Goliad.  Santa Anna's disregard of the rules of warfare exposed to the world his nature as a brutal tyrannical dictator; by these actions Mexico had forfeited its legitimate claim to Texas.

"Remember the Alamo" would become a rallying cry for Sam Houston's force of Texians at the decisive Battle of San Jacinto which took place the following month...

Alamo at night
Visitors to the Alamo who are familiar with the John Wayne movie may be astonished to learn that the remains of the Alamo Mission are right in the heart of the city of San Antonio.  It is particularly moving to see the Alamo at night when it vibrates an almost mystical aura.

Commander K. at Menger Bar, San Antonio, TX
Photo courtesy: Jim Hooper
After visiting to the Alamo, I suggest beating a retreat to the nearby Menger bar in the Menger Hotel ( for a tissue-reviving refreshment.  It was here that Teddy Roosevelt channeled the spirit of the Alamo to recruit the Rough Riders for the Spanish American war (see...  You will find a London connection here too; this bar is a replica of the bar in the house of Lords in Parliament in Westminster.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Nina Kelly (Eaves), of Wolf City, Texas.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Battle of San Jacinto

Commander K. at Santa Anna's Camp
Photo Courtesy: Jim Hooper


Even though no American Army participated, the Battle of San Jacinto proved to be one of the most decisive and consequential in American history.  On April 21, 1836 a band of Texians led by Sam Houston met  Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces near the town of San Jacinto.

It is misleading to view this conflict as a simple race war between "white" Americans and "brown" Mexicans.  First off, the Texians were not all Americans -- many had European origins.  There were also the Tejanos -- men of Mexican descent who joined the Texians in opposition to the perceived tyranny of Santa Anna's government.  Lorenzo de Zavala, a Tejano, became the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas.

Mexican Uniform, The Alamo,  San Antonio, TX
The Mexicans had several advantages in the battle.  First, they outnumbered the Texians by about 1,300 to 900 combatants.  Second, they were a professionally equipped and trained Army.  Third, they were being led by the self-styled "Napoleon of the West" -- Santa Anna.  Fourth, their uniforms were sharper than the rag tag Texians.

Santa Anna, however, had violated two of the cardinal rules of military science; he had divided his forces and camped his Army with their backs to a swampy river.  No means of retreat was available to his forces.  This is the rule that makes all amphibious landing so very problematic and gives the military heartburn.  When I paid a recent visit to the battleground this summer I saw signs warning of alligators near the empty picnic benches that grace the site of the Mexican camp today!

Why did they fight?
By most standards the battle was a skirmish rather than a Battle.  There were 1,360 Mexicans pitted against 960 Texians.  The Battle only lasted for 18 minutes.  There were 630 Mexican killed and only nine Texians.  Nevertheless, the Battle was one of great significance for North American history.  It was, like the battles of Lepanto and Waterloo, one of the turning points in world history.

Sam Houston
San Jacinto Monument Museum, TX
Sam Houston was a hard-drinking politician with limited military experience.  He had failed to come to the relief of William Travis and the defenders of the Alamo. Santa Anna had given no quarter, creating martyrs of the Texian defenders.  Santa Anna also ordered the massacre a further 342 unarmed Texian prisoners at  Goliad.

On April 21, 1836 the outnumbered Texian Army was fired up for revenge on behalf of their comrades.  The Cries of "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad" filled the air.

The battle lasted only 18 minutes, but was to have far reaching effects.  The Mexican were decisively defeated and Santa Anna was captured.  He would exchange his liberty in return for the creation of a new independent country -- the Republic of Texas.

In 1845, during the Tyler administration, Texas was annexed to the United States forming the 28th state in the Union (see    President Polk, a firm believer in Manifest Destiny, would lead the country into a war against Mexico from 1846-1848.  The treaty of  Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American war would result in the annexation of California, Arizona, and New Mexico to the United States.

Is it not abundantly clear that those who live in these states, imperfect though they may be, are far better off than if this area had remained a part of Mexico?

The Recipe for Prosperity
The economic historian William Bernstein suggests that four things are requisite for a "Birth of Plenty" to occur: 1) Property Rights, 2) Scientific Rationalism, 3) Capital Markets and 4) Fast and Efficient Communications and Transportation.  A contra-factual Mexican victory at the battle of San Jacinto would have denied Texas and the Western United States the opportunity to enjoy all four factors and condemned its residents to grinding poverty under a corrupt regime.

William Bernstein writes, "Populist rhetoric in Latin America contributes to the poisonous economic atmosphere.  Where the avenging specter of 'the people'; hangs heavy in the air, improving a property or a business serves only to make it a fatter target for confiscation...The corruption of Latin politics originated in Hapsburg Spain and was perpetuated by political instability.  A heritage rife with conquest, plunder, exploitation and forced extraction of mineral wealth does not greatly value efficient capital markets.  The modern scourge of the Andean nations-- the drug industry--and the lawlessness that accompanies it -- is a symptom, not the disease."  (Source: Birth of Plenty, William Bernstein, 2004

The eventual American sovereignty over this territory, made possible by the Battle of San Jacinto, brought the rule of law and ignited a "birth of plenty" throughout the region.

Moreover, consider how very different, and likely worse, world history would have been had America remained a stunted state hemmed in to the south by a much larger Mexico.  The Kaiser's Imperial Germany attempted to play the Mexico card during the First World War.  The Zimmerman telegram was one of the principle  reasons for Wilson's decision to join the Allied side in that war.  Just imagine how much more dangerous the German overture would have been if Mexico had retained Texas and the Southwestern United States. Later, a truncated and weakened Untied States would likely have been unable to help win World War II or the Cold War.  The cascading events that might have followed a Mexican victory at San Jacinto would have impoverished not merely the region, but, arguably, the world as a whole.

Today a visitor to Houston can easily tour the San Jacinto Monument ( which is about twenty five miles away from downtown.  You can take the elevator up to the top to get a view of the battleground.  Atop the Monument you will find a huge granite Lone Star -- everything really is bigger in Texas!

Commander Kelly says, "Remember San Jacinto!"

Special thanks to my friend Jim Hooper for showing me the battleground on my recent trip to Houston.

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

Friday, August 9, 2013

National Museum of the Pacific War

Japanese Seaplane, NMPW
Photo Courtesy: Jim Hooper
In Fredericksburg Texas you can find an extraordinary museum dedicated to World War II in the Pacific theatre.  The National Museum of the Pacific War ( is located in the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz who was born and raised in the Texas hill country.  Fredericksburg was founded by German immigrants and Nimitz' grandfather was a hotelier in the town.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz 1885 - 1966
NMPW, Fredericksburg TX
Photo Courtesy: Jim Hooper
Nimitz' father was a frail man who died before his son's birth.  Chester Nimitz was. therefore, raised by his mother Anna and his grandfather.  Chester Nimitz' grandfather "Charles served briefly in the Texas Rangers, but in 1852 he started the Nimitz Hotel on the east end of Fredericksburg's Main Street."  The Admirals, Walter Borneman.  Nimitz father, Chester Bernard Nimitz, was a weak lad with a frail constitution who died five months after his wedding and before his son was born.  Young Chester was raised by his mother Anna and his grandfather.  He did not graduate from high school but managed to be accepted into the Naval academy.  In 1908 Nimitz became one of the U.S. Navy's first submariners.

On March 20, 1912 while on board the Skipjack, a fireman second class lost his footing and slipped overboard.  Chester Nimitz, like the fictional Jack Aubrey, jumped into the water and rescued the sailor.    Nimitz wrote, "I had to go swimming yesterday, it was awfully, awfully cold."  Source: The Admirals, Walter Borneman, 2012
American Sea Leadership
Chester Nimitz later rose to become a Fleet Admiral in the U.S. Navy.  He assumed command of the US naval forces in the Pacific shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.  He led US Naval forces at Midway and throughout the Pacific campaign.  The USS Texas was, for a time, his flagship in World War II  (see earlier post...  He is buried in San Francisco.

Commander K. + Japanese Mini-sub, NMPW
Photo Courtesy: Jim Hooper
The Pacific War Museum has a Japanese submarine that was used to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Australian Tank, NMPW
A section of the Museum is devoted to the campaign in Burma.

Jeeps were used by American and Allied forces throughout the war.  About 600,000 were built. (See earlier post...

"Fat Boy", NMPW
Photo: Courtesy Jim Hooper
The museum concludes with a discussion of the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  For my full discussion please see...

Japanese Garden, NMPW
Step outside the museum and you will find a peaceful Japanese garden that is a gift from the Japanese people.  Nimitz attended Admiral Togo's funeral in 1934.

Cheers from Texas!
Auslander Restaurant, Fredericksburg
If you are fortunate to make it to Fredericksburg you should also try having lunch or dinner at the Auslander --  Be sure to sample the authentic German food and beers!

Special thanks to my friend Jim Hooper for being my guide to the Museum of the Pacific War.

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