Sunday, November 24, 2013

JFK & Reagan

Bill Maher suggests in the above video that JFK was a "cooler" President than Ronald Reagan.  He cannot seem to manage this without coarse disparagement of Sarah Palin.

What is Maher missing in his JFK / Reagan comparison?  Well, almost everything.

First off, he does not seem to have any awareness of the many traits that JFK and Reagan shared.  Both were white, heterosexual males of Irish descent.  Both were American Presidents and that alone puts them in a very exclusive club.  Both were gifted speakers.  Both men could look good in a suit and liked to pal around with Frank Sinatra.  Both men were accomplished in the nearly lost art of letter-writing.  Both men had a sense of humor.  Both men had highly unsatisfactory fathers, though JFK's enjoyed more material success.  Both began their political lives as New Deal Democrats who worshipped FDR.  Both were fervently anti-Communist Cold War warriors.  Both cut marginal tax rates thereby stimulating the economy.

Both supported a strong US defense posture.  JFK launched the Navy Seals which proved to be pretty cool in 2011 when they got Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.  Reagan used SDI as a massive bluff which helped to win the Cold War.  Genrikh Trofimenko, a high ranking official in the Brezhnev era, declared, "Ninety-nine percent of the Russian people believe that America won the Cold War because of your president's insistence on SDI."  Source: Reagan and Thatcher: A Difficult Relationship, Richard Aldous, 2013).  That is still pretty cool even today.

Both men were strong advocates of the second amendment who later became victims of an assassin's bullets (see...  JFK's encounter was fatal while Reagan recovered from Hinckley's 1981 attempt.  Reagan did not live long enough to see and appreciate Hinckley's final humiliation when Jodie Foster emerged from the closet to torment his pathetic fantasies.

Both men made significant and costly mistakes in deploying American military support -- Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba (1961) and Reagan in sending the Marines on shore in Lebanon (1983).

Reagan's blunders with the Iran/Contra scandal nearly destroyed his administration.  Kennedy's blunders in his dealings with Khrushchev nearly destroyed the world.  The only time the US has ever gone to Def-Con 2 was during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962.  Afterwards, Che Guevara, of the million T-shirts, told a British journalist that, had the Cubans controlled the missiles on the island, he would have authorized a launch.  That would have been totally "uncool".

Both men chose for their running mates Texans who had served honorably in the US Navy during World War II.  Both respective VPs were elected to a single term.

There were also differences small and large.

JFK Plaque, National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredericksburg Texas
JFK saw active duty in World War II with PT-109 which was very cool.  Reagan helped make wartime propaganda films -- not so cool.

As Commander-in-chief, JFK escalated our involvement in Vietnam raising the number of U.S. Military advisers from 800 at the time of his inauguration in 1961 to over 16,000 by the time of his assassination in Dallas in 1963. (Source: A Vietnam War Reader, Michael Hunt, 2010).   JFK's administration collaborated in the assassination of the Diem brothers who were our allies in South Vietnam.  Very Uncool.

Reagan, on the other hand, presided over a period of peace and prosperity.  Much cooler.

JFK teed up Vice President Johnson for a catastrophe in Vietnam that would cost over 50,000 American lives.  JFK said "we will bear every burden" and we bore many burdens through the 1960s.  That was kind of "uncool".

Ronald Reagan, Grosvenor Square, London
It was Reagan who later said that the conflict in Vietnam "was, in truth, a noble cause."  So, in a sense, Reagan helped us to forgive JFK's youthful indiscretions and a nation to forgive itself.  That was pretty cool.

Reagan teed up his Vice President H.W. Bush for a final, peaceful victory in the cold war.  Reagan went to the Berlin Wall and said, "tear down that wall" and the wall came down.  The absence of "duck and cover" in our world today remains totally cool.

At the end of the day, Ronald Reagan was a successful President and a much happier man than JFK;  the martyred JFK remains to history a well-polished question mark.

Special thanks to Lois Walker for directing me to Maher's video.

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Royal Salute

Commander Kelly + Royal Horse Artillery
Photo Courtesy: Tim Lyons
London offers many unique sights, sounds and experiences.  Where else can you find a troop of Royal Horse Artillery to celebrate life's special moments?  The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery may have moved out of Saint John's Wood last year and are headquartered now in Woolwich, but they remain very active in celebrating special events such as the Queen's birthday with a whiff of grapeshot.  Yesterday (November 14th, 2013) some friends and I attended the Royal Salute to the Prince of Wales' birthday.  Forty-one shots were discharged -- twenty-one for the birthday and twenty for the Royal Park (Hyde Park) that was the setting.

Hyde Park November 14, 2013
Photo Courtesy: Tim Lyons
Women are not allowed into the British cavalry but they are welcome in the Horse artillery.  As a consequence, about 40 percent of the artillerymen are women.  See earlier post Women in Combat here...

Hyde Park, London
Photo Courtesy: Tim Lyons

The 13 pound breech-loading canons that they use were fired in anger during the First World War and perhaps even in the Second.  They still can make a deafening roar.  Several nearby car alarms went off during yesterday's salute!

Prince of Wales Birthday 2013
Photo Courtesy: Tim Lyons
From the Napoleonic wars through World War II artillery has been responsible for more combat deaths than any other class of weapon.  Napoleon learned the craft of war as an artilleryman and first distinguished himself by directing the guns at the siege of Toulon.  Nietzsche called himself a "swaggering old artillery man".  Ian Fleming's father (Valentine) was killed by artillery while serving on the Western front in World War I.  Harry Truman served in "Battery B" in the American Expeditionary Force in the Great War.

Royal Salute, Photo courtesy Will Heim
Royal salutes are held at least seven times per year.  They are held in Hyde Park and in Green Park.  They are open to the public and entirely free.  You can find details and the upcoming schedule here...  Plan your visit!

Artillery on the move
Photo Courtesy: Will Heim

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guns, War and Statistics

Commander Kelly + His Favorite Gun

Let's talk about guns.  Let me say at the outset, that I am NOT an NRA member and I have NEVER owned a working firearm.

I recently was forwarded this startling message via social media.  Mark Shields, a commentator on PBS claimed on 12/20/2012 that "more Americans have died from gunfire than died in … all the wars of this country's history,"...  We are assured by the "Politi-fact Truthometer," that Shields' claim it "true".

This is precisely the type of rhetoric that Europeans and others love to read about those "bloodthirsty American cowboys" mowing each other down in the streets.  It confirms all their favorite prejudices about violent American gun owners.  This is a shocking, attention-grabbing headline.

But is Mark Shields' claim really correct?

First off, are the US War deaths figures accurate?  According to Shields, total US war deaths have been 1,171,177.  Well his source is the CRS (Congressional Research Service), which appears reputable.  Here is their 2010 study:

Cherry Valley Massacre
November 11, 1778
Let's start with America's first war the American Revolution which ran from 1775 to 1783.  The CRS cites total American deaths as 4,435.  Does this include American Tories who fought on the British side?  I doubt it.  Does this figure include American civilians killed by native Americans that fought on behalf of the British?  Dubious.  This question is not simply theoretical for me as I had ancestors who were massacred by the Mohawk and Seneca tribesmen (with British leaders) in Cherry Valley, New York (  Had my ancestor not been sent away to boarding school I would not, ahem, be writing this blog now--his entire family was killed!  Out of the 44 Americans killed at Cherry Valley on November 11, 1778 most were civilians.  Many Americans were killed while imprisoned on British POW ships.  The most recent scholarship on American deaths in the American Revolution by John Shy puts total American death in the Revolution at 25,000 (Source: John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (revised edition, University of Michigan Press, 1990).  The CRS study on which Shield's claim is based is, therefore, off by a factor of nearly 6X in the case of the American Revolution!

What about America's bloodiest conflict -- the US Civil war?  The CRS study only cites total Union deaths which it gives as 364,511.  In a footnote it mentions an estimate of total Confederate dead at 133,821 and cites an additional 28,000 to 31,000 of POW deaths.  Shields' source extrapolates on the basis of the footnotes and gives a combined Civil war death total of 525,000.

In 2012 a new study by demographer David Hacker, however, has just raised the estimated total American civil war deaths to 750,000   This implies that, according to the latest scholarship, Shields' source UNDERCOUNTS civil war deaths by 225,000!

If we take WIKI as our source for total US War deaths (1,321,612 which was clearly more accurate on the American Revolution (thought probably still too low) we get and then update for the latest US civil war deaths based on the Hacker study (add 125,000 deaths more than the WIKI Civil War figures) we get a total American war deaths figure of 1,446,612.

If look a the other side of the claim (1,384,171 killed by firearms from 1968 to the present) and accept that, provisionally, as true we can see that SHIELD'S CLAIM IS DEMONSTRABLY FALSE. 

You might still object that 1,384,171 killed by firearms since 1968 is still an awful lot and close to the total US war dead.

Shield's claim is also highly misleading.

Consider, for example, the phrase "killed by firearms".  That means that ALL firearm-related deaths are counted, including suicides and accidents.  The annual murder rate by firearms (11,078 in 2010) has been going down steadily since 1981.  The annual suicide rate by firearms (19,392 in 2010) is, however, is nearly TWICE the murder rate  and is reaching new highs (Source:  Consider this suicide rate against the fact that 1,660,290 new cases of cancer are estimated to be diagnosed in 2013 (American Cancer Society).  A majority of firearm deaths are NOT the result of violent crime at all.

It is true that many Americans own guns (88.8 guns per 100 people in 2007).  It is also true that the total population of Americans (316,364,000 per 2010 census) is vastly larger than it was at our nation's founding (3,929,214 per 1790 census) and about 10X greater than at the start of the US civil war (31,443,321 per 1860 census).  A combination of more people, more guns and a greater acceptance of suicide as an option has, tragically, elevated US suicide rates to record levels.

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