Sunday, October 22, 2017

Military History and Race

George Armstrong Custer
Lest We Forget

History teaches us that all races have fought in wars and that all have won and lost wars at various times.  The lie of White (or European) supremacy was thoroughly discredited at the battles of Little Big Horn (1876),  Adwa (1896), Tsushima Strait (1905), Pearl Harbor (1941) and, finally, on 9/11 (2001).

Crazy Horse
Victor at Little Big Horn
At Little Big Horn in eastern Montana Custer's 7th Cavalry was destroyed by a Sioux Army led by Crazy Horse that outnumbered his by about three to one.  Custer, who had graduated at the bottom of his class from West Point, had declined to bring a gatling gun as it would only slow him down.

In 1896 the forces of Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II decisively defeated Italian Colonial forces at the Battle of Adwa.  Ethiopian independence was preserved.  Adwa inspired many subsequent African anti-colonial struggles but it also inspired a thirst for vengeance with Mussolini who brutally invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and erected a statue of himself on the Adwa battlefield.

At Tsushima Strait in 1905 a Japanese fleet annihilated a Russian fleet that had sailed halfway around the world from Europe to Asia in order to confront the Japanese.  Two thirds of the Russian ships were sunk.  A peace, brokered by Teddy Roosevelt, ended the Russo-Japanese war shortly afterwards.  TR became the first American President to win a Nobel Peace prize.

At Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the Imperial Japanese navy achieved strategic surprise catching the US fleet while it was anchored at Battleship Row in Hawaii.  Over 2,400 Americans were killed that day.  There were initial, and entirely false, reports that German pilots were flying planes marked with the Rising Sun that day.

On 9/11 nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists from the Middle East managed to hijack four domestic US airliners and crash them into the Twin towers and the Pentagon.  All four commercial planes were fueled for cross country flights making them hugely dangerous missiles.  The hijackers used knives and box cutters to terrorize the crew and capture the cockpits within a narrow time window that morning.  Commercial airline cockpits were, at the time, lightly secured and airline crews were trained to accede to hijacker demands in hopes of getting the planes safely back to an airport.  Nearly three thousand were killed on that day of horror.

Here Crispus Attucks fell
March 5, 1770
Today the United States has, without question, the strongest military in the world.  Ethnic diversity has been a key ingredient for American military success from the very founding of our nation.  Crispus Attucks, of African and Wampanoag heritage, has been hailed as the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.  Nearly five percent of the Continental Army were black.  Hundreds of thousands of blacks would serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.  More would serve as Buffalo soldiers in the Indian Wars on the western frontier.  Even in the segregated Army of World War II blacks distinguished themselves in units such as the Tuskegee airmen and the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion ("Triple Nickels").

Over and over again minorities that have faced discrimination and persecution in the United States have proven themselves on the battlefield by fighting valiantly for a country that sometimes despised them.  In the 19th century Irish immigrants to the US faced a strong nativist backlash epitomized by "No Irishmen need apply" and the Know Nothing movement.  They responded by forming the Irish Brigade ("Fighting 69th"), led by General Thomas Meagher, that won battle honors at Antietam and Gettysburg.

Faced with actual imprisonment after Pearl Harbor, around 14,000 Japanese-Americans would form the 442nd Infantry Regiment which earned nearly 9,500 Purple hearts fighting mainly in the Italian campaign.  The most decorated unit in the US Army in World War II had a simple motto: "Go For Broke".

Native Americans have been fighting alongside and in the US Armed forces since the Oneida and Tuscarora joined the Patriot cause during the American Revolution.  Today a disproportionate number of Native Americans serve in the US Armed forces.

President George W. Bush recently said that "bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed".  Bigotry and white supremacy, aside from being terrible policy, are also symptoms of historical ignorance.



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ken Burns' Vietnam: A Quagmire within a Quagmire



Put me down as a Ken Burns fan.  I loved his documentary The Civil War (www.amzn.com/B0189I11EI).  I admired his film The War which dealt with World War II (wwwamzn.com/B0759GLFT2).

History is far too important to be left to academic historians.  I was delighted to see that Burns would be taking his documentary film-making technique to the thorny topic of the Vietnam War.  His treatment was bound to ruffle some academic feathers.

But what a disappointment The Vietnam War has proven to be!  The film seems to be a quagmire within a quagmire.

Just consider the problems in the first episode which purports to cover the conflict in Vietnam from 1858 to 1962.

First, Burns / Novick claim to have tried to attempted to shed light on Vietnam by interviewing those on all sides of the conflict -- South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Americans, etc..  This would be highly commendable if it were true.  The first episode of his Vietnam deals largely with the French Imperial Project in Vietnam.  But something is missing.  There was not a single interview with any French man or woman.  This is a glaring oversight.  The French Imperial Project is summarily dismissed without any attempt to make any real assessment of the effects of European Imperialism.  Throw us a baguette, Ken!

Second, the editing in this documentary is chronologically jerky and highly annoying.  In an episode which is ostensibly treating the period from 1858 to 1962 Burns inserts a number of flash forwards to the 1960s American experience of the war.  This seems to be a highly patronizing move on Burns part.  He seems to assume that an American audience cannot handle a historic chronology without being a helping of the 1960s Vietnam experience that is more familiar to American viewers.

Eisenhower
Grosvenor Square, London
Third, Burns / Novick fundamentally get Eisenhower wrong.  His film suggests that Ike was elected President in 1952 because he would be more tough on Communism.  This is misleading at best.  Ike was elected in 1952 to deal with the trauma of the Korean War from which he swiftly extracted the US and winning an uneasy peace on the peninsula.  Of all Americans Presidents who dealt with Vietnam from 1952 to 1974 Eisenhower had BY FAR the most military and strategic experience.  Nor is it a coincidence that among all US Presidents from 1952 to 1974 Eisenhower did the least to deepen our involvement in Vietnam.  Nor does Burns even bother to mention that Ike flatly turned down the suggestion by his Joint Chiefs to drop atomic bombs on the Viet Minh in 1954 in support of the beleaguered French at Dien Bien Phu.  Dismissing the desperate pleas of the French who had been close wartime allies of the US in World War II could not have been easy for Ike but it was the right call to make.

Fourth, Burns / Novick give short shrift to the appalling devastation caused in Vietnam by the Japanese occupation of the country in World War II.  Vietnam sustained 1 to 2 million deaths  (mainly due to starvation) during the 1940 to 1945 occupation of their country by the Japanese quite possibly more than ALL of the casualties of the Vietnam on ALL sides (about 1.3 million from 1965 to 1974). The horrendous trauma of the wartime famine explains much about how the ground for Ho Chi Minh's Revolution was laid.

The Vietnam War was a worthy subject poorly handled by the Burns / Novick collaboration.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Invading Texas

The author with Travis and Crockett
San Antonio, TX


In an excerpt from the Texas chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (www.americainvaded.com) we discussed the Texas Revolution of 1836...

Invading Texas 2017

"By 1821...New Spain was overthrown with the Mexican Revolution. Texas would be governed, for a while, by Mexico City rather than Madrid, although it remained 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 of Virginia was an American impresario in the Texas territory who actually changed his first name to Estaban.

In 1826, the short-lived Fredonian Rebellion, led by Haden Edwards, briefly declared an independent state in Texas before it was crushed by Mexican forces.

Mexican attempts to control further Anglo immigration into Texas created tensions that would lead to violence. Already in 1832, Texas insurgents rose against the Mexican authorities, and more was to come.

The wide-open spaces of Texas seemed to promise almost unlimited opportunity for those adventuresome souls who dared to make the trek to the western frontier. Texas drew an assortment of adventurers.

Jim Bowie
1796 - 1836

There was, for example, Jim Bowie, a forger and land swindler from Kentucky who was wanted in several US states. He had also invented the Bowie knife.

Texas also attracted William Travis, an Alabama schoolteacher who abandoned his pregnant wife and child to make his way to Texas. The Alamo would be the twenty-six-year-old’s first command.

Davy Crockett
1786 - 1836
Texas drew David Crockett, a legendary frontiersman from Tennessee. He was elected to Congress in 1826, but lost his reelection bid in 1834. Crockett responded to his defeat with: “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.”

Texas was also a magnet for Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, who is better known to us simply as Santa Anna. In 1836, he was the president and dictator of Mexico. He also styled himself the “Napoleon of the West.” With Texas beginning to stir into open rebellion, Santa Anna led what would prove to be one of the most fateful invasions of Texas and, indeed, American territory.

By 1836, the Anglo population of Texas outnumbered the Mexicans by more than three to one. On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. General Sam Houston was selected to lead the military forces of the newly created Republic of Texas.

But as Texas declared its independence, General Santa Anna and an army of over 3,000 men were laying siege to the Alamo.
William Travis
1809 - 1836

On February 28, 1836, William Travis wrote this famous letter from the Alamo:

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 walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined 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.

On March 6, the presidio was stormed, and all 187 defenders, including Travis, Bowie, and Crockett, were slain. “Remember the Alamo” would become the rallying cry of the new Texas Republic.

Even worse atrocities, though, would soon follow the fall of the Alamo.

Mexican forces won the Battle of Coleto Creek on March 19–20, 1836. Colonel James Fannin was compelled to surrender his force of about three hundred Texans. The Mexican Congress had ordered captured rebels to be treated as pirates. On March 27, over 340 Texans were summarily executed in what became known as the Goliad massacre.

Sam Houston
1793 - 1863

In 1836, 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. He was powerless to prevent the Goliad Massacre. But he would succeed spectacularly at San Jacinto.
San Jacinto Monument
La Porte, TX
Sam Houston was opposed by Santa Anna, and Santa Anna’s forces outnumbered the Texans by about 1,300 to 900. Santa Anna, however, had violated two of the cardinal rules of military strategy: he had divided his forces, and he had camped his army with its back to a swampy river.  Finally, Santa Anna had neglected to post pickets around the Mexican encampment, and that allowed the Texans to launch a surprise attack. On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston decisively defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, which was near the town of La Porte. The battle lasted only eighteen minutes and resulted in the deaths of 630 and the capture of 730 Mexican troops, along with Santa Anna himself. Only nine Texans were killed in the engagement. Santa Anna would be ransomed back to Mexico in exchange for the independence of Texas."

With Jim Hooper in front of The Alamo
San Antonio, TX
For much more on Texas and all the other states please pick up a copy of America Invaded (www.americainvaded.com).



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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bourbon and...Burgoyne

Blanton's Bourbon Whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Frankfort, KY

Have you enjoyed a Manhattan lately?  This simple cocktail made from Bourbon (preferably Blanton's), sweet Vermouth and a cherry is an elegant way to approach the evening.  Bourbon, always made from over 50% corn, is the quintessential native American spirit.  The Manhattan is the ultimate New York power cocktail, but it has a backbone made in Kentucky ("Ninety-five percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky." Mitenbuler, Bourbon Empire, www.amzn.com/014310814X).  Bourbon's name, however, can trace its roots to events that took place in the Empire state.

How exactly did Bourbon get its name?  You might be surprised to learn that the story involves Invasions of American territory that goes back to the American Revolution.  The man who deserves more credit for giving Bourbon its name is "Gentleman" Johnny Burgoyne -- an English general who led an ill-fated invasion of New York in 1777.

In the New York chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil we wrote...

"The next year, 1777, became known as the year of the hangman due to the similar appearance of the number 7 and a gibbet. This year featured an invasion of New York that was, quite possibly, the most consequential in the area’s history.
Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne
Museum of the American Revolution
“Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, an amateur playwright, led an invading army of over 7,000 troops from Canada that was made up of British, German, Canadian, and loyalist forces. George III personally ordered the use of Indian forces to supplement his Redcoats hoping that they would terrorize the Americans into submission.  British gold subsidized the Native Americans, who were paid $8 a head for rebel prisoners or scalps. Burgoyne’s aim was to drive south toward British-occupied Manhattan, cutting New England off from the rest of the rebellious colonies.
Burgoyne’s complicated plan relied on coordinated British action, with around 1,600 troops led by General St. Leger striking from the St. Lawrence into western New York. Lord Howe, with 16,000 men, would march north from Manhattan to rendezvous with Burgoyne at Albany.

American Soldier
Fort Ticonderoga, NY
All went well for Burgoyne at first. His forces scouted the crest of Mount Defiance, which looked down upon Fort Ticonderoga. His artilleryman, General Phillips, declared, “Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” General St. Clair, who commanded around 2,500 outnumbered and outgunned American defenders at Ticonderoga, was compelled to withdraw without a fight. General Phillip Schuyler, St. Clair’s superior and the commander of the Northern Department, was subsequently sacked by the Continental Congress and replaced by Horatio Gates. At this point, it seemed America’s founding fathers truly might be hanged on a gibbet, as Burgoyne and George III intended.
Bennington Monument
Bennington, VT
Even before Gates assumed command of the Northern Department, however, the tide began to turn. A reconnaissance into Vermont, led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and his Brunswickers, ended disastrously at the battle of Bennington on August 15. Troops from New Hampshire, led by General John Stark, earned a crucial victory in a battle that was fought in New York but is commemorated today in Vermont...
Cannon Saratoga
But the most decisive actions of 1777 would be fought in September in the woods near Saratoga. On September 19, Burgoyne’s advance toward Albany was halted by American rebels, led by Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates, at Freeman’s Farm on the Hudson River.  Burgoyne’s forces were repulsed again at Bemis Heights on October 7. Benedict Arnold, under the influence of rum, demonstrated conspicuous courage, and was wounded in the leg that day. Lord Howe, preoccupied with the capture of Philadelphia, had not left Sir Henry Clinton in New York City with enough troops to advance north to Albany. On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne, with many of his troops close to starvation due to their stretched supply lines from Canada, surrendered his army of 5,895.

Schuyler Mansion
Burgoyne was a prisoner here in 1777
Albany, NY
Burgoyne himself was briefly held prisoner at General Schuyler’s (another NY ancestor by marriage!  CRK) mansion in Albany. This decisive American victory was the turning point of the American Revolution, as it gave instant credibility to the rebel movement. Louis XVI’s France abandoned its neutrality and joined the war as an American ally directly as a result of the battles of Saratoga."(Source: www.americainvaded.com)

The French supported the American Patriot cause with troops, ships and financial support that would be critically important in the Yorktown campaign of 1781.  Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown elevated American independence from a dream to a reality.
The author with Manhattan
But what has any of this got to do with how Bourbon got its name?

Americans, grateful for the support of Louis XVI, began naming towns and counties on the western frontier.  Kentucky became an American state in 1792.  One city in the state became known as "Louisville" while a certain county was named in honor of the French king...Bourbon.

Bottoms up!
Bourbon Barrel
Note on sources:  I am grateful to Reid Mitenbuler's very entertaining Bourbon Empire, 2015, (www.amzn.com/014310814X).  Also to the Buffalo Trace distillery which makes Blanton's (www.buffalotracedistillery.com/).


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