Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The British Secret Weapon ... of the Revolutionary War - a Breach-loading Rifle 80 years ahead of it's time ...

This is a guest column, written by Bob Shaver and published in "Patent Pending" blog:

It is reprinted here, with permission

The British Secret Weapon of the Revolutionary War

By Bob Shaver

The British in the American Revolutionary War had their own secret weapon, the Ferguson breech loading rifle. This was designed by Patrick Ferguson, then a Captain in the British army, and patented in England in 1777. It had a threaded cylinder attached to the trigger guard, with steeply pitched threads that allowed one twist of the trigger guard to open the breech for insertion of a ball and powder. In tests conducted before the Army officials, the rifle proved that it could shoot 6 shots per minute and reliably hit a target 200 yards away. This was far superior to the standard issue smooth bore musket, the Brown Bess. The barrel of the Ferguson rifle was rifled, which contributed greatly to its accuracy.


Following conservative advice, only 200 of the rifles were commissioned. These were used by troops personally trained and commanded by Captain Ferguson. He was wounded at Brandywine, and his core of riflemen was disbanded, and their remarkable weapons stored in a warehouse.


After recovering from his wound, Major Ferguson was put in command of British and Tory forces in South Carolina, where his forces developed a reputation for killing civilians and prisoners. Under Major Ferguson’s command, a force of 1100 British regulars and Tories trained in British field tactics traveled the frontier of South Carolina fighting militias, and forcing settlers to join the Tory army and swear allegiance. When Ferguson threatened to go over the Blue Ridge Mountains to eradicate the refuges of fleeing militiamen there, the leaders of remote “over mountain” settlements decided to mount a force to confront Ferguson, and many small groups of frontiersmen headed for Ferguson’s last known position for a battle.

From a force of 1400 men, the backwoodsmen sent their fastest 900 men, some mounted and some on foot, to catch up to Ferguson as he headed back to Cornwallis' main force. The frontiersmen were all armed with the Pennsylvania rifle, later called the Kentucky rifle. Hearing of the approaching force, Ferguson’s force of 1100 took position on King’s Mountain, and dug in for a fight.

The Whig riflemen and their Kentucky rifles were not equipped for a bayonet charge, and whenever faced with one they fell back. However, shooting from behind rocks and trees, they poured murderous fire from long distance into the British and Tory positions. Some British positions were found with a pile of several men each with a bullet hole in his forehead, killed when they peered around the same rock one after another. Ferguson was killed in the fight, and had seven bullets in him. In an hour of fighting, 225 British were killed and 28 frontiersmen were killed.

Shooting downhill, it is thought that the British over shot their targets. Shooting uphill, the frontiersmen and their Kentucky rifles carried the day, and ended the British efforts in the South. Although the Ferguson rifle was not used on King's Mountain, the death of Ferguson ended its use and further development, and a breech loading rifle was not successful for another 80 years, in the U.S. Civil War.

Other Revolutionary War era technology is posted at:

The Kentucky Rifle

The Brown Bess Musket

Franklin's Jet Boat

The Turtle Submarine

Friday, April 4, 2008

Point-Counterpoint – Pat Buchanan’s Thesis on "The Good War” and My Reply

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Recently, Pat Buchanan fired the first volley in the next great debate on “The Good War” – World War II – in his column in Human Events. He critiqued pacifist Nicholson Baker’s new book challenging the virtue of World War II – then makes his own (different) case for why “The Good War” was nothing of the kind. While he raised some interesting points and drew some challenging conclusions, we’ll have to wait for Mr. Buchanan’s new book, “Churchill, Hitler and 'The Unnecessary War,” due out next month.

I’ll reserve judgment on that book until I can read it, but I took the opportunity on the Human Events website to take issue with some of Mr. Buchanan’s conclusions. Here is his column and my reply:

Was It 'The Good War'?

by Patrick J. Buchanan (c) 2008 by Author

Published in Human Events 4/4/08

"Yes, it was a good war," writes Richard Cohen in his column challenging the thesis of pacifist Nicholson Baker in his new book, "Human Smoke," that World War II produced more evil than good.

Baker's compelling work, which uses press clips and quotes of Axis and Allied leaders as they plunged into the great cataclysm, is a virtual diary of the days leading up to World War II.

Riveting to this writer was that Baker uses some of the same episodes, sources and quotes as this author in my own book out in May, "Churchill, Hitler and 'The Unnecessary War.'"

On some points, Cohen is on solid ground. There are things worth fighting for: God and country, family and freedom. Martyrs have ever inspired men. And to some evils pacifism is no answer. Resistance, even unto death, may be required of a man.

But when one declares a war that produced Hiroshima and the Holocaust a "Good War," it raises a question: good for whom?

Britain declared war on Sept. 3, 1939, to preserve Poland. For six years, Poland was occupied by Nazi and Soviet armies and SS and NKVD killers. At war's end, the Polish dead were estimated at 6 million. A third of Poland had been torn away by Stalin, and Nazis had used the country for the infamous camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Fifteen thousand Polish officers had been massacred at places like Katyn. The Home Army that rose in Warsaw at the urging of the Red Army in 1944 had been annihilated, as the Red Army watched from the other side of the Vistula. When the British celebrated V-E day in May 1945, Poland began 44 years of tyranny under the satraps of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

Was World War II "a good war" for the Poles?

Was it a good war for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, overrun by Stalin's army in June 1940, whose people saw their leaders murdered or deported to the Gulag never to return? Was it a good war for the Finns who lost Karelia and thousands of brave men dead in the Winter War?

Was it a good war for Hungarians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Rumanians and Albanians who ended up behind the Iron Curtain? In Hungary, it was hard to find a women or girl over 10 who had not been raped by the "liberators" of the Red Army. Was it a good war for the 13 million German civilians ethnically cleansed from Central Europe and the 2 million who died in the exodus?

Was it a good war for the French, who surrendered after six weeks of fighting in 1940 and had to be liberated by the Americans and British after four years of Vichy collaboration?

And how good a war was it for the British?

They went to war for Poland, but Winston Churchill abandoned Poland to Stalin. Defeated in Norway, France, Greece, Crete and the western desert, they endured until America came in and joined in the liberation of Western Europe.

Yet, at war's end in 1945, Britain was bled and bankrupt, and the great cause of Churchill's life, preserving his beloved empire, was lost. Because of the "Good War" Britain would never be great again.

And were the means used by the Allies, the terror bombing of Japanese and German cities, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, perhaps millions, the marks of a "good war"?

Cohen contends that the evil of the Holocaust makes it a "good war." But the destruction of the Jews of Europe was a consequence of this war, not a cause. As for the Japanese atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, they were indeed horrific.

But America's smashing of Japan led not to freedom for China, but four years of civil war followed by 30 years of Maoist madness in which 30 million Chinese perished.

For America, the war was Pearl Harbor and Midway, Anzio and Iwo Jima, Normandy and Bastogne, days of glory leading to triumph and the American Century.

But for Joseph Stalin, it was also a good war. From his pact with Adolf Hitler he annexed parts of Finland and Rumania, and three Baltic republics. His armies stood in Berlin, Prague and Vienna; his agents were vying for power in Rome and Paris; his ally was installed in North Korea; his protégé, Mao, was about to bring China into his empire. But it was not so good a war for the inmates of Kolyma or the Russian POWs returned to Stalin in Truman's Operation Keelhaul.

Is a war that replaces Hitler's domination of Europe with Stalin's and Japan's rule in China with Mao's a "good war"? We had to stop the killers, says Cohen. But who were the greater killers: Hitler or Stalin, Tojo or Mao Zedong?

Can a war in which 50 million perished and the Christian continent was destroyed, half of it enslaved, a war that has advanced the death of Western civilization, be truly celebrated as a "good war"?

Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "The Death of the West," "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic, Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."

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Mr. Buchanan

I share your enthusiasm for history - I've been fortunate enough to have been on the History Channel on eight occasions and to have had published a number of articles on history (including one in Newsweek Japan in defense of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings - not for the carnage they caused, but for the perhaps 10 million Japanese starvation deaths they prevented). So I read your column with more than a little interest.

I have no use for "pacifism" as a philosophy - the world is too harsh a place to stand idly by singing Kumbaya while the wolves howl at the door. But you raise the issue of the worth of World War II from a non-pacifistic position, and I think your views are therefore worth serious consideration. I have long bought into the "Good War" theory, all the while wondering how Churchill could sell out Poland (after going to war to preserve that too-frequently-conquered country); how Roosevelt could barter away Eastern Europe at Yalta (though much of that was acknowledging a fait accompli); how Truman could "Keelhaul" millions of reluctant-to-return Soviet citizens held in Nazi POW camps even when he had reason to believe that they were being sent to their death or long-term imprisonment (it was no secret that Stalin's USSR considered all surrendering troops as traitors unless proven otherwise). It seems that, except for Italy (our enemy) and Western Europe (including our other enemy, West Germany), the "Good War" was indeed not very good. While we freed half a continent, as you pointed out, we liberated the other half of the continent from Hitlerism only to consign them to nearly half a century of Stalinism.

So I'd like to acknowledge that you are, in part, echoing some of my own thoughts and musings.

But I have to take issue with some items and assumptions you make (though acknowledging that your book may address them).

While I am horrified by Japan's excesses, it's true that the ultimate result of World War II in the Pacific was Mao's China (not to mention Kim's North Korea and Ho's North Vietnam). However, unlike Europe, that was neither the goal nor the initial outcome. We supported Nationalist Chiang against the Japanese (and allowed him to keep his lend-lease materials and US advisors to fight Mao after the war). Unlike Eastern Europe, we didn't want a Communist China and didn't agree to it by treaty. However, a war-weary America and a too-accommodating Truman didn't NOT want a Communist China badly enough to fight for it (and perhaps fight Stalin for it - a land-war in Asia we could have only won by resorting to massive use of tactical nuclear weapons). But in the Pacific, we fought for the defeat of a fascist-like ultra-nationalism and a return to a status quo ante that, while not liberating the colonial countries (except our own - we kept our word to the Philippines), we did fight for freedom in China. It's not our fault (the way Poland and Eastern Europe are our fault) that China couldn't keep that freedom. In the Pacific, we did fight the Good Fight - and I contend that even Hiroshima was justified in the awful arithmetic of total war (as I contended in my Newsweek Japan article last summer).

It's not so clear in Europe, you are correct in that. However, if we (after December 11, when Hitler declared war on us - not the other way around) and Britain on September 3, 1939 (and France before June 1940) had sat idly by and let Hitler have his way, he might well have ignored the West (at least at first) and focused on replacing Stalinism in all of Eastern Europe and Central Asia with Hitlerism - a fascism supported, as Churchill said, by a perverted science.

Left to his own devices, and with the incredible brainpower of Germany's scientists at his beck and call, Hitler might have become the world's only nuclear power (we certainly wouldn't have had the Manhattan Engineering Project without the impetus of World War II - and who knows what he might have done.

You can maintain that we should not deal in "what if" speculation about a future Europe with Hitler in sole command of everything from the Rhine to the Urals (including the oil-rich Caucuses and the food-rich and metal ore-rich Ukraine) - but I think you use that same "what if" logic in blaming Communist China on our "Good War" effort to defeat Japan. We freed China - not knowing that a Soviet-backed Mao would, four years down the line, make a mockery of that freedom. And if we'd given Hitler a free hand, he might well have become the sole world nuclear power by that same 1949.

In such a world, and if Hitler's success had altered the flow of the Pacific's pre-war policies, Japan might have avoided war with the West (after all, in a peaceful Europe, the colonial powers would not have been preoccupied - a major impetus for Japan's warlike approach to 1941. In that case, Japan might have likewise come to control resource-rich Siberia, giving the world two dark superpowers with no-one strong enough to stand against them.

Given Hitler's empire-building proclivity, and his often-stated desire to punish the West (eventually) for World War I, a nuclear Germany might have indeed become a nuclear power, and used nuclear blackmail to control Europe - and to intimidate America. While we had the stomach to fight back against Japan (and to take on Hitler as part of a coalition once he'd declared war on us), would we have faced him alone, knowing that our seaboard-hugging cities with their tens of millions of Americans were at risk of a nuclear holocaust we could not answer? I think not.

Taking this further, I do not think that Hitler's empire could have survived him, any more than Alexander's survived the world's first "Great" conqueror. So perhaps this is all moot.

I look forward to your book, Mr. Buchanan, and I look forward to the vigorous debate in defense of America's (and the West's) role in World War II that is sure to follow. Could we have had the "Greatest Generation" without a "Good War?" Probably not - so those old warriors, and the generations that followed, will be sure to challenge your views.

All the best

Ned Barnett

Saturday, March 1, 2008

War … Good God, Y'all … What is it Good For?

Ned Barnett © 2008


This column was written for my "Barnett on PR and Politics" blog, but it applies so well to history that I'm cross-posting it here. In it - rather than looking at a particular political PR tactic and examining the strategy behind it - looks at the so-called "war" in Iraq, and examine what may be the real strategy behind America's continued presence in the Middle East.

Is it a "War" We're In, In Iraq?

First, before we answer that perennial rock-and-roll question, we have to ask, are we at war? We call it a war on terrorism, but we also refer to efforts to stop the massive import of illicit drugs into the US “the war on drugs” – and that’s clearly not a war (and not particularly effective, either).

Frankly, as a life-long military historian, I don't consider what we've got in Iraq or Afghanistan a "war" - or even much of a skirmish. More Americans in the same age cohorts as our uniformed and deployed soldiers die in domestic auto accidents each year than die in the Middle East. This suggests (oddly, but factually) that it's safer to be in uniform in the so-called “war zone” than it is to be out of uniform here in the US (and since I lost a military-aged son to a traffic accident you can be assured that I've checked those stats carefully).

What we have is an occupation, not a war – a damned expensive occupation, to be sure, but an occupation. It has more in common with our presence in Korea since 1953 than it does with any active combat America has seen since the period from 1781 (when we defeated the British at Yorktown) and 1783 (when the peace treaty was finally signed, sealed and delivered). Our Middle East presence today has a fair amount in common with the low-level of military activity that characterized the Pax Brittanica during the latter half of Queen Victoria’s reign (excepting that we don’t have an empire and aren’t trying to create one) – it’s an armed peace, rather than a real war.

Why Are We Still There?

However, we generally perceive it as a war, if only because such a high percentage of our uniformed military is on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates). But there's one glaring fact that most Americans – and apparently most of the American media – don't seem to realize (or if they appreciate it, to embrace the implications of this glaring fact). In recent discussion with uniformed reserve unit commanders, I have confirmed that a numerical majority of our deployed forces are serving in this “war zone” in non-combat roles - primarily "hearts-and-minds" kinds of activities, rather than in the combat roles most Americans assume they’re involved with.

While (as a personal note) I think this kind of civil affairs activities – rebuilding schools and bridges, digging wells, providing medical services, even training local police and militia forces – could all be accomplished more easily by hired civilians than by our uniformed soldiers, I don’t think this will happen. To be sure, such a transition would free our soldiers for military activities and dramatically reduce our military “footprint” in this part of the world. However, these civil affairs activities are carried out – and will continued to be carried out – by the military, in part because these civil affairs “hearts-and-minds” kinds of activities get budgeted out as "war" expenses. Which is nonsense, but it is nonetheless politically-expedient for both sides, so the charade will continue.

War opponents want to keeps soldiers performing civil affairs activities because the larger military presence this requires creates a larger target – they can cite the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and other uniformed personnel “in-country,” as well as the hundreds of billions of dollars required to keep them there, as reasons for opposing our continued presence. A small, economical military force made up solely of war-fighters would be a much smaller, much less significant target.

Why are We Really There?

On the other side, the pro-war leadership wants to keep the largest American footprint possible in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if the uniformed troopers are performing non-combat and even non-military functions. Why? Because their presence there provides for regional stability by keeping Syria’s President Bashar Al-Asad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from exercising their stated desire to destroy Israel … and in the process, our armed forces in the Middle East prevent a nuclear exchange the world can ill-afford.

Sound far-fetched? Well, listen more closely. With Ahmadinejad busily crafting nukes – or at least the capability for quickly creating and deploying nukes – and with his frequent and public threats against Israel, our forces in the Middle East are the best single means of defense against a nuclear exchange. Ahmadinejad knows that if he uses nuclear weapons in an area where the US has deployed forces, he’s inviting a massive nuclear retaliation – that has always been the US policy when facing WMDs, and it’s not likely to change regardless of who’s President.

If America dismantles our “buffer” presence and leaves the Middle East, and if Ahmadinejad gets strong enough, Israel – if it wants to continue to exist – will feel compelled to pull a 1967-like preemptive war or a 1981-style preemptive strike. Remember, it was on June 7, 1981 that Israel warplanes struck at Saddam Hussain’s Osirak nuclear facility – preventing that dictator from creating nuclear weapons and sparing the world from a regional nuclear war in the 20th century.

At that time, Iraq had but a single nuclear facility and Israel had attack aircraft and conventional weapons with enough range and striking power to take that facility out. Today, Iran has more than 50 nuclear program-related sites, some buried below the level that any conventional weapon can reach. If America abandons this region, all that Israel will have with which to take out Ahmadinejad’s nuclear capability are their own (unacknowledged – but nonetheless real) nuclear weapons.

President Bush knows this, though of course – after his failure to turn up WMDs in Iraq – he’s not going to trumpet it publicly. Hillary Clinton knows this – when Bill was President they faced the same issue, though with Saddam Hussain instead of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and reacted by instituting periodic air attacks that kept Saddam destabilized and relatively impotent. Retired warrior John McCain has surely figured this out – it’s a latter-day example of nuclear brinksmanship that constituted our military strategy when he was in the service.

Barack Obama could be forgiven for not having made the connection – as a very junior Senator, he wouldn’t have access to the inside strategy, and as someone primarily focused on domestic politics, he may not have looked behind the curtain to see what the Wizard was really up to. However, as America gears up for its next election – with Iraq as a potentially decisive issue – all the candidates need to consider the regional and strategic “real reason” why are troops are there, nation-building in the Middle East and maintaining a “force in being” deterrent to a devastating regional nuclear war.

These candidates – as well as the media and the voting public – should keep in mind that, as expensive as is our current presence is in the Middle East, whatever the stated PR reasons for our presence, we are really there (or at least also there) to prevent the world’s first nuclear exchange since 1945. Considering Middle Eastern oil and its role in the world economy, this is one nuclear exchange that the world really can't afford – but (absent our presence) it is also one nuclear exchange that the world can't stop. We, alone, have the strength of arms and – at least for the present – the strength of will to remain in a buffer position in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as we have served for 55 years along the DMZ in Korea.

Here’s the bottom line: Whatever our stated intent, we prevent a real nuclear war between Iran and Israel just by being there.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Friday, February 1, 2008

"Speaking of History" - Making Military History Come Alive!

Speaking of History
By Ned Barnett

(c) 2008

Welcome - this site, Speaking of History, will be used to help me "tell the story" of history - primarily Military History (but we'll get into political and social history as well) based on my many published (and forthcoming) military history articles and books, my public speaking before groups interested in history - and based on my repeat appearances on The History Channel as what they call a "Historical Expert."

History is my passion. Explaining and making relevant history to groups of interested laymen - through my writings, via the History Channel, or one-on-one at speaking engagements - is one way that I share my passion with others. In addition, I've been publishing articles on primarily Military History since the early 70s (my first while I was still in college) and giving talks on history for more than 25 years. I'm currently working on three historical projects - an "alternate history" on Pearl Harbor, a novel about submarine warfare off the Philippines at the start of World War II, and a scholarly article on aerial combat over Guadalcanal in 1942.

I specialize in making history come alive - and making history relevant - for those who are interested in history but don't see how history relates to their lives today; and I strive to do so in an entertaining fashion that holds my audiences' attention. If you want to read about history in a new way, an entertaining and informative and relevant fashion, this blog is for you (as are my published articles and my forthcoming books about submarine warfare in the Philippines in 1941 and and "alternate history" of Pearl Harbor - a what-if that I think captures the real American leadership failure that helped cost thousands of lives and helped prolong the war in the Pacific by the better part of a year.

Beyond that, if you need a good and entertaining author or speaker who can make history come alive, give me a shout - I'll be glad to help.

Ned Barnett - 702-696-1200 -

What Would Joe Foss Do? - Commentary by Ned Barnett

What would Joe Foss do?
y by Ned Barnett

Joe Foss was a poor kid from South Dakota, growing up in the Depression, when his dad died.

He had a dream, though - he'd met Charles Lindbergh in 1928 and seen a Marine Fighter Squadron barnstorming through his neck of the prairie in 1930 - and that dream required college - a tough act for a poor orphaned kid, but he managed to do it, earning both a bachelor of business administration and a private pilot's license.

His dream was to be a Marine aviator - but in those pre-war days, the odds against even qualified applicants were two in 100 - he hitchhiked 300 miles to Minneapolis, took the test with 100 young men, and was one of the two.

After completing training and a 9-month tour as an instructor (something only the best trainee pilots were assigned - and few liked) he was assigned to an observation squadron (aka "target") in San Diego instead of a fighter squadron - but he noticed that a lot of trainee aviators were "buying the farm" - he went to the base commander (a Navy Commander who hated Marines) and offered to trade duty as "funeral officer" for stick-time in a fighter. In three months, he racked up more than 150 hours in a Wildcat - that was more than 3 hours per day for 47 consecutive days (all while fulfilling his assigned duties as an observation-unit pilot AND funeral officer).

As the only carrier-qualified Marine aviator in San Diego, he was named Exec of a squadron about to sail into combat, even thought many thought of him as "the old man" - too old for fighter combat (he was 27 - average age of new fighter pilots, 23).

His first combat mission over Guadalcanal he had his engine shot out and made a "hot" dead-stick landing - but only after he'd shot down the first of many deadly Japanese Zeroes to fall under his guns.

The fourth time he was shot down, he realized that "one more and I'll be a Japanese Ace" - but by that time he'd shot down something like 19 confirmed first-line Japanese planes (mostly Zeros, piloted by the cream of the best in the Imperial Japanese Air Force - the Tainan Wing).

One time, after downing three or four Japanese fighters, combat damage to his engine forced him to ditch his Wildcat two miles of the beach of Malaita Island (about 50 or so miles from Guadalcanal). The plane sank fast, his foot caught in his seat, and before he knew it, he was 30 feet under and "breathing" seawater. Convinced he was going to die, instead of panicking, he calmed himself, figured out how to free himself and used his Mae West life preserver to get him back to the surface (breathing more seawater along the way). To tired to swim, he decided to float on his back until his strength came back - until he saw a couple of shark-fins. Then he saw a couple of canoes - convinced they were Japs looking for him, he decided to "face down" the sharks - until he heard an Australian voice and surfaced again. The next day, Major Mad Jack Cramm - the personal pilot to the Marine Air Commander (General Geiger) - taxied his PBY Catalina right up onto the beach to retrieve Foss - and two days later, he was back in combat, shooting down a couple more Japanese fighters in the process.

He finished his tour of duty with 26 confirmed kills - tying Eddie Rickenbacker (WW-I American Ace of Aces) - but unlike some self-centered Aces, Foss led a unit that fought with him - together with Foss, his flight (Foss's Flying Circus) shot down 72 confirmed enemies - literally all of those young-buck grass-green fighter pilots he'd brought into combat (except the two who didn't survive) became aces in their own right under Foss's masterful training and leadership. Aces like von Richthofen often couldn't remember the names of their wingmen - Foss made medal-bedecked aces of them.

His technique was simple - he flew so close to the enemy that he couldn't miss (of course, they couldn't, either, which is why he was nearly a Japanese ace, too) - his flight-members used to joke that he'd leave "powder burns" on his targets by holding fire until he was in slow-pitch softball range of his enemy. The results - 26 confirmed kills leading a team of eight "novice" pilots that together scored 72 confirmed kills - speak for themselves.

Amazingly, Foss did all this while flying a plane considered obsolete even before the war began (the F4F Wildcat was slower in level flight, slower in the climb and much less maneuverable than the Zero - it also had much less range). He was the highest-scoring ace in Marine history, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor - the highest award available to American servicemen (most who earn it do so posthumously).

After the war, a bureaucratic bungle denied him a "Regular" commission in the Marines - so he founded the South Dakota Air National Guard. He served in the regular Air Force in Korea, and retired a Brigadier General.

Retiring from the Guard, he became the Governor of South Dakota, the Commissioner of the American Football League, the host of two TV programs (running, together, for about 10 years) and - late in life (as in, during his 70s) he became President of the National Rifle Association.

At age 87, airport "security" in Phoenix (this was after 9/11) tried to stop him from boarding a plane for a flight to New York (where he was scheduled to address the Cadets at West Point) for carrying a "dangerous weapon" - the five-pointed star of his Congressional Medal of Honor.

What would Joe Foss do? Apparently, he laughed it off (I understand he actually let the idiot security guard live).

Now, when I'm in a tough spot, I ask myself, "what would Joe Foss do?" (hint - move in close before opening fire - never give up - never slow down - and never take "no" for an answer).

Was the Atom Bombing of Japan Justified - Did It Save Lives?

Continuing Controversy – the U.S. Atomic Bombing of Japan

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Introduction: This blog column was originally written for Newsweek Japan in response to a controversy that cost the Japanese Defense Minister his job - and forced Japan to confront it's history and the brutal calculus of total war. With some additions and revisions, this column was published - in Japanese. So I've never really read the final version, but this represents the core of my "argument" ...

Japan’s former Defense Minister, Fumio Kyuma, recently said of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks that "the bombing ended the war and I think that couldn't be helped". This statement is in sharp contrast to conventional Japanese wisdom, and Kyuma was forced to resign. However, historical facts as seen from the US perspective suggest that the minister may have been right. There is persuasive evidence that these bombings saved millions of American and Japanese lives, and that President Truman anticipated this result from his actions in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Second World War ended – in both major theaters of operation – with controversial aerial attacks against city-sized targets. In Europe, the fire-bombing of Dresden in mid-February, 1945, when Nazi Germany was on its last legs, became a much-debated and controversial decision that tarnished the reputation of RAF Bomber Command leader “Bomber” Harris, among others. Yet that decision has been far less controversial than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though the Nagasaki bombing led directly to the Emperor’s intervention and the end of the war, while Dresden had little impact on the war’s end.

In the US, historical debate has long raged over the “real” purpose of the atomic bombings. Two schools of thought have emerged. There is the traditional view that President Truman ordered the bombing to shock Japan into surrendering a lost cause, sparing both countries the agony of invasion and millions of battle casualties. Then, there is the revisionist view that Truman dropped the bombs to send a warning to Stalin’s Soviet Union – to make it clear that the US was the only true post-war super-power. Some few even believe that the bombing was done to test new weapons, though the mid-July “Trinity” test in New Mexico makes it clear that atomic bomb tests were possible without attacking Japan.

The traditional view is based on the fact that US strategy against Japan had been shaped for several years by the need to create air bases within range of the new atomic bombing planes, the B-29, and from mid-1944, long before the end-of-war face-off between Truman and Stalin, an entire bomb wing – the 509th – had been in training for this particular mission, which was intended to end the war quickly.

While few military decisions are based on a single fact, this much is clear: Japan’s military had proved (by American standards) to be fanatically courageous, fighting long past the time when “rational” military decisions would call for surrender and inflicting horrendous casualties both on Americans and on themselves as a result. Further, experience from the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa – where Japanese civilians became factors – told American leaders that, in an invasion of the Home Islands of Japan, they could expect both organized and concerted (and bloody) attacks from civilians on US service personnel and disproportionately huge civilian casualties from any such invasion. One other factor, largely ignored by those who haven’t studied immediate post-war Japan was starvation – because of the destruction of the Japanese merchant fleet, the country was teetering on the brink of starvation; a war extending into 1946 and 1947 would lead to the death by starvation of literally millions of non-combatants.

The official US Army estimate of US invasion casualties for an assault on the Home Islands of Japan was 500,000 – but this number was artificially reduced from what was called the “Saipan Ratio,” which, based on casualties inflicted on US forces during this first invasion of Japanese territory (as opposed to islands conquered by Japan during the war) called for US casualties of 1.7-2.0 million men – and Japanese casualties roughly 10 times as large as American casualties (with Japanese deaths 22 times as large as American deaths). Because this number was so far beyond what the US was prepared to endure as a nation, the Japan invasion casualty numbers were artificially reduced. No US leader felt that casualties at this level could be sustained by US forces, even when supported by UK and (potentially) Soviet troops, so a “best case scenario” became the official, and low, estimate.

Truman’s closest advisors – General Marshal, Admiral Leahy and Secretary of War Stimson – had no illusions about what was to come. As a result, Truman had clear and hard numbers, based on actual combat experience, that left him with no doubt that an invasion would cost millions of lives, both directly through combat and indirectly through starvation and disease.

Alternatively, the revisionist view judged the decision to use nuclear weapons in 1945 from the perspective of decades of work to end proliferation and to so stigmatize the use (or even possession) of nuclear weapons that no further use of such weapons could be contemplated. They see atomic weapons as “different” from a moral perspective – a view current now but unknown in 1945 – and they judge Truman’s actions, therefore, by considerations not current at the time his decision to bomb Japan had been made. This revisionist view was also based on subsequent cold war realities – the forty-year nuclear face-off with the Soviet Union, and on Truman’s willingness to challenge Soviet expansionism. Finally, at least some revisionists (especially early ones) challenged the casualty estimates Truman relied on; however, subsequent release of contemporary documentation from the summer of 1945 have debunked those challenges, showing that Truman did expect huge casualties from any invasion, and was eager to find alternatives that were less costly in human terms – both American and Japanese.

It is true today that atomic weapons are seen as “different,” but in 1945, they were not seen in that light – in 1945, they were just bigger bombs, otherwise no different from conventional ordnance. For instance, the Tokyo firebombing raid caused far more casualties and destruction than either atomic attack, and estimates of these bombs’ destruction predicted that casualties would be far lower than those of the Tokyo raid, or the Hamburg firestorm raid of 1943. The sole virtue of atomic bombs – as war-ending weapons – was their shock value. When one plane and one bomb could wreak the havoc that had once taken fleets of bombers and tens of thousands of bombs, it was hoped that the inevitability of defeat (and the futility of resistance) would be apparent.

This hope was borne out when the Emperor broke with tradition and called on his nation – and his military – to surrender. That courageous, unprecedented act saved millions of lives – both through combat and through starvation – and set the stage for Japan’s remarkable rebirth.

Bottom line: The traditional historical view has the virtue of being supported by contemporary documents which spell out the information Truman had prior to his decision to drop the bomb and end the war. Revisionists “interpret” these decisions in light of changes in societal perceptions, but without contemporary documents to show Truman had motives other than his desire to spare the horrendous American – and Japanese – casualties that were inevitable if invasion became necessary.

How Tactics Trumped Technology at Guadalcanal - "Inferior" Wildcats Slaughter "Superior" Zeroes

The First Team – Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway
The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign
Review By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

John B. Lundstrom

U.S. Naval Institute Press
(Review Copy provided by review author)

Introduction: These two books - and the ideas they triggered - became the basis of a talk I gave recently at the U.S. Navy League, a talk in which I made the case that when smaller, weaker military units equipped with inferior equipment stomp a larger, stronger, better-equipped enemy, the reason for their success has to be found in superior tactics.

This thesis can be demonstrated in many battles throughout history - but perhaps nowhere is this so clear as at Guadalcanal, where undertrained young Marine pilots flying obsolescent Wildcat fighters were able to triumph over the best-trained, best-equipped fighter pilots in the world - Japan's Tainan Air Wing, flying state-of-the-art Zero fighters. They did it by adopting tactics that emphasized the Wildcat's few strengths while side-stepping the Zero's many strengths and capitalizing on the Zero's few weaknesses.

These two books describe the tactics - and the gifted tacticians who developed these war-winning strategies, and I cannot commend them too highly.

The Review - and the Background: I have been studying naval aviation combat since the early 1960s, and I have never come across a book half so comprehensive, from a historical basis – nor half so useful, from a modeling perspective – as this two-volume set recently reprinted by the Naval Institute Press. The title – “The First Team” – refers to US Naval Aviator fighter pilots who were in service at the start of World War II; a convenient way of focusing on naval fighter combat from December 7, 1941 to the end of the Guadalcanal campaign in early February, 1943. This was a time when the F4F Wildcat bore the brunt of the aerial warfare – a few F2A Buffalo fighters served in the Navy during this time-frame, but the only Buffaloes that saw combat were serving with the Marines (who are outside the scope of this two-volume study).

This book covers literally every incident of aerial combat that included US Navy fighter aircraft from December 7 through the end of Guadalcanal. I mean EVERY incident, every American shoot-down (and every American shot down) and every American carrier attack on a Japanese island target fought during the first 14 months of the war in the Pacific: the Wake relief force, the Gilbert, Marshall and Marcus Island raids, the assault on Rabaul, and the attacks on Tulagi, Lae and Salamaua – and of course, Guadalcanal. The books also cover every carrier vs. carrier battle that was fought in the Pacific before 1944: Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. In short, The First Team two-volume book is incredibly comprehensive. Maps and charts illustrate each battle, each significant combat incident, each movement of carriers and air groups – the detail is remarkable. Author John Lundstrom makes these battles come alive in ways that no other history I’ve read have been able to accomplish. But for all their value as pure history, these books go way beyond that.

For instance, The First Team covers combat tactics – the prime reason why the vastly-inferior F4F-4 Wildcat was able to best the incredible Japanese Zero in almost every encounter (including decisive victories at Midway and Guadalcanal). Pre-war, the US Naval air service – alone among the world’s air forces – trained its pilots to successfully use deflection shooting, permitting pilots to attack from beam positions, instead of just from directly astern. To perform a deflection-shooting attack successfully, the pilot couldn’t aim at the target; instead, he had to aim for where the plane would be when the bullets arrived.

Deflection shooting is a kind of lead-the-target targeting performed by duck hunters and skeet shooters; a process vastly complicated in aerial combat because both the attacker and the target are moving at several hundred miles per hour, generally in different planes. However, when successfully executed, deflection attacks are almost unbeatable. This kind of deflection shooting permitted American Naval fighter pilots to attack the enemy with limited risk of counter-battery fighter from defending aircraft. Deflection attacks were decisive in attacks on bomber aircraft, but this approach also gave U.S. Naval aviators a significant advantage over the more maneuverable and – at most altitudes – faster Japanese fighters.

Other tactical elements explored in great detail were the comparative tactical formations – American transition from four-aircraft divisions to two-aircraft divisions while the Japanese held onto the far more awkward and inflexible three-plane formations – as well as the evolution of the “Thatch Weave,” a mutually-supportive defensive formation the Japanese were never able to effectively counter.

The First Team also looks – in depth – at the training of Japanese and US Naval aviators. In 1941, Japanese naval aviators were, man-for-may, the best-trained pilots in the world, yet thanks to different tactical approaches, they were consistently outfought, first by well-trained US Naval Aviators and later even by grass-green Ensigns not long out of advanced training programs. Training and organization were critical – Japanese were taught to move in units of three aircraft, and to take advantage of their aircraft’s incredible maneuverability.

American Naval Aviators were trained in deflection gunnery, in pilot-wingman cooperation and in emphasizing mutually-supporting defensive tactics culminating in the unbeatable Thatch Weave – which remarkably was under development before the outbreak of the war, though “conventional wisdom” has held that Commander John “Jimmy” Thatch developed the mutual-support tactics in response to initial combat with the Japanese.

Another factor that The First Team explored which worked against the Japanese was the very different organizational structure of the two countries’ carrier air groups. In the US Navy, carrier air groups were fungible organizations – new squadrons and new pilots could be shuffled through the air groups, and these groups could be shuffled from carrier to carrier as needed. By contrast, Japanese carrier air groups trained as a unit, and were permanently assigned to a specific aircraft carrier.

When a Japanese group suffered significant combat casualties, not only were the individual squadrons no longer combat-capable, but the carrier itself was out of the battle. As a result, after the bloody draw at Coral Sea, surviving Naval aviators from the sunken Lexington were able to go back into combat onboard the Yorktown at Midway – less than a month later – effectively replacing losses the Yorktowners suffered at Coral Sea with combat-tested pilots. Even though the Yorktown had been badly damaged, it was patched together and able to field a combat-ready air group that proved decisive at Midway less than a month later.

However, as explained in The First Team’s assessment of Japan’s carrier air group organization, the Zuikaku – which, unlike the surviving Yorktown, was undamaged but which also suffered heavy pilot losses – was unable to serve at Midway because the Zuikaku’s carrier air group had been decimated, and a carrier without an air group is little more than a target. Although sufficient combat-experienced pilots from the heavily-damaged Shokaku had survived and were at least technically available, because of a long-standing organizational policy, the Japanese were unable to restore the Zuikaku’s group.

Instead, both air groups had to be restored to full combat capability only after receiving infusions of trainees, which required a long work-up period. The Yorktown’s presence at Midway was decisive; the absence of Zuikaku was at least potentially just as decisive. Had two Japanese carriers – Zuikaku and Hiryu – survived the first devastating US Naval attack, their return strike may have done more than just knock out the Yorktown.

The books even get into fascinating controversies, such as the odd decision to put six .50 caliber machine guns into the Navy’s new folding-wing F4Fs, even though they’d add a further weight penalty that would – along with the weight of the wing-fold mechanism –cripple the Wildcat’s climb, range and overall combat capabilities. The early-war fixed-wing F4F-3 carried four .50 caliber machine guns – which US Navy fighter leaders felt was sufficient to knock down unarmored Japanese bombers and fighters. However, the fixed wing took up deck and hanger space and sharply limited the number of fighters a carrier could handle. With fighter squadrons growing from 18 to 27 to 36 aircraft, the need for folding wings was essential, even though the weight penalty imposed by the folding mechanism would inevitably degrade performance.

The initial decision to go with six .50 caliber guns in a folding-wing Wildcat was made by the British Fleet Air Arm, which did not routinely face fighter-to-fighter combat – minimizing the need for high-end performance – yet rightly felt it needed the heavier firepower inherent in six .50 calibers to swiftly knock down armored and well-armed German and Italian bombers. Oddly, instead of listening to their own fighter leaders, the US Navy’s “Brass Hats” listened to the Brits, and decided – in the name of production efficiency – to standardize on the British design.

The result was the F4F-4 – a sluggish, slow-climbing short-range fighter which had six .50 caliber machine guns but fewer total rounds of ammo (and, therefore, a much shorter firing time) than the older F4F-3. This plane had a harder time climbing to a decisive altitude. It had difficulty conducting CAPs of more than a couple of hours or escorting bombers farther than 175 miles; and when it did find targets, this new Wildcat all-too-quickly ran out of ammunition. When front-line Naval Aviators complained about being asked to fight what was arguably the best carrier planes in the world with an increasingly second-string fighter plane, the Navy Brass in Washington told these front-line troops to fly their Wildcats with a 2/3rds fuel load and two unloaded guns – absurd advice to pilots who knew they needed every bullet and every gallon of gas every time they went head-to-head in combat with the best-trained naval aviators in the world, the Japanese.

These limiting factors for the new F4F clearly had an impact in the loss of the Yorktown at Midway, as well as the loss of so many torpedo planes at that same battle – and these F4F deficiencies may have also contributed to the loss of the Hornet at the Battle of Santa Cruz four months later. Nobody from the greenest Naval Aviation Ensign all the way up to Admiral Chester Nimitz had a good thing to say about the F4F-4 – but it was only after the end of the Guadalcanal campaign that the General Motors-built FM-1 reverted to a four-gun armament – too late to face down the Japanese.

Yet remarkably, the US Navy seldom fought the Japanese head-to-head without coming out on the winning end. Ultimately, the Wildcat scored a three-to-one winning margin over the Japanese – not because the Wildcat was a better fighter aircraft, though it did have some advantages, but because American Naval Aviators had better tactics, from the two-plane division to the Thatch Weave.

As noted, while it had dramatically shorter range, at least a marginally lower speed at most altitudes – and it was far less maneuverable than the Zero – the Wildcat that fought the Japanese from December 7, 1941 to February, 1943 did have some significant advantages over its adversary. The Grumman was solidly built – earning for its manufacturer the affectionate nickname “Grumman Iron Works.” The Grumman fighter was also well-armored (at least where it counted), and – early in the war – it began to receive functional self-sealing fuel tanks that would absorb a 7.7 millimeter (.30 caliber) Japanese machine-gun bullet.

While it was slow to climb, the Wildcat could dive like a bat out of hell – given enough altitude, American Naval Aviators could always break off combat with Japanese Zeros – and given an initial altitude advantage (hard to come by, but not impossible to achieve), the Wildcat could initiate combat – attack Zeros and other Japanese aircraft – with no recourse by the Japanese. They couldn’t escape a diving Wildcat; they could turn and fight, but couldn’t run away.

Further, in a head-to-head attack, the Wildcat’s rugged structure and .50 caliber armament (either four-gun or six-gun) easily outmatched their Japanese adversaries. The Japanese Zero’s 20 mm cannons were low-velocity weapons useful only at short range; the longer-ranged Japanese 7.7 mm (.30 caliber) machine guns had too little hitting power to ensure a quick victory over the Wildcat. On the other hand, the standard American .50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns were fast-firing, long-ranged and hard-hitting enough to knock down any Japanese fighter – or bomber – they could hit.

All of these factors were covered in fascinating detail in The First Team, making them a feast of information, insight and factual data for the historian – and the history buff.

Beyond that, the two “First Team” volumes also offer a great deal to modelers. Each book is heavily illustrated with contemporary photos which show evolving markings on US Navy fighters. Not a few of these photos will also offer modelers display and deck-handling diorama ideas.

In addition, Appendix 3 of The First Team and Appendix 4 of The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign each features side-view profiles of F4F fighters in use during the time periods covered by the books. Together, these let modelers authoritatively paint-and-mark virtually any F4F that fought off one of the USN fleet carriers during the first year of the war – including carrier-based planes that temporarily served on Guadalcanal. With the recent spate of new F4F Wildcat releases in 1/32nd scale (including the soon-to-be-here Trumpeter Wildcat), this kind of reference will prove invaluable to modelers.

Bottom line: These two books are remarkable. For those interested in carrier-based fighter combat during the dark early days of World War II in the Pacific, these are “must-reads.” The books have been released in Trade Paperback format by the US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland – it’s also available from Amazon.

Revisited - Presidential Campaign Parallels Between 1864 and 2004 (and possibly 2008)

Revisited - Presidential Campaign Parallels Between 1864 and 2004

By Ned Barnett
(c) 2008

There were a number of eerie historical parallels between the Presidential campaigns of 1864 and 2004 - between win-at-any-price pro-warriors and surrender-at-any-price anti-warriors. The issues are - at this writing (February 1) - not the same in 2008, but it would take almost nothing for these parallels to emerge. All we need is for Obama or Clinton to run against McCain or Romney or Huckabee - a likely possibility at this writing.

Eerie Parallels

By Ned Barnett

(c) 2004

I've been reading a lot about the Civil War recently, prepping for a History Channel program on which I was a talking-head expert, as well as a behind-the-scenes "advisor," and that research has made it rather shockingly clear to me that there are some eerie parallels between the challenges (and the paths taken) by the Democratic party in 1864 and the Democratic party in 2004. This is not to imply that old saw, "those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it" (in part because it's in no way clear that the Democratic Party in 2004 is "doomed"), but it does make it clear that historical parallels can be remarkable, and fascinating.

In 1864, the Democratic Party started out by opposing President Lincoln - which was purely natural, since they were, at that time, the opposition party - but over the time between 1862 and 1864, this opposition to the President himself morphed into an opposition to the War to save the Union (and even into an opposition to Lincoln's efforts to abolish Slavery).

The extreme anti-war segment within the Democratic Party took control of the party, and of the party's 1864 Presidential convention. This group even went so far as to pass a platform that claimed the War to save the Union could not be won. This plank called for an immediate cease fire, and the speedy negotiation of a peace treaty with the Confederacy. Then, hoping to win the election in a country that was by no means as anti-war as was the Democratic Party itself, the convention's delegates nominated a former military man - General George McClellan, who had been head of the Union Army in late 1861 and early 1862. However, upon nomination, McClellan made it clear that he would NOT stop the war.

Now for the parallels. In 2002, most leading Democrats voted to support the President in a proposed invasion of Iraq, though they did not support President Bush himself, and found fault with the way he proceeded. However, since that time, a powerful faction within the Democratic Party has pushed the party from a position of opposing the President (which is only natural), to a position of also opposing the war and subsequent post-war reconstruction of Iraq. However, they have voted (as a party) to nominate former military officer John Kerry, who has repeated said that he would NOT stop America's post-war reconstruction actions in Iraq, even though he is (as McClellan did) eagerly accepting the support of anti-war Democrats.

To date, the parallels are almost eerie. However, at this juncture, we have no way of knowing if history will repeat itself or not - in spite of the parallels, there are no guarantees.

In 1864, it worked out that, just two days after the Democrat Party (in that party's convention) formally announced that the War to preserve the Union was hopeless and unwinnable, General William T. Sherman took Atlanta. A couple of weeks later, General Phil Sheridan won three battles (in the period of just one week) in the strategic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. These two events, on top of Admiral David Farragut's recent success in capturing the fortresses guarding Mobile Bay (a battle in which he uttered the immortal "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"), made it clear that the war not only could be won, but that it WAS being won.

Our future remains just that - the future, as yet unwritten. However, with the Iraqis enjoying now sovereignty, and with Saddam Hussein on the block for his crimes - before an Iraqi court - it is at least possible that history (which has repeated itself so remarkably so far), might entirely repeat itself.

But that decision won't be left up to history - it will be up to America's voters.

And that brings up one last eerie parallel. In 1864, the rest of the world was amazed that, even during a war, not only did the United States hold an election, but the soldiers who were fighting were allowed - even encouraged - to vote. In fact, official voter registration teams from states permitting absentee ballots were given priority access to men from their states - and, for states that had no provision for absentee ballots, whole regiments of soldiers from states were furloughed home to be able to vote. And, although some have expressed concern that terror attacks might disrupt (even force the government to postpone) our elections, I am confident that in this case, history will repeat itself. No matter what terrorists might try, America will vote - for either the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate - on November 2, 2004.

In that regard, we will be exactly as we were in 1864.

Historical Perspective on Combat Experience in Modern Presidential Politics

Written and Updated by Ned Barnett
(c) 2008

This is an update of an article I wrote in 2004 to reflect on the importance of military experience in the election of American Presidents - written at a time when ex-Air Guard pilot Bush ran against Warrior and Anti-Warrior candidate Kerry. With McCain skyrocketing in the polls - in part because of his military service (including his stint as a POW), when none of his opponents have had any military experience (except for fringe candidate Ron Paul, who was a military physician) - this issue is going to emerge as relevant once again.

Combat Experience in Modern Presidential Politics

By Ned Barnett

© 2004

Just heard this unanswerable question on Matt Drudge's talk radio program that got me thinking about the role of prior military service on a Presidential candidate's electability – and what I realized is surprising. Since 1960, honorable military service has had no positive impact on Presidential electability. Surprised? Me too.

Here's the question:

"Who was the genius who sold Kerry on the idea of talking about Vietnam in 2004?"

As a frequent "historical expert" (their term, not mine) on the History Channel, I decided to take a historical perspective view of that question – you might be surprised to find out what the answer was – I certainly was.

Since Ike defeated Stevenson in 1952, there has been no obvious link between honorable service and electability – and since 1968, Vietnam has been a deadly "third rail" – nobody who tried to make the war a big issue has won the Presidency.

Item: Navy veteran John Kennedy beat Navy veteran Dick Nixon in '60 – but both served, and their service was not a decisive issue in the election.

Item: Navy one-mission (as an observer on a milk run) "veteran" Lyndon Johnson beat Air Force General Barry Goldwater – and even this early, the issue was Vietnam, and Goldwater (who wanted to either get out or capital-W "win") lost on his perceived stance on Vietnam.

Item: None of the several prominent Democratic anti-war candidates in 1968 could even get nominated. The election in November was won by nominal (not particularly a hairy-chested combat vet) veteran Richard Nixon, who defeated non-veteran Hubert Humphrey. In that election, the decisive issue wasn't war service, but Humphrey's defense of the Johnson failed Vietnam war policy.

Item: Nominal Navy veteran Nixon easily beat legitimate combat-pilot war hero George McGovern, over McGovern's strong anti-Vietnam war stance – once again, Vietnam proved to be a deadly "third rail" for those who made an issue of it.

Item: Decorated Navy combat veteran Gerald Ford lost to former post-war Naval officer Jimmy Carter. Combat service clearly wasn't significant as a benefit for Ford.

Item: Nominal veteran Ronald Reagan (he was an actor-in-uniform, and didn't consider that "real" military service) easily defeated Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter.

Item: Nominal veteran Ronald Reagan defeated post-war Army corporal Walter Mondale.

Item: Combat Navy Pilot George H.W. Bush defeated Dukakis, who served in the Army and was stationed in Korea after that war – both served honorably, and the varied nature of their service was not an important political issue.

Item: Bill Clinton admitted dodging the Vietnam draft, but in 1992 he still beat decorated combat pilot George H.W. Bush – avoiding Vietnam was not a dominant negative issue for Clinton, though Bush tried to make it so.

Item: Bob Dole has a crippling war wound, earned in heroic service against the Nazis, and he couldn't get to first base against admitted Vietnam draft dodger Bill Clinton. Again, dodging Vietnam was not seen as a liability, though Dole tried to make it so.

Item: The Other Kerry (Senator Bob Kerrey) won a Medal of Honor in Vietnam – where he lost a leg – yet he was a non-starter in the Presidential sweepstakes four years ago.

Item: George W. Bush's relatively anemic National Guard record, vs. the almost equally anemic service record of nominal Vietnam non-combat veteran Al Gore (he was a reporter for Stars & Stripes) was a non-starting issue in 2000. Gore tried to make Bush's Guard service an issue, but it didn't prove decisive.

Item: A more recent election was not Presidential, but it’s still related. Triple amputee Max Cleland, after a long and honorable career in the Senate, was voted out of office in 2002. Georgia’s voters realized that his many years of voting in the Senate (badly, apparently, from conservative Georgian's perspectives) trumped his unquestioned heroism in Vietnam. That voting record also trumped his unquestioned sacrifice (his horrendous wound). As Dole had learned before him, honorable wounds – even visible wounds – do not make a winning election issue.

Here's the bottom line. History has shown that Vietnam is a third rail in Presidential politics, and has been since 1964. Time and time and time again, Vietnam has proved to be an attraction – seductive as an issue (to candidates who think they can exploit it), but ultimately Vietnam has always proved to be a fatal attraction for those who think they can exploit it. Candidates who tried to make Vietnam, including opposition to – or service in – Vietnam, an issue ALL failed.

Beyond that, history has shown that heroic service – and heroic wounds – are not significant assets in Presidential elections.

Which brings us to this 2004 election. Given all those facts above, let's consider that provocative question again:

"Who was the genius who sold Kerry on the idea of talking about Vietnam in 2004?"

Who's "bright idea" was it to bet the farm, in 2004, on making a 35-year old war one of (if not the) major issues in this campaign?

Especially when Kerry's combat record has been controversial at least since 1971.

As a historian, and as a long-time political campaign speechwriter, media handler and strategist, I have got to ask, "what were they thinking?"

Bulldog Triumphant - History of A Rock-Steady Dog With Bronze Balls!

By Ned Barnett
© 2008

This is NOT military history - however, it IS the true story of the most durable, the most triumphant bulldog in history – the bronze, life-size sculpture of the first mascot of the University of Georgia, “Uga I.”

The university, located on a series of hills above the gentle, wooded banks of the slow-flowing Oconee River in Athens, Georgia – about 75 miles east of Atlanta, had long thought of themselves as the “Bulldogs.” Today, nobody is really sure why this was so, but the bulldog image suited the school and it’s traditionally pugnacious football team.

However, it was only after the Second World War that students finally secured for themselves a living mascot. He was a pure-bred bulldog of course. “Uga I,” he was called, a name created from the university’s acronym, UGA. It was pronounced “ugh-uh,” a name soon to be spoken with pride by students and alumni alike.

This much beloved dog would, in time, go on to sire a line of sturdy and pugnacious bulldog mascots for the university, a line that remains unbroken to this day.

Uga I was fine, well-muscled and noble-featured animal, who, in a long and active life, graced the sidelines at many a football game at the university’s magnificent Stanford Stadium, “between the hedges.” With the arrival of Uga I, it quickly became a university tradition that, every time the home team charged onto the field before the start of a home game, they were led out by their fierce mascot, Uga I. That impressive bulldog-led charge quickly became part of the pageantry of the game, an instant tradition that has now stood the test of time for more than half a century.

The first of the Georgia mascots was a proud-looking bulldog, powerful of shoulder, compact of hindquarters, suitable aggressive and combative – yet beloved of generations of University of Georgia students. It was not surprising, therefore, that when Uga I went to his reward in 1959, a gifted graduate student in the University’s Department of Art created a meticulously-accurate life-size bronze sculpture of this beloved bulldog.

In a solemn ceremony, the proud pup was laid to his rest in a bulldog-sized Georgia granite mausoleum located directly in front of the central campus Student Union building. Atop Uga I’s stone memorial was mounted this life-like sculpture, ensuring that Uga I would be remembered for all time as the first in a line of fiercely proud mascots.

However, this bronze sculpture enjoyed nearly as exciting a life as the bulldog he effectively memorialized. His first adventure involved a midnight dog-napping.

You don’t have to be a native of Georgia to know that the University of Georgia and Atlanta’s own Georgia Tech were long-standing rivals. So you didn’t need to be a psychic to suspect that the students of the “North Avenue Trade School” were behind the late-night disappearance of the bronze bust of Uga I, the night before the two schools’ annual football competition.

Of course, the authorities were called in, though most students at the University of Georgia rightly suspected that the Atlanta police were more than a little partial to the engineers at Georgia Tech. In truth, the big-city police took the theft of this priceless monument as something less than the serious crime it most certainly was. Faced with official indifference, the students at the University of Georgia took the law – or at least the search – into their own hands. Soon, bands of fraternity students roamed the Georgia Tech campus, looking high and low for their dear, departed bulldog. Groups of those students stalked through the campus’ buildings, but found nothing. Then, a clever student – legend has it that he was in the Army ROTC, and had become fascinated with land mines – used a metal detector to locate the bronze bulldog. It had been buried in the center of the Georgia Tech campus, but it was quickly restored to the light, and returned amid pomp and celebration to the University campus.

There was a massive celebration on campus as the bronze Uga I was re-mounted on his rightful throne, atop the granite mausoleum of his namesake. There he remained, honored and left unmolested, for more than a decade. Uga I’s peace remained undisturbed until the anti-war movement arrived at the University of Georgia.

If you knew anything about that sleepy southern campus in the late 60s and early 70s, you’d understand that it was hardly a hotbed of radical student activism. The typical anti-war rally on Georgia’s campus usually swiftly degenerated into an outdoor street party, complete with buckets of fried chickens, beach music and ice-chests filed with cold beer.

In this laid-back atmosphere, the bronze Uga I quickly became the focus of many typically deep-south anti-establishment activities. This generally involved slipping a cigarette between the bronze bulldog’s lips before posing for photos – and for the really radical students, those “cigarettes” were not exactly tobacco. However, Uga I didn’t seem to mind – he didn’t even object when a portion of his anatomically correct posterior was painted a bright, almost florescent electric blue.

That would never do, of course, and the University chose to take bold action. Well, at least they decided to clean up their bronze bulldog. However, as quickly as University authorities would dispatch a worker to remove the paint – a particularly embarrassing task for the maintenance men – these hard-working men were nonetheless treated well by the “radical” student body. The workers’ typical reward for “taking care” of Uga I involved at least a half-dozen cans of cold beer each, eagerly shared by the cheering, partying students.

However, by 1974, “streaking” had replaced painting portions of Uga I in bright blue as the most popular outdoor student sport on campus, and at long last, Uga I settled into a quiet, well-earned retirement. For the past 30 years, Uga I has served primarily as a “mount” for the children and grandchildren of alumni who’ve come back to campus to revisit their days of glory.

Literally thousands of snapshots now grace mantles and photo albums from Savannah to Seattle, showing young boys and girls happily mounted on the back of this noble bronze bulldog. Perhaps they’re dreaming of the time when they’ll be old enough to enroll at UGA themselves, cheering on the school’s team as it charges back between the hedges, led – as always – by the proud latest-generation offspring of that noble bulldog, Uga I.

The Mexican-American War and the Reconquista Movement

By Ned Barnett - (c) 2008

Note - On April 6, 2008, I added a section discussing the so-called "reconquista" and it's historical precedents and the claims of its adherents. This is included as an addendum at the end of this article.

I recently had the opportunity to contribute to an article on the Mexican American War, one that became the basis of a fascinating quiz. You can check that quiz (and the article) out at:

As you review the answers, you'll note that a fair number of the "approved answers" (but not all, by any means) seem to reflect current Mexican sensibilities - a few of these are worth noting:

1. Although Polk was eager for a variety of reasons to launch the war, this war was not triggered solely by the US. Among other factors, the Mexican dictator Santa Anna (whose biography is a fascinating blend of popular elections and dictatorial power-grabs) was still smarting over Texas independence. As the President and General-in-Chief who lost Texas to the Texicans, Santa Anna was loathe to admit that the border between Texas and Mexico might be at the Rio Grande, as the successful Texicans claimed, rather than 100 miles farther north as he liked to claim. The article maintains that there was no justification for the Rio Grande border, but that just isn't accurate. The source who claimed that the Texicans had no justifcation for claiming the Rio Grande as their southern border has clearly not studied the war of Texas Independence, which included battles fought along the Rio Grande (and below that line, in what was and is indisputably Mexican territory). That fertile lowland flood-plain was sparsely settled by both sides, and ownership was - at best - clearly open to debate, and more likely firmly drawn and claimed by the successful Texicans under Sam Houston.

2. Despite what one source cited in the article - Sister Maria Eva Flores, director of the Mexican American Studies Center at Our Lake of the Lake University - said, Mexican nationals of Spanish descent were not dispossessed of their land by the outcome of the war. The US had a long tradition (dating from the Louisiana Purchase and the acquisition of Florida from Spain) of honoring land grants made prior to the US acquisition of new territory, and this tradition (and law) was honored both by Texas (when it won independence from Mexico - and freedom from Santa Anna's dictatorship) and by the US after the Mexican-American war. Many of those Spanish landowners (and their families) went on to become wealthy and politically-powerful leaders of society in Texas, in California and elsewhere in former Mexican territory. I am sure that some felt that they'd "lost their country;" however, at that time, Mexico had held independence for barely two decades, and the country (as a country) was still in flux - still in the process of coming together as a nation-state. There was relatively little of what we'd now consider "nationalism" - and a great deal of prejudice and racism ("Spanish" settlers often felt they had more in common with European-Americans than with Indio and Mestizo citizens of Mexico).

3. This war was, to a great degree, about African chattel slavery and the Cotton South. The Deep South was painfully aware that, as the number of free states increased, they ran the risk of being out-voted in the U.S. Senate - and they saw the Senate as the bulwark which protected their "peculiar institution." To Southerners (and President Polk was from Tennessee - General Winfield Scott was a Virginian and General Zachary Taylor was a slave-holder from Louisiana), conquests to the south was a way of ensuring the survival of the Southern Slavocracy. There were other reasons, to be sure, but that was an important reason for the war.

4. California was less of a reason than the article suggested. California was largely settled by US citizens, and had already begun making moves toward becoming - as Texas had done - an independent country, free of Mexican overlordship. Polk knew this - and while some (mostly Hispanic) revisionist historians contend that the war was really about the take-over of the port of San Francisco, I am convinced that the war was really about Texas and the vast expanse of land between Texas and California - territory South and West of the Louisiana Purchase, land that included New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Some (primarily Southerners) wanted to annex some or all of Mexico below the Rio Grande (General Scott proposed taking it all), but cooler and wiser heads prevailed.

5. The article is right that the US bought the lands it took over. What the article doesn't mention is that Santa Anna - cash-strapped and greedy as ever - actually initiated at least one of the purchases (the Gadsden Purchase, which added to Arizona's southern-most territories), concluded in 1853. He came to us with the offer; and, when the Mexican War was finished, he was no "reluctant virgin" at the negotiating table - he drove a hard bargain for the lands the US acquired, and got top dollar for those lands, and he worked hard to keep the US at the bargaining table until he'd sold off what he considered worthless Indian lands, uninhabitable by whites - which is how most educated people in 1848 viewed most of New Mexico and virtually all of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Based on what the U.S. had paid Napoleon for the Louisiana Purchase (i.e., all the lands watered by the Mississippi and Missouri basins) and what the U.S. later paid to the Czar for Alaska (Seward's Folly), Santa Anna did indeed drive a hard bargain, in 1848 and again in 1853. The very fact that he brought the U.S. back to the negotiating table in '53 to buy the Gadsden land-strip suggests that he was far from reluctant to sell off "worthless" lands for gold American dollars. That doesn't make Santa Anna - or the Mexico he ruled - a "victim" of "Yankee Imperialism," and it tends to put the lie to those who advocate some kind of divine right to Reconquista.

6. The article implies that, late in his life, President Grant called the war unjust - he indeed did call it unjust in his autobiography - finished barely days before he died of throat cancer - but he also called it unjust DURING the war, and repeatedly did so for the rest of his life. A patriot and soldier, he did his duty in that war (heroically, winning medals and promotion for personal bravery while under fire), but he had his own views about the justice of that war. In this he was joined by others - including a young Robert E. Lee (chief engineering officer to General Scott) - as well as yet other American soldiers who went on to become generals on both sides in the civil war. In fact, as the article pointed out correctly, most American Civil War generals on both sides earned their combat spurs in the Mexican American war.

All in all, a fascinating article/quiz, throwing light on a little-known aspect of American history - one that, with our current border problems, is apparently becoming more relevant than it's been for the past 150 years.

ADDENDA - The Reconquista - based on a myth, debunked by facts

Reconquista is based on a false premise - that Texas, California and the lands in the American Southwest were taken at gunpoint from a reluctant Mexico.

That's not the case, and a careful review of the history of the Texas War of Independence, the California independence movement and the Mexican-American war demonstrates that these lands were transferred either in wars of independence (which must be seen as legitimate by Mexicans, as that's how they won their independence twice -first from Spain and later from France's puppet, Maximillian I) or by purchase at what had to be above fair market value.

Historically speaking, here are a few key points to remember:

1. After Texas became a U.S. State, Mexico asserted a claim that the border with Texas was the Neuces River, 150 miles north of the Rio Grande - however, ever since Santa Anna granted Texas its independence in 1836, the Rio Grando had been the recognized and de facto border between Mexico and Texas.

2. Though some political elements in the U.S. were clearly in favor of war, Mexico actually initiated hostilities on April 24, 1846 when it attacked a U.S. Army cavalry patrol in disputed territory, killing 11 American soldiers; then attacked again on May 4, when it began the bombardment of Fort Texas near what is now Brownsville.

3. At the conclusion of the war, Santa Anna was not forced at gunpoint to cede or sell lands - in fact, the cash-strapped dictator consciously and intentionally extended the negotiations until he got top dollar for lands he considered to be worthless desert good only for indigenous hunter-gatherer Native Americans.

4. Five years later, Santa Anna initiated sales negotiations and ultimately sold further Mexican lands to the U.S. (the Gadsden Purchase), lands identified as potentially useful for a future Southern transcontinental railroad. Santa Anna was again cash-strapped and saw selling more worthless desert to the U.S. as a way out of his financial problems.

5. Land sold to the U.S. by Mexico in 1848 involved 500,000 square miles - an area smaller than either Louisiana (828,000 square miles) or Alaska (586,412 square miles) - yet the price paid for previously Mexican territory was more than twice than that paid for Alaska and roughly the same paid for the much larger and more valuable Louisiana.

Santa Anna indeed struck a hard bargain and the U.S. paid more than top dollar for the lands ceded by Mexico after the war. Santa Anna got the same dollar value as had Napoleon for Louisiana - for a largely unpopulated desert area 350,000 square miles smaller than resource-rich Louisiana, the purchase of which more than doubled the size of the United States. More to the point, while Napoleon sold the U.S. well-watered, game-rich land thought ideal for farming and ranching, Santa Anna sold the U.S. barren desert lands thought useful only for connecting - as an unpopulated, inhospitable land bridge - the Atlantic-focused United States with potentially-valuable Pacific Coast ports south of the Columbia River.

Making the other comparison clear, Alaska was nearly 20% larger - at 586,412 square miles - than the 500,000 square miles of land Santa Anna sold to the U.S. Though called Seward's Folly in 1867, and although those Alaskan lands netted the Czar less than half of what Santa Anna received, frozen but resource-rich Alaska was nonetheless deemed more valuable - if only for its timber, fish and game, than the land Santa Anna sold to the U.S.

Compared to both precedents, Santa Anna got one hell of a deal for somebody now claimed to have "no choices." Beyond that, the Gadsden Purchase six years later pretty much nails it that Santa Anna saw land-sales to the U.S. as a reliable way of digging himself out of financial crises - not something forced on him, but a viable option in financially-troubled times.

6. Here's a fact usually ignored or glossed over by reconquistadores. Neither California nor Texas were part of Mexico during the Mexican-American War. California declared its independence on June 15, 1846, several weeks before the start of the Mexican American War - two full years before the U.S. successfully concluded the war with Mexico and began land negotiations with Santa Anna. While this fact was acknowledged in the treaty ending the war, the fact of California's independence had long-since been established - by Californians - before a formal declaration of war between the U.S. and Mexico.

In this, California was no different from Texas, which had taken its independence from Mexico ten years earlier, in 1836. In fact, this was no different than Mexico's independence from Spain in 1823 or its later independence from France's puppet, Maximillian I. If it's OK for Mexico to achieve nation-statehood via declarations of independence, surely this same principle applies to independent Texas and California - sovereign states that only later decided to become part of the United States.

Bottom line - this land transaction now objected to by the reconquista movement was in accord with common practice in the mid-1800s - it had both precedent and antecedents. The price paid for what everybody conceded was conventionally worthless, largely-unwatered desert land - was well above fair market value. This land transaction - though it followed a war - was not negotiated at gun-point - otherwise why did the U.S. pay so much for land-grants smaller than either Louisiana or Alaska?

Further, this transaction wasn't negotiated reluctantly by Santa Anna - as demonstrated by the later Gadsden Purchase, which he initiated.

Finally, despite revisionist reconquista "historians," neither California nor Texas were part of this land-exchange - both had become independent nations prior to joining the U.S., and prior to the Mexican-American War.

Together, that pretty much puts paid to the politically-popular but factually-incorrect claims of the Reconquistadores.