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Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st March 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
One of the more frustrating things in dealing with General Douglas MacArthur’s World War 2 (WW2) fighting style was how many ‘will of the wisp’ intelligence, logistical and special forces operations he created and that were buried in post-WW2 classified files in many military services of several nations, located on several different continents. Often times, when you go looking for one of these outfits, something completely different turns up. Such was the case with “Submarine Field Unit” of Section 22, General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area. And as it turned out, the submarine that the Field Unit operated on is sitting in a museum four hours drive from where I live in Dallas, at Muskogee, OK!
The Balao-class submarine, USS Batfish (SS-310), at Muskogee, Oklahoma. It was the home of one of General MacArthur’s Section 22 field units starting with its 5th War patrol. The field unit helped the Batfish kill three Japanese submarines in 76 hours in February 1945, during its 6th War Patrol. — Photo credit, Wikimedia commons, 2013
As I stated in my “MacArthur’s High Tech Radar Commandos” column, I have been on the trail of Section 22 for some time. Section 22 of MacArthur’s General Headquarters (GHQ) South West Pacific Area (SWPA) was his radar intelligence branch — what is referred to today as electronic intelligence or “ELINT” — under his Chief Signals officer General Aiken. It was made up of personnel from Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, as well as the United States Army, US Army Air Force, US Navy and the US Marine Corps. Most Section 22 personnel were Australian Military Forces (AMF) and not Americans. So most day to day reports — for instance casualty records — with which you build a unit history, will be in the Australian archives.
It turns out that the National Archive of Australia (NAA) has digitized and posted on-line a significant portion of Section 22’s analytical work in the form of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) copy of the Section 22 “Current Statements,” AKA reports on Japanese radar site locations and excerpts of technical analysis of captured radar documents or components, covering the period of 14 January 1945 to 20 March 1945. In those 66 days Section 22 generated 43 “Current statements” numbered 0260 to 0302. What I read of the file demonstrated a high pressure, fast paced, operational intelligence organization providing timely “actionable” intelligence to fighting units across the SWPA. Read the rest of this entry »
The Kharijites were a faction inside of early Islam that heavily invested in the concept of takfir (excommunication) and had other differences with both Sunni and Shia to the point where they were themselves considered no longer muslim and ended up mostly being killed off. ISIS, by its extreme actions, seems to have some significant points of congruence with the Kharijites. Foremost among them seems to be this shared belief in takfirism. It is not a perfect fit, ISIS’ ideology includes the idea that the Caliph should be a Quryash tribe member, something the ancient Kharijites rejected at the time.
Not having a dividing line between those who want to kill us in the name of Islam and those who we can live with underneath the big tent of american tolerance makes war difficult. Is neo-kharjitism a dividing criteria that would work both within Islam and without? It’s something to keep an eye on and a great tool if it can be relied on.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 20th February 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
When I started writing my “History Friday” columns, one of my objectives was to explore the “military historical narratives” around General Douglas MacArthur, so I could write with a better understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. One of the least explored aspects of MacArthur’s fighting style was his highly flexible approach to logistics, which he described as “We are doing what we can with what we have.” Logistics being the ability to transport and supply military forces. In describing MacArthur’s flexibility, and poor documentation of same, I wrote previously:
“One of the maddening things about researching General Douglas MacArthur’s fighting style in WW2 was the way he created, used and discarded military institutions, both logistical and intelligence, in the course of his South West Pacific Area (SWPA) operations. Institutions that had little wartime publicity and have no direct organizational descendent to tell their stories in the modern American military.”
The importance of logistics is the reason for the adage, “Amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics.”
Today’s column is the story of another of those many “throw away” logistical institutions. The Philippines was a naval theater. The “standard historical narrative” has a gap between submarines on one hand and aircraft on the other. Both of those made the history books, neither could move as much material as the Filipino guerilla’s used in support of MacArthur’s Forces in the Philippines. It stands to reason 7th Fleet Amphibious Craft and Ships would support the Filipino Guerilla’s there. So I went to the war diaries of the extinct littoral amphibious ships in “MacArthur’s Navy” on the Fold3 government document digitization service to find their work, and sure enough the following popped up.
Landing Craft Infantry, Large, 701. One of the four small landing ships to make up TASK GROUP 70.4, the 7th Fleet’s Guerilla Support Group, in February 1945.
The Seventh Fleet established Task Group 70.4 as a “guerilla support group” to support Filipino guerilla’s in the Southern Philippines in February 1945. This was effectively a detachment of LCI(L) Flotilla 24. TG 70.4 was made up of two Landing Craft Infantry (Large) or “LCI(L)” for transport (701 and 1024) and two Landing Craft Support (Large)(Mark 3) or “LCS(L)(3)” (No. 9 & 10) for fire support. Read the rest of this entry »
(This is a post I wrote in 2009, on the occasion of Obama’s visit to the city of Dresden. Today Instapundit notes that today is the 70th anniversary of the Dresden firebombing, and says “The Nazis opened a can of whoop-ass, and this is one of the things that came out. The world would be a safer place if their modern-day equivalents were more afraid of the same fate.”)
Dresden, once known as “Florence on the Elbe” because of its beauty and culture, is now best known for its destruction by British and American bombers in February of 1945. “Dresden” is the name of a haunting movie, originally made for German television, about a love affair in the doomed city.
Dresden is of course also the German city that Barack Obama intends to visit–for reasons best known to himself–during his current trip to Europe. It seems like this would be an appropriate time to review the film (which I watched a couple of months ago via Netflix) and to use it as a springboard for discussion of the Dresden bombing and of the WWII strategic bombing campaign in general.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the film. I’ve tried to minimize the spoilers, but some are inevitable.
Anna Mauth is a nurse in a Dresden hospital. Although she hopes to attend medical school and become a physician, she has put these plans on hold in order to assist her father, Dr Carl Mauth, who runs the hospital–which is heavily overloaded and constantly short of supplies. Anna’s fiance, Alexander Wenninger, is a dedicated young physican but just a bit of a pompous prig. Her sister, Eva, is a horrible little Nazi enthusiast, glorying in her affair with a Gauleiter’s adjutant and luxuriating in the special privileges she is able to obtain through this relationship. Anna’s best friend, Maria, is married to a Jewish man, Simon Goldberg–and she holds his life in her hands, because it is only by virtue of the marriage that he has been–thus far–protected from arrest and shipment to a concentration camp.
Now for the far-famed Takoo Forts. They are five in number, two upon the left, or north bank of the river, and three upon the south bank. The two upper Forts, north and south, are nearly opposite to each other. About three-quarters of a mile further down lies the second north Fort, and below it, about 400 yards upon the south bank, the one upon which our unsuccessful attack was made in 1859, and the fifth lies close to the mouth of the river upon the same side; there is a strong family likeness among them all.
Our attack was to be made upon the upper northern Fort, and it was on this wise. At day- light on the 19th Sir R. Napier, who was to command the assault, marched out of Tankoo with the 67th Regiment, Milward’s battery of Armstrong guns, the Royal Engineers, and Madras Sappers, for the purpose of making roads over the soft part of the mud, bridging the numerous canals, and throwing up earthworks to protect our artillery, and no man could have been chosen more fitted for the task, being himself an engineer officer of great experience, and a tried and skilful general.
(This is Napier, at a later period of his very successful military career.)
Immediately following the German attack on Poland, on September 1 of 1939, Neville Chamberlain’s government temporized. A message to was sent to Germany proposing a ceasefire and an immediate conference, promising that “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
Greenwood then made a speech which I noted that night as certain to be the greatest of his life; a speech that would illuminate a career and justify a whole existence. It was remarkable neither for eloquence nor for dramatic effect, but the drama was there, we were all living it, we and millions more whose fate depended on the decisions taken in that small Chamber.
I was reminded of this occasion by the upcoming Bibi Netanyahu speech to Congress and the hostile political reactions to it. The reality is that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a severe threat not only to Israel but to the entire world, and by speaking to this point, he is serving not only his own country, but all of us.
Israel, if it is farsighted and wise, has a grim opportunity in the emergence of Islamic State Sinai Province. It can sign a defense treaty with Egypt to ensure the territorial integrity of Egypt. Israel’s gain would be the undertaking of Egypt to grant palestinians on Egyptian territory Egyptian citizenship, removing the malign influence that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is having over the Palestinian situation the only sure way possible, by removing its reason for being in a decent, humanitarian way by settling Palestinian refugees into a normal status, in this case as citizens of Egypt.
This line of thinking does assume that Egypt’s military will be unsuccessful in stopping IS Sinai Province from controlling territory, either part or all of Sinai. It further assumes that the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza/Hamas will be assisting ISSP in its efforts, justifying an Egyptian takeover of Gaza to root them out. Now is the time for the negotiations to start, if they haven’t already started.
Without refugee status, and the unique UN agency to support Palestinians in their grievances, Palestinians will tend to disperse, tend to get jobs, and as they get more invested into the existing legal system, tend to reduce their jihad to lawfare seeking reparations for their losses in both properties and suffering. Eventually Israel will write a big check and be happy to end this chapter in their history.
Still, many thought that globalization made war between the great powers impossible. In 1909, the British journalist Norman Angell wrote an internationally best-selling book, “The Great Illusion,” that argued that financial interdependence and the great growth in credit made war self-defeating, since it would result in financial ruin for both victor and vanquished.
Angell was dead wrong. (Oddly, it didn’t prevent him from winning the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize.) Extensive trade and financial relations did not stop Germany from declaring war on both Britain and Russia, its two largest trading partners, in 1914.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 30th January 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
One of the more frustrating things in dealing with General Douglas MacArthur’s World war 2 fighting style was how many ‘will of the wisp’ intelligence, logistical and special forces operations he created and that were buried in post-WW2 classified files in many military services of several nations, located on several different continents. Often times, when you go looking for one of these outfits, something completely different turns up. Such was the case with MacArthur’s High Tech Radar Commandos, Field Units 12 and 14 of Section 22, General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area.
The trail of MacArthur’s Australian Military Force (AMF) Radar Commandos started with the following record from the Fold3 government record digitization service —
“In PT operations, on the 28/29, Alamo Scouts were put ashore on Fuga
Island and natives gave intelligence material abandoned by the
Japanese on Amboengi Idland, in the Little Paternoster Group when they
crossed to the Celebes in native canoes, on 18 July.”
And then a little later on the same page it also stated:
Balikpapan boats landed Australian scouts on Amboengi
Ialand, Little Paternoster Group, site of a reported
radar station. A radio tower was strafed end radio sets
So, the Alamo Scout report above resulted in a Balikpapan based American PT-boat (or boats?} arriving at the reported Radar site the next day which Australian scouts photographed, damaged and then called down an 7th Fleet patrol plane air strike on to make sure nothing was salvageable afterwards?
It turns out that first passage from the 7th Fleet War Diary was badly written, splicing two different special forces operations together. As I soon discovered when I checked with the Alamo Scout Historical Foundation.
Places such as Amboengi are in the Little Paternoster Islands (today’s Balabalagan Islands, Indonesia.) are off the southeast curve of Borneo. None of the Alamo Scouts operated in Borneo. Fuga Island was off the northern shore of Luzon where the Alamo Scouts had their last big hostage rescue mission of the war. In July 1945 the Alamo Scouts rescued the President of the Bank of the Philippines and his extended family held hostage there. The banker was a personal friend of General MacArthur.
Ratel (Radar intelligence) No. 5, May 8, 1945 radar coverage map of the Dutch East Indies made with intelligence provided by General MacArthur’s Section 22 Radar ‘Boffins’.
So there my trail went cold. If not the Alamo Scouts, Who are these guys?
The Australian Military Forces (AMF) special forces contingent doing island reconnaissance was large, not well documented by American military records, perhaps not at all, and they operated widely across the South Pacific. They were often deployed using Catalina PBY flying boats, submarines or even by canoe, distances permitting. Having no access to Australian Archives to figure this out, I dropped it.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 29th January 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
When I wrote “The Ukraine Crisis — Some Background and Thoughts” back in February 28, 2014. I expected the Russian – Ukraine War in the Donbass to be headline news in the American media. It turned out…not so much. The NFL Patriot’s deflated footballs and bad mega-blizzard forecasts for the North East United States, among other headlines, seem far more important to the America’s media mandarin’s quest for advertising dollars.
Part of this lack of coverage is laziness. American broadcast networks and cable news services just don’t cover foreign news much, as it is a lot of work for low ratings. And when it comes to things that reflect poorly on Pres. Obama, other than Fox News, they are all “UK Guardian reporting on the Labour Party” regards Obama Administration foreign policy failures. Which the war in the Ukraine definitely is. Meanwhile the Russophile “fanbois” are spam-commenting on the Mil-blogs and military-themed forums I follow to the point they are useless. I had given up hope of finding anything useful on the fighting there.
Then I ran into the following video from a defense industry guy who is tracking the Donbass fighting…and then I snorted up my coffee…_Violently_.
This Ukrainian propaganda video showed not only the fighting, but Ukraine’s Viking Revival spawned by the fighting in the Donbass.
“100 BIYTSIV.” (100 Warriors) – New Ukrainian Propaganda Clip
(Lyrics Nehrebetskiy, Score Telezin, sung by Donchenko)
This is a classic piece of war music in many ways reminiscent of WW2, and the video clip is designed to produce that martial effect. It is being propagated by the Right Sector militia via their Youtube portal. The video is a huge viral phenomena in Ukrainian social media, reflected by the fact that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense placed it on their Facebook page despite very poor relations with the Right Sector.
This emerging Ukrainian nationalist cultural revival has huge tactical, operational, and strategic military, plus grand strategic political, implications for the 21st Century. Implications I intend to explore in posts here on Chicago Boyz.
If the song sounds familiar when you play the video — it’s why I breathed coffee — it should be. The tune of this song is based on SSgt Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Berets” —
I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago and googled it…it was written by Robert Emmet Dunlap and covered by several singers, including Tim O’Brien and the group at the link above, whose version I think is especially fine.
Posted by Lexington Green on 16th January 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I am currently reading Theodore Roosevelt’s outstanding book
A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open. In it he describes visits to various interesting locales where he enjoyed the outdoor life of hunting, riding and exploring.
Chapter 4 is entitled THE RANCHLAND OF ARGENTINA AND SOUTHERN BRAZIL. He begins by telling us of his visit to a ranch house in Argentina. His hosts were an “old country family which for many centuries led the life of the great cattle-breeding ranch-owners.” He notes that the modern Argentine ranch is no longer a frontier outpost, but part of the world economy, and not much different than you would find “in Hungary or Kentucky or Victoria.”
But, he notes a critical difference, and offers a stern lecture against those would fail to produce large families, as they are duty-bound to do:
[T]here is one vital point—the vital point—in which the men and women of these ranch-houses, like those of the South America that I visited generally, are striking examples to us of the English-speaking countries both of North America and Australia. The families are large. The women, charming and attractive, are good and fertile mothers in all classes of society. There are no symptoms of that artificially self-produced dwindling of population which is by far the most threatening symptom in the social life of the United States, Canada, and the Australian commonwealths. The nineteenth century saw a prodigious growth of the English-speaking, relative to the Spanish-speaking, population of the new worlds west of the Atlantic and in the Southern Pacific. The end of the twentieth century will see this completely reversed unless the present ominous tendencies as regards the birth-rate are reversed.
The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …
Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.
The final two years of the Obama Presidency will thus be the most dangerous since the end of the Cold War as the world’s rogues calculate how far they can go before a successor enters the White House in 2017. A bipartisan coalition in Congress may be able to limit some of the damage, but the first step toward serious repair is understanding how Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy has contributed to the growing world disorder.
I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing. It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers. HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one. There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:
The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began. Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles. One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again. And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor. There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.
The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film. It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.
This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts. And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film. Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective.
…If the balance between power and legitimacy is properly managed, actions will acquire a degree of spontaneity. Demonstrations of power will be peripheral and largely symbolic; because the configuration of forces will be generally understood, no side will feel the need to call forth its full reserves. When that balance is destroyed, restraints disappear, and the field is open to the most expansive claims and the most implacable actors; chaos follows until a new system of order is established.
In 2011, Jonathan worried that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and noted that once again Google failed to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing had a picture of the USS Arizona memorial.
(12/7/2014: same thing this year, at least as of this posting)
Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that “Pearl Harbor wasn’t a surprise of intent, it was a surprise of capability.”
Trent Telenko wrote about the chain of events leading to the ineffectiveness of the radar warning that should have detected the approaching attack.
Via a Neptunus Lex post (site not currently available), here is a video featuring interviews with both American and Japanese survivors of Pearl Harbor.
And yet there are signals of personal defeat which are like red lamps on broken roads, to these we must pay heed. I grew anxious when a man’s speech began to betray him; when he was full of windy talk of what the Boche had done in the new sector the battalion was taking over, of some new gas. It was always about something which was going to happen; the wretched fellow must have known the mess would muzzle him if it could, but he seemed driven by some inner force to chatter incessantly of every calamity that could conceivably come to pass. It was as if he had come to terms with the devil himself, that if he could make others as windy, his life would be spared. How full of apprehension the fellow was; death came to him daily in a hundred shapes. This was fear in its infancy. It was a bad sign, for when a man talked like that, his self-respect was going, and the battle was already half lost. It was just a matter of time. Such a man did the battalion no good for the disease was infectious; I was glad to get him away.
Not everyone is helpful in what Strauss and Howe call a Crisis Era. This is not a matter of ability or resources, but of attitude. I have recently encountered numerous highly intelligent, capable, and often firmly upper-middle class men who at the slightest provocation vehemently insist that the United States is doomed. This year alone, they have predicted at least three of the last zero national calamities. Repeatedly failed scenarios make no impression on them. Some of these people are actually planning to run and hide somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »
This month marks the 52nd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
A couple of years ago, I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Chertok, who at this point was apparently viewing the Cuban affair as a flash in the pan that would be resolved short of war, was concerned that moving the Mars rocket would cause them to miss their October 29 launch date, and suggested that the swap of the rockets be delayed for a few hours. Kirillov told him that this was impossible, and that he should go to the “Marshal’s cottage,” where some of his associates wanted to see him. Chertok’s response:
Yes, sir! You’re in charge! But, Anatoliy Semyonovich! Just between you and me—do you have the courage to give the ‘Launch!’ command, knowing full well that this means not just the death of hundreds of thousands from that specific thermonuclear warhead, but perhaps the beginning of the end for everyone? You commanded a battery at the front, and when you shouted ‘Fire!’ that was quite another matter.
There’s no need to torment me. I am a soldier now; I carry out an order just as I did at the front. A missile officer just like me, not a Kirillov, but some Jones or other, is standing at a periscope and waiting for the order to give the ‘Launch!’ command against Moscow or our firing range. Therefore, I advise you to hurry over to the cottage.
At the cottage, four men were seated at a table playing cards while a fifth was trying to glean the latest news from a radio and Lena, the housekeeper, was in the kitchen drying wine glasses. It was suggested that since Chertok didn’t like playing cards, he should help Lena fix the drinks. This involved a watermelon and lots of cognac.
I took the enormous watermelon and two bottles of cognac out of the fridge. When everything was ready, we heard a report that U.N. Secretary General U Thant had sent personal messages to Khrushchev and Kennedy. Once again, Voskresenskiy took the initiative and proposed the first toast: “To the health of U Thant, and may God grant that this not be our last drink!” This time we all drank down our toast in silence and very solemnly, realizing how close we now were to a situation in which this cognac and this watermelon could be our last.
Still hoping to avoid the cancellation of the Mars mission, Chertok went to another cottage and, with considerable difficulty, made a forbidden call to S P Korolev, overall head of the Soviet rocket program, who was then in Moscow. Korolev told him that things were being taken care of and not to worry.
It was already dark when I returned to the Marshal’s cottage. On the road, a Gazik came to an abrupt halt. Kirillov jumped out of it, saw me, swept me up in a hug, and practically screamed: “All clear!” We burst into the cottage and demanded that they pour “not our last drink,” but alas! The bottles were empty. While everyone excitedly discussed the historic significance of the “All clear” command, Lena brought out a bottle of “three star” cognac from some secret stash. Once again the Mars rockets were waiting for us at the launch site and in the MIK.
Reflecting on the crisis many years later, Chertok wrote:
Few had been aware of the actual threat of a potential nuclear missile war at that time. In any event, one did not see the usual lines for salt, matches, and kerosene that form during the threat of war. Life continued with its usual day-to-day joys, woes, and cares. When the world really was on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe, only a very small number of people in the USSR and the United States realized it. Khrushchev and Kennedy exercised restraint and did not give in to their emotions. Moreover, the military leaders of both sides did not display any independent initiative nor did they deviate at all from the orders of their respective heads of state. Very likely, Khrushchev wasn’t just guided by the pursuit of peace “at any cost.” He knew that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was many times greater than ours. The Cubans did not know this and viewed Moscow’s order to call off missile preparation and dismantle the launch sites as a betrayal of Cuba’s interests. President Kennedy had no doubt as to the United States’ nuclear supremacy. The possibility of a single nuclear warhead striking New York kept him from starting a nuclear war. Indeed, this could have been the warhead on the R-7A missile that they didn’t roll out of the MIK to the pad at Site No. 1.
Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain’s Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles.
While the US has apparently sent some weapons to the Kurds, the aid so far seems rather desultory. Meanwhile, ISIS has fifty-two American-made 155mm howitzers. “The Kurds of Kobani feel let down by the Europeans, by the Americans, and particularly by their Muslim neighbors…Everybody here is ready to fight ISIS: old men, pubescent children, young women. They’re all waiting in line in front of the YPG recruiting station. It looks as if they are waiting to vote, but actually it is to register for the war.” link
Meanwhile, the US air campaign does not seem to be of a sufficient level to destroy ISIS or even to stop its advance.
If the US strategy is to fight ISIS by arming intermediaries, rather than directly with US troops, then why is heavy support not being provided to the Kurds? Almost certainly, the main reason is a reluctance on Obama’s part…and maybe on the part of certain people in the State Department…to do anything that would anger Turkey. (In 2012, Obama named Erdogan as one of the world leaders he feels personally closest to.) The result of this attitude will very likely be further ISIS advances, and mass slaughters of Kurds.
Arthur Koestler wrote that the Soviet non-support of the Warsaw uprising was “one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice.”
The Dutch government has told its soldiers to refrain from wearing the uniform in their own country. The reason? A series of tweets from a single jihadist, who warns of forthcoming attacks against Dutch soldiers in revenge for Holland’s participation in the military operations against ISIS.
It should be obvious that this policy of caving in to a threat will lead directly to more and escalated threats in the future. As the linked article says:
By ordering Dutch soldiers to become “invisible” in The Netherlands, what message is the government sending to its enemies, let alone its own citizens? Dutch-Iranian law professor Afshin Ellian rightfully asks: if Dutch soldiers aren’t safe anymore, than who is? Jihadists now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist can fundamentally alter Dutch defense policy. Dutch citizens now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist will send shivers down their government’s spine and that — instead of making sure all threats are neutralized — it will order the personnel tasked with keeping them safe, to hide.
(If this is the response from the Dutch government to a few threatening tweets, what level of appeasement will we see from them if the Islamists who control Iran gain the ability to provide intimidation via nuclear-armed ballistic missiles with Amsterdam within the circle of range?)
It is commendable for a government to be concerned about the safety of its citizens, including the members of its military, but an obsession with safety, if carried too far, can result in its opposite. Not for the first time, I’m reminded of a passage from Walter Miller’s great novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz:
To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
– Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1”
Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.
As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.
Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.
I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.