Tag Archives: War

Torture–the refuge of tyranny

Over the last few years there has been considerable comment about  the use of torture as a means of interrogation by the US.  I personally find such methods abhorrent and they are probably ultimately counterproductive.   I do understand the need for extreme measures under the most compelling and dangerous circumstances to our nation’s security but those times should be so rare as to not require intense worry.  I believe we haven’t had an overt policy that would rise to the level of torture on a systematic basis and the very fact that we have public debate about such matters reveals the concern with have as a nation to adhere to standards of decency and honor.   It is always very good though when discussing a emotional topic to put some historical perspective on the issue to assess current practices.   The most egregious allegations have been those of waterboarding where the enemy is subjected to a wet clothe covering his face and it makes him short of breath and simulates drowning. 

In the early stages of the Communist revolution in 1921 the Commies established their secret police to control the population and any ideas or expressions of thought contrary to the percieved Soviet beliefs.   The common alleged crime at the time was “anti-Soviet subversion” whatever the heck that was.  Needless to say it was whatever those in power wanted it to be.   Free speech and totalarian rule don’t match up well.   Free speech may lead to movements contrary to the ruling party’s wishes and that is not to be tolerated.   The following is an extensive quote regarding some of the methods of torture utilized by the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police of that day).  Each provine apparently had it own preferred torture.

“In Kharkov they burned the victim’s hands in boiling water until the blistered skin could be peeled off.  The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed its victims’ bones in half.  In Voronezh they rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels.  In Armivir they crushed their skulls by tightening a leather strap with an iron bold around the head.  In Kiev they affixed a cage with rats to the victim’s torso and heated it so the enraged rats ate their way through the victim’s guts in a effort to escape.  In Odessa they chained their victims to planks and pushed them slowly into a furnace or tank of boiling water.  A favorite winter torture was to pour water on the naked victims until they became living ice statues.   Another had the victims buried alive or kept in a coffin with a corpse.”   From Andrew Roberts work on the English Speaking Peoples.   If you think those atrocities are bad, do some homework on the Japs and their treatment of prisoners during WWII.

And to think this was all before Stalin came to power and made an assembly line of torture to squash any possible disagreement or argument counter to Communist philosophy.   The numbers he killed and tortured run into the millions.

We have our faults and and have committed some wrongs along the path of our emergence as a world power.   But by any standard they have been brief, isolated and rebuked.   Thank God we have never indulged in the behavoir described as a basic tenet of our public policy.   May we always maintain our nobility of heart and do harm only for the “good war” which does happen regrettably from time to time. 

Speaking of the Soviets many of you may not recall that we had troops stationed there at the time of these tortures.  From roughly 1919 to 1921 we and the British and French had troops there trying to restore some order in Russia and half heartedly attempting to thwart the Communist takeover.  We gave aid and comfort to the “Whites” (Royalists and democrats) against the Reds, the Commies.  We had soldiers killed.  It was a real war but short lived and none of the western allies after the carnage of WWI had the stomach or resources to get involved in a long war in that heartland of euro-asia.   We left.   And now you know some of the story.  You are encouraged to read histories of the Commies, Stalin and the Great War.  There are many available.

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US foreign policy of the future from the prism of the past

The US will face many challenging events and circumstances in the years to come in our dealings with other nations and areas of the world–principally, the Mid East, Latin America, North Korea and the edges of the Russian Bear.  Inevitably others will emerge that aren’t even on the radar screen right now.   No matter who is President these difficulties will be before us and require action of some sort.  Even inaction is action.   A few examples of times past would serve that President well if he will ponder them and extract the lessons there to be learned.   Some worked out better than others and some were not so good but even failure has its own lessons in what to avoid the next time around.

The Boer War is a good place to start because at that time England  was in the role of world policeman and monitor that the US finds itself in today.  It was at the turn of the 20th century the superpower of the world.  Most modern and revisionist history makes England out to be the “heavy” in that conflict.   There is some justification for that but only some.   Facts are that the Boers controlled the central portions of South Africa and had many foreigners there as workers.   Most of the workers were British.  They were not allowed any of what we would call civil rights and were oppressed by the Boers.   There had been ongoing negotiations for several years between the Boers and England to amerliorate the situation but the Boers were obdurant and would not consider any proposal to grant greater freedoms to the foreign workers.   England had no plans to go to war with the Boers.  After all it was far away and the issues while very important from a humanitarian standpoint were nothing to go to war over.   The Boers launched the first attacks and are the ones who declared war against Britain.   An absurd thing to do as it was a very small nation taking on the world power.  But the Boers believed that the British would only moan and groan and not take any affirmative action against them and that public opinion in Britain and around the world would be supportive of their position.   Simply put they thought the British would not find if worth the candle.   But they were wrong.  First Britain could not allow its prestige to be so openly challenged.  Make no mistake that when it comes to foreign relations that prestige and respect are of paramount importance.   The power and influence of prestige and respect often can resolve issues without ever employing the use of force.   Never underestimate your opponent.   The British did respond and gathered the troops and resources which was no easy task and did join the battle and won.  They won the standup fight rather quickly and then even won the insurgency that followed for some time.   As a footnote it was this war where Churchill first acquired fame.  He went as a journalist and was captured by the Boers but made good his escape from their prisoner of war camp and wrote of his adventures.  That story was fascinating to the British public.   Surely you can see some parallels to today’s headlines in this tale.

The occupation of Iraq will last for a number of years and is to be expected.   You don’t recall but we sent our Marines to several Latin American countries from 1900 to about 1925.  One of those was Haiti.  Yes, the same Haiti where Clinton sent troops in the ’90’s.  We sent troops there to restore some semblence of order in 1915 and they remained for 20 years!   From a Democrat W. Wilson to a Democrat, Roosevelt.   The fighting will diminsh in Iraq regardless of President but a substantial number of troops will remain and it is in our interest that they do so.   We still have troops in Japan and Germany over 60 years after WWII.  They are not fighting but they are there.  The presence of those troops over the years has served our interests well and the interest of our allies.

When the Spanish American war broke out in 1898 and we took the Phillipines there was some substantial uproar and opposition at the time by press and some politicians.  Several in Congress even accused the President and Country of “criminal aggression” against Spain and the Phillipines.   No point in examining here whethere there were weapons of mass destruction there.   The decision was made, we won the initial fight quickly but it was followed by a violent and bloody  insurgency by the Moros and other ethnic groups which lasted a few years.   There were many awful atrocities by the insurgents.   We played pretty rough too and finally  won the day under the command of Arthur MacArthur, the father of the even more famous General Douglas MacArthur of WWII.  The Phillipines did flourish under our protection.  We introduced school, hospitals and trade where none had existed before.  We left the Phillipines far better than we found it.  Check the facts.   We left in spite of the warnings of some that we were trying to build and empire.

Shortly after the Spanish American war we wanted to fulfill a long ambition of many to build a canal through central America.   We “stole Panama, fair and square” as one politician put it at the time.   The casualties were “one donkey and one chinaman”.   Columbia was ticked because we took their province from them for our own purposes.   Facts are that “Panama” had revolted against Columbia 50 times in 50 years.  It was not a stable region and was under the US sphere of influence per the Monroe doctrine for a hundred years at the time.   We did take it and built the Panama canal.  A true marvel of engineering and a boon not only to the US but for all of central America and the northern reaches of South America, including Columbia.  We paid for it, not any of them but they also shared in the rewards of its completion.   Again check the facts.  The whole region was better off after our “aggression”.    The story of the canal deserves a complete entry of its own.   You recall we had to invade Panama again in the ’80’s  because it had become a virtual mafia state run by drug dealers.   Did we push around our might at that time?  Sure we did, but again ask the question–was everyone better off for what Reagan did?   The answer is clear.  Not just the US but everyone else was better off after Noriega was removed.

These are only a handful of past events that still have relevance today in our world.  The internet and jets don’t change the national security interests and the economic interests of peoples.   Facts are we have taken many lands by military action but the US has never been a conqueror.   Think about it, we could have simply annexed all of Europe after the war and made Japan one of our territories if we had wanted.  Who could have stopped us?   That is not what we are about.    Underneath the obvious financial and security interests we have pursued in our conflicts we have a the core always been about decency and doing the right thing.   May we always be so.

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From the Memory Cupboard

The brain is an amazing organ.   It can do so much more than your computer and quicker too.   Just think of all those events big and little that it stores for later recall.  Don’t forget all the items that it decides shouldn’t be stored.  They are important too or else we would be bogged down in a matter of days with so much trivia we couldn’t call up the significant matters and those we use to help us sort out a new course of action based on prior experience.   You don’t need to remember each and every time you have stopped at a red light but you do need to remember that stopping for them is important to your health.   So, from many of those memories I offer some of the following thoughts about our world then and how they might be worth remembering and applying the lessons learned from them to today’s events.

Language matters a great deal.   There is a lot of discussion these days about whether English should be the official language in the US.  That conversation has been going on for at least a generation now.  Some seem to think it arose only in the last few years.  Remember the Senator who was the linguist back in the ’70’s and ’80’s who first proposed that the law should require it to be the official language?   He was not just a senator but an academic.  The proposal didn’t get too far then but it would be headlines today.  Throughtout history some very bitter conflicts have been execerbated by language disputes.  Just a couple that are of more recent vintage will make the point.   In Northern Ireland most folks are really not all that religious and certainly not the IRA.  It was much more about language and accent than religious beliefs.   It was pretty easy to tell an “Irishman” from the English gent just by listening.   That difference reinforced so many of their preconceived notions of each other.   It was only about 30 years ago that there was a serious push for Quebec to have its independence from Canada.   This was right across our border in a modern and civilized country.   There were bombings and other terror activities during this time and the focus of the dispute was language.  It was a violent movement.   The native Quebecois wanted French as their official language and other recognition of the French heirtage; other Canadians thought they were being too provincial and not joining the “melting pot” of modern Canada.   The push for independence did not succeed in spite of referendums on the issue but there were the changes that are so obvious today in Quebec with the double print of both languages in all public places and French is required in many public places and school.   Before it was voluntary.

Today we face the renewed threat of Russian aggression.  Just as they recently invaded Georgia, they are a threat to the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.   One of the principle flashpoints in the dispute is the Crimean Pennisula and the city of Sevastopol.   The pennisula is part of Ukraine and went with it when it gained its independence after the USSR collapse in ’89.  Sevastopol is the major Russian navy base in the Black Sea.  It was leased to Russian much like Gitmo was leased to the US from Cuba.  Haven’t you ever wondered how we had a base on the east coast of Cuba?   But just like Ossetia in Georgia there is a substantial Russian population there.   Language is one of the major bones of contention.   Only last week there was a report on NPR about the situation and a Russian who is a citizen of Ukraine living there spoke of the revolt that would be set off if Ukraine starts requiring Ukrainian to be taught in the public schools.  Of course it is Ukraine and it shouldn’t be much of a shock that they want their citizens (even if their ancestors came from Russia) to speak the native tongue.   One wonders if Russia one day soon might move into the Crimean to “protect” the Russians there just as they did last month into Georgia.   Read those little paragraphs in the back pages about international news and you can follow the events yourself.   Again language is seen as the flag or insignia of a particular culture.  Indeed language is that and people will fight very hard to protect their culture.   More than they will for money.

You have heard the phrase “tell it to the Marines”.  It is a derogatory passage and implies that the listener is dumb enough to believe almost anything.  It is not however a new one.  Some think it only goes back to WWII but you have to dig much deeper into American history than that.  Go all the way back to the Revolutionary War.  All navies at that time had marines.  They were on every ship and would keep order among the sailors and provide covering fire when ships of the line came into close quarter combat.  They also provided security for forays ashore when necessary.  Sailors were a rough bunch then as they pretty much have been throughout history.  The marines were considered even “slower” than the sailors though and were often recruited right off the streets of a port town and rarely had any education.   They were considered unsophisticated and gullible–thus the phrase.  You could tell them anything.  When you thought someone was blowing smoke your way you would tell them to tell it to the  Marines.   They were also known as leathernecks and still are.  That comes from the earliest uniforms that they wore.  They had a leather collar around the jacket they wore; thus the moniker.

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Iterating the Past, Russian moves

I have never understood the use of “reiterate”.   You see it used all the time and hear it on newscasts, etc.  Iterate means to repeat.   Reiterate means to repeat.  Why do we have or need two words with the same meaning.  It would seem to me that iterate is sufficient and “reiterate” is redundant.  Why and when people felt the compulsion to add the “re” to the word is beyond me.   I bet there is some word whiz out there who knows the answer off the top of their head.  Where is John Chardy when you need him?

When comtemplating the current situation with Russia and Georgia it is useful to compare the events of today with those of the past.   There is value there and lessons to be learned.  There are real down to earth markers for us to follow or avoid as the case may be.  Unfortunately each generation seems to think it is unique and that the world they inhabit is different than the world of prior generations.   That is a foolish and misguided view.   They seem to believe that only they and their contemporaries are somehow chosen and brighter, better and more insightful than their predecessors.    Believe it or not the folks of the past had high IQ’s also.    Chamberlain was a very bright man.  Woodrow Wilson might have been our second most intellectual President (after Jefferson who towers a above all others in sheer brain power).

What Russia is doing in Georgia compares I think fairly well to what the Germans did in the mid ’30’s.  First, there was the march into the Rhineland.  Most people have totally forgotten all about that event now but it was important then and has its lessons for us today.  As part of the Treaty of Versaille in 1919 to end WWI, the Germans were required to do several things.   They had to restrict the size of their military and the type of armenments they could employ and further there was a buffer zone created in the Rhineland where the Germans were not allowed to base any military personnel.  The Rhineland was a strip of land bordering the east (German) side of the river and extending north/south for a number of miles.   It was not to deep but it was broad.  The idea was that German troops would have to be far enough away that they could not make a “sneak” attack to the West and France and any movement of their troops would be detected before they could reach the border areas.   Hitler ignored the prohibition in ’36 if memory serves.  His own military was much opposed to it at the time because the Army was not very strong or large and the Wehrmacht feared a military response by the West that would expose the weakness of the German Army and maybe even destroy that fledgling might.   You know what happened of course.  The German troops marched into the Rhineland with bands playing and quite openly.  They wanted the West to know what they were doing.   There were words of outrage from the West.  Threats of further sanctions were made.   Hitler had already stopped making the payments to the West for WWI that were required under the Versaille Treaty.  Nothing happened. 

Well not exactly nothing.  Hitler learned something!   He spent the next couple of years building his military at an accelerated pace and then in ’38 moved into the Sudentenland with his troops.  That was the area in the Czech Republic that had a very significant German population and Germany had alleged the Czechs were mistreating the Germans in that area.  The German troops were “peacekeepers” to use the modern jargon.  Neither Czechaslovakia nor the West tried to remove them.  Once again, threats and nasty words but no concrete action.   Trade with Germany continued by all countries.   There were no embargoes.   Swedish steel, Norweigian food and fish products flowed to Germany and the Germans utilized Swiss banking systems.    The Germans even had a hand in the Spanish Revolution of the mid ’30’s.   As always the French wanted to know what was in it for them before they would even consider any action.   In 1939 you could buy all the French wine you wanted in Berlin.  The list of actions and inactions goes on.   The bottom line is that the world let the aggression go with no adverse consequences to the aggressor.  You recall the ’36 Olympics were held in Berlin.

These few examples and other you can find on your own should be given thought now.   We, now, are not breaking new ground in human behavoir.   Hopefully leaders here and abroad will heed these lessons from the past.   I think we must take some actions against Russia.  I don’t recommend launching the missiles for heaven’s sake but we need to do more than shake our finger at them.   We need to give them a kick in the shin.   Economic sanctions could hurt them more than us.   It will be very hard to get the Germans and the French to go along, but we have to try and persuade them it is in their best interest.  We will get strong pushback from the Russians and the Europeans will probably pay a heavier price than we will.  After all one can do without caviar and vodka much easier than gas to generate electricity and heat.  The appetite of the Russian Bear is not sated yet.  If anyone believes it is they are deluding themselves just like those in the ’30’s.

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Chain the Russian Bear

I do not like it when the pundits in the media offer constant criticism but offer no solutions themselves.  They heap blame for one action after another on the Government but you notice they never stick their neck out and say exactly what should be done.   Lou Dobbs and Olberman were both ranting about the Bush Administraton and the Georgian situation just the other night.   Both were so critical and said we had no foreign policy and didn’t know what we were doing.  I am NOT defending the current Administration at all.   The point is about people who criticize but offer no solutions or specific recommendations.   The holler from the sidelines but won’t get in the game themselves and get dirty and bloody.  Listening to Dobbs you would have thought he wanted us to launch an immediate military attack against Russia.  Of course if we did that he would have been one of the first to decry such an action.

To have a more intelligent discourse we need to have ideas put forward.   We need specific proposals about what should be done.   It is easy to be the Monday morning quarterback and claim all decisions were bone- headed.   I am asking that they step into the shoes of the quarterback and give us their concrete proposals.   Subject themselves to the same level of criticism they so readily heap upon others.   Spell out their positive thoughts, chapter and verse.   Put up ideas that someone else can criticize for a change.

Yes, we do have options in responding to Russia.   We have already exercised a couple of them. First, we went to the UN.  Even though no action will be taken becasue of Russia’s veto on the Security Council, it is a forum to present our views and make the Russians give some public accounting of their actions.   That of course is theatre and won’t produce any tangible results or prevent even one death on the ground in Georgia.   But for all those who think the UN is so terrific, we have stated our case.  (I personally think it wouldn’t matter one whit if we walked the UN tomorrow, but that is a topic for another day).   Second, we have gone very public with our denounciation of Russian actions.   That is always important.   The world does know our position.  Thirdly, we have sent in the humanitarian aid in our military planes to the Tbilisi.   That is a huge deal.   It is the equivalent of the Navy “showing the flag” off some coast of concern.    The Russians would have to think very hard and long before they interferred with our military planes carrying those supplies.   Downing one of them would be a causi belli and bring our respective armed forces face to face with each other.   Something I don’t think even the most bellicose of the Russians would want to risk.  Fact is even with our forces stretched thin we would destroy them.   I won’t go into all the tactics and strategies here; that would take pages but they know it too.   Neither of us would like the outcome but we would be much more viable than they after such a conflict.

Did you notice on the newscasts that some of their troops were out of uniform and even drunk while on duty?   Others were waving around their guns at reporters and aid workers.   That is the mark of a very weak army with a complete lack of discipline.   Armies that have no discipline do not win battles.   At our worst in Iraq you have not seen any such similar episodes with our troops.   Yeah, I know Abu Grab but that is rear echolon troops.   You never saw front line troops acting like those Russians.  Those were incredibly telling visauls of the state of the Russian Army.   It is an army in disarray.   They have equiptment but not the training or grit to deal with adversity.   The Georgians were too small and weak to offer any significant resistance.

What can we do?   Well, there are many economic options.  I for one am willing to give them a try.   But they do have consequences and don’t come back crying on mommy’s apron if things get tough for those of you who think we should be really tough.   We can not let them in G8, that will hurt them.   We can pressure Turkey to impose sanctions on them and restrict their access rights throught the Bosphorous Sea.  That would be a very strong and provocative move and we would have to be wiling to face very severe backlash from Russia.   We must have Turkey on our side for just about anything we do.  Just take a look at the map and you can see why that is true.  We could even seize Russian assets in the US.  That is billions of dollars worth.  Once again that would have serious blowback.  Are you ready for that?

Lastly, how much are you willing to push on our NATO allies in Europe?  Germany in particular is dependent on Russian natural gas and so are others there.  What can we offer them if Russia halted that flow of gas?   The pipeline runs through their territory and we couldn’t stop them without military action from simply shutting down the pipeline.    Unless Europe is on board and willing to make some sacrifices our options are limited even more.   We can seize those assets without help from anyone, but every other economic sanction will require cooperation of our allies. 

Of course the Russians will have their own set of difficult issues to deal with.  They do want and need trade with the West to reach and maintain the prosperity that their people want and demand these days.   After all if they cut off the gas to Europe, the Germans, etc would have a real hardship but the Russians wouldn’t be getting any of the money from the West that it wants so badly.   Further, Russia would be deprived of the technical and engineering expertise it needs to develop its oil and gas fields.  The fact is they don’t know how to do it nearly as well as we do in the West.   They need the trade with us in the long run more than we need them as trading partners; that is the bottom line reality.

So, to be specific, we should exercise all our economic clout against Russia.  Staring with a public statement there is no G8 and they won’t be invited even as observers to G7 meeting.   An embargo on Russian goods in the US should be implemented and our European allies should do the same (except for gas) and run the risk that Russia will want the revenue from the gas bad enough to not cut it off.   Lastly, if the above doesn’t produce the results we can seize those assets.

For the more belligerently minded we could move the  5th Fleet into the Black Sea.  That alone would be almost a declaration of war.  It would sure give the Russians reason to pause and think about what they are doing and what is in their long term best interest.

I imply and you infer.  I state something which gives you a hint of what I want you to conclude and I am making the implication.   You use your deductive reasoning to infer the conlcusion from the facts stated.   You see those terms misused so often especially in the entertainment and sports’ sections of the paper.

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Lessons for today from the Hundred Years War

This won’t be as boring as you might think.   I know most of you have only the vaguest memory of the Hundred years War and want it meant or maybe even who the opposing sides where.  Well, it was England and France and was fought from the mid 1300’s to the mid 1400’s.  Of course it was not constant warfare between the two antagonists.  There were periods of truce between them but for the most part they were at war with each other over the area of western France.  The crux of the struggle goes back even farther into the marriages of English Kings to Princesses from western France and you might even say to William the Conqueor, or William the Bastard as he was also known.   Suffice it to say that the English Kings for a couple of centuries believed they had the hereditary right to much of western France and naturally the French Kings opposed the claim for the most part.    There was a string of ports on the west coast of France that were of particular interests to the English Kings because of their strategic location and value as trading ports.   Dunkerque and Calais are two of them that  you would recognize today.

The Hundred Years War also produced Jean D’Arc who you have surely heard about.  She lead the French in opposing the English in one of the campaigns and received a certain renown.  But she was ultimately betrayed by her own side and burned at the stake by the English with the complicity of her French rulers. 

I know you don’t recall the three major battles of that War.  I do.  Yes, it is mosly useless information, but they were Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt.  The last battle was made famous by someone you have heard of–Shakespeare.  He based the conclusion of Henry the Vth on the battle.  There is the very well known oration by the King at the beginning of the battle–“we few, we brave…..band of brothers”.   That last phrase was used by Stephen Ambrose in his book and was made into the recent HBO miniseries by Spielberg and Hanks–“Band of Brothers”.

The English won all three of the major battles but ultimately did not prevail in maintaining any portion of western France as part of the English domain.   The last battle–Agincourt –has special lessons about humanity and our proclivity to subcumb to our baser instincts.   The battle field was on a narrow field surrounded on all side by forests and not suitable for the Knights to manouever their mounts to full effect.   The French outmanned the English  that day by substantial numbers and at that time that was of some significance because of the mano a mano nature of most battles.   The English had been traispsing around France for weeks and were tired, sick and mostly just wanted to go back home at this point but the French found them and had them trapped and the English choice was fight or surrender.

The battle was lost by the French because of greed and hubris more than military tactics.   You must understand that in those days the way to fame and fortune for many was battle field accomplishments.  Many Knights wanted the glory of victory one on one and there was the added incentive that if you  could capture a foe you were allowed to take him as your personal prisoner which meant that you could hold him for ransom from his family.  Sometimes if the enemy was important enough the King would demand he be turned over to him but would give a share of the ransom to the capturing Knight or even commoner.  Taking ransom was very common at the time.  Remember the story of Richard the Lionhearted being held captive after his Crusade?  The same thing was still prevalent at the time of this battle.  Even commoners in the ranks could hope for a Knighthood or other advancement by their feats on the battlefield.   This was a battle that the French should have won.  They knew it at the time and were eager for the glory and the possible loot to be attained.  As they arrayed themselves on the battlefield the French were over eager.  Everyone kept pushing up to the front lines to make sure they would be the first to fell a foe or take a captive.  They did not wait for a battle plan to emerge.  The front ranks of the French Knights soon took off without orders to join battle and get their glory and gold.

The English long bowmen decimated the line of French Knights, but the hordes behind them keep pushing forward, each anxious for their own chance at the English.  The English were in a compact line between the forests and thus the greater numbrs of the French were not as telling as they would have been because only so many at a time could  come to blows with the English.   The back ranks of the French kept pressing forward thinking their comrades in front were destroying the English, not realizing that they were in fact being wiped out by the English.  But the quest for that glory and the chance to seize riches was irresistable to the French.   The meat grinder kept being fed by the French themselves, each believing Eden was right before them when it was only an English abattoir. 

It was a stunning victory for the English.   A victory that was truly for the French to lose.   The English won the battle but were so depleted and exhausted that they soon went back to England.   France ultimately won the war.  They were destined to win it as a matter of simple geography.   They had the interior lines of defense and did not have to cross the channel.

All the advantages that day lay with the French.  It is important to understand why they lost.   It was not due to lack of bravery or military skill or manpower.   It was their individual desire for that glory and gold.   That lesson is as important today as it was 6 centuries ago.   Greed in all its forms may fuel ambition but will in every instance open the gates of destruction.

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Russia invades Georgia, again

Stalin was born in Georgia.  It has been part of Russia or a Russian sphere of influence for centuries.  Often that history and control by Russia has been tenuous and turbulent.  With the recent events of the last days and the world’s eyes on that part of the world it is uselfu to recall some of the history of that region.   It will help put the current struggles and events in some context.  Events always have a context even though you wouldn’t know it by reading the media reports of today’s world.  The modern media acts like the only thing of importance is what they have reported in the last twenty four hours.

Georgia has had a history of rebelling against Russian dominance for centuries.   This goes back a long way and has much to do with the geography of the region and the religious and ethnic differences between Moscow and Georgia.  As I have written before be sure you look at a map.   You can see why it is both an important area and a hard one to control.  To some extent it is fair to say the Georgia is somewhat akin to our own Appalachia.  It is remote because of its location and the topograhpy of the area–mostly mountainous and isolated.   You will also notice that it is on the Black Sea.  That is of immense importance and has been going back to Biblical times.   Being on the Black Sea means you are connected to the Mediterrean Sea and thus to the “World”.   It was one of the earlist areas to become Christian and has always had a bit different slant on its Christian beliefs, going all the way back to the Gnostics.   Its location connects it with the Muslim world and the Christian world and the oil regions of the middle east and the commercial west.  

Russis has wanted a warm water port for centuries.  St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great to mitigate the lack of a warm water port for Russia.  Russia and the Turks have been adversaries since the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  That tension has been over Russian desires to be able to ship its goods through the Bosphorous Straits to the the Mediterrean and the countervailing wish of the Turks and Muslims to control that access for their own ends.  The Turks wanted to control that narrow waterway much like a tollroad and they would be they gatekeepers.  Please look at a map of the region and you can see that Turkey controls that access between Asia Minor and Istanbul as it is called now.  Catherine the Great spent almost her entire reign as Tsarina either fighting the Turks, planning her next fight with them or recovering from her last fight with them.   The Crimean War was fought to determine who would have control of the Black Sea outlet to the Mediterrean Sea.  The British fought on the side of the Turks because they believed the Turks would act as their surrogates in the area.   Remember the poem about the Charge of the Light Brigade?    Our Cardigan sweater comes from the type of sweater worn by the British commander during that war.  That war was fought immediately before our War Between the States.

The Georgians have been preceived by the Russians as Hillbilies for a very long time.  They think of them as brutish and uneducated and clannish.  All of those stereotypes do have an element of truth in them.   Remember that Turkey is a member of NATO and that has rankled the Russkies for decades.  When Georgia broke away in the early ’90’s Russia was enfeebled by its own domestic conflicts and disruptions.   But the Russian Bear is feeling its oats these days and is weary of being pestered by a second rate country as they preceive Georgia.   We must be aware that Russia has a real army and navy and air force.    It is armed with thousands of nukes and can’t be arm wrestled into submission.   This is a serious conflict and we must proceed with caution.  It is in the national interest of Russia to seek and maintain that warm water link to the world and to have an influence these days over the flow of oil and gas to the west.   Russia is the second largest exporter of oil and gas products in the world at this time.  That is so often overlooked.   They have a vital interest in the pertoleum markets worldwide.  We can’t deny that.  We might not like it but we have our national interest too to be protected.   Georgia with all its faults does have a democracy of sorts and it is in our interest that it prevail and exist as a counterbalance to Russian dominance in the region; a very vital region if we are to have some peace in this world.

I think that when it is done that Russia will allow Georgia to exist but will give it this strong reminder not to tease or torment its larger neighbor.   Russia would not want the headache of occupying Georgia.  That would be a severe drain on them and the Georgians would see to that by rebelling and making trouble at every turn.  Something that the Georgians have been good at doing for centuries.  Even the Soviet Union had a hard time controlling that area during the height of the Stalinist era.  Russia wants to make sure that Georgia is in its sphere of influence but not take on a constant rebellion in such a remote area.  Those mountains are perfect for rebel raids and incursions.  

Again a little history and geography can go a long way in understanding what is happening in today’s headlines.

There were those who believed that the lost 13th tribe of Israel had migrated to the area of Georgia  and the additional area from there to the Caspian Sea.   In the early centuries after the death of Christ the ruler of this area had a debating contest between the major religions and chose Judaism but it didn’t last as we all know.  Some believe those early “jews” became the jews who migrated to Poland.

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Diplomacy then for use now

Regardless of how our election turns out the US will have to negotiate and deal with friend and foe alike for our security and to protect our vital interests at home and abroad.  I really don’t like for politicians of any stripe to “select” their historical examples and use them out of context when offering their own pet project or view of relationships with other nations.   You have surely read that we did indeed support the Muhahjidin (various spellings) in Afgahanistan when the Soviets invaded and that they are the same folks who brought us the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.   That is far too simplistic a look at the situation.   Yes we did help some of those folks fight the Soviets and for very good reasons.   At the time it was important to restrain the Soviet expansion as best we could.   The opponents to the Soviets were a mixed bag of people divided into at least 7 major groups and they did include some very  radical types.   In international relations you do find yourself often with unpleasant bedfellows for a period of time.   History is replete with examples of this for all the major nations of the world.   Some seem to take a nihilistic view that it doesn’t matter who you team up with and that causes can be relevant.  I disagree.

In the months leading up to WWII there was a great deal  of intense negotiations between the major powers to thrwart German hegemony in Europe.  Britain and France tried to make a deal with the Soviets for a military alliance to make the Germans back off.   It didn’t work.   As you know only two weeks before the guns fired on Poland the Soviets in fact made a deal with Germany and in the bargain got almost half of Poland and “control” over the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia and a few other ethnic areas in western Russia and the Ukraine area.  Stalin was a bad person, really bad; he in fact killed more people during his reign than Hitler did during his.    Many in the West were most reluctant to make any kind of deal with Stalin but there were those who believed the greater good over the long haul was to reign in Fascism.   During the first months of the war, Stalin not only took his share of Poland, thank you very much, but he also invaded Finland that fall of 1939.   The West was so upset with that invasion that the British and French both offered assistance to Finland and it was only by happenstance as much as anything that the West didn’t go to war with Stalin then.  After Finland Latvia and Estonia were next on Stalin’s list and they were occupied in early 1940 by Soviet troops.  Stalin didn’t just have a sphere of influence there anymore but outright domination.  Those countries except for a brief time during the war would remain under Soviet control until the end of the Cold War.   You should know too that many of the Latvians and Estonians were most eager to see the Germans and viewed them as liberators from the Communists.  Many of them even volunteered to join the German army for the express purpose of fighting the Communists.

The war was almost two years old before Germany invaded the USSR.  During all that time the alliance between Stalin and Hitler was in place.  Only after that invasion did Stalin all of a sudden become our new best friend.   Make no mistake about it we made a deal with the devil to defeat another Satan.   We don’t need to even go into detail here to recall the future purges and use of the Gulag and deaths caused by Stalin after the war right up to the time of his own death in 1953.

This is offered to give reflection about our current world situation.  Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Norh Korea and yes our old pal Russia are going to present us with many challenges in the future and we may make other bargains where we have to hold our nose for a while.   It is legitimate for us to protect our interests and look to the security of our people.  The world can be a dangerous place sometimes and we have to deal with dangerous people and circumstances whether we like it or not.   Read your own history, read a lot and look at those maps and  make an informed opinion about how we should deal with the current world difficulties.  Serious thought for serious problems is all I ask.

I do marathons and I am often asked why the distance is 26.2 miles.  Yes it is an odd number.  It was originally designed to be 26 miles (the distance run by a messenger bringing news of victory from Marathon to Athens) but at the renewal of the Olympics over a hundred years ago the organizers planned for the marathon to finish inside the Olympic stadium.   Everything was set except at the last moment as it were, they noticed that the Royal box was not on the finish line and they certainly couldn’t ask Royalty to move.  So the race was extended around the stadium to the box–an extra 385 yards.  To this day that has remained the official distance for the marathon races.

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The Dark Side or Humanity 101

We are going to conduct a test or experiment this morning.  Don’t worry, there will not be a written quiz on it later and I promise it will not be a question on the Final Exam.  This is for your own evaluation of who you are and how we all fit together or don’t fit together.  There is something to be said for both.  We do have to get along to some degree but we all have an urge to march to our own drummer too on occasion.  How dull if we all marched in lockstep throughout our entire lives.  Maybe this exercise will reveal something about yourself and if that is all it achieves then it has served a useful purpose.


We are going to play a game of pretend–a pretend tragedy.  Imagine someplace in the world very far away, remote and where you have no connection other than the fact that you and the people there inhabit the same planet.  Now imagine that they are not “friendly”.  You are free to define unfriendly as you wish.  These people are about 500,000,000 in number out of the world population of almost 7 billion at the moment. One pretend day they all simply disappear due to whatever pretend tragedy you can conjure up.  How would you feel about so many deaths at once like that and how would that event affect your life?   Remember this is far away. You don’t know any of them other than as images on the flat screen.


Would you cancel your golf game for the weekend?  Feel so sad you couldn’t go to work?  Not celebrate your child’s  5th birthday party scheduled for the next day?  Even those who are very socially conscious and active in all sorts of save the world efforts would have to react one way or the other.  You know the types– the ones you seeing crying when some newt is threatened with extinction on a small tributary of a river.  Would they not go to Starbucks and order their latte and New York Times?  After a week had passed would you even remember that it had occurred?


Remember you are not being graded on this.  Your response is just that–yours.  You don’t have to justify it to anyone.  All you are required to do is be honest. If you can’t be honest with yourself then all is lost.


One more twist to the scenario will wrap it up.  Since these people were “unfriendly” as you defined that  term (some of you might think of right wing Christian Evangelicals as unfriendly–it is yours to define), now imagine that there is a button on your desk right there.  No one knows it exists but you.  This tragic event (or is it tragic)  will only happen if you push the button.  Will you push the button?   Remember the scene in the old Jack Lemmon movie with Virna Lisi–“How to Murder Your Wife” where his lawyer defending him at the trial drew a chalk mark on the rail in front of the jury.  Then the lawyer asked them if they pushed the button their spouse would disappear and no one would know and would they do it.  There would be no consequences to you other than whatever emotional reaction if any you had to the event. One small touch and “they” are gone.


If you played along with this pretend game honestly with yourself you should have learned something about yourself.  Maybe you even reflected on how others might react.  Whatever your view it is revealing about human nature.  We have our dark side and also our caring and courageous side.  Often they exist side by side in that titanic struggle of human evolution or devolution if that is our fate through ignorance and our own bad choices.


Stand tall.  My mom used to tell me that all the time when I was young.  Those two words do convey a plethora of value.  It is certainly more than just about good posture.


As always I enjoy intelligent conversation and even debate.  Thanks for listening.

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Military Adages to Live By

Over the centuries various military leaders and armies have developed certain theories about war and  battle that have quite useful recommendations for our everyday life.  Some of these you can see demonstrated in Creasy’s  15 Decisive Battles of the World and also in Von Clausewitz’s “On War” .  You should at least browse through that some day.  It is more about politics and human nature than it is about military tactics.   Compare reading it to Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.

Reinforce success.   This is a tried and true principle of battle regardless of the size of the battle.  The concept is straightforward.  When you are engaged with the enemy and some portion of your army is meeting with success and the enemy is off balance or retreating even, that is where you send the reinforcements.  You take advantage of the situation and exploit it.  Think of your own life and how that can apply. It certainly has tremendous application in the business world.   History is replete with examples of how this principle won the day for many of the great war leaders and also those titans of industry or politics.

As so often in life the victory goes to the bold.  You must make each success complete and push it to the limit.

Hold your ground or withdraw from failure.   Yes, it is pretty much the opposite of the above but there are some subtle distinctions.  You don’t just run off and retreat where the going is tough.  A withdrawal is organized not a fleeing mob.   You assess the situation while supporting your successes.  Don’t panic and run quickly.   This one is useful too for knowing when to cut and run and live to fight another day.  Washington was superb at this.  He spent almost the entire Revolutionary War withdrawing from one failure after another, but did indeed keep his army intact and you know the end of the story.   A recent and very flagrant example of the consequences of violating this doctrine was Hitler at the battle of Stalingrad in WWII.  His offensive stalled there.  Over a period of weeks it became apparent that success was not to be in that battle but he persisted anyway.   For a substantial time frame the overwhelming majority of the German Army there could have escaped but he forbade it, even against the advice of all his military staff.  The result was that over 500,000 Germans were killed wounded or captured and the tide of the war on the Eastern front was forever reversed.

Get there “furstest” with the “mostest”.  An old saying from a Confederate general and a restatement from earlier times, it wasn’t really original with him;  Alexander the Great used the same theory on many an occasion to defeat a larger foe when he would strike with his forces against a portion of the foe before they were organized.   It is taking on the enemy piece by piece but with you striking first and with more force than the enemy can bring to bear at a particular place and time.  If not for the successful use of this concept the South would have been overrun within the first year of the War Between the States.  Stonewall Jackson was the master at this strategy.

Gee, didn’t realize there was so much to cover.  We haven’t covered much on this topic.  I do believe that some of these ideas should be utilized in MBA programs.    Their proper and timely application brings benefit to business or politics.  We’ll explore more on this–logistics, communications and very importantly morale.

A man can have no greater achievement than being a good dad.

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