Category Archives: 20th Century

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Book Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop – The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

I picked up Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces because the book looked interesting and I was shocked at what happened in Boston during the search for the two bombers.  The sight of police officers kitted up like my platoon and I was in Iraq on TV pulling people out of their homes at gunpoint and then searching those homes without a warrant shocked and dismayed me.  Therefor the title of the book was at a minimum intriguing and I decided to read it.

The book itself is separated into 9 chapters in what is essentially chronological order.  There are 31 pages of endnotes by chapter and an index. The book is a history of policing in America with particular emphasis on the rise of SWAT teams since their inception in the late 60’s in Los Angeles.  While the book is obviously biased, that is to be expected from the title.  This is an advocacy book after all.  What concerned me was how well the author made and presented his case that American police departments are becoming less about fighting crime and more about becoming a quasi paramilitary force that ignores constitutional protections when convenient.

I thought that the book does make a pretty good case that police do look at citizens as the enemy.  If you have had any run ins with law enforcement recently from a traffic stop to airport security, much less had your house invaded by a SWAT team it is evident that police take an us and them mentality.  Personally, I find it amazing that SWAT teams have become so prevalent and as the book makes very clear, there is no basis for them as the vast majority of the time SWAT raids turn up no weapons, and often nothing else.

There are many examples in the book of SWAT raids gone wrong but SWAT is not the biggest of the problems detailed in the book. The biggest problem the book points out is two faceted and that is the way in which law enforcement has been politicized and how compliant courts have stood by and even encouraged law enforcement to ignore the 4th Amendment against unlawful search and seizure. Law enforcement has always been at least somewhat political but the author in m opinion, rightly  highlights how the “war on drugs” has been used to criminalize a large segment of society for victimless crimes.  Even more disturbing is the way in which judges apparently rubberstamp requests for no-knock warrants and then if something goes wrong or even the wrong house is raided neither officers nor departments are held to account.

There are situations where the use of a SWAT team and paramilitary tactics and methods are appropriate.  What this book says is not that SWAT teams need to be eliminated but that using one should be the exception and not the rule.  Mr. Balko makes a very compelling case for the overuse and abuse of both SWAT teams and no-knock warrants.  I highly recommend this book for its in-depth look at the way in which the Constitution is essentially being ignored in the pursuit of at best ill-defined law enforcement goals.

 

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

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Book Review: No End Save Victory by David Kaiser

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War is one of

those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII.  Oddly, this period is mentioned in every history of the war but the actual events in the US are glossed over such that American entry into the war is painted as inevitable.  David Kaiser’s work puts that notion to rest as he details the methods and means whereby FDR led the country into war.

The review copy I received is 343 pages of text with 40 pages of notes and an index.  It is divided into 9 chronological chapters that cover the period from May, 1940 to December, 1941 and America’s entry into World War II.

The text is engaging and very well written.  What struck me most about the period was the amount of foresight by FDR in setting up and guiding the apparatus to get America ready for fighting a global war.  The strategic changes between planning for hemispheric defense and projecting American power into Europe and the pacific are dealt with extremely well.  He also makes clear the extent to which FDR had to overcome resistance from within the government and military to entry into the war while at the same time trying to hold back the more hawkish members of his Cabinet.

One of the episodes that he deals with is the development of what came to be known as the Victory Plan.  I found it refreshing that he puts to rest the myth of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer putting the Victory Plan together by himself.  He correctly identifies that the Victory Plan was a collaborative effort between the military, industry, and civilian planners.  This point is also not belabored.  Wedemeyer made his name post-war on the claims that he developed the Victory Plan almost single handedly and subsequent research has exposed that for the myth that it is.

Another thing covered very well in the book is the extent to which government had to both control and cajole industry and labor to get them behind the effort of switching from civilian to war production.  This is something that is presented as a matter of course in most histories and this book exposes that for the hard effort that it was.

Most of all, the role of FDR is highlighted as the guiding force behind American preparedness for war.  The period prior to America’s entry into World War II is very interesting because it was never a done deal that America would enter the war despite the feeling among most policy makers that war was inevitable.  All the preparation and planning would not have made a whit of difference if the American people had not committed themselves to war.  That commitment came in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but it was the planning done by FDR and the military in the months prior to Pearl Harbor that meant America was ready, or nearly ready when war did come.

I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in World War II, but especially to people who think they are familiar with America’s role in that war.  An outstanding book.

 

The Battle of Pfaffenheck – 15-17 March 1945

I recently read The Armored Fist a unit history of the US 712th Independent Tank Battalion in WWII.  One of the events described in detail in the book is the Battle for the town of Pfaffenheck in between the Rhine and Moselle rivers in March of 1945.   The event that stuck out at me from the battle was the destruction of an American tank, which killed the driver, Billy Wolfe.  I had the opportunity to visit the town in March, 2014 shortly after the 69th Anniversary of the  battle.

The Battle of Pfaffenheck was fought between soldies froom the 357th Infantry Regiment of the US 90th IN Division, the 2nd Platoon of C Company 712th Independent US Tank Battalion, and German troops of the 6th SS Mountain Division North (Gebirgsjäger).  The 6th SS Division has an interesting history itself.  The unit spent most of the war fighting in Finland and when that country made peace with the Soviets the 6th SS made an overland trek through Sweden to Norway where they transferred to Germany and fought in the Vosges Mountains of northern France over the winter.

Pfaffenheck
Locations of actions in the battle for Pfaffenheck

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Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe

To say that the Polish-Soviet War was a continuation of The Great War would be a lie.

Certainly, the vacuum of power from the Vistula to the Dnieper had something to do with it, but it does not account for behaviors that Americans will always find opaque and odd when visiting Eastern European history.

The Polish side had brandished rifles at one another during the previous international conflict. They were now united for everything reactionary and terrible (in the eyes of the Bolsheviks): defense of their homeland against the international worker’s revolution (led by soft-handed bourgeois intellectuals).

One anachronism would be the idea of a champion swordsman challenging the other side to single-handed combat before the bivouacking belligerents: this seems like something out of The Iliad, but it happened in 1920.

Another anachronism would be the idea of living off the land, leaving nothing but smoke, ashes and corpses in their midst. This was the Russian side: it is even documented that when entering Roman Catholic churches they made it a point to defecate on the alters and pews.

The reason for the Polish victory had little to do with any kind of inspirational or military genius from that of Piłsudski.  Victory lied in the fact that Polish morale was higher due to the motivation of defense of their homes and the reinstatement of their nation, compared to an abstract idea of spreading a worker’s revolution from Japan to the pillars of Hercules.

The other reason, and I may take flack for saying this, was the absolute superiority of the Polish cipher-breaking team, who broke and read Moscow’s encrypted communications and knew exactly what their enemy was thinking.

The Russians had over 5,000,000 men at their disposal, and world victory seemed a certainty. The Polish side did not have reserves, and had a desertion rate that rivaled the Russians.  Polish victory had much to due with the morale of the officer class and breaking the communications, and little to due with superior equipment or organization.

Adam Zamoyski is a direct descendent of the Hetman Jan Zamoyski. Zamość, a city created after his namesake is an amazing town to visit, and if you ever get there, speak with the locals who will show you around and who will be able to tell you where battles occurred during the life of Zamoyski, and in both of the world wars.

The perpetual theme here is the idea of Poland as an irritating roadblock for Russia: the true purpose was to take over Germany, and use it as a launching pad for worldwide communist revolution. Things didn’t go their way this time around.

I could not recommend this book highly enough.