Category Archives: American History

Periodic World Craziness Update # 32

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.  

Iraqi Military Makes Gains North of Baghdad in Conflict With ISIS:  It will be interesting to see how the response to the ISIS offensive plays out both in Iraq and in the wider world.  The INA is a broken reed and any gains they make will be fleeting.  I fully expect a stalemate to ensue shortly wherein Iraq is effectively partitioned.  We are saying the beginning of bloody fighting.  Think of it as Sunni Triangle II.

Ukraine Says Russia Has 38,000 Troops on Border Amid ‘Invasion’:  The biggest news out of this story is not that Russia is massing limited numbers of troops on the Ukraine border or even that Russian SF agitators are probably already in Eastern Ukraine but that Gazprom has cut off gas supplies to Ukraine.  Supposedly through traffic to the EU is continuing but who thinks they won’t shut that off too if the EU gets too froggy about their support for Ukraine?

Putin Backs Cease-Fire in Ukraine Amid Russia Army Drills:  I am simply amazed at the level of duplicity displayed by Russia regarding events in Ukraine.  I am even more amazed that the Western powers are not calling them on it.  It is obvious that the rebels are getting arms from the Russians yet the European powers refuse to acknowledge that and when Ukrainian or US authorities say it aloud the silence from our supposed allies is deafening.

Ebola ‘out of control’ in West Africa: MSF: A new strain of the Ebola virus is a potential nightmare. It is 90% lethal and apparently the strain currently spreading through West Africa is more easily transmitted than previous strains although news reports are not explicitly saying that. If this virus ever becomes airborne transmissible, all bets are off.

Kerry issues warning after Syria bombs Iraq:  In the most ironic thing of all, I have to wonder if some Western leaders are privately beginning to think that Assad is not that bad after all?   At least Assad made sure that his corner of the middle east was fairly stable, and it is obvious that a large chunk of the Syrian people support him as well.

ISIS Tries to Grab Its Own Air Force:  The significance of Balad falling would not be in ISIS control of aircraft, but in Iraqi loss of same.  I find it difficult to believe that ISIS counts a large number of pilots in its ranks, much less pilots qualified to operate combat aircraft and the aircrew to keep them operational.  The fall of Balad and Taji, were it to occur, would be a further symptom of how rotten the Iraqi army is.  Of course, I called that ten years ago when I was helping to establish the first Iraqi training program for the INA we were rebuilding.

BREAKING: ISIS Shows Off MASSIVE SCUD Missile in Military Parade:  I am not certain that the Iraqis need to worry overmuch about ISIS getting their hands on artillery and SCUDs.  Those are very technical weapons and if they are not served right are more dangerous o the operator than the enemy.

Poroshenko ends Ukraine ceasefire, says government will attack rebels:  If Russia withdraws support for the rebels the separatists could be crushed within weeks.  If however, Russia is just playing for time then this could last months yet.  It is also significant that apparently someone has admitted that Russian control of European energy supplies is a major factor in the tepidness of the European response to blatant Russian aggression all along.  Of course, the time for strong sanctions and pressure on Russia is now when energy needs are not as acute as they will be this coming winter.

Ukrainian forces tighten grip on Slavyansk as retreating rebels regroup:  Now it is up to the Ukrainian Army to “keep up the skeer” and not pause in applying pressure to rebels who are now clearly on the defensive and have lost the initiative.

Hamas rockets reach Jerusalem and Tel Aviv:  I am curious to see if Israel will finally be smart, ignore international public opinion, and teach the Palestinian Arabs a brutal, bloody lesson they won’t forget for a generation.  They probably won’t though.  The Israelis will piss around, kill some Arabs, lose a few troops, and go back to the status quo.  Western leaders, Israel included, refuse to face the bitter truth that the only thing Arabs understand is force, everything else is weakness.

ISIS militants take sledgehammers to Mosul tomb of Prophet Jonah:  Yet more peaceful destruction from the adherents of the Religion of Peace.  Unless and until the Iraqi government gets their collective heads out of their 3rd point of contact ISIS and it’s adherents will continue to commit these outrages.

IDF strikes 80 Gaza targets in under thirty minutes:  One would think that at some point the Israelis are just going to evict all the Arabs from Gaza and bulldoze the slums that have been built there.

Germany Cites Deep Rift With U.S. Amid Second Spy Case:  If the allegations are true this is one of the dumbest possible things the US could do.  Germany has been a staunch US ally since the founding of the FRG in 1949.  What possible intelligence could be worth losing an ally?

Israeli troops wounded in first ground incursion in Gaza:  I wonder how long it will take Hamas to organize a mass firing on an Israeli city in hopes of overwhelming the Iron Dome system?  If something like that does happen then a ground invasion is a virtual certainty.

Russia warns Ukraine after shell crosses border:  The fighting in Ukraine continues with government forces slowly making inroads and regaining control of territory.  The likelihood of cross-border incidents only increases as gov. troops regain control of territory and I would not be surprised if at some point Russia does not use such an incident as a causus belli to get involved and support their proxies.

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate by Newt Gingrich

Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would probably have been a more interesting book if it had introduced some new ideas.  Sadly, it does not.  The book is nothing more than a rehashing of the tired ideas that have been floating around in conservative circles for years.

One would think that in 209 pages of text at least one original idea would appear.  The book is separated into 13 topical chapters with an introduction and a conclusion.  There is an extensive notes section and a surprisingly good index.

The topics cover everything from Education, to Healthcare, to Government and Business and much in between.  The essential argument of the book, and one I actually cannot disagree with is that the biggest problem in the US right now is government.  Government regulation and intellectual luddites are stifling innovation and holding the country back from making the conceptual leaps and paradigm shift that it is capable of to extend American leadership into the 21st century and beyond.

Speaker Gingrich makes an eloquent argument that over-regulation and political interests are holding the country back.  There is no reason for the current economic and societal malaise that we are not inflicting on ourselves.  I found especially demining his description of the over-cautious FDA drug and device approval process and the ways in which oil exploration and extraction in the US is being deliberately slowed and even stopped.  I share the Speakers concern that there is a large segment of people in America that actively want the country to fail and work to see that it does.  I find it equally dismaying that such people even exist.  What I don’t share is his optimism that there is a way out of the mess by working within the current system.  I hope that he is right and I am wrong.

Regardless, this is a well written book that explains the many issues presented in a rational and non-extremist manner.  Speaker Gingrich is a past master at making seemingly complex issues easy to understand, Breakout continues in that tradition and for that reason alone is worth reading.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary politics and the ways in which said politics are stifling progress both societally and technologically.

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Book Review: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 by Richard Overy

[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]

The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 is one of those books that is going to end up a standard work for a long time to come.  It is the single most comprehensive history of the Allied bombing of Germany and occupied Europe during WWII that I have seen since the strategic bombing survey published by the US government in the immediate post-war years.

I have a review copy of the book so the page counts may be a little different in the published version.  The book itself is 561 pages with 78 pages of notes, a 26 pages bibliography, and an 18 page index.  It is divided into six chapters.  The first three chapters are a chronological account of the air war over Germany and the last three are thematic dealing with the logic of bombing and the campaigns in Italy and the occupied countries.

Every book about the war talks about the bombing campaign and most take for granted that it was effective at least partially in reducing Germany’s war-making ability.  This book examines the war in detail and tries to establish the effectiveness, if any, of the Allied bombing offensive.  The answer is mixed at best.

It has always struck me as odd that despite the expenditure of hundreds of tons of bombs and the devastation of the center and surrounding regions of most industrial towns in Germany, german war production continued to increase throughout the war.  Indeed, the most productive war of the month in terms of number of tanks and aircraft constructed was march of 1945.  Given that, how could it be said that the bombing campaign was successful as many historians and the leaders of the campaign claimed?

The point of bombing was not to kill civilians, but to reduce the war making capacity of Germany.  What Dr. Overy makes clear is that while industrial capacity was negatively affected in the wake of many raids, what was lost was regained and then some so rapidly that production halts were temporary at best.  he attributes this to two causes; one, bombing accuracy was abysmal, and two, the Germans were very good at repairing damage and getting production lines running again.

It was considered a good raid by the british if there bombs fell within 5 miles of the target and three Americans thought within 3 miles was good.  Bombing accuracy was so bad because the bombers flew very high to avoid AA fire and in the case of the English, they flew at night.  The lower the bombers flew, the more accurate they were but they also suffered horrendous losses at low altitude due to AA fire and German fighters.

Added to bombing inaccuracy, was the depth and responsiveness of the German Civil and Air Defense Systems.  The Germans had a multitude of agencies tasked with dealing with raiding damage and the German people themselves pitched in to make things good.  The striking thing is that the Germans could have been even more effective if they had streamlined their civil defense organizations and avoided having a plethora of agencies trying to do the same thing.

The story of the bombing of italy shows that where the germans were very good, the Italians were very bad and italian civilians suffered as a result.  Of special interest is the discussion of the bombing of occupied countries and the response of the occupied people to the destruction and loss of life inherent in being bombed to get their freedom.

This is an outstanding book and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they are knowledgeable about the Allied Bombing campaign of WWII.  The book dispels some myths and puts the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of strategic bombing in context to who the war was won and the Nazis defeated.

Periodic World Craziness Update # 31

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Ukraine battles militants, Russia demands cash for gas:  The hijinks continue.  I am very curious to see what happens in the Elections on 25 May.  If the current regime is selected they gain instant credibility and legitimacy and I would expect them to double down on their efforts to crush the eastern separatists.

Hard for NATO to defend Baltic states from Russia – Spiegel:  This should not be news for anyone who has paid attention to the anemic state of the militaries of mos NATO countries.  The question is will Russia even go after the Baltic states?  I think the answer to that right now is no.

China Suspends Cybersecurity Cooperation With U.S. After Charges:  I sometimes wonder when China is going to come out in the open and make it clear that they are an enemy of the United States and the rest of the world.  So far they have been able to have it both ways and benefit from selling products to the West while acting contrary to Western interests.  Eventually that will cease when they can no longer achieve their geo-strategic goals through threats and bluster.

Egypt’s Brotherhood entrenched for war of attrition:  It looks as though the Egyptians should prepare themselves for years of low-level conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood.  A template is probably the decades long Turkish war with the PKK.

Poroshenko Declares Victory in Ukraine Presidential Election:  The question becomes will Poroschenko be able to get eastern Ukraine under control?  I think not.  I do however, think that his election will solidify the rest of Ukraine in determination to not allow the east to secede.  Putin is backing off for now, but I fully expect him to renew support for the rebels if it is convenient for him to do so.  Don’t think for a minute that Putin will not snap up more territory if he thinks he can do so cheaply.

China Sinking Fishing Vessel Raises Tensions With Vietnam:  Lest we forget that Ukraine is not the only flashpoint.  China continues its efforts to wrest control of offshore resources away from other asian countries.  Asia has the potential to be an even wider regional war than anything between Russia and the Ukraine.

Ukrainian separatists report heavy losses in Donetsk airport battle:  It looks like the Ukraine is not going to stand down and the election gives new legitimacy to Ukrainian efforts to stamp out the rebels.  The ball is definitely in the court of Putin now.  Will he step up support for the rebels?

U.S. to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan:  I will believe it when I see it.  I just cannot see Karzai signing the new SOFA after the stink and resistance to doing so he has made so far.  Karzai seem determined to cut his own throat, or maybe he does not realize that 20 minutes after the US turns out the lights he becomes target # 1 for the Taliban.

Lithuania accuses Russia of harassing ships in Baltic Sea:  If these incidents are true then Russia has decided to move the area of their hijinks since it is apparent that the Ukraine is willing to fight to to avoid losing any more territory and Putin is apparently unwilling to commit conventional forces to separate Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country.

Syria Elections a Forum to Celebrate Assad:  In other news, Assad gets reelected in a landslide, (who expected that?) and vows to continue his whooping of the rebels.  Absent foreign intervention there is now no question that assad will win.  Foreign intervention is likely not forthcoming mainly because of the significant jihadi presence among the rebels.  If there is one thing you can say for Assad it is that he generally keeps hi pet Jihadis under pretty tight control.

 Ukraine military launches offensive against rebels:  Given the rhetoric and legitimacy of Ukraines newly elected president I suspect the Ukrainians are fixing to get serious about retaking the east from the rebels.  I also fully expect that the pleas for western military assistance in the form of arms and armaments will increase as well.  What I cannot guess at is how those entreaties will be met.  The US should have plenty of excess equipment sitting around given how the admin is intent on gutting the US military.  We could give the Ukrainians MRAPs instead of giving them to local police in the US.

Militants Overrun Iraq’s Second-Largest City As Government Forces Flee:  Just so that we are not all distracted by events in Ukraine, let us not forget that the civil war in Iraq continues and the government forces are not doing so well.  If the Iraqi government were smart they would supply weapons to the Kurds and give them a free had to deal with the insurgents.  Since the government is not smart and focuses on sectarian policies they will not do so.

80% of Syria rebels are Islamist, senior IDF officer says:  These are the folks that the president is talking about arming.  Is ousting Assad worth providing arms and training to people ideologically affiliated with those who carried out the 9/11 attacks?

Insurgents in northern Iraq seize key cities, advance toward Baghdad:  The meltdown in Iraq continues.  It sure is nice to see that the corrupt government of Maliki is getting what many have said it would over the years.  His sectarian policies are finally bearing fruit and reigniting the Iraqi Civil War.  Now watch as the ISIS guys stay far away from the Kurds.  Mainly because the Kurds don’t mess around, they will kill an insurgent and then go find the insurgents family and kill them too.  That is how deal with Arab rebels, threaten to destroy their entire families, and then do it.

Ukraine minister: 3 tanks crossed border from Russia:  If true, this is yet another act of war on the part of Russia.

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner

The Battle of Antietam – 17 September, 1862

The Battle of Antietam is interesting for several reasons the most important of which for me is that it is the single bloodiest day in American military history. There have been bloodier battles in American wars but no single day matches the blood spilled on those Maryland fields that early day in 1862. The Union victory at Antietam, if you can call it a victory, also provided Abe Lincoln with the opportunity to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation. An executive act that was totally unconstitutional but that he did anyway for domestic and foreign political reasons.

Antietam was the final battle of Lee’s first invasion of the North and while it was not a decisive battle it changed things because of what came after.  If anything, from a purely tactical and operational standpoint the battle was a draw.  Both sides essentially beat themselves bloody over a few square miles of Maryland territory that neither considered vital.  The battle is only considered a Union victory because Lee took his army and left instead of renewing the fighting for a second day leaving the Army of the Potomac in possession of the battlefield.

The commander of the 75,000 man, six Corps strong Union Army of the Potomac was General George B. McClellan.  He was opposed the 39,000 man two Corps Confederate Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General Robert E. Lee.

In the fall of 1862 following the Confederate victory at Second Manassas Lee decided to invade Maryland. There were several competing reasons for this decision. One was that it was thought that that best way to force the Union to a negotiated settlement was to inflict a defeat on Northern forces on northern soil. Another was the hope that by successfully taking the war to the North the Southern states could win foreign recognition and potentially aid. It was also believed that Maryland was the state still in the Union whose population was the most sympathetic to the southern cause. Lastly, Lee believed that by invading Maryland and threatening the capture of Washington D.C. he could force the Army of the Potomac under McClellan to accept battle on his terms.

The invasion began on 3 Sep. 1862 and almost immediately (McClellan was a notorious slowpoke) provoked a reaction from the Union forces garrisoned in and around Washington D.C.

Movements at the Battle of Antietam Sep. 3-17, 1962 Map Courtesy CivilWar.org
Movements at the Battle of Antietam Sep. 3-17, 1962
Map Courtesy CivilWar.org

There were several skirmishes and minor battles prior to the culminating battle of the campaign at Antietam. The most significant of these was Stonewall Jackson’s capture of the federal garrison and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on Sep. 15th. This was the largest surrender of Federal troops during the war and the loss of weapons was considerable. The Confederates captured roughly 13,000 small arms, 200 wagons, and 73 artillery pieces when they took the Arsenal.

In the days leading up to the battle McClellan was slowly gathering all the disparate forces of the Army of the Potomac together and began to converge them west of Frederick in the vicinity of Sharpsburg.  By contrast Lee’s army straggled in from their scattered positions in Maryland on 15 & 16 Sep. but McClellan’s habitual caution allowed Lee the time to consolidate his position prior to the Union assault on the morning of the 17th.

The first engagements between the two armies was on the night of 16 Sep when the Federal I Corps (Hooker) encountered rebel pickets.
During the night the Federal  XII Corps (Mansfield) moved up in support of I Corps.

At around 0600 on 17 Sep Hooker’s Corps advanced and attacked the Confederate Left in the area of the North and East Woods and the Cornfield that was held by Stonewall Jackson’s Corps.  The attack was almost successful until Hooker’s Corps was hit in the flank by Hood’s division who drove off the Union attack.  As the I Corps retreated Mansfield was told that he was needed to cover the broken I Corps or the battle was lost before it really began.

As the XII Corps moved up to the attack Mansfield, it’s commander was mortally wounded and confusion briefly reigned as the 1st Division commander established his command of the Corps
At 0800 the XII Corps finally got into the fight and after heavy combat took and held the Dunker Church area unsupported by other Federal troops.

Morning attacks of the battle. Map Courtesy USACMH
Morning attacks of the battle.
Map Courtesy USACMH

At about 0830 the II Corps (Sumner) entered the battle passing through the area where I and XII Corps had been so severely handled by Jackson’s Corps earlier.  As the II Corps advanced into the battered formation of Jackson’s Corps they were  hit in the flank by Fresh troops Lee had sent from his right and last Confederate reserves who managed to halt the attack in and around the Dunker Church and Cornfield.  The failed attack by II Corps ended the first phase of the battle.

In the afternoon Sumner wanted to attack the Confederate left again because he believed the Rebels were more badly damaged than him and with the reinforcements from VI Corps he had the chance to

Afternoon movement's during the battle. Map Courtesy USACMH
Afternoon movement’s during the battle.
Map Courtesy USACMH

crush the Confederate left.  The matter was referred to McClellan who denied permission for the attack and probably squandered the Union’s best chance to decisively defeat Lee’s Army, which was exhausted of reserves.  The IX Corps (Burnside) begins to enter the battle around the Burnside Bridge at approximately 1300.  At 1600 the IX Corps attacks towards Sharpsburg but the attack falters as the Corps is attacked in the flank by the Division of A.P. Hill and falls back to the bridge by 1700.  This was the last major Federal assault of the day and ended the battle although skirmishing continued.

On 18 September both armies remained in position and Lee considered renewing the battle but taking his own casualties and federal strength into account he instead stars withdrawing his army south.  McLellan chose not to pursue the retreating Confederates out of a belief that Lee was falling back on significant reinforcements.

Battle casualties near the Dunker Church. Image: Library of Congress
Battle casualties near the Dunker Church.
Image: Library of Congress

With 3,782 dead and a total of 22,000 casualties out of 114,000 troops engaged the Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in the history of American Arms.   The next costliest battle I can think of that took place on one day and is continually mentioned is the D-Day invasion of Normandy. At D-Day the US had roughly 1,400 dead and a further 3,500 wounded out of approximately 80,000 invasion troops.  Casualties at Antietam were roughly 19% while at D-Day they were 4.5 % of troops engaged.

An afterword is that an image was captured at Antietam that was a rarity prior to WWI.  Namely, Alexander Gardener captured an image of the battle as it was happening.  If you look at the below image on the right side you can see Union cavalry lined up awaiting orders and on the left side you can see the infantry of both armies on the fighting wreathed in the smoke from artillery and their rifles.  If you blow the image up you can even see a couple of places where guys are dragging casualties away from the line.  Why this has not become an iconic image of the Civil War I have no idea.

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner
Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner