Thursday, August 25, 2016

Congratulations to Fiji!

Hearty congratulations to Fiji for winning their first Olympic medal ever in Rio in 2016!  They were the gold medal champions in Rugby Sevens where they looked truly unstoppable.  The American team lost 24 to 19 against Fiji in Rio which was a highly respectable performance for the Eagles.  Astonishingly the Americans were the defending Olympic rugby champions -- from 1924 (see earlier post...!

Naturally I must ask whether Americans ever invaded or fought in Fiji.  Readers of our book America Invades will know that the answer is "Yes!"

Here is the Fiji chapter of America Invades...

"Fiji is a Pacific island nation that includes hundreds of islands. Fiji, whose national motto is “Fear God and honour the Queen,” dropped the image of Queen Elizabeth II from its currency in the twenty-first century.

For a country that, in the late nineteenth century, was firmly within the British sphere of influence, we actually had a surprising amount of military involvement with Fiji prior to that. Mostly this was concerned with the USN attempting, sometimes rather forcefully, to secure recompense on behalf of Americans who’d had their property on the islands damaged in some of the conflicts that occurred during that period.

Already by 1840, the United States Exploring Expedition was doing a bit more than just exploring Fiji. Somehow, two USN personnel were killed by locals, and in a response, a force of US sailors was landed. Two villages were burned, and a number of Fijians were killed.

Then we come to a certain John Brown Williams. John Brown Williams owned a store in Fiji, and he also happened to be the US consul. His store suffered assorted damage, and by 1855, the USN was returning to the island again demanding tens of thousands of dollars in compensation for damage to US property. Now tens of thousands of dollars is a lot of money these days but it was a lot, lot more then. Marines and sailors from the USS John Adams went ashore in an attempt to capture the local ruler Cakobau. The landing party defeated local resistance, but one sailor was killed and two marines wounded, and Cakobau escaped.

In 1858, the USN was once again in Fiji, with USS Vandalia, demanding compensation. And in 1867, USS Tuscarora arrived at Levuka and threatened to open fire unless compensation was paid.
Eventually Cakobau decided that forming a government with assorted settlers and, in the end, having the islands taken over by Britain was his best option for dealing with his problems, so that’s what he did.

The US military returned to Fiji during World War II, though this time it was on a much friendlier basis. New Zealand forces had previously been assisting the local defenders of the islands, but in 1942, we took over. Bomber squadrons were based at Nadi. We assisted with 155mm coastal defense artillery and anti-aircraft defense, and the 37th Division, which had originally intended to go to Northern Ireland, arrived in Fiji and Tonga instead. Quite a change. Assorted US facilities were built, including the Martintar Naval Air Station. Some of our troops trained on a Fijian island prior to the attack on Guadalcanal, and while the situation on Guadalcanal remained uncertain, Fiji remained at risk from a Japanese invasion.

Fiji became independent from Britain in 1970. After the coup in Fiji in 1987, the United States suspended defense cooperation. Another government was toppled in 2000, and another coup took place in 2006, which the United States condemned."

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

The President's Book of Secrets

The Secret is out!

David Priess has written a remarkable book titled The President's Book of Secrets ( which shatters many of the prevailing myths which surround the CIA.  Priess, a former CIA briefer himself, takes the reader on a deep dive into the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB).  This daily intelligence briefing, prepared by the CIA, will now be shared by both Presidential aspirants Trump and Clinton.

Priess traces the origins and history of the PDB.  Why is there is PDB?  The simple answer avoid future Pearl Harbors.  This book was not really initiated by the intelligence community until the Kennedy administration.  Today the PDB is delivered on a secure IPad to President Obama.

Different Presidents have used intelligence in very different ways.  Nixon was deeply suspicious of the CIA, suspecting that is was an elite East coast institution that was hostile to his interests.  Stacks of the reports piled up unread.  Nixon relied upon Kissinger for foreign policy expertise and Priess notes one CIA analyst noting that "Kissinger didn't give a crap about the PDB."

Two Bush Presidents, Dallas, TX
George H.W. Bush, as a former Director of the CIA, was far more engaged with the PDB.  He would take daily briefings with CIA analysts to probe its contents further.  This was a habit that his son picked up as well.

Priess, a former CIA briefer himself, managed to get amazing access to many powerful officials on both sides of the aisle.  George H. W. Bush wrote a Foreword to the book praising "the remarkable men and women who make up our intelligence community."

Some of the books most interesting details concern the Gulf War of 1990-91.  The Bush administration decided not to the kick off the ground war in Kuwait until half of Saddam's tanks had been destroyed from the air.  But CIA and Defense department assessments of the number of tanks destroyed by enemy air power differed.  CENTCOM tended to overestimate the number of tanks destroyed versus the CIA.  President Bush ascribed the difference to "pilot euphoria" with which he was personally familiar from his service as a naval aviator in World War II.  When Operation Desert Storm, the ground campaign, was eventually ordered to begin in 1991 it only took one hundred hours to liberate Kuwait.  Coalition casualties were much lower than the bloodbath that had been widely predicted by the punditry.
James Bond for liberals
Entertainment NOT Reality
Many Americans have a completely distorted view of the role of the CIA.  Based the most recent film Jason Bourne, they may presume that the job of its Director is to kill or torture as many of its own agents as possible.  Others have read only polemics that rail against the CIA such as Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes (

Priess's book is an antidote to the popular and grossly distorted view that so many Americans hold of the CIA and our intelligence services.

Intelligence gathering is an art rather than a science.  No one bats a thousand and no one can get it right all the time.  The CIA has had many failings over its history.  They failed to warn about the coming of the Iranian Revolution in the Carter years. Their database supplied the wrong coordinates which led to the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.  They failed to adequately warn President George W. Bush about the intentions and capabilities of Al Qaeda prior to the devastating 9/11 attack.

Nor is the imperfection of intelligence services anything new.  I suspect that it is only a matter of time before archaeologists working near the site of ancient Troy find an inscription documenting that King Priam's chief of intelligence informed him that it was a "slam dunk" that the wooden horse brought by the Greeks was empty!

But the intelligence services do get it right more often than not.  The CIA is a well funded organization staffed with thousands of dedicated and talented translators, engineers, analysts and some field agents.  Everyone hears about their failures.  But their many successes go unheralded and unacknowledged.  Priess's important and timely book is an attempt to redress this imbalance.

There is some comfort in knowing that, regardless of who is elected this fall, our President will be served the best available intelligence covering threats around the world.  Presidents that engage actively with the intelligence community and take live briefings are much better served than those that take a more passive approach.

Special thanks to the FDR Library's Roosevelt Reading Festival which takes place every June in Hyde Park, NY (  This June I had the pleasure of meeting David Priess in Hyde Park where both of us gave presentations on our books. 

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Friday, July 15, 2016

America's Military Connection to Turkey

Chaos in Turkey 2016

The failed coup which roiled Turkey comes at a time of heightened fear due to terrorism and the prolonged agony of the Syrian Civil War.  The worst refugee crisis since World War II has had a devastating impact on Turkey in addition to the Middle East and Europe.

Americans and particularly our military have played a surprisingly large role in Turkish history for many years.  This is the Turkey chapter of our book America Invades...

"Turkey’s ancient capital, Istanbul, was once Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium and the Eastern Roman Empire. Digging deeper into its past, Heinrich Schliemann found the ancient ruins of Troy in Turkey in the nineteenth century.

A Turkish-American trade treaty was signed in 1830. And Americans helped start the process of modernizing the Turkish navy, operating the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Haliç. Two Americans, Charles Ross and Forster Rhodes, served as naval advisors to the sultan.

In 1849, the USN intervened in Smyrna (now Izmir) when an American was detained there. And in 1856, the navy returned to Smyrna for what has to be one of the navy’s more unusual missions. Jefferson Davis wanted to form an experimental United States Army Camel Corps for service in territory recently acquired from Mexico. So the USS Supply was sent to Smyrna to get camels. And get camels it did and took them to Indianola, Texas.

In the later nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was described, perhaps by Tsar Nicholas I, as being “the sick man of Europe.” Their once vast empire seemed to many observers to be in a protracted period of disintegration and decline.

In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out, which removed from Ottoman control most of what remained of its territory in Europe. And towards the end of that year, American troops were put on duty guarding the American legation in Istanbul.

Admiral Bucknam
Turkey's American Admiral
Meanwhile, one North America deeply involved in the Balkan Wars was Rear Admiral Bucknam who continued the tradition of American links with the Ottoman Navy by heading it. Ransford D. Bucknam was born in Canada but had been working in America and, according to some sources, became an American citizen. He had arrived from Philadelphia on board a gunboat built for the Turks and stayed on to captain it for them. During the First Balkan War, he engineered a sortie through the Dardanelles by a Turkish cruiser, which sank a number of Greek ships and shelled coastal fortifications. He died in 1915.

In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was allied to the Central Powers. The United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, declared war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1917, shortly after our declaration against Germany. US forces were not deployed against Turkey, although the American reporter Lowell Thomas launched his career by promoting Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign against the Turks in the Middle East.

American marines landed in Turkey shortly after the war. In 1919, during the Greek occupation of the city, marines from the USS Arizona were sent to guard the US consulate in Istanbul. And again in 1922, troops were landed in Smyrna (Izmir) to protect US citizens and property there.
Actually, we could have ended up running part of Turkey after World War I because there was discussion among the Allies about forming an American mandate in the area.
Kemal Atatürk
In 1923, Kemal Atatürk became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern secular Turkish state.

Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II, and consequently, Istanbul became a hotbed of espionage intrigue. The OSS maintained an important base in neutral Istanbul during the Second World War as Axis and Allied espionage and diplomatic services all plotted to bring Turkey over to their side in the war. The question of chrome shipments to Germany was also vital with Germany wanting them to continue and the Allies keen to stopping them. In the end, Turkey joined the Allied side in February 1945 and became a founding member of the United Nations.

The Turkish ambassador to the United States, Mehmet Munir Ertegun, died suddenly in Washington, DC, near the war’s end. A naval task force built around the USS Missouri was charged with returning the ashes of the ambassador to his home country. US authorities wished to send a message to Stalin to deter any aggressive moves against Turkey. The battleship was received with great pomp and circumstance by the Turks.

Mutual fear of the Soviet Union brought Turkey and the United States into a close partnership after the war, and that was reflected in extensive military links that have remained, with occasional hiccups, to the present. What follows will, therefore, be only a summary of some of the key elements in those links.

During the Korean War, a Turkish brigade served on the peninsula alongside American forces.
Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952 at the same time as Greece. And a formal defense treaty with us followed in 1959.

The Jupiter missiles, which may have been Khrushchev’s strategic target in the first place, were removed from Turkey after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The US military has made use of a range of facilities in Turkey. The most important is Incirlik Air Base, first used by the United States in 1951. It has long been a major US base and remains the home of the USAF 39th Air Wing with about five thousand personnel. It was a key base for operations during the crisis in Lebanon to the south of Turkey in 1958 (see “Lebanon”). The USN has made use of the major Turkish naval base at Aksaz. Turkey is also home to some key NATO headquarters.
Links between Turkey and the United States were strained in the 1970s due to the conflict in Cyprus and subsequent arms boycotts authorized by the US Congress but gradually recovered.

During the Gulf War, sorties were flown from Incirlik into Iraq. After the Gulf War, the base played a central role in efforts to help the Kurds in northern Iraq and in enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. In 2001, it again played a crucial role in facilitating air operations in Afghanistan. And 2001 was a big year for Incirlik in another sense. After Ocean’s Eleven’s premiere in Los Angeles, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, with director Steven Soderbergh visited the base.

In 2003, the Turkish parliament, with grave concerns over the future of the Kurds, denied use of Turkish territory for the Allied campaign against Saddam’s Iraq. Links between the United States and Turkey experienced something of a brief chill.

A battery of Patriot missiles is currently deployed in Turkey to defend against possible attacks from Syria, and Turkey and the United States have cooperated to help the Syrian opposition in its attempts to force Assad out of power in Syria. A flood of refugees has streamed across the border into Turkey fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Turkish troops have served in Afghanistan. Turkey has received billions of dollars of military aid from the United States, and its military has made use of a lot of American-designed equipment. Turkish forces regularly take part in military exercises alongside US personnel."

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy Bastille Day 2016!

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Vive la belle France!

To celebrate our relationship with our nation's oldest ally I present the complete France chapter of America Invades.  For much more on America's impact around the world please visit

This was written long before the appalling terrorist attack in Nice which claimed the lives of at least 80 innocent victims.  Our prayers and condolences go out to the French people.  Today we Americans stand with you more than ever.  "Dieu protege la France!"

"Ah, the beautiful land of france, la belle France.

France is our oldest ally and the site of the most famous American invasion of all time. More American military cemeteries (eleven) are located in France than in any other foreign country in the world.
George Washington & the Duc de Grasse, Yorktown, VA

When the American Revolution broke out, Louis XVI saw aid to the thirteen colonies as a means of avenging England’s defeat of France in the Seven Years War, but he was reluctant to commit to the American cause until gentleman Johnny Burgoyne surrendered his force after the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in American that same year serving as a major-general in the Continental Army where he grew very close to General George Washington, who thought of him as a son. The great inventor, author, and statesman Benjamin Franklin helped to negotiate a treaty of alliance with France in 1778. The direct intervention of the French began with Rochambeau landing a force of about six thousand French soldiers in Providence, Rhode Island. These forces and, critically, the French Navy led by the Comte de Grasse helped secure the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown.

John Paul Jones Tomb, Annapolis, MD, USNA

John Paul Jones led his 1778 raid on Whitehaven (see “United Kingdom”) from the French port of Brest. His frigate that defeated the British Serapis in 1779, the Bonhomme Richard (during which he uttered his famous “I have not yet begun to fight”) was a converted French merchant ship, the Duc de Duras.
Thomas Jefferson, Paris, France
Even though France is our oldest ally, we have fallen out with the French on occasion as well. The Quasi-War with revolutionary France was fought by the USN on the high seas between June 1798 and March 1801. On February 9, 1799, for instance, Captain Thomas Truxton of the Constellation fought and captured the French frigate L’Insurgente. The war was settled by the treaty of Mortefontaine after Napoleon Bonaparte assumed control as first consul.

France and the United States also very nearly came to blows over the French invasion of Mexico, which was launched by Napoleon III during the US Civil War. The United States supplied Mexico with arms and support to drive the French out of North America.

In 1886, the people of France sent us an iconic gift—the Statue of Liberty that would welcome immigrants to our shores (“La Liberté éclairant le monde,” “Liberty enlightening the world”).

Americans in the Legion
But it was to be with the two world wars that our forces became most deeply involved with France.
Even before America’s entry into the Great War, Americans were fighting and dying in France. For instance, young American pilots volunteered to serve in the French air force forming the Lafayette Escadrille hoping to repay America’s debt to France. Ten out of the “Valiant 38” American men who served in the Lafayette Escadrille were killed in action.
Americans had also volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, and it’s worth mentioning here some of the better-known names that have been
linked to the legion over the decades:
1. John F. “Jack” Hasey, CIA
2. Peter Julien Ortiz , one of the most decorated US marines of WWII, OSS, actor in John Ford’s Rio Grande
3. William Wellman, director of the legion epic, Beau Geste, and many more
4. Alan Seeger, poet
5. Arthur Bluethenthal, member of College Football All-American Team from Princeton, pilot killed in WWI
6. Eugene Bullard, first African American military pilot
7. Norman Kerry, actor
8. Cole Porter told many of his friends that he had joined the French Foreign Legion, though conclusive evidence is lacking. The lyrics for “War Song,” written for the London stage during World War I have been attributed to Cole Porter ...
And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them.
We spent our pay in some cafe,
And fought wild women night and day.
’Twas the cushiest job we ever had.
And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them,
There was a front, but damned if we know where.
(Source: A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Leahman, 2009)

American Doughboys, Central Park, NY
After President Wilson led the nation into war on the Allied side, American doughboys were shipped to France and the trenches of the Western Front. They were called “doughboys” because they tended to be larger and better fed than their French comrades in arms.

Eddie Rickenbacker's Spad S.XIII, IWM, Duxford, UK
The earliest units of the American Expeditionary Forces to see action were engineering units rushed into the British line in November 1917. But it was in 1918 that our men were really to have an impact on the Western Front. Eddie Rickenbacker, flying French-built aircraft, such as the SPAD S.XIII, became the leading American fighter ace of World War I scoring twenty-six air combat victories. A few American land and air units and even our First Gas Regiment were committed to action in April 1918 in a desperate attempt to stem the German Spring Offensive, which used German troops released from the Eastern Front by peace with Russia in an attempt to deal a knockout blow before American troops could be deployed in large numbers.

In late May and June, the Germans tried to push forward in the Chemin des Dames along the Aisne River. Aisne bridges were captured, Soissons fell, and the Germans reached Château-Thierry on the Marne with Paris less than forty miles distant. American troops battled fiercely to prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne and then, on June 6, a date that would later become famous for other reasons, successfully counterattacked at Belleau Wood, where the US marines earned the nickname “teufel hunden,” or “devil dogs.” Further German attacks on the Marne followed and were fought off by American troops, earning the 38th Infantry of the 3rd Division its name “Rock of the Marne.” The Germans were now exhausted, and it was the turn of the Allies to attack. American troops played a key role in July in helping destroy the German-held Marne salient. From then on, American units assisted major campaigns by the British and the French, but Pershing had also gotten his wish for an independent American operation, and in September, about half a million Americans of the US First Army went into action against the German-held St. Mihiel salient. The operation was a significant success. Finally, from September to November 1918, First Army ground through the Meuse- Argonne offensive. The fighting was bitter, and casualties were at times heavy, but major progress was made, and by the Armistice, First Army had dealt a huge blow to the German divisions facing it.

The American Expeditionary Forces had played a vital role in liberating France and in winning the war against Germany, but it had come at a high cost in American blood. The beautiful Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, for instance, next to Belleau Wood and just six and a half miles from Château-Thierry, contains almost twenty-three hundred war dead, most of whom fought in the area and in the Marne valley in summer 1918. After the guns fell silent ending the “war to end all wars” on November 11, 1918, President Wilson came to Versailles with his Fourteen Points. A
bitter peace was settled that helped sow the seeds of the next war. Between the wars, Paris was subjected to an “invasion” of Lost Generation American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and others. Hemingway said Paris was the city he loved best in the world. Wealthy American philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, helped to restore the Reims Cathedral that had been shelled by the Kaiser’s artillery in the Great War.
In 1942, shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s entry into World War II, the United States invaded French colonies in North Africa that were under the control of the Vichy government (see “Algeria,” “Morocco,” and “Tunisia”). After about three days of fighting, the French switched sides and joined with the Allies to drive the Axis out of
North Africa.
Ike, Grosvenor Square, London, UK
Even before D-Day, Americans began the liberation of France with
the invasion of Corsica in the fall of 1943. Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22, served as a bombardier on a B-25 based on Corsica. The USAAF dropped its share of the six hundred thousand tons of bombs on occupied France. The French national railway system was smashed to prevent the Germans from making a strategic redeployment against the Normandy landings.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, marked the start of the most famous American invasion in all history. With a terse, “OK, let’s go,” Eisenhower had resolved all doubts in the Allied deliberations over weather conditions prior to the invasion. The time had finally arrived. Ike later wrote comparing the invasion force to a coiled spring ready to “vault the English Channel.”

Private John Steele, St. Mere Eglise, France

The vaulting began on the night of June 5 when private John Steele, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, got his chute caught on the tower of the church at Ste.-Mère-Église. He survived the conflagration and firefight that shook the sleepy Norman town that night by playing dead. A visitor to Ste.-Mère-Église today will find a stained-glass window in the church has the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers. The American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Divisions would secure the western flank of the Normandy invasion.

On Utah Beach, fifty-six-year-old Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (oldest son of President TR) was landed about a mile away from his intended target and, when asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, said simply, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Bloody Omaha had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only thirty-five minutes. Its bare beaches offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches. The US Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers; their mission was to destroy artillery pieces that threatened to sweep the landing zones. Their commander that day was Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held the position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by Allied naval bombardment on D-Day.

General Patton, USMA, West Point, NY

As commander of the US Third Army after D-Day, Patton, led an army that advanced farther and faster than just about any army in military history, crossing twenty-four major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than twelve thousand cities and towns. Patton loved to quote Danton who said, “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” (“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity”).

In August of 1944, American troops participated in a much less widely known invasion, Operation Dragoon that landed in the south of France. Everyone knows about June 6, 1944, but how many know about August 15, 1944? Yet the parachute drop by the 1st Airborne Task Force, landings by American troops, primarily the 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions, and a French armored division were highly successful. Allied casualties were light, and German resistance mainly crumbled fairly fast. By mid- September, they had pushed their way up the Rhone Valley near the German border. Some of the invasion targets, like the beach of St. Tropez, famous for film stars in the post-war era, are now more readily associated with pleasure than with war, which may be one reason Dragoon is less familiar to Americans.
General Charles DeGaulle
La Musee de L'Armee, Paris

Meanwhile to the north, on August 25, 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division, led by General Leclerc, was allowed the honor of being the first Allied force to liberate Paris. Ernest Hemingway personally led a group of irregulars that liberated the Ritz Hotel drinking seventy-three martinis that night in its bar. General de Gaulle spoke from a balcony at the Hotel de Ville, “Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the help of the whole of France!” De Gaulle seems to have temporarily ignored the contribution of the Americans, British, Polish, Canadian, and other Allied troops that fought so hard to liberate France.

Robert Capa
Robert Capa, the famous war photographer, rode into Paris on an American-built tank that day.
And there was still much fighting remaining before all France was liberated. It wasn’t until November 22, 1944, after American troops had captured the vital, strategic pass at Saverne, that French troops liberated Strasbourg, the most easterly major city in France. And at about the same time, after bitter fighting, to the northwest, the US Third Army was finally taking Metz, a heavily fortified French city, close to the border with Germany.

The liberation of France would claim 134,000 American casualties. Thousands of Americans would be buried in French cemeteries, such as the beautiful one that overlooks Omaha Beach.
France became a founding member of NATO in 1949. France, though strained by its Indochina and African commitments, contributed an infantry battalion that served alongside Americans in the Korean War. My (Chris Kelly’s) father, Robert E. Kelly, served as a clerk typist in the US Army based in Verdun, France, during the Korean War. He liked to say that he “kept the North Koreans out of France.”

Fifty-six French troops would be killed alongside American marines in the Beirut bombing in October 1983. French forces would also serve in the Gulf War of 1991 that liberated Kuwait. And French forces have served alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
France still has assorted territories around the world, which used to be part of its empire. So we need to deal with American military involvement there in this chapter.

For instance, our navy built an advance base on Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas Islands, now part of French Polynesia, in 1813. Captain Porter briefly claimed Nukuhiva for the United States and named it Madison Island and the fort built there Madison’s Ville, and the water next to it, Massachusetts Bay. Yep.

It’s also worth mentioning Nouméa, in the French territory of New Caledonia, which is situated east of Australia. This became an important US base during World War II. In fact, it became, the US headquarters for the whole of the South Pacific with tens of thousands of US personnel stationed there.

The most fun of the French territories from the point of American invasions is Clipperton Island. Few people have heard of it, and even fewer know how we invaded it. It doesn’t sound very French (unless you call it Île de Clipperton or its other name, Île de la Passion, when it does sound a lot more French).

It’s an uninhabited coral atoll lying in the Pacific Ocean west of Costa Rica and northwest of the Galapagos Islands. The French were the first Europeans to find it, and it’s French today, and, even though it’s not the most attractive bit of real estate in the world, it’s been invaded by others over the years, including, yes, Americans.

The Guano Islands Act of 1856 was supposed to promote American use of islands that had plenty of guano on them, and this being one of the few things Clipperton did have on it, the American Guano Mining Company claimed it. Guano mining caused a minor diplomatic incident in 1897 when the French found that three American guano miners had raised the Stars and Stripes. The State Department eventually gave in to the French. However, during World War II, we returned because FDR thought the place might be useful as a flying base. In December 1944, we occupied the island and raised the American flag again, not admittedly against much, or indeed any, resistance, sending in a meteorological team protected by troops. However, the mission didn’t last long and was eventually withdrawn, leaving Clipperton and its seabirds to the French."

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fourth of July 2016

The author with Minuteman statue
Concord, MA

As we pause to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence it seems appropriate to consider the vital role played by the American military in the creation of our nation and its transformation of our world.

We are not a militaristic nation but we are a nation that is deeply proud of our military.  We are not a perfect people.  We have made many mistakes.  We have not always lived up to our noble ideals.  It is important to remember what happened at Wounded Knee, My Lai and Abu Graib.  But it is also important to remember the amazing things that the US military has done in our world.

Lexington Green, MA
On April 19, 1775 British soldiers marched from Boston to Lexington and Concord to seize a cache of arms.  They were confronted on Lexington green by citizen soldiers who were farmers, merchants and tradesmen.  The “shot heard round the world” was fired that day on Concord bridge.  Liberty was not a gift of the English crown; she had to be taken by force by an armed rebel populace.

Later that year American forces invaded British Canada.  My own ancestor, James Van Rensselaer, was a citizen soldier in the siege of Quebec and his commanding officer was Benedict Arnold.

The American Revolution is often portrayed in rosy-hued colors due to its remoteness and patriotic outcome.  It was, in fact, a horrendously bloody conflict.   Recent scholarship has placed the total number of Americans killed in the American Revolution at around 25,000 which compares to a total US population of the thirteen colonies in 1775 of 2.4 million.  Thus over one percent of the total population of the thirteen colonies were killed over the course the nearly eight and half years of the war’s duration.

After the American Revolution we would fight Britain again in the War of 1812.  We fought our way westward across the continent in many brutal wars against the Native Americans.

Polk Campaign Flag
Smithsonian Museum
In 1846 president Polk launched a war against Mexico.  This was and remains a controversial chapter in American history.  Congressman Abraham Lincoln opposed the war.  Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support the war and was briefly jailed.  Even Ulysses Grant, who fought in the war, condemned its prosecution in his Memoirs.    But without the Mexican American war the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico would never have been added to the Union.  Without the Mexican American war the United States might never have become a coast to coast superpower.
Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI
Imagine for a moment what World War II might have been like had Polk not fought the Mexican American war.  The Japanese would never have sunk the Arizona at Pearl Harbor to start the war because Arizona would have belonged to Mexico.  It is unlikely that an American naval base at Pearl Harbor would have been built without Polk.  The atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima to finish the war as it could not have been tested at Alamogordo in New Mexico.

Nearly a hundred years ago in 1917 America Citizen soldiers went “over there” with the American Expeditionary Force to fight the Central Powers in World War I.  By 1918 the Kaiser would abdicate.  In 1941 they would get the call to combat Hitler and Imperial Japan.  Just over 71 years ago American soldiers would be liberating the Nazi concentration camps like Buchenwald and Dachau thereby helping to end the Holocaust.  Without American invasions at places like the beaches of Omaha and Anzio the world would undoubtedly be a darker place.

After World War II American forces remained engaged with Europe garrisoning the nations of former adversaries during the Cold War.  NATO was founded and the Cold War was won without a shot being fired.

Today we face the threat of global terror networks that have perpetrated horrors in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino and, most recently, Orlando.

Our enemies must know that Americans do not love war for war’s sake.  To do so is the definition of fascism.  We are and always have been reluctant warriors.  But, when provoked, we know how to fight and will endure until victory and a lasting peace is won.

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those American patriots who have served in our military and those that serve today we are able to celebrate the 4th of July and to confront the challenges that face us around the world.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit's Meaning

Brexit: Farewell to all that

Britain has voted for Brexit -- to leave the European Union.  They did so in spite of the united opposition of the political class across the spectrum of British politics.  Blair supported remain as did Labour's current leader Jeremy Corbyn.  The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, supported remain and now, having lost, he will be exiting.  Even the tragic assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox, a remain supporter, did not tip the scales towards the remain side.

Americans might appreciate the enormous historic implications of Brexit better if they thought of it in these terms:  Imagine a US referendum on some topic where President Obama and Donald Trump held exactly the same position...and a majority of American voters rejected it anyway.  That is what just happened with Brexit.

Business elites, fearful of change, overwhelmingly supported the remain position.  Londoners voted to remain but were swamped by opposition outside of the metropolis.

President Obama weighed in on the Brexit debate in a particularly ham-fisted manner telling Brits that our allies in two World Wars would need to get to the "back of the queue" if they opted for Brexit.  Most Americans would not use the term "queue" so it was clear that Obama was simply parroting talking points supplied to him by Cameron.  Will foreign leaders be less keen on an Obama endorsement / meddling going forward?

Fundamentally, British voters recognized that the EU has turned into a pretty rotten deal.  The membership dues to this club no longer justify the expense.

We know the short term results of Brexit.  Global markets tanked.  The Pound weakened.  Hand wringing ensued.  401ks were diminished this past week.  The media had a field day with dire predictions.
British Pride still sparkles
We do not, of course, know what the longer term consequences of Brexit will be.  We do know, however, that nothing will really change for two years.  Most likely the current market swoon will be followed by an eventual recovery.  Britain will remain an important trading partner with Europe and the world.  EU member states will still want to trade with the world's fifth largest economy.  Tourists will still visit the Tower of London to see the Queen's jewels.  Britain's exit from the EU is unlikely to destabilize the European peace which has endured now for over 71 years since the end of World War II.

There could be a Corbyn government which would likely be disastrous for Britain.  Corbyn is Bernie Sanders without the chutzpah.  Brexit will also likely force another Scottish referendum which would pose a challenge for the UK government.

But Brexit is far from the end of the world.  We ought to remember Monty Python's advice to "always look on the bright side of life".
Boris Johnson: Brexit Winner
More likely, however, this is a huge victory for the leadership of Boris Johnson.  Johnson was a successful charismatic Mayor of London.  He is bright, cosmopolitan and in touch with British sentiment.  He has more than a touch of Churchill about him.  His book, The Churchill Factor, was outstanding (See my review...  Boris now heads up the Foreign Office for Britain.

The Brexit vote dealt an enormous blow to the reigning political establishment worldwide.  It is a clear vote against open borders and unlimited immigration.  It is a vote for local over transnational.  It is a vote against bloated bureaucratic meddling which is despised around the world.  It is a vote in favor of national identity but it is not really a vote for a more bellicose foreign policy.  For better of for worse, this vote should cause major shockwaves in the Hillary campaign which is the embodiment of establishment politics.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

D-Day Plus 72

Omaha Beach, France
Seventy-two years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied troops waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. The night before, on June 5, American airborne forces had landed on the western flank of the invasion area near Sainte-Mère-Église, while British airborne forces secured the eastern flank and Pegasus Bridge. They jumped out of C-47 Dakota transport planes, through darkness and into glory. Some arrived by glider. Private John Steele of the 82nd Airborne landed on the steeple of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. He managed to survive by playing dead.

John Steele Mannequin, St. Mere Eglise, France
Today a visitor to Sainte-Mère-Église can observe a mannequin representing Steele hanging from the church tower. Inside the church is a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers.
Pointe du Hoc, France
On Utah Beach—all of the landing sites had code names—fifty-six-year-old Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (the oldest son of former president Teddy Roosevelt) landed about a mile away from his intended target. When asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, he simply said, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Prior to the landing, Omaha Beach, also known as Bloody Omaha, had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only thirty-five minutes. The bare stretches of beach offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches. The US Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers. Their mission was to destroy artillery pieces targeted on the landing zones. Their commander was Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held their position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the German’s 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by the Allied naval bombardment.
Normandy American Cemetery
The Canadians stormed ashore on Juno Beach. James Doohan, who later played Scotty on Star Trek, was among the Canadian soldiers that day. Sword and Gold Beaches were reserved for the British forces. A small contingent of French commandos joined the British on Sword and helped capture Ouistreham, destroying the casino there. One French officer who had previously lost at the tables was not sorry to see the casino in ruins that day.

With the D-Day landing, the Allies, in spite of the vast size of their armada and the relative openness of their societies, achieved a remarkable strategic surprise over the Germans. On June 6, Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife's fiftieth birthday. Hitler was persisting in the mistaken belief that the Normandy invasion was a feint and that the real blow would be struck at Pas de Calais.

Eisenhower planned the invasion from his offices at 20 Grosvenor Square in London. Number 1 Grosvenor Square was the wartime location of the American embassy. Averell Harriman presided over lend-lease aid from 3 Grosvenor Square, helping to fund our wartime Allies. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), forerunner of the CIA, had its offices at 70 Grosvenor Square. Small wonder that this neighborhood was known as Little America at the time. Some wags even referred to Grosvenor Square as Eisenhowerplatz.

Imagine if an operation like the Normandy landing were to occur today in 2016, in the age of social media! Interactive polls would ask: “Which beach do you prefer, Normandy or Pas de Calais?” Could all the members of the 101st Screaming Eagles, painted in Indian war paint with Mohawk haircuts, be counted upon not to post their pictures on Facebook? That seems doubtful.

The author at Grosvenor Square, London, UK
This June 6, raise a glass and toast the heroism of all those young men who fought to liberate America’s oldest ally from Nazi occupation. Without their service and sacrifice, our world might be a darker place.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Spain?

Church Door, Haro, Spain

I was delighted to "invade" Spain recently on a Duvine bicycle tour through the Riojo wine region (highly recommended!).  The Italians, of course, got there long before me.  Here is the Spain chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
Me and Stuart Laycock with Trajan -- A Spanish-born Emperor
"The Roman invasion of what is now Spain took place over a long time and involved a number of campaigns and numerous clashes. The emperors that ruled Rome at the apex of its power, Trajan and Hadrian, both grew up in what is now Spain.

The Romans first arrived in Spain during the Second Punic War. With Hannibal off to invade Italy, the Romans took the opportunity to attack the Carthaginian Empire that Hannibal’s family had built up on the Iberian Peninsula.

After a long series of campaigns involving multiple armies and commanders, the Romans eventually defeated the Carthaginian forces in Spain and took control of areas previously controlled by Carthage, mainly along the southern and eastern coasts of Spain.
Trajan's Column, Rome, Italy
And Rome’s campaigns in Spain had only just begun. The first decades of the second century BC saw assorted rebellions and clashes; and then in 181 BC, the First Celtiberian War broke out after more tribes rebelled. The result was a Roman victory, and the war ground to a halt in 179 BC.
Then in 155 BC, the Lusitanian War broke out, involving much action on what is now Spanish soil. A massacre by Roman troops ended that war in 150 BC; but war erupted again in 146 BC as a man who would become legendary, Viriathus, led the Lusitanians against the Romans. This bitter war, fought both on territory that is now Portuguese and on territory that is now Spanish, dragged on until 139 BC, when Viriathus was assassinated by three of his own men.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Romans had become engaged in a titanic struggle against the city of Numantia. The war finally ended in 134 BC when Numantia fell to besieging Roman forces.
In 132 BC, the Romans took the Balearic Islands.
Roman columns in Barcelona, Spain
Temple of Augustus (
War broke out in Spain in 80 BC, in which Roman commander Sertorius allied with local rebels to take on pro-Sulla Roman forces. Sertorius was eventually assassinated by his own side.
Plenty more fighting linked to Rome’s civil wars followed in Spain. Then in 29 BC, Augustus launched the Cantabrian Wars to take control of an area in northern Spain that remained outside Roman control. Within ten years, the war was mainly finished. More minor clashes would ensue, but after a process of conquest taking about two hundred years, the Roman occupation of Spain was finally finished.

In the early fifth century, invaders who had crossed the Rhine and then crossed Gaul arrived in Spain, producing yet more fighting.

15th Century Castle (Castillo), Spain
And Italians were fighting again in Spain during the Middle Ages. For instance, Benedetto Zaccaria commanded Castilian forces in the late thirteenth century; and Spain became deeply involved in wars in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the Renaissance, the Spanish Borgia family would rise to the height of the papacy with the ascension of Pope Alexander VI. His bastard son, Cesare Borgia, would launch many an invasion in Romagna before his ultimate exile and imprisonment in Spain.
Lord Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London
And more Italians fought in Spain after the Renaissance too. (More Spanish troops fought in Italy as well.) For example, during the Napoleonic Wars, Italians could be found fighting on both sides. Significant numbers of Italians troops were in Napoleon’s forces in Spain, but the British commanders also had Italians on their side. For example, at the Battle of Castalla in Spain in 1813, two Anglo-Italian divisions were among the forces that repelled desperate French assaults on their defensive position near Alicante. And about 115 Italians were among those serving on Admiral Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Italians again fought in the Carlist Wars in Spain in the nineteenth century; and in 1870, an Italian, Amadeo of Savoy, a son of King Victor Emmanuel II, was selected to be King of Spain. He found the job impossible, and in 1873, he had had enough and gave it up.

In the twentieth century, Italian troops played a central role in ensuring victory for Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This Italian-assisted victory had long-term consequences on the development of Spain that were felt into the Cold War.

The Italian effort during the Spanish Civil War started with air power, as Italian aircraft attacked the Republican fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar. They then airlifted Nationalist troops from Africa to Spain, a crucial step in giving Franco the ability to challenge the Republican government on the Spanish mainland.
Corpo Truppe Volontarie, Spanish Civil War
Soon Italy was also sending tanks and trainers to help the Nationalist side; and then it was sending troops to fight the CTV, Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops), supported by heavy artillery and aircraft.

An Italian offensive in March 1937 against Madrid— the Battle of Guadalajara—achieved only limited gains against determined Republican opposition, and Mussolini gave orders to increase Italian efforts. In October of that year, the Italian presence was openly and officially admitted.
Italian troops fought on all fronts in the war and in a large number of clashes. Italian aircraft also saw extensive action, and 175 pilots died in action. Three Italian planes participated in the bombing of Guernica. At sea, Italian Navy surface ships and submarines also sank Republican vessels and merchant ships.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
Italian troops played a decisive role in some of the key actions of the war. In the north in August 1937, they were heavily involved in the capture of Santander. In the spring of 1938, they took part in the Aragon Offensive, which struck a decisive blow against the Republican forces in that part of northeastern Spain. And in early 1939, they played a leading role in an offensive in Catalonia that eventually reached the sea and cut the Republic in half. In April 1939, the Nationalist victory was complete.

Over three thousand Italians, however, fought on the Republican side in Spain, joining units such as the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigade.

During World War II, Spain remained neutral, though it was friendly to the Axis cause. The Italian Navy took advantage of a derelict tanker, the 4,900 ton Olterra moored in the waters near Algericas, by installing members of the X Flottiglia MAS inside its hull. From this base in Spanish waters, they launched a series of attacks against shipping in the Bay of Gibraltar with two-man minisubmarines called Maiale (pig).

Spain joined NATO in 1982."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of

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