Monday, June 19, 2017

Waterloo Day

Duke of Wellington
London, UK

June 18th is known as Waterloo day.  Many in the UK still celebrate and remember their nation's victory against Napoleon and the French on June 18, 1815.  The Duke of Wellington was rewarded with a fine house ( by a grateful nation went on the become Prime Minister of Britain.

London Underground

Most Americans do not give Waterloo Day much thought.  Americans DID, however, serve at the Battle of Waterloo.  We mentioned one American who served in a prominent capacity at Waterloo in the Belgium chapter of America Invades...

Duke of Wellington
London Underground

"In June of 1815, Sir William Howe De Lancey and his new bride, Magdalene Hall, were invited, but did not attend, the famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels that preceded the Battle of Waterloo. De Lancey, born in New York City, served as the British Duke of Wellington’s deputy quartermaster general in the Waterloo campaign. His father, Stephen De Lancey, had also served as an officer in the 1st New Jersey Loyal Volunteers in the American Revolution. Sadly, while accompanying the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, De Lancey was struck by a bouncing canon ball and fatally wounded."

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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Carolinian

I enjoyed my recent print interview with Catie Byrne of The Carolinian.  I hope to make it to North Carolina on my upcoming book tour for America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil.

Here is the

Best wishes to all my friends in the Carolinas!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

4th of July 2017

Minuteman Statue
Old North Bridge, 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 also 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 Ghraib. But we must also remember the amazing things the US military has done for our world.

It all began in Massachusetts with “the shot heard round the world” on Concord’s Old North Bridge. On April 19, 1775, British soldiers marched from Boston to Lexington and Concord to seize a cache of arms. They were confronted on the Lexington Green by citizen soldiers who were farmers, merchants, and tradesmen. Liberty was not a gift of the English crown; she had to be taken by force with an armed rebellion.

With my ancestor's letter

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 hues 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. The total US population of the thirteen colonies in 1775 was 2.4 million. Thus, over 1 percent of the population was killed over the course of the nearly eight-and-half-year war. Nearly 5 percent of the soldiers in the Continental Army were of African descent.

After the American Revolution, we would fight Britain again in the War of 1812. The White House was burned, but Major General Andrew Jackson rallied a diverse band of soldiers that included blacks, Native Americans, and even pirates to win the Battle of New Orleans.

Polk Flag
Smithsonian Museum of American History

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. Henry David 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.

Without that American superpower, the twin scourges of the twentieth century, fascism and communism, might never have been defeated.

Imagine for a moment a counterfactual history in which Polk did not fight the Mexican-American War. How would World War II, for example, have been different? 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 American power, lacking California, would have even stretched to the Hawaiian Islands. Without Polk’s war, an American naval base at Pearl Harbor would likely never have been built. The atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima to finish the war, as it could not have been tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico.

Just over a hundred years ago, in 1917, President Wilson led us into the “war to end all wars.”  American citizen soldiers (including my great-uncle Jacks Wells, who served in the 27th Infantry Division) were shipped “over there” with the American Expeditionary Force to turn the tide of battle against the Central Powers (see By 1918, the German Kaiser was forced to abdicate his throne. In 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans would again be called on to fight on foreign shores, this time against Hitler and Imperial Japan. Just over 72 years ago, American soldiers liberated 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, the most successful alliance in history, 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, among other places, Manchester and London in the United Kingdom, and Orlando, Florida, in the United States. We confront ISIS in the Middle East. North Korea’s Kim Jung Un continues to develop weapons that could be capable of striking our homeland. And Putin’s Russia rearms at home and attempts to disrupt electoral processes in the West.

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 we will persevere until victory and an enduring peace is won.

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

Thanks War History

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Remember D-Day!

The world would be a much darker place had it not been for the Allied invasion at Normandy that was kicked off 73 years ago today.  Less than a year after the June 6 invasion the Nazi death camps were liberated, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker and the war in Europe was at an end.

From Manchester to Orlando to NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL TODAY and everywhere in between global terror is a world wide problem that faces us all in 2017.  The past teaches us valuable lessons about how evil can and must be defeated.  It teaches us that it is better to fight a war with allies rather than isolated and on our own.  On D-Day 1944 British (Sword, Gold beaches) and Canadian forces (Juno beach) played a major part in the successful landings.

The French Remember
In America Invades (www.americainvades.comwe discussed the American role in fighting World War II in France from the landings on Corisca that preceded D-Day to the liberation of Paris...

"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.

Ike with Airborne
Airborne Museum, St. Mere Eglise, France
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.”

John Steele Manequin
St. Mere Eglise

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.
Pointe du Hoc
Normandy, France
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.

With Patton
Luxembourg American Cemetery

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.

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, the famous war photographer, rode into Paris on an American-built tank that day."

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Memorial Day 2017 at the Florence American Cemetery

Florence American Cemetery

The American Battle Monuments Commission is an agency of the US government that operates 25 American cemeteries in 16 different countries (  I had the distinct honor to attend a Memorial Day ceremony at the Florence American Cemetery in Italy this past Monday.

Color Guard
Florence Memorial Cemetery
Nearly 4,400 American soldiers lie buried at the Florence American Cemetery.  All were veterans of World War II.  In July of 1943 American forces, along with their allies landed in Sicily which was quickly overrun.  A long and grueling campaign up the spine of Italy was launched thereafter.  With so much media focus on D-Day the rigors and cost of the Italian campaign are often overlooked (see my earlier post...  In fact more Allied lives were lost during the Italian campaign than during the war in northern Europe from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge and the final German surrender.  German soldiers, led ably by "smiling" Albert Kesserling, made the mountain spine of Italy a formidable defensive redoubt.

Florence American Cemetery

This year for Memorial Day each grave was decorated with an American and an Italian flag.  Yes, we Americans helped to invade Italy in 1943.  But we also stayed to help rebuild a country that had been shattered by war.  Today there are still over 10,000 American military personnel based in Italy.  Camp Darby, named in honor of William Darby of Darby's Rangers, is a significant US Army installation based near Pisa, Italy.

361st Infantry Division Memorial
Florence American Cemetery

Kelly Degnan, the chargĂ© d'affaires of the US Embassy to Italy and San Marino attended the Memorial Day ceremony and gave remarks.  She was joined by Lieutenant General Ben Hodges the Commander of UNited States Army Europe.  Hodges reminded his audience that it is really quite inappropriate to wish someone a "Happy Memorial Day".  This is not a holiday like Easter or St. Patrick's Day.  Memorial Day is more than just a terrific excuse for a great Barbecue.  Memorial Day is a solemn occasion on which we are called to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country, our freedom and, as those Italian flags remind us of the freedom of others (see earlier post

The most dramatic event of the ceremony was a bit comical.  It was a very hot day in Florence on May 29, 2017.  An unfortunate female member of the Carabinieri band fainted in the heat.  The poor woman, in her think black uniform, was fine if a bit embarrassed.

82nd Airbonre Re-enactors

Among the attendees were a group of re-enactors dressed in the uniforms of the 82nd Airborne.  I had a chance to speak to several of these.  It is a bit disconcerting to see that an American paratrooper speaking perfect Italian and hailing from Rome.  I learned that this intrepid group would be attending D-Day commemorations in Normandy on June 6, 2017 as well.

In America Invades we noted the painful friendly fire incident that decimated the ranks of the 82nd Airborne in Sicily in World War II...

"It all started on July 10, 1943, with Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. The first day of the campaign was also one of the worst when the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Matthew Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne was decimated by friendly fire. About fourteen hundred Americans were tragically killed by fire from anti-aircraft batteries on allied naval vessels. From this painful experience, the Allies learned a valuable lesson. All Allied aircraft participating in the D-Day invasion were painted with black and white stripes prior to the Normandy invasion."

C-47 Dakota with D-Day Stripes
IWM Duxford, UK
Hope you enjoyed a Meaningful Memorial Day this year!

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Captain Mark Eckel USNR (ret.)

Mark Eckel and his son Phineas

Mark Eckel, my Groton formmate, was born on July 5, 1958.  He died on April 21, 2017 and was laid to rest in Hope Cemetery in Kennebunk, Maine on May 12.

I knew Mark best during his high school years.  In many ways, he was a pretty typical  kid of the 1970s.  He enjoyed listening to Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull.  He was a very talented athlete who earned varsity letters for football and baseball.  He also played hockey and took up dramatics.  He was a fierce competitor and a fine teammate.  Mark was sociable and had many friends at Groton.

Mark graduated in the spring on 1977 and went on to Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut.

Groton School was and remains, like most American prep schools, a feeder to Wall Street and the academic left.  Eckel, or “Eck” as we called him, took neither of these well worn paths.

Eck was fashioned more in the antique Roman mold.  Groton’s school is motto is “Cui Servire est Regnare” which the school grandly and rather loosely translates as  “Service is Perfect Freedom”.  Groton expects every man and, since 1977, woman to do their duty serving in some capacity.

For Eck the choice was pretty obvious.  His dad was a US Navy chaplain who had served on Iwo Jima during World War II.  His mom had also served in the Navy and his parents had married in their navy uniforms.  Mark was destined to follow in their navy path.

Ronald Reagan
Grosvenor Square, London

The timing of his Graduation from Trinity College in 1981 may have helped make Eck’s choice a bit easier.    Ronald Reagan had just been elected the White House the previous fall on a platform that included the promise to rebuild a 600 ship navy.  Defense spending was about to balloon in the Reagan years as Reagan was determined to win “Peace through Strength” in what proved to be the waning days of the Cold War.  Leaders like Eckel were needed to restore the spirit of the US Navy in the post-Vietnam era.

Eck earned his masters from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.  Eckel rose to the rank of Captain in the US Navy.  After serving more than twenty years in the navy Eck retired but continued to work for defense contractors.   After the 9/11 attacks Eck assumed a new role with Homeland Security in the San Diego area.

Eck’s last battle was with pancreatic cancer.  He leaves behind a young son named Phineas.

On May 13, 2017 a moving service was held for Eck at the Groton School Chapel that he knew so well.   Two of his classmates officiated and others gave moving tributes and read prayers.  The ceremony concluded with a rousing rendition of the famous Navy Hymn.  Memories of Eck at Groton were recalled fondly at the form’s 40th reunion which took place that weekend.

Eck’s life is over but he was a man of faith who died in hope of the resurrection.  Mark was the real deal.  He leaves behind a shining example of selfless and honorable service.

She played Taps for Eck

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump Invades the Vatican (Peacefully)

Trump has arrived in Vatican City to meet with his holiness Pope Francis.  The two leaders will discuss how to spread peace as the world confronts the threat of global terror.  The United Kingdom has been placed on high alert anticipating another attack.  Many suspect that a sophisticated bomb maker is still on the loose in the UK.

St. Peter's, Vatican City
Surprisingly, Americans have, in a sense, invaded the Vatican.  We wrote about it in the Vatican City chapter of America Invades (

"The Vatican city, a small enclave within rome that is home to the pope and the central administration of the Catholic Church, is an actual state. It’s not a member of the UN, but it does have observer status there.

Swiss Guards
It’s hard to say whether we’ve ever invaded the Vatican. We’ve never been at war with the Vatican, and during the Italian campaign, as Roosevelt himself emphasized, Allied airmen had been specifically informed of the borders of the Vatican City and instructed to make sure none of their bombs fell within its borders. However, the pope owns a variety of sites in Italy, which are outside the borders of the Vatican City but have extraterritorial status. Some of these were a lot closer to the action than the Vatican itself. For instance, the pope specifically complained about Allied bombs falling in the vicinity of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo and killing refugees there.

And, when American troops of the Fifth Army liberated Rome in June 1944, some of them ventured into the Vatican. A photograph, for instance, shows Fifth Army’s Lieutenant General Mark Clark parked right outside the front of St. Peter’s in a jeep with another jeep behind him and American soldiers in full uniform, including helmets. And just over a week after the capture of Rome, on June 12, after a number of instances of armed Allied vehicles entering St. Peter’s Square inside the Vatican City, barricades were having to be put up across the end of the Bernini colonnade to prevent any further such occurrences. If it was any kind of invasion, though, it was an entirely friendly one.

On June 12 alone, the pope is said to have received fifteen hundred Allied troops."

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump Invades Israel (Peacefully!)

As President Trump now visits Israel it is time to reflect on our military engagement with the Jewish state.  Hopes for middle east peace are now being raised on one hand even as an appalling act of ISIS terrorism strikes the United Kingdom with the Manchester concert bombing.

How have Americans interacted with Israel over the course of history?

This is what we had to say in the Israel chapter of America Invades (

"Due to religious, cultural, and ethnic links, America has long had a strong, deep, and lasting commitment to this land.
Mark Twain
American Invader (Tourist)?

And for a long time, Americans have been going there. On an 1867 visit to the Holy Land, Mark Twain and a group of American tourists were shown some of the holy sites: “We visited the places where Jesus worked for fifteen years as a carpenter, and where he attempted to teach in the synagogue and was driven out by a mob. Catholic chapels stand upon these sites and protect the little fragments of the ancient walls which remain.”

Most pilgrims feel blessed just to experience the sanctity and beauty of such sites, but some of Twain’s pilgrims on that occasion went too far with their enthusiasm. “Our pilgrims broke off specimens ... Our pilgrims would have liked very well to get out their lampblack and stencil-plates and paint their names on that rock, together with the name of the village they hail from in America, but the priests permit nothing of that kind.”

But it was during World War II that our forces first arrived there. US air crews used the RAF based at Lydda (which later became Lod Airport and eventually Ben Gurion International Airport) for air transport and air- ferrying missions. And during the fighting between Rommel and British/ Commonwealth troops in nearby Egypt to the west, American bombers were based at a number of locations in the Palestine Mandate with, for instance, B-17s at Lydda and B-24s at Ramat David.

Truman recognized Israel 11 minutes in
After the Second World War, Britain eventually announced its withdrawal from a fractious Palestine Mandate, and on May 14, 1948, the modern state of Israel was launched. The US government recognized the state of Israel only eleven minutes after Ben Gurion declared its independence. Fighting intensified between Arabs and Jews, and neighboring Arab countries invaded.

Foreign volunteers, or Machal, came from a wide range of countries to help Israel, and American volunteers played a role in that war as they have done in other wars involving Israel. Most were veterans of World War II, including the famous Micky Marcus, a colonel in the US Army who went to Israel, became a brigadier general, and helped break the Siege of Jerusalem in 1948.

We had some official US involvement as well. In June 1948 when the US consul general was killed by sniper fire, a marine force from the USS Kearsarge was ordered to Jerusalem. And on July 23, flying a UN flag, the USS Putnam evacuated UN team members from the Israeli port of Haifa.

By 1949, Israel had joined the United Nations.

The Holocaust had created massive American sympathy of the concept of a Jewish homeland. American arms and financial support began flowing to Israel during the Truman administration. A tradition of shared training and military exchange between the United States and Israel was established.
Grosvenor Square, London
US government support for Israel, however, was not automatic (or unconditional). For example, in 1956, President Eisenhower refused to endorse the invasion of the Suez Canal and Sinai by forces from Britain, France, and Israel. U-2 intelligence gave the president vital information on what was happening on the ground at the time. In the end, Israel withdrew its forces from the Sinai.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel delivered a preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force destroying most of its Soviet-made aircraft while they were still on the ground. The conflict more than doubled the amount of territory under Israel’s direct control, including the addition of the Sinai Peninsula. On June 8, 1967, units of the Israeli air force and navy attacked the USS Liberty—an intelligence-gathering ship, which was cruising in international waters off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Thirty-four Americans were killed. The Israeli government apologized for the tragic mistake and paid thirteen million dollars in compensation.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War (October 6‒24), Israel was attacked by Egyptian forces near the Suez Canal and by Syrian forces near the Golan Heights. After recovering from the initial surprise, Israeli forces managed to counterattack across the Suez Canal and were soon driving towards Cairo itself. The Nixon administration, though crippled by the Watergate scandal, flew over twenty-two thousand tons of supplies to Israel in Operation Nickel Grass. The Soviets resupplied the Arab forces. On October 24, Moscow announced the mobilization of seven airborne divisions for possible deployment to Egypt. The next day, US armed forces were moved to DEFCON 3—planes ready to launch in fifteen minutes. Yuri Andropov, KGB chief, declared, “We are not going to start the Third World War.” Egypt withdrew its request for Soviet troops, and a UN truce was soon agreed to.

American shuttle diplomacy eventually helped to secure the Camp David accord of 1978, which significantly reduced Middle East tensions when a “land for peace” agreement was hammered out between Egypt and Israel. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt, and Sadat broke decisively with his former Soviet ally. Billions in US aid soon began flowing to Egypt, as well as to Israel.

During the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched Scud missile attacks on Israel, which killed two and wounded hundreds. He was desperately trying to drive a wedge between coalition forces by prodding a neutral Israel into a military response.

Prior to the start of the 1991 Gulf War, the Israeli government agreed to allow a US Army Patriot unit into Israel—the first time that foreign troops had ever been stationed in that country. And in the end, Israel did stay out of the conflict.

More diplomatic action followed the Gulf War, again with extensive US involvement. In 1994, President Clinton was there when a peace deal between Israel and Jordan was signed, and in 1995, the Oslo II agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.

In 2006, war broke out in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, and the United States offered Israel extra fuel and munitions.

Today, the search for a complete end to the Arab-Israeli conflict continues, and so does the search for a solution to problems over Iran’s nuclear research. In the desert in southwest Israel is located a small US military installation operated by US personnel with hugely powerful radar watching what goes on in the region.

In the context of all the uncertainties about the future in the Middle East, America’s partnership with Israel on a wide range of exercises, training, planning, supply, development, intelligence, and other military matters remains a central part of our strategy."

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

USA and Saudi Arabia

As President Trump touches down in Saudi Arabia it is interesting to reflect upon the history of relations between the USA and the Saudi kingdom.  No, we have NOT invaded Saudi Arabia but we Americans have had a deep and longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia.  And the matchmaker who ignited the USA / Saudi alliance was quite a surprise!

In America Invades ( we wrote this in our chapter on Saudi Arabia...

"Saudi Arabia seems to have been in the American news quite A LOT over the last couple of decades.  During World War I, Lawrence of Arabia was active in part of what is now Saudi Arabia, working with the leaders of the Great Arab Revolt to attack Ottoman troops and drive them from the area. A character made famous in more recent times by Peter O’Toole in the Hollywood epic, Lawrence, although British, was made famous by an American, Lowell Thomas. Along with cameraman Harry Chase, Thomas, as an American journalist, turned up in the Middle East to meet Lawrence and film him. When Thomas got back to America, he turned Lawrence into one of the first war-media superstars, giving lectures accompanied by films at Madison Square Gardens and then around the world.

The United States began diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in 1933. That same year, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later ARAMCO) was formed to develop Saudi oil resources.
Mussolini: the Matchmaker
During World War II, Saudi Arabia remained technically neutral but also supplied Allied forces with masses of critical petroleum products. This fact did not escape the notice of the other side.
Mussolini’s Italy joined the Axis side in 1940, and on October 19 of that year, four Italian bombers (Regia Aeronautica) took off from the island of Rhodes and attacked Saudi oil facilities in Dhahran.

B-25B Mitchell Bomber
Mussolini’s air attack on the Saudi oil fields was a kind of Axis version of Doolittle’s Raid. Doolittle’s Raiders launched their B-25 bombers from the decks of the Hornet to attack Japan. Mussolini’s Regia Aeronautica took off from an unsinkable “carrier,” the Isle of Rhodes. Doolittle’s fliers did not conform to the traditional bombing structure of take-off, fly to target, release bombs, and return; instead, after bombing Tokyo, most flew to China. The Italian bomber pilots bombed oil refineries in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and then flew on to airfields in Italian East Africa (Eritrea)—the longest bombing run in aviation history at the time and one that exposed Saudi Arabia’s military vulnerability.

The Doolittle Raid’s physical impact on Japan was minimal, but its psychological impact was enormous; the Midway campaign was launched in order to extend Japan’s defensive perimeters and prevent another American attack on the home islands. The Italian raid on Saudi Arabian oil
refineries did little damage, but its psychological impact on the kingdom and its future links with America were significant.

World War II saw the real beginning of our military involvement with Saudi Arabia. For instance, the Saudi Kingdom allowed us to operate an air transport facility at Jeddah as part of a network that stretched across Africa and the Middle East. And Saudi Arabia permitted the construction of a US air field near Dhahran, which it operated from 1945 to 1962. Saudi Arabia, though neutral, also received about twelve million dollars in lend- lease, mostly in silver dollars.

Grosvenor Square, London

In 1945, FDR, on his way back from the Yalta Conference, travelled on the USS Quincy to the Great Bitter Lake on the Suez Canal. He was there to meet three important regional leaders—Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, King Farouk of Egypt, and King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. On Valentine’s Day 1945, a goat was slaughtered and eaten on board the ship to celebrate the kingdom’s new links with America. The American military would protect the Saudi kingdom, while their oil would help fuel the tanks, planes, and ships of the US military. The broad outlines of America’s pact with Saudi Arabia, despite profound differences between our two nations, have now lasted seventy years through many tumultuous times.

During their discussions the Saudi king warned Roosevelt that the Arabs would fight if Jewish settlements in what was then the British- controlled Palestine Mandate expanded. Thus, the creation of Israel in 1948 with American support put strains on our links with Saudi Arabia, particularly during the Arab-Israeli Wars of the Cold War era.

However, America and Saudi Arabia still had shared interests. For instance, during the Yemen Civil War, royalist, conservative Saudi Arabia clashed with Nasser’s revolutionary, Communist-supported Egypt, and each ended up supporting a different side in the war. JFK threw US support behind the Saudis. USAF planes were mobilized to deter Nasser’s Egypt from further action against Saudi Arabia.

Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia reached a low point after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, but eventually the relationship stabilized again. The Iranian revolution created a new power feared by both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and in the 1980s, America and Saudi Arabia found themselves jointly immersed in arming and helping the Afghan mujahideen fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Afghan regime they supported.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saudi Arabia backed Iraq. On June 5, 1984, a US AWACS plane detected an Iranian fighter approaching Saudi’s offshore oil facilities in the Gulf. Saudi aircraft intercepted the Iranian plane and shot it down.

Bush 41
National Naval Air Museum
Pensacola, FL
However, when we really went to war in Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t Iran that was the problem. Instead, it was Iraq. In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia (see “Kuwait”). President H. W. Bush led an international coalition that responded with Operation Desert Shield. In late January of 1991, Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi forces to attack across the Saudi border. Saudi and Qatari troops, aided by US marines, artillery, and airpower, fought the Battle of Khafji. The Iraqi forces were repulsed at a cost of twenty-six American lives and eighteen Saudis.

American airpower based in Saudi played a decisive role in the First Gulf War. A-10 Warthogs, championed by the maverick USAF Colonel John Boyd, flew missions from Saudi bases destroying over nine hundred Iraqi tanks.

A-10 "Warthog"
IWM Duxford
American Hangar
In the course of the First Gulf War, over half a million US troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia. Many stayed after Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. For instance, thousands of US troops stayed on to help enforce the no-fly zone over neighboring Iraq in Operation Southern Watch. The Saudi king and government supported the American alliance, but many in the Arab street were troubled. To some, of course, this represented an American occupation of the Muslim holy land and was one of the grievances behind Osama bin Laden’s attack on 9/11. Indeed, fifteen of the nineteen hijackers in the 9/11 attack and their mastermind were Saudi nationals.

Attacks on US personnel took place in Saudi territory too. For instance, in 1996, a huge truck bomb destroyed part of the Khobar Towers complex and killed nineteen US servicemen. And in 2004, the US consulate in Jeddah was attacked.

The USAF operated Prince Sultan Air Force Base from 1990 until 2003. It was equipped with air conditioning and all amenities, including Baskin-Robbins and Burger King franchises, although female personnel were expected to wear an abaya when going off base.

Most American military personnel left Saudi Arabia in 2003. Small numbers are still based there, some of them apparently connected with the campaign of drone strikes in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia remains a significant ally of the United States. The two countries share, interests in oil and nervousness about Iran. Military links continue to be strong. For instance, the United States has been actively training Saudi defense forces from 1953 to the present, and the Saudi military has purchased large quantities of weaponry and military equipment from American manufacturers, including aircraft, armored vehicles, and air defense weapons.

In 2011, the corpse of Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi national, was offered for burial to Saudi Arabia, which declined in favor of burial at sea."

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America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil 
will be published in 2017!