Cold War Files: Truman and MacArthur


Military Officers and Politics: The Fraught Relationship between MacArthur and Truman

(click on above link to be re-directed)

H.W. Brands is a decent and fair historian, the last book I read of his was Lone Star Nation about Texas Independence.

This book, The General Versus The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War looks to be another good one for all you Cold War and Military/Political History buffs.

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!

World War II History: Barbarossa And It’s Lesson For The Living

Russland, russischer Gefallener, Panzer BT 7,

75 years ago this morning at 0315 Central European Time, the valiant and ruthless German race was thrust into a war of annihilation against the Soviet empire, in what became the dominant theatre in the largest-scale conflict in world history, World War II.  Named after Frederick I, the red-bearded King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor in the 12th century known for his military conquests and shrewd leadership, Operation Barbarossa involved an attack in three army groups across what soon became an 1800-mile front from the Baltic to the Caucasus.  German war aims, spelled out initially in the Führer’s War Directive #21 on December 18, 1940, were fully commensurate with Adolf Hitler’s boldness: the Führer sought domination of the entirety of European Russia and the smaller intermediary Soviet states all the way out to the Ural Mountains, including the natural resources and oil-rich regions in the Caspian Basin.

While Barbarossa itself only refers to the opening 5 months of the war up to the first Soviet counterattack, this anniversary is better placed as a day of thoughtful reverence for the suffering of all, soldiers and civilian victims, of the entire war in the east.  Hence, in remembrance of the spectacular brutality of this conflict, today is an informal holiday in Russia, and in Belarus and Ukraine, too.  Known there as the Day of Memory and Sorrow, June 22 commemorates the suffering of the Soviet peoples, up to 30 million of whom perished by some estimates, as well as the destruction of hundreds of cities and towns all the way across Russia to a line from St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) to Moscow to Volgograd (Stalingrad) and down to the Caspian.  Given the duration and severity of the conflict, there was no family in the Soviet Union untouched by the war.

The 1941-45 German-Russian war, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, is of a genus of conflict that the United States need never experience and indeed the world may never witness again.  Technology has made an anachronism of massed armored formations supporting mobile infantry and buttressed by extensive air combat capabilities, all arrayed against each other and sponsored by great powers in an existential fight to the death. Yet a review of the nature of this war in the east and how it proceeded, while sadly foreign to American audiences still to this day, confers seminal lessons for 21st century students of foreign affairs in a still-cruel world.

Hitler’s War Aims

The German dictator had telegraphed his intentions years before, in Mein Kampf, his personal memoir and political manifesto for the future of Germany led by National Socialism. In the second volume of this oeuvre, published in 1926 after his release from Landsberg prison (where he had served time following a conviction for treason), Hitler wrote an entire chapter on his policy for the east. In his view the German people had an historic destiny to fulfill as a master race, and in support of this divine mission needed geographic territory for expansion (which he referred to as more “living room,” or, lebensraum).  Fortuitously in his view, the Slavs to the east were inferior degenerate peoples (or, “untermenschen”) ripe for subjugation, in lands rich with natural resources and agricultural bounties that were exploitable for a German empire.  Further, the Russian state was now in his mind consumed by an inferior political ideology, “Jewish Bolshevism”, which was brittle and easily eviscerated in any war with the superior Germans.  Hitler stated:

And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period and shift to the soil policy of the future.

If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.

Hitler could not have been any more transparent, and his subjugations of Czechoslovakia and Poland – both Slavic peoples as well – were in line with his eastward vision.  Indeed the outbreak of war with Poland in September 1939 was the first of his many miscalculations, as he assumed, wrongly, France and Britain would not honor their mutual defense pact with the Poles, after having effectively ceded Czech independence the year before.  For months afterward Hitler hoped to achieve a truce with the western Allies in order to have a free hand in the east: the unwillingness of the British to quit the war, followed by the entry of the United States, spelled eventual doom for the Third Reich in the multi-front war that revised German doctrine expressly forbade.  But on June 22, 1941, all this was far into the future.

Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense

Military History: The MacArthur Revival


America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region has had many consequences, including a revival of interest in, and appreciation for, the career and worldview of General Douglas MacArthur, whose military exploits spanned fifty years and three continents, and whose reputation for good or ill rests mostly on his campaigns in the Southwest Pacific and the Philippines, his military administration of postwar Japan, and his decision-making during the Korean War.

In 2014, military historian Mark Perry revisited MacArthur’s important, productive, and sometimes difficult relationship with Franklin Roosevelt in The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur. That same year, Seymour Morris, Jr. wrote Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan, a thoughtful and admiring re-telling of MacArthur’s successful postwar administration of Japan.

Perry views MacArthur as the greatest commander of World War II, and writes that in the Southwest Pacific he “coordinated the most successful air, land, and sea campaign in the history of warfare.” Morris calls MacArthur’s occupation of Japan “the greatest feat by America’s greatest general.”

In 2015, the prolific and popular military historian Winston Groom (better known as the author of Forrest Gump) lauded MacArthur (along with Marshall and Patton) in The Generals as an exceptionally good soldier and great captain, who was as brave as a lion, bold as a bull, and audacious and inventive in “marshaling huge victorious armies.” MacArthur, Groom writes, served his country with distinction, and his memory “enriche[s] the national trust.”

James Duffy’s War at the End of the World, which appeared earlier this year, provides a detailed history of MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign, which has long been unfairly overshadowed by the Navy-Marine island battles in the Central Pacific.

Walter Borneman’s MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific has just been published. Borneman, like other MacArthur biographers, notes the general’s character flaws, but emphasizes MacArthur’s sense of mission, strategic brilliance, and “guiding principles of duty, honor, and country.”

Most anticipated, however, is Arthur Herman’s new biography, just released this month, entitled Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior. At 960 pages, it rivals the most comprehensive one-volume treatments of MacArthur to date: William Manchester’s American Caesar and Geoffrey Perret’s Old Soldier’s Never Die.

Later this fall, H.W. Brands’ The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War is scheduled to be released and, hopefully, will provide a fairer treatment of the Truman-MacArthur controversy than the conventional history that treats Truman as saint and MacArthur as sinner.  The truth, as usual, is more complex.

Those searching for the most complete biography of MacArthur and his times must still turn to D. Clayton James’ magisterial three-volume The Years of MacArthur.

Richard Nixon in his interesting post-presidential book Leaders, noted that in his conversations with MacArthur in the 1950s and early 1960s, “[n]early always MacArthur’s comments got back to Asia.” Nixon wrote that criticism of MacArthur by America’s foreign policy establishment stemmed from the clash between an Atlanticist worldview and MacArthur’s vision of an Asian-centered geopolitics.  Americans, Nixon wrote, are beginning to appreciate the wisdom of MacArthur’s prediction that “the history of the world for the next several generations may well be dictated by the men and women of the Orient.”

Indeed, during the battle of the Philippines in World War II, MacArthur told a news correspondent that “the lands touching the Pacific will determine the course of history for the next ten thousand years.” Those lands are certainly front and center in today’s geopolitics. The MacArthur revival could not come at a better moment.

Read the Original Article at Real Clear Defense

Espionage Files: Naval Espionage in an A2AD Age


U.S. Navy Lt. Edward Lin, a native of Taiwan, speaks about his path to American citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii, in this U.S. Navy handout photo taken December 3, 2008. Lin, a U.S. Navy officer with access to sensitive U.S. intelligence, faces espionage charges over accusations he passed state secrets, possibly to China and Taiwan, a U.S. official told Reuters on Sunday. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st class Sarah Murphy/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX29FT7

U.S. Navy Lt. Edward Lin, a native of Taiwan, speaks about his path to US citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii, in this US Navy handout photo taken December 3, 2008. Lin, a US Navy officer with access to sensitive US intelligence, faces espionage charges over accusations he passed state secrets, possibly to China and Taiwan, a US official told Reuters on April 10. (Reuters/US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Murphy)News trickled out this weekend about a US Navy Officer charged with espionage who may have jeopardized significant intelligence collection capabilities and sensitive operations because of the access he had to patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.

The Officer, who has been identified (although not officially confirmed by the Navy) as Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, is accused of multiple counts of passing and attempting to pass secret information to a foreign government, reportedly China.

Lin had assignments with a Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron, which flies the EP-3E Aires II signals intelligence collection aircraft, and a Special Projects Squadron. China may have an abiding special interest in EP-3E collection operations and capabilities going back to the June 2001 mid-air collision between an EP-3E and a Chinese J-811 interceptor fighter jet. The Chinese pilot was killed in the collision and the EP-3E was forced to land on Hainan Island. Chinese authorities detained the crew of the EP-3E and blamed the United States for the incident. Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the commander in chief of the United States Pacific Command at the time, accused the Chinese plane of tailing the US jet.

Details of the charges against Lin are scant, based heavily on the three-page, heavily-redacted charging documents acquired by US Naval Institute News. According to those charge sheets, he is accused of multiple counts of passing and attempting to pass secret information to a foreign government, which is reported to be China.

Espionage is always a matter of grave concern. By definition “secret” information is that which by its disclosure could cause serious damage to national security. The specifics of the information Lin is accused of compromising will probably remain protected, though, even throughout court-martial proceedings.
The espionage, however, highlights critical strategic issues. The US Navy finds itself in a strategic environment facing competition against not one but two major powers—Russia and China. Both countries have taken advantage of a dwindling gap in US technological superiority to create areas of “Anti-Access/Area Denial” (A2AD). Both countries have deployed an array of surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles, and the associated radars and command and control, from the Western Pacific to the Baltic and Barents Seas. Their operational objective is to keep US and allied forces at a distance and stop the United States and its allies from waging war in a manner we have displayed from Operation Desert Storm in 1991, to Operation Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector in Libya in 2011, to Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.

Attempting to gain sea control, operational access, and entry to A2AD air- and waterspace relies on advantages in information, targeting and decision timelines. In 2009, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead committed to making information a main battery of the US Navy. The signals intelligence from EP-3E and similar collection platforms is foundational to how the US Navy and joint force will fight in an A2AD environment. The cat-and-mouse game of acquiring precise intelligence on A2AD defenses, while remaining undetected in our maneuver space at sea, is a critical strategic aspect of the modern and future battleground. Disclosure of the secrets of our reconnaissance sensors may tip that balance against the US Navy in a future fight.

Even while discussing information warfare and including cyber and electromagnetic domains in all-domain access, it is interesting to note that what Lin is accused of is good old-fashioned espionage. Rather than cyber espionage or computer network exploitation, which frequently appear in the press and popular culture these days, this was old-school human intelligence, exploiting human weaknesses as in Navy espionage cases of decades ago like John Walker—a US Navy Chief Warrant Officer who was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union—and Jonathan Pollard—an intelligence analyst with the Navy who was convicted of spying for Israel.

Mentioning those past espionage cases still evokes a quick, emotional response in Navy circles. Only time will tell if the Lin case will one day do the same. Given the accused’s access to front-line intelligence collection capabilities and operations, plus the involvement of China, our rival in the Pacific Century, the present espionage case has every chance to reach that level of notoriety and cause a similar degree of damage to the United States and national security.

Read the Original Article at Atlantic Council
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Military History: Spain’s Siren Song


17th Century Spain and The Allure of Idealized History in Grand Strategy


Many readers may be familiar with Paul Kennedy’s classic The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. It is often recommended to those who have an interest in grand strategy.  However, readers might be less familiar with a collection of essays edited by Kennedy, Grand Strategies in War and Peace, which, while less comprehensive than Kennedy’s 1987 work, poses a number of interesting questions about how states conceive of their national interests and of effective grand strategy. Out of the book’s 10 essays, J.H. Elliot’s “Managing Decline: Olivares and the Grand Strategy of Imperial Spain” is a particularly interesting perspective on how idealized history may warp the desirability of grand strategic models and creates obstacles for managing decline.

In “Managing Decline,” Elliot outlines the 17th century geopolitical climate facing Spain and Prime Minister Gaspar de Guzman, the count-duke of Olivares. Having made a tentative peace with the Dutch following a largely unsuccessful and costly war aimed at fully reintegrating the rebellious Netherlands, Spain and its political elite felt a great deal of trepidation when it came to making plans for the future of the country. Out of this unease emerged a deluge of writing on issues of decline and prescriptions for restoring Spanish glory. The dialectic of decline generally manifested in two ways. The first argument was essentially a discussion of the seemingly natural historical forces that lead to decline and of how to slow the cyclical decline of the state. The second argument concerned itself with the moral aspects of the decline in Spanish power. The moral arguments were usually framed by a historical narrative of the Roman slide into decadence, corruption, and “effeminacy” leading to that ancient empire’s downfall. The antidotes for the poison that threatened Spain’s greatness, in this second area of analysis, lay in a simple return to the traditional values that ushered the country into its golden age in the first place.[1]

So, according to the 17th century equivalent to policy wonks, if Spain was to maintain its place in a rapidly changing and globalizing world, it must defend the physical limits of its realm from erosion and look to social and political reforms to strengthen the state and its ability to make war, drawing on the notion that reversion to tradition could bring back the rhythm of progress. Unfortunately, progress from Spain’s present position would be costly and predicated on more than piety, and its economic and political woes would exacerbate its inability to effectively confront its foreign policy challenges in the coming years as expenditures grew and revenues shrank.

Olivares came into office in 1621,  three years after the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and oversaw a renewal of hostilities with the Dutch in that same year. In a time of great trials, the Olivares regime looked back to, as Elliot writes, the “more remote and glorious past of a reign of Phillip II that was beginning to be idealized with passage of time…Renewal, in other words, could only come with the restoration of old values.”[2]

Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense

Literary Corner: Great Interview with Tom Ricks on Writing, Reading and Military Innovation

Tom Ricks is without a doubt one of my favorite Military writers and historians. If you don’t already I seriously recommend subscribing to his Best Defense Blog on Foreign I also recommend his book Fiasco for a “blinders-off”, no bull look at the War in Iraq. -SF


So you’ve been covering the US military for over twenty years.  I’m curious about your readers.  You’ve been blogging over at Foreign Policy for some time. Yet you don’t talk about your readers much.  I’m curious about how many people stop by “Best Defense”?  What types of readers are reading ‘Best Defense’?

I don’t know on the numbers, partly because Foreign Policy’s editors keep the numbers close hold. When I ask them about the numbers I get gobbledygook about unique hits, and you know, “push only visitors” and “unique visitors,” and all that stuff.  It doesn’t tell me anything.

A few years ago, I believe I was told I was getting 30,000 to 40,000 readers a month. But that could be wildly wrong. I never really pushed the issue with my editors. Maybe they are afraid that if they tell me how many visitors I have, that I’ll ask for a raise.

Now, the types of readers I have, I’m better on. Start with a big military audience.  I’d have to say concentrated on middle NCO’s and junior and middle officers with a smattering of younger enlisted and a smattering of O6 and above. That’s in the military.

The second big group is academics. And military history is a pretty lonely field, so academics seem to like a place that welcomes military historians.

The third group is defense journalists, think tank people, guys at corporations in northern Virginia, things like that. It kind of amuses my wife—she says that within three miles of the Pentagon, I’m a minor celebrity. Beyond that I’m totally anonymous and very happy with that.

You’ve probably been to more than a few archives.  What is the most interesting thing you’ve read or discovered?

There are a lot of exciting things in the archives. It just amazes me that you can sit there and if you ask for the right files and explain what you are looking for, and the people in the archives that work there tend to be very helpful, you can sit and hold maps that guys held on the beaches on D-Day. The original maps that have their markings on them, the markings they are making in pencil as they figure out where a German machine gun nest is, or where the lines of communications are.

But I gotta say, the single most moving thing I ever found were some letters by a general, Terry de la Mesa Allen, who was commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Sicily in August, 1943; a very good division commander, a very tough fighter. Terry Allen was relived of division command by Omar Bradley. It was very public and he didn’t know why. He had just won the key battle of the campaign in central Sicily and then he got fired, along with his assistant division commander, who was Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., the son of the President. He writes back to his wife a series of letters in pencil on blue lined school notebook paper.  And one day he writes to his wife, “Patton dropped by, Patton thinks I’m being promoted to something.” Which is totally BS.  And I think Patton knew it.  Eventually Allen gets sent back to America without a job. George Marshall, the Army chief, admired Allen even though Allen was a very heavy drinker. When Marshall found out that Allen had been fired by Bradley, I found in the archives a note Marshall wrote to an aide that said: “Give Allen another division that is going overseas. Give him the 82nd if that is next to go over.”  And when Marshall was told the 82nd was not the next, Marshall said: “Give him the next division that comes up.” So a year later Marshall has Terry Allen back in Europe commanding the 104th Infantry Division.

To hold that series of letters where Allen is trying to figure out what is going on, in the midst of just having played a central role in the first American campaign against the Germans on European soil, is just amazing to me. That really was a heart stopping thing for me when doing research.

Still, I have to mention that one of the hazards I didn’t know about when doing research, is that I’ll be sitting there in the Army archives, reading these things in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and frequently I’ll go back to my hotel room and at night I’d begin hacking, and I’d realize that I’d ingested a lot of dust looking at files that people that hadn’t looked at for years and years. If I go again I think I will wear a mask next time.

What books would you recommend to the next US President?  The next Secretary of Defense?  The next Joint Chiefs of Staff?

I would recommend to all of them Cohen’s Supreme Command. For my money it is the best book about how the civilian leadership should run his military, and how military leaders should deal with their civilian overseers.  It’s also about strategy. Strategy is not easy. If you are not crying than you are not making strategy. If you are not asking hard questions you are not making strategy. If you are not prioritizing between the important and the essential, you are not making strategy. Eliot Cohen’s book brings those points home and does it very well by examining a series of leaders and their decisions.

Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense

Military History: 4 Exotic Weapons in Ancient Warfare that were Ahead of Their Time

When most think of ancient warfare, nothing more sophisticated than spears, bows, and maybe catapults come to mind. But like in modern warfare, few things breed ingenuity more than the need to outgun the enemy. Here are some of the more elaborate examples:


1. Claw of Archimedes

Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician and inventor, developed a variety of weapons to aid in the defense of his home city of Syracuse, Sicily. This included improved versions of conventional artillery like catapults and ballistas, but he also designed more exotic devices to defend Syracuse’s seawall from attacking Roman ships during the Second Punic War.

Though the exact design of the Claw of Archimedes is not known, it is believed to have been a large crane fitted with a gigantic grappling hook. As Roman ships approached the wall, it would be deployed over them, snagging them with the hook, and then lifting the ship at least partially out of the water. When released, the ship would capsize or at least be dropped violently back into the water, damaging the vessel and throwing crewmen overboard.

The Roman historian Livy contended that the Roman fleet suffered terrible casualties from this device. A team working for the Discovery Channel recreated the device using technology that would have been available at the time and used it to capsize a replica of a Roman galley, proving that the device could have been effective.


2. Heat Ray

Another of Archimedes inventions–far more controversial and shrouded in mystery–is a form of heat ray designed to set enemy ships on fire. A strategically placed series of mirrors would focus the sun’s rays onto a single point on an enemy ship and ignite it, like a magnifying glass used to ignite paper. Most Roman ships of the era were coated with pitch as a sealant, which would only make the target more flammable.

Though some ancient historians record that such a weapon was used during the 212 B.C. siege of Syracuse, attempted recreations conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others concluded that the weapon was almost ridiculously impractical. It was completely dependent on the position of the sun and a utter lack of cloud cover, and could only function on a completely stationary target due to the time required for it to achieve ignition.

Even if it succeeded, at best it could create small, easily extinguishable fires. Regular flaming arrows and catapult ammunition would have far more range and effectiveness, not to mention being easier to deploy.The only practical function such a weapon would have is to use its rays to temporarily blind the crews and marines of the attacking ships. Despite its shortcomings, the novel concept of using light as a lethal weapon presages modern laser technology that is still under development to this day.

Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense