Archive for the 'History' Category
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EST on 8 Jan 2017 for Midrats Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?.
The 1980s might be getting some of its foreign policy back – but why is our entire defense framework in the second-half of the second decade of the 21st Century based around ideas forged when the Chrysler K-car was still a young platform?
Is our present system creating the conditions for our uniformed senior leadership to forge the best path for our military to support national security requirements?
Our guest for the full hour is returning to Midrats to discuss this and more; M.L. Cavanaugh.
Matt and is a US Army Strategist with global experience in assignments ranging from
the Pentagon to Korea and Iraq to his current post at US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. He’s a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, where he provides regular commentary and analysis. He’s also a contributor to War on the Rocks, and Matt’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and at ForeignPolicy.com, among other publications. After graduating from West Point in 2002, he earned his Master’s degree at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on supreme command under Professor Emeritus Colin Gray at the University of Reading (UK). You can find more on Matt at MLCavanaugh.com and he can be reached via Twitter @MLCavanaugh.
Join us live if you can by clicking here. If you can’t join us live, you can also download or listen to the show by clicking on that same link or by going to our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 18 Dec 2016 for Midrats Episode 363: The South African Border War and its Lessons, with LT Jack McCain
If you define the Cold War as lasting 44 years from 1947 to 1991, then
for over half the Cold War there was a simmering proxy war in southern Africa that involved, to one extent or another, the present day nations of Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa.
Over the course of time, it would involve nations from other hemispheres such as Cuba, and brought in to conflict two political philosophies of the 20th Century now held in disrepute in the 21st Century; Communism and Apartheid.
The last decade of the Cold War brought the conflict in fresh relief as part of the Reagan administration’s push back against Communist aggression in South Africa, Central America, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Acronyms such as UNITA, and SWAPO were as well known then as AQAP and Boko Haram are now.
What does that relatively unknown conflict have to teach us about the nature of war today?
Our guest for the full hour to explore that answer will be Lieutenant Jack McCain, USN.
LT McCain is a helicopter pilot with operational experience in Guam, Japan, Brunei, the Persian Gulf, and the Western Pacific and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is currently assigned as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The opinions he expresses are his own and represent no U.S. government or Department of Defense positions.
Instead, let’s use the power of color to bring to the front one of the most important lessons of this attack. This isn’t ancient history that is best looked at in the abstract. On the fading edge of living memory, yes, but still every bit of why we were caught flat footed applies to what we do today.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we see it in grainy black and white photographs and a few bits of video. It seems a long time ago, an “other.”
From false assumptions, habits worn in peace, and the natural belief that bad things only happen to other people in other places – it is all there.
As such, I find this collection of color video from that day and the world it took place in to be helpful, if for no other reason than to recall that their world is our world. What happened to them, with other players and with a slightly different set, could very well happen again.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 4 December 2016 for Midrats Episode 361: Where Youth and Laughter Go; With “The Cutting Edge” in Afghanistan
For the full hour this Sunday our guest will be Lieutenant Colonel Seth W. B. Folsom, USMC the author of Where Youth and Laughter Go. Described by USNI Books:
Where Youth and Laughter Go completes LtCol Seth Folsom’s recounting of his personal experiences in command over a decade of war. It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.
The chronicle of Folsom’s command of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, “The Cutting Edge,” and his harrowing deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Sangin District presents a deeper look into the complexities and perils of modern counterinsurgency operations in America’s longest war.
We will discuss not just his latest book, but also larger issues related to command, the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and the Long War.
Please join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
OK, there isn’t a “21st Century Thucydides” coming out as part of the exceptional USNI Press 21st Century Foundations series, but work with me a bit here.
If we are going to review the great minds of the 19th and 20th Centuries, then why not from the 400s BC? The Peloponnesian War lasted 30 years. We are 15 years in to a low degree but still very real war against expansionist Islamic fundamentalism and rising powers to the left and right of us. There has to be something there.
Why look at what happened between two city-states at the dawn of Western history? Take awhile to read Mark Gilchrist’s article at RCD, Why Thucydides Still Matters;
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is a book that all who seek to understand the influence of war must read.
…reading The Peloponnesian War we come to realise the complexities of modern life have not rendered everything experienced by past generations irrelevant to the problems of today. In fact, as he intended, Thucydides provides a sound basis from which to discover how best to approach the complex problems facing contemporary strategists through allowing us to better understand war’s continuities and discontinuities.
Thucydides charts the impact of war on the character of the states involved. He uses Athens’ transformation as a cautionary tale about what war will do to a state unprepared for its influence and of the cost of applying power unwisely or unjustly in the pursuit of a political objective. His writing is grounded in the understanding that war’s nature is inextricably linked to human nature, which in turn shapes the strategic and military culture that manifest in war’s character and the political objectives for which it is fought. Through a narrative approach, his work serves as a warning about the moral decline of society over the course of protracted war.
As we try to understand today why Russia does what it does, why China is motivated to push where she is pushing, it is helpful to recall that human nature, at its base, has not changed for thousands of years;
Thucydides tells us there is a tipping point where a rising power becomes too powerful to contain. By this point, conflict between near equals may present as an inevitability, particularly when junior allies are agitating for action from the dominant partner. In such circumstances, war’s political objective can be heavily influenced by fearing the costs of not going to war as much as a fear of war itself.
About 2/3 of the way through Gilchrist’s article, I was reminded of another one on Thucydides I read over a decade ago by one of the premier classicists of our day, Professor Victor Davis Hanson, in his 2003 review in Commentary Magazine of Donald Kagan’s book, The Peloponnesian War.
As he is want to do, Hanson uses every opportunity to grab his reader by the lapels and plead with them to know that the keys to the unlocking all their questions are there, and have been for thousands of years.
The Peloponnesian War, then, is not really so ancient. Even if some classicists think that Athens’s war with Sparta was relatively uninteresting, outsiders still write books with titles like War and Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War or Hegemonic Rivalry: From Thucydides to the Nuclear Age. The conflict continues to be evoked in the present—its supposed lessons both astutely and clumsily applied to most of our own wars of the last century.
Why is this ancient war between tiny Athens and Sparta still so often used and misused? First, it was long—twenty-seven years—and it lined up the entire Greek world into opposite armed camps. Second, the two antagonists were antithetical in nearly every respect, and thus the bipolar fighting was proclaimed to be a final arbiter of their respective values—political and cultural values that still divide us today. Third, it started in Greece’s great Golden Age, and its attendant calamity was felt to have ended for good that period of great promise. Fourth, players in the war were the greats of Hellenic civilization—Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, Alcibiades, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and others—and their lives and work reflect that seminal experience. Fifth, Athens lost, casting into doubt ever since not merely the power but also the morality of democracy, especially when it executed Socrates in the war’s aftermath. Sixth—and at last we arrive at the theme of the Oxford Classical Dictionary’s brief entry on the war—Greece’s preeminent historian, Thucydides, was not merely an analytical and systematic writer of a great extant history; he was also a brilliant philosopher who tried to lend to the events of the war a value that transcended his own time, making his history of ideas “a possession for all time” that could furnish lessons for men at war in any age. Thucydides’ man of the ages is a pretty savage creature whose known murderous proclivities are kept in check—albeit just barely—by an often tenuous and hard-to-maintain civilization.
During moments of big change – and we are about to go through one in the course of the next few months – many will wonder; what is coming next? What should we look for? What have others done?
To see the future, you have to be comfortable with and acceptable of the past.
Most wars, of course, do not end like they start. Before Shiloh (April 6–8, 1862), for example, Grant thought one great battle would win the Civil War. After the battle he realized that years, thousands of lives, and millions of dollars in capital were needed to ruin rather than defeat a recalcitrant Confederacy. So too the Spartans marched into Attica in Spring 431 BC thinking that a year or two of old-style ravaging of fields would bring them victory; seven years later neither side was closer to victory, and they still had another twenty far-worse seasons to go.
The Peloponnesian War itself proved to be a colossal paradox. Sparta had the most feared infantry in the Greek world. Yet it was Sparta’s newly created navy that finally won the great battles of the war. Democratic Athens sent almost 40,000 allied soldiers to their deaths trying to capture far-off Syracuse, the largest democracy in the Greek world—even as thousands more of her enemies were to plunder her property with impunity less than twenty miles outside her walls from the base at Decelea. Alcibiades at times proved the savior of Athens, Sparta, and Persia—and their collective spoiler as well. Athens started the war off with gold piled high in its majestic Parthenon; it ended the conflict broke and unable even to flute the final columns of the Propylae, the monumental gateway to the still unfinished temples on the acropolis. Sparta fielded the most terrifying army in Greece, and yet most of its opponents fell not in pitched battle, but rather either to disease, at sea, or in guerrilla-style killing.
So, get to the bookshelf. Put down the fiction and reach deep.
Others have been here before. They’ve learned lessons you didn’t even know existed. All you need to gather this treasure of knowledge is time to read and open eyes to see.
Kagan’s abridged Peloponnesian War is still important because the solid judgment of its author remains throughout. No one—not a majestic Pericles, a fiery Cleon, or the chameleon Alcibiades—can fool Don Kagan; he appreciates the genius of bad men he does not like, and praises the inspiration of rogues he despises. Bad plans like Sicily can work if implemented well; good ideas of good men failed in the Delium campaign for bad luck and the simple want of common sense. Things about radical Athens bother him, but not to such a degree that he denies its energy and dynamism. He admires Spartan discipline, but hardly the blinkered society that was at the bottom of it all. If democracy was often murderous, oligarchy and tyranny brought the same violence but without the grandeur.
Finally and most importantly, Kagan has no condescension for his subjects. Cleon and Brasidas, Nicias and Lysander are not silly squabbling ancient peoples in need of modern enlightenment, but men of universal appetites to be taken on their own terms, just like us whose occasional crackpot ideas, fears, jealousies, and sins can sometimes—if the thin veneer of civilization is suddenly stripped away—lead into something absolutely godawful. If you don’t agree, ask the Serbians, Rwandans, Afghans—or those with cell phones and briefcases who politely boarded planes to butcher thousands.
Nothing is new; only new to you.
Please join us on at 5pm EST on 13 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 568: Seapower as a National Imperative, with Bryan McGrath:
Why a Navy? Why a strong Navy? Why is a strong Navy an essential
requirement for the United States Navy?
From its ability to project national will, to it hidden hand in the economics of every citizen’s life, why is it so critical that we have a Navy second to none.
To discuss this and more – especially in light of the election – will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath, Commander, US Navy (Retired).
Bryan McGrath grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”
Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.
He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 30 Oct 16 for Midrats Episode 356: Fall Free For All Spooktacular!
Midrats is back live! With a week left to go till the election, I am sure you are about done with all the political talk, so join us at 5pm Eastern this Sunday, October 30th as we cover the the globe on the breaking national security and maritime issues that have come up over the last month.
From FORD to KUZNETSOV; from The Baltic to Yemen we’ll have it covered.
As always with our Free For Alls; it is open mic an open mind. Call in with your issues and questions, or join us in the chat room.
Please join us at 5pm (US EDT) on 18 September 2016 for Midrats Episode 350: 21st Century Patton, With J. Furman Daniel III:
Put the popular, and mostly accurate, image of the flamboyant General Patton, USAgiven to us by popular culture to the side for a moment.
Consider the other side of the man; the strategic thinker, student of military history, and innovator for decades. This week’s episode will focus on that side of the man.
For the full hour we will have as our guest J. Furman Daniel, III, the editor of the next book in the 21st Century Foundations series: 21st Century Patton.
Furman is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona. He holds a BA (with honors) from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Georgetown University.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch
With a resurgent Russia, the security environment from former Soviet Republics to the traditionally neutral nations of Finland and Sweden has changed dramatically.
What are those changes and how are they changing how these nations see their place in the larger Western security infrastructure? We’re going to look at how thing are changing in how they work and see each other, NATO, and what they need to do to provide for both their and collective defense.
Our guests for the full hour will be Colonel Bruce Acker, USAF (ret) and Captain Dan Lynch, USN (Ret).
Bruce is currently a Defense Strategy Consultant in Stockholm Sweden. He spent 30 years on active duty starting as a Air Defense Weapons flight test engineer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, and subsequently served in Space, Missile Warning, and Missile Launch operations culminating as a Minuteman ICBM squadron Commander. Following staff tours managing future Air Force and Defense Space systems programs, he broadened to political military assignments as the US Air Attaché to Malaysia and as the US Defense Attaché and Senior Defense Official in Stockholm. Col Acker has published articles on regional security issues in the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences journal as well as leading National daily newspapers.
Dan is currently beginning his fifth year on the maritime faculty of the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. He spent over 35 years on active duty starting as an enlisted Marine and upon graduation from the Naval Academy selected Naval Aviation where he commanded a VP squadron and a patrol and reconnaissance wing. Following major command, he served on the staff of the US ambassador to NATO in Brussels and retired after his last tour as the Naval Attache to Stockholm.
Due to the location of our guests, the show was recorded earlier today. Listen to the show to at 5pm or pick it up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.
Seventy-six years ago today, Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske scrambled to his Hurricane along with his fellow pilots at RAF Tangmere to intercept a formation of German Junkers over the English Channel. His squadron destroyed 8 German aircraft, but a gunner badly damaged Fiske’s aircraft and put a bullet through his fuel tank. Rather than bail out, in one final piece of extraordinary skill, he managed to nurse his burning Hurricane back to the airfield, and bring it down through a steep dive into a belly landing. Fiske had to be recovered from his aircraft and died the next day of wounds he sustained over the Channel.
Plt Off Billy Fiske was the first U.S. citizen to travel to the UK on the onset of WWII to join the RAF and was one of 7 American pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain. Fiske was a member of 601(County of London) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force — the “Millionaire’s Squadron.”
The son of a wealthy New York banker, Fiske was a celebrity in his own country before traveling to the UK. He was the driver of the first five-man U.S. bobsled team to win the Olympics in 1928, and, at 16 years old, was the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport (eclipsed only in 1992). He carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony of the 1932 Olympics and again led the U.S. team to a gold medal. Fiske was also a cresta champion and was well known for jumps from the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel’s bar chandelier in St. Moritz.
He studied at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, then worked at the London office of New York banking company Dillon, Reed & Co, and he married Rose Bingham, the Countess of Warwick, in 1938. In 1939 he was recalled to work in New York, but at the outbreak of the war, pretended to be Canadian and enrolled in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, being promoted to Pilot Officer in March 1940.
In a letter to his sister Peggy, written around the time he volunteered, he explained his thinking. The English, he wrote, had “been damn good to me in good times so naturally I feel I ought to try and help out in bad if I can. There are absolutely no heroics in my motives, I’m probably twice as scared as the next man, but if anything happens to me I at least can feel I have done the right thing in spite of the worry to my family – which I certainly couldn’t feel if I was to sit in New York making dough.”
In 1941 a plaque was unveiled to him in St Paul’s Cathedral which is inscribed: An American citizen who died that England might live. The U.S. Bobsled Federation has also dedicated the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year.
The United States is currently relocating its Embassy in London to a new site, much of which will be a park and accessible to the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to honor the memory of Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske, a U.S. citizen and the first American to fly in the Battle of Britain, with a statue in the park, highlighting the close service and historical links between our nations and Air Forces.
Given Billy Fiske’s status in the United States, as a double Olympic gold medalist, and his close ties to the UK, including his education, marriage and subsequent enrollment in the RAF, a statue to this recognized hero would be a fitting tribute to him, and to the enduring relationship between both nations and Air Forces in the UK’s greatest hour of need. An American, in an RAF uniform, who died for Britain, would provide a distinct tie between both countries, and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, particularly with the inclusion of a public park, would provide a fitting venue.
Late this year and early next year, Embassy staff will relocate from the Embassy in Mayfair to a new site south of the River Thames. The Nine Elms district, a South Bank industrial zone under intense redevelopment, offers a unique setting for the new Embassy. With an estimated 1000 daily visitors, the Embassy project is expected to establish a strong framework for the urbanization of Nine Elms. Contributing to this revitalization is a civic plaza and park, connecting the Thames embankment and Nine Elms Lane to a new pedestrian green way, linking Vauxhall to Battersea. The Embassy will sit at the centre of the site, with the surrounding park containing a pond, walkways, seating, and landscape along its edges, all open to the public, in contrast to the usual high walls and fences. This park offers a terrific opportunity to showcase U.S. ingenuity, art and culture, as well as providing a venue to commemorate its history and the special relationship with the UK and to recognize one of “The Few.”
“The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and devotion.”
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
— Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940
- Moving the Influence Squadrons from Sea to Air
- A Polite Rozhestvenski Whisper to the Trump Transition Team
- On Midrats 8 Jan 2017 – Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?
- “Ameri-Straya”: The Story of the People Behind the U.S.-Australian Partnership In Electronic Warfare
- There Are Bad Ideas and Then There is This Bad Idea