The Battle That Wasn’t — Manila, Part 2

By Jay Holmes

Last week in The Scream Heard Around the World, we looked at how one Cuban raised his voice and instigated a war that defeated Spanish occupation in two island nations half a world apart. Today, we look at U.S. involvement in that war, and the impact of one man’s poetic farewell.

On April 20, 1898, the U.S. delivered an ultimatum demanding that Spain leave Cuba. On April 25, Spain formally declared war on the U.S. Given the poor state of repair of the Spanish naval forces in the Caribbean and in the Philippines, the U.S. Navy was able to conduct successful blockades.

 

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898 Painting by R.F. Zogbaum

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898
Painting by R.F. Zogbaum

 

A U.S. Navy task force lead by Commodore Dewey destroyed the entire Spanish fleet in Manila Harbor in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, without any significant damage to the U.S. ships. The revolutionary movement was encouraged by the Spanish naval defeat. The exiled Aguinaldo was invited back to the Philippines by the U.S. government. Dewey’s force remained in Manila harbor, waiting for a U.S. Army corps consisting mostly of new volunteers to arrive on the scene. Nineteen days later, Aguinaldo arrived in the Philippines and, to the disappointment of the U.S., instituted a dictatorship. Philippine forces surrounded the Spanish Army in Manila.

While Dewey waited for U.S. Army forces to arrive, the U.S. Navy quickly annihilated the Spanish squadron in Cuba. U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army, in conjunction with the Cuban Liberation Army, defeated the Spanish forces. As Americans had expected, the U.S. government demanded independence for Cuba. On August 12, 1898, Spain and the U.S. signed a cessation of hostilities in anticipation of an eventual peace treaty. Spain granted Cuba full independence and agreed to withdraw from the Philippines.

In the meantime, the U.S. Army had arrived in Manila Bay. One of the senior commanders among the new arrivals was a brilliant officer named Arthur MacArthur. His son Douglas would one day play an important role in Philippine history.

On August 13, unaware that a peace accord had been reached between the U.S. and Spain, the opposing armies in Manila conducted one of the strangest battles in their respective histories. The Spanish garrison knew that it could not hold out for long without reinforcements or resupply. They feared that the Philippine revolutionaries would enact bloody reprisals against the Spanish civilians in Manila.

 

Raising American Flag Over Ft. Santiago, Manila, August 13, 1898 image by G.W. Peters for Harper & Brothers wikimedia commons

Raising American Flag Over Ft. Santiago, Manila,
August 13, 1898
image by G.W. Peters for Harper & Brothers
wikimedia commons

 

Commodore Dewey was sympathetic to their concerns and managed to get the Spanish to agree to what was, in fact, a well-directed drama performance. In a prearranged fake battle, the U.S. forces went ashore and took Manila while simultaneously managing to keep the Philippine troops from entering Manila. In what had to be one of the greatest acting performances in history, the U.S. forces occupied Manila with only a few casualties on either side. The Spaniards were able to explain to their government in Madrid that they had put up an honorable resistance against overwhelming odds. By the time the Philippine revolutionaries realized what had happened, the U.S. forces had taken solid control of Manila and were able to enforce order. Aguinaldo and his followers rightly grew suspicious.

Whereas the U.S. public sentiment had always been in favor of Cuban independence, most Americans knew little about the Philippines and considered it a distant land occupied by exotic savages. The general assumption, thanks in large part to the U.S. press, was that those angry savages in the Philippines could not possibly govern themselves.

The U.S. was, in fact, hoping to take possession of the Philippines as new colonizers. Most of the public rationalized that this would be an act of kindness toward the “helpless savages.” Not all Americans agreed, and an anti-annexation faction led by Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain protested against the U.S. intentions to annex the Philippines.

On December 10, 1898, in the final peace agreement, the U.S. paid Spain $20,000,000 for Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Aguinaldo and his supporters were not amused.

War broke out between the Philippine revolutionaries and the U.S. occupation force on February 4, 1999. The U.S. Army was better equipped and well supplied, but it took them two years to put down the insurrection.

Embarkation of Nebraska volunteers June 23, 1899 image by War Dept. Office of Chief Signal Officer U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Embarkation of Nebraska volunteers June 23, 1899
image by War Dept. Office of Chief Signal Officer
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

In 1902, the U.S. Congress was still debating precisely how the U.S. would administer the Philippines. A few stubborn voices spoke in favor of the Philippine people. During the 1902 session, U.S. Representative Henry Cooper took to the floor and read a poem to the House. It was an English translation of a poem that José Rizal had written during the last hours of his life, Mi última adios . . . My Last Farewell. (See The Scream Heard Around the World.)

Cooper asked his fellow congressmen if those were the words of a savage or a brilliant man. His fellow congressmen were touched by the poem. In minutes, their sentiments shifted significantly. The Philippines were not granted their independence, but an administration was installed with the intention of preparing the Philippines for self-governance. The enabling bill included a provision for the Philippine Assembly, allowed for two Philippine delegates to the American Congress, and most importantly, it extended the U.S. Bill of Rights to the Philippines. The U.S. did not grant complete independence until July 4, 1946, by the Treaty of Manila. With decades of bloody fighting, the people of the Philippines had not been able to achieve their goal of independence. With his final words, their most beloved native son, the gentle doctor José Rizal had given them their freedom.

Before the people of the Philippines could fully exercise their freedom, tragedy would come to their land in the form of a Japanese invasion. But that is a story for our next installment.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

My Last Farewell

By Jose Rizal, 1896

Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’d,

Pearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost!

Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,

And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest,

Still would I give it thee, nor count the cost.

*

On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of fight,

Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;

The place matters not–cypress or laurel or lily white,

Scaffold of open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,

‘Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need.

*

I die just when I see the dawn break,

Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;

And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,

Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,

To dye with its crimson the waking ray.

*

My dreams, when life first opened to me,

My dreams, when the hopes of youth beat high,

Were to see thy lov’d face, O gem of the Orient sea,

From gloom and grief, from care and sorrow free;

No blush on thy brow, no tear in thine eye.

*

Dream of my life, my living and burning desire,

All hail! cries the soul that is now to take flight;

All hail! And sweet it is for thee to expire;

To die for thy sake, that thou mayst aspire;

And sleep in thy bosom eternity’s long night.

*

If over my grave some day thou seest grow,

In the grassy sod, a humble flower,

Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,

While I may feel on my brow in the cold tomb below

The touch of thy tenderness, thy breath’s warm power.

*

Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,

Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,

Let the wind with sad lament over me keen;

And if on my cross a bird should be seen,

Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.

*

Let the sun draw the vapors up to the sky,

And heavenward in purity bear my tardy protest;

Let some kind soul o’er my untimely fate sigh,

And in the still evening a prayer be lifted on high

From thee, O my country, that in God I may rest.

*

Pray for all those that hapless have died,

For all who have suffered the unmeasur’d pain;

For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,

For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried;

And then for thyself that redemption thou mayst gain.

*

And when the dark night wraps the graveyard around,

With only the dead in their vigil to see;

Break not my repose or the mystery profound,

And perchance thou mayst hear a sad hymn resound;

‘Tis I, O my country, raising a song unto thee.

*

When even my grave is remembered no more,

Unmark’d by never a cross nor a stone;

Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o’er,

That my ashes may carpet thy earthly floor,

Before into nothingness at last they are blown.

*

Then will oblivion bring to me no care,

As over thy vales and plains I sweep;

Throbbing and cleansed in thy space and air,

With color and light, with song and lament I fare,

Ever repeating the faith that I keep.

*

My Fatherland ador’d, that sadness to my sorrow lends,

Beloved Filipinas, hear now my last good-by!

I give thee all: parents and kindred and friends;

For I go where no slave before the oppressor bends,

Where faith can never kill, and God reigns e’er on high!

*

Farewell to you all, from my soul torn away,

Friends of my childhood in the home dispossessed!

Give thanks that I rest from the wearisome day!

Farewell to thee, too, sweet friend that lightened my way;

Beloved creatures all, farewell! In death there is rest!

*

                        English translation by Charles Derbyshire.

The Scream Heard Around the World — Manila Part 1

By Jay Holmes

Here in the U.S., if we hear the words “the Battle of Manila,” we generally assume they refer to the WWII battle that took place in the Philippine Islands in 1945. That’s a reasonable assumption, but long before U.S. General Douglas MacArthur attempted the liberation of the city of Manila in the Philippines, the U.S. fought a lesser-known Battle of Manila—one that began with a scream halfway around the world. Both battles were crucial for the U.S. interests in Asia, and both battles marked major turning points for the people of the Philippines. There ends the similarity.

 

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana
image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

 

On the morning of October 10, 1868, a Cuban plantation owner-turned-philosopher by the name of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo rang the slave bell calling his slaves to assembly. Carlos freed them and invited them to join him in a revolution against Cuba’s Spanish occupiers. In Cuban history, Carlos’s conversation that day is known as el Grito de Yara, or “the scream of Yara.”

 

Carlos Céspedes’s scream was the Declaration of Independence for Cuba, a country which, from the point of view of most Cubans at that time, was suffering a brutal Spanish occupation. Knowing that Cuba’s Spanish occupiers worked for a government that considered Cuba to be part of Spain’s national territory, Carlos took the precaution of committing to writing his Declaration of Independence for Cuba.

 

Most Cubans thought independence was a sensible idea. Most Spaniards thought it was the worst idea since Napoleon decided to visit. Before it was all over, Carlos’s particular grito, or scream, would be heard as far away as Manila and in every village in the Philippines. Unfortunately for Spain, before that scream could echo off the stout walls of Intramuras in Manila, it registered in the ears and minds of revenue-conscious and often-bored-but-always-creative newspaper owners in the U.S. Within a year, the revolutionary Cubans had selected Carlos as their leader.

 

Loud though his scream was, Carlos did not live to see Cuban independence. In 1873, he lost his position as the leader of the Cuban revolution and went into hiding in the mountains. The following year, the Spanish found him and executed him, but the revolution he began continued on.

 

In 1878, Spain grew tired of the high cost of the war in Cuba and signed a treaty that freed most of the slaves and promised improvements and more rights for Cubans. But the treaty did not grant Cuba her independence, and Carlos Céspedes’s grito was not done echoing.

 

The yearning for Cuban independence continued to smolder, and in 1893, another Cuban philosopher, José Julián Martí Pérez, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York City. José Martí carried forward that cry for independence.

 

Martí returned to Cuba to help incite a new revolution in April of 1895. One month later, he died while attempting to inspire Cuban fighters by charging a Spanish stronghold on horseback. Like Carlos Céspedes, he did not live to see his native country free, but his writings and his devotion to democracy and freedom helped inspire the Cuban people to achieve their independence.

 

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898 wikimedia commons

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898
wikimedia commons

 

Halfway around the world, another philosopher had been inspired by Carlos Céspedes’s scream. The Philippines’ most beloved native son, Doctor José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, had attended both the University of San Tomas in Luzon and Madrid University in Spain, and he had traveled extensively from a young age. He had grown tired of the Spanish occupation.

 

José Rizal was never one to do much screaming. He was more of a listener and a quiet thinker. He was also a powerful writer, heavily influenced by the European philosophers of his time. Rizal wanted freedom and democracy for his native Philippines, but the revolutionary groups that were forming there did not enthrall him. He felt that a Filipino revolution against Spain without adequate education and a clear national identity with democratic ideals would not be an improvement for the people of the Philippines.

 

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896 The Philippine National Archives

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896
The Philippine National Archives

 

In 1887, José Rizal published his seminal work called Noli Me Tángere, which is Latin for “touch me not.” The gentle whisper of the thoughtful young doctor spread through the Philippines and inspired his countrymen to stand up against the Spanish occupation. However, to Rizal’s dismay, the uprising turned extremely violent by 1896. At that time, Rizal volunteered to go to Cuba to help doctor the victims of an outbreak of yellow fever. The Spanish intercepted his ship in route arrested him. In spite of his public denouncements of the violence and his constant pleas for peaceful dialogue, Rizal was charged with inciting the violence in the Philippines.

José Rizal was convicted for imaginary crimes and sentenced to death. On December 30, 1896, he was executed by firing squad. Even so, his words refused to die. After his death, his sister recovered his last poem, Mi última adios . . . My Last Farewell. It had been hidden in his small portable stove in his cell in Manila. She and Rizal’s friends saw that it was published. There was no way they could know the eventual impact of their choice.

 

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal's Execution wikimedia commons

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal’s Execution
wikimedia commons

 

The increasing violence in Cuba and the Philippines caught the attention of Europe and the U.S. A few weeks before Rizal’s execution, U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet had carefully considered a secret report by Naval Intelligence Officer William Kimball. Kimball concluded that the Spanish Navy, though well trained and well led, was vulnerable due to years of inadequate maintenance. Kimball was aware that the U.S. maintained only a small professional army of about 25,000 men. He recommended that the U.S. use its growing naval power to intervene in Cuba and the Philippines by conducting naval blockades and, if necessary, conducting a naval bombardment of locations on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. U.S. President Grover Cleveland called on Spain to bring the uprisings to peaceful conclusions and announced that the U.S. would consider intervening in Cuba if the bloodbath did not stop.

 

By 1897, U.S. newspapers such as William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal were publishing increasingly one-sided reports about Spanish barbarism in Cuba and the Philippines. Though there were no shortages of real atrocities to report, the newspapers often reported pure fantasy. This inflammatory press coverage fed America’s sympathy for the Cuban people.

 

In March of 1897, U.S. President William McKinley was inaugurated. A few days later, Emilio Aguinaldo was selected as the leader of the revolutionary government of the Philippines. The new U.S. President preached against involvement in the war between Spain and its colonies, but his position quickly lost supporters, due in large part to the yellow journalism being practiced by major U.S. newspapers.

 

On August 8, 1897, an Italian anarchist assassinated Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. The assassination created instability in the Spanish government and hindered its conduct of foreign and colonial policy. On December 15 that year, Spanish negotiators paid Emilio Aguinaldo 800,000 pesos and agreed to grant the Philippines autonomy. In exchange, Aguinaldo and his cohorts agreed to a voluntary exile in Hong Kong.

 

Spain granted “limited autonomy” to the Philippines on January 1, 1898. For many Philippine people, this declaration was simply too little, too late.

 

Anti-Spanish sentiment in the U.S. was growing much worse. In Cuba, violence was increasing. The U.S. was concerned for the safety of U.S. citizens in Havana. Since the U.S. was still politically neutral in the conflict, it received the approval of the Spanish government to send the battle cruiser USS Maine to Havana harbor.

 

USS Maine U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

USS Maine
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

 

On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded while at anchor in Havana harbor, killing 270 U.S. sailors. Navy investigations concluded that a mine likely detonated near an ammunition magazine and set off a fatal explosion, which caused the battle cruiser to sink rapidly. The Navy investigators made it clear that they had no information as to who might have placed the mine. Nevertheless, most newspapers in the U.S. reported that the Spanish had placed the mine.

 

The public outcry for war against Spain gathered momentum. Newspaper sales reached new records in New York and other major cities, and advertising revenues skyrocketed. Carlos Céspedes’s grito echoed once more, and on April 11, President McKinley bowed to public opinion and requested permission from Congress to take military action against Spain. On April 13, Congress approved President McKinley’s request. America entered the war.

 

In the next installment, we will look at how this Battle of Manila unfolded, and the power of a poem.

 

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park Manila, Philippines image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park
Manila, Philippines
image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

 

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The Scream Heard Around the World

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Sci Fi Themed Brothel Near Area 51

By Piper Bayard

Star Wars Princess Leia and Jobba the Hut

For those who have always dreamed of an out-of-this-world threesome.

Alien Cathouse? Wonder why they went with that instead of Area 69? Will this make Princess Leia the first Disney Princess to end up in a brothel? Will there soon be a Disney-themed brothel near Magic Mountain? Speculation is endless.

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

So now let’s sweeten things up a bit with a recipe from author Amber Medina. Citrus Almond Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream

Terrific article from Bestselling Authors Jen Talty and Bob Mayer about The Relevance of Customer Reviews and Discoverability.

Where Children Sleep Page

image from Amazon.com

 

Christine Moore brings us a fascinating post by Sunny Skyz with some outstanding pictures from Where Children Sleep, a large format collection of photographs of children’s bedrooms from around the world by photographer James Mollison. 17 Children and Their Bedrooms from Around the World. I can’t encourage you enough to take a look at this.

The 50 Coolest Inventions from All 50 States via Bestselling Author Larry Enright.

Some outstanding perspective on the latest Ft. Hood shooting by Jenn Carpenter, who lived there. The Truth about Ft. Hood. Thanks to  Jenny Hansen of More Cowbell for pointing me to this.

Kudos to this Aquinas College class for The Best Classroom April Fool’s Prank Ever. Seriously. This was awesome!

Campaign Style Poll of the Week

All the best to all of you for a week of having fun with sci fi.

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The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . 

Sci Fi Themed Brothel Near Area 51

Consider Crying for Argentina

By Jay Holmes

This evening I treated myself to a theatre performance, or at least to the recording of a theatre performance. On March 1, 2014, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner addressed the 132nd National Congress of Argentina. I was forwarded a recording of the speech, but had not taken the time to enjoy the nearly three-hour impromptu performance until last night. Former First Lady of Argentina Evita Perón was great at those well-rehearsed, seemingly “impromptu” addresses. Dream though she may, Cristina is no Evita.

 

Image by Presidency of the Nation of Argentina wikimedia commons

Image by Presidency of the Nation of Argentina
wikimedia commons

 

The result was nearly three hours of speech with very little new or meaningful information. Cristina sees herself as a victim of dark conspiracies by the world’s wealthy movers and shakers. While I am no fan of the new age economic potentates, it’s not the job of the Argentine National government to whine about them. Their job is to develop effective policies to help the troubled economy of Argentina.

Cristina promised more cooperation with opposition parties, but she has yet to actually foster political cooperation in Argentina. In that sense, her speech was not altogether dissimilar to political speeches in any democratic nation.

In a theme that is gaining voice in the U.S. and some parts of Europe, Cristina claims the shale oil/gas development, known as “fracking,” will bring an economic boom to Argentina. In the U.S., the opponents of fracking like to hoist “No Fracking” signs at protests. What would it be in Argentina? Perhaps it would be something along the lines of “No Me Fraques.” It has a nice ring to it. Perhaps the more militant placards would read something like “Fraca Tu Madre.” I can’t wait.

According to Cristina, Argentina is enjoying its greatest economic growth since the Gauchos first set out to tame the Pampas. She doesn’t explain how chronically high unemployment and inflation that may be as high as 40% fits into this picture of economic Nirvana.  To many observers, the growing slums around Buenos Aires paint an altogether different portrait of Argentina’s economy.

While Cristina is only partly to blame for Argentina’s current economic crisis, she can shoulder the blame for the current failed policies that have hurt Argentina. Nationalizing the Argentine airlines and oil companies has left foreign investors unwilling to help modernize the Argentine energy sector or invest in their economy. The traditionally strong agricultural sector has grown stagnant, and in spite of food shortages around the globe, Argentina is no longer enjoying the agricultural export profits that it once took for granted.

Cristina increased taxes on rural agricultural Argentinians and indirectly instituted price controls on agricultural products. The result has been food shortages, which is bizarre because Argentina is traditionally a food-exporting nation. Held up as national heroes in the past, Cristina is now using agricultural populations as scapegoats for this problem. That sort of adversarial relationship with Argentina’s farmers and ranchers plays well in most of Buenos Aires, but it only exacerbates the decreased productivity, and in the end it hurts the poorest urban dwellers the most.

 

Wiki Falkland Islands Argentine Air Force public domain

April 2, 2014, was the 32nd anniversary of the ill-conceived Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands by a military junta that wanted desperately to distract the Argentine public from their troubles at home. Subsequent governments have marked the occasion with a more somber form of patriotism that focused on remembering the loss of life that resulted from that failed invasion. This 2nd of April, the celebration included Cristina’s introduction of a new 50 Peso note that sports a map of the Falklands, or Las Malvinas as they are called in Argentina. The Beijing government, which recently employed similar propaganda methods concerning their expansionist aspirations in the Pacific, might be wondering if they’ll get a royalty for having their idea copied. I would tell them not to bother sending a bill. Most international bills arriving at the desk of the Argentine Treasury have been ignored of late.

One of the thrilling highlights of this particular three hour Evita sequel (sans music) was Cristina’s explanation to a fascinated audience that the Falklands are used by the U.K. for all of their electronic espionage against the southern hemisphere. Apparently, Cristina has not yet heard about that marvelous new invention that we call “the satellite.” You’ll be surprised to know that the Falklands are not just a southern headquarters of British intelligence systems, but that they in fact house ICBMs for use against South America. I’m not making this up folks. Translations of her speeches are available to any member of the public that wishes to endure nearly three hours of bad theatre.

So what do Evita 2.0’s recent theatrical extravaganzas mean? Anything? The answer depends on who you ask. I will offer you my best guesses.

The U.K. Ministry Of Defense has not further reinforced the Falklands in response to Cristina’s performances. That’s because they don’t take her very seriously. The Argentine military has languished since the Falklands War. Cristina has not delivered on her many promises to the Argentine military of new and improved bases or a major expansion of the Argentine Air Force. The U.K., on the other hand, has taken the precaution of installing a modern air defense system in the Falklands and has four modern warplanes stationed there. And no, there are no atomic weapons on the Falklands.  Well, you say, certainly she would have rebuilt the Argentine fleet by now. No. She is patiently waiting to commission two modern carriers that are being built. Even though the U.K. Royal Navy currently has no carriers either, Argentina is still at a disadvantage. In all, whatever Falklands invasion Cristina Fernandez pretends to dream of won’t become a reality in the near future.

As for Cristina’s “all new, more whitening power, economic detergent,” don’t expect much change. While some critics of the Fernandez Kirchner Theatre Company are willing to compare Argentina to Venezuela, I don’t see them slipping that far. Cristina and her supporting cast can no longer count on automatic middle class support for radical economic reforms. She’s all but run her course. As well as I can guess, Argentina is unlikely to improve much in the near future, but it’s not likely to get much worse at this point. The socialist sky is not quite falling in Buenos Aires.

 

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner image by Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
image by Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons

 

Enjoy the theatre season.

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Consider Crying for Argentina

James Bond vs. The Spook

By Piper Bayard

You could say I work with Bond. James Bond. The real one. But that wouldn’t be quite right. I work with a spook.

 

Please don’t ask me how a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney grew up to be the writing partner of a seasoned covert operative, because that is a story I can never tell. But I can tell you this . . . It’s nothing like fiction.

 

His name is Holmes. Jay Holmes. And unlike James Bond, that’s not his real name. That’s because when covert operatives reveal their identities – even decades after they are out of deep cover – people can die. Assets and loved ones alike can become targets. So when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.

 

Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible.

Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible. 

 

So what’s this real covert spook writing partner of mine like? First off, Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”

 

Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”

 

There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”

 

And all of those wild car chases that happen in books and movies? Sure. They happen now and then in real life. Holmes has personally driven down the Spanish Steps and gone the wrong way up a narrow one-way street to get his man. But what you almost never see in fiction is that spooks wear seatbelts. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”

 

There are also many things fictional spooks do that real spooks never do—or at least few live to tell if they do. How many times in fiction does a spook duck into a doorway and peek out of it to spy on someone he’s following? That’s a good way to get dead in real life.

 

One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.

 

Another thing fiction almost invariably gets wrong is the spook’s relationship to room service. How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.

 

This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on a mission. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his home. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.

 

So back to my original question – what’s this real life spook like? Unlike fiction, Holmes is incredibly mundane. While he has an incredibly charming boyish smile, he doesn’t look a thing like James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Reacher. In fact, real spooks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. When they aren’t on a job, they might be working as Wal-Mart managers, secretaries, teachers, insurance salesmen, or corporate CEOs. And their days at home can look like anyone else’s, filled with gardening, grocery shopping, cleaning, and following behind their children turning off lights. Holmes would say that spooks are ordinary people with a bit more than average commitment and dedication to their work.

 

More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.

More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.

 

Notice I said that Holmes would say that. He strongly objects to the notion that he and other covert operatives are special in any way. However, speaking as a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney with a home in “normalville” and a window into the shadow world, I would suggest that from most people’s perspective, there is one thing fiction definitely gets right. These folks are anything but ordinary.

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James Bond vs. The Spook

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Corn Dogs Shut Down Interstate

By Piper Bayard

image by BenFranske, wikimedia commons

image by BenFranske, wikimedia commons

A truck carrying ketchup, mustard, and 76,000 corn dogs wrecked on I-220 near Shreveport, Louisiana, this week, shutting down the interstate. Acting on the Five-Second Rule, local rednecks descended on the grub like zombies attacking the cast of The Walking Dead. Fortunately, no one was injured in the making of this End is Near moment.

Louisiana weather forecast? Cloudy with a Chance of Corn Dogs.

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

A big welcome to Kelly Roberts, the new kid on the Blogoverse Block. And So It Begins . . .

Interesting perspective from Natalie C. Markey. Life Lessons from a Middle Eastern Compound Resident

7 Minutes with . . . Allison Brennan by J.T. Ellison. New York Times Bestseller and Sharp Lady Allison Brennan this week kicked off her new Maxine Revere crime series with the release of NOTORIUS.

Notorius by Allison Brennan

Author K.B. Owen reminds us that there is a holiday devoted to mirth. Happy Hilaria! Cool Pranks, Past and Present

“Flat Stanley” Home after Decade in Soldier’s Wallet. Via Author Jenny Hansen of More Cowbell.

Author Julie Glover shares Dancing Bacon and My Three Degrees to KevinThose of us from small towns in and near Texas know that Footloose wasn’t fiction. This fun video that Julie found brings it all back.

Campaign Style Poll of the Week . . .

All the best to all of you for a week of hearty meals.

Cowardly French? Not at the Battle of Verdun!

By Jay Holmes

France has the reputation for being highly uncooperative in the Western community, which has led to the American and European habit of describing the French as being cowardly—a “nation of whores and waiters.” Every nation has whores. Fortunately, every nation also has waiters. And every nation has its cowards, but history indicates that in spite of France’s popular reputation, France’s military has been no less courageous than that of any other nation.

One event in particular that stands out as an example of French courage and as a defining force in the French political psyche is the Battle of Verdun. Like Guadalcanal, Gettysburg, Austerlitz, and Stalingrad, few people outside of Verdun’s immediate neighbors knew about the town or cared about it until a major battle was fought there. In 1916, the word “Verdun” took on a new meaning in France and to the Allied Powers and the Central Powers.

On Ne Passe Pas! "They shall not pass!" Poster by Maurice Neumont, public domain

On Ne Passe Pas!
“They shall not pass!”
Poster by Maurice Neumont, public domain

By early 1916, Europe and the European colonies had been involved with a particularly bloody war for nearly two years. France, Germany, and their allies had suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties on the “Western Front.” Given the largely effective naval blockade of the Central Powers, the German war economy was beginning to suffer, and German leaders knew that the long-range prospect of a German victory was dwindling. Without a rapid victory, the effective balance of forces on the Western Front would shift against Germany.

In an effort to secure that victory, German General Erich von Falkenhayn employed a method that Alexander the Great used frequently with great success in the fourth century B.C. Alexander had learned that enemies often least expect an attack at the strongest point of their fortifications, and that if he quickly concentrated his forces at that point, then he could destroy the center of his enemy’s defensive position and the bulk of its forces while it attempted to maneuver into a counterattack or regain defensive positions.

This method works as long as the attacking army has well trained, disciplined forces that can concentrate their firepower, and its leaders at all levels understand the tactics and are prepared to execute follow-up movement after obtaining the breach in the enemy line. General von Falkenhayn’s situation at the Battle at Verdun met those requirements.

In military terms, the area around Verdun constituted the last high ground between the attacking German army and the city of Paris. Von Falkenhayn counted on the French being unable to reinforce against the German advance. He planned that his army would capture the heights around Verdun and march through the grape fields of Champagne to trample Paris along with the grapes. My assumption is that von Falkenhayn and the German government thought that at some point prior to the German army arriving in Paris, France and the UK would agree to peace terms that were favorable to Germany. Germany could then concentrate its efforts in the east against the faltering Russian army and effect a sizeable real estate acquisition in Eastern Europe. While the long-range hopes of the German leadership concerning the attack on Verdun cannot be determined with certainty, it is safe to say they viewed the Battle of Verdun as vital to German victory.

In the winter of 1916, Verdun’s defensive works were depleted. Most of the mobile artillery that was crucial to its defense had been moved to more active sectors of the front, and the French forces in garrison in the area were too few to deal with a major assault. To the Germans, it seemed that von Falkenhayn’s application of Alexander’s favorite tactic would once more prove effective.

Fortunately for the French, their intelligence services succeeded in detecting the German buildup and discovered that the Germans intended to launch a major assault against Verdun. Due to bad weather and good French intelligence analysis, the French were able to move two additional full divisions to Verdun prior to the assault, but the Germans still enjoyed a two-to-one advantage in forces.

Map public domain, wikimedia commons

Map public domain, wikimedia commons

As a rule of thumb, military planners consider a three-to-one ratio to be optimal for a force attacking prepared defenses. While the Germans realized that they now lacked that preferred ratio, they remained confident because they had a five-to-one advantage in artillery. If we also examine the throw weight/hour and the ranges of the artillery pieces on both sides, it looks more like a twenty-to-one advantage for the Germans.

The Germans were also confident because they already held the land on three sides of the Verdun area. They assumed, quite reasonably, that since they had a major high capacity rail line running to within 20 km of the battle front, and the French had only one narrow road and a low capacity narrow gauge rail line supplying Verdun, that the French would not be able to move ammunition and food to Verdun fast enough to support a battle there. On the map table of the German headquarters, it all looked perfect. From the French side, it had to look like an impending disaster.

At 0715 hours on February 21, 1916, the well-planned German attack started with the world’s first “shock and awe” display. On a scale never seen before, the Germans conducted a massive artillery bombardment against the French defenders. It was heard up to a hundred miles away.

Most of the French soldiers in their defensive trenches were wiped out, and telegraph lines were cut. The massive artillery bombardment was followed up with attacks by specially trained German shock troops equipped with hand grenades and, for the first time, flamethrowers for clearing any enclosed French positions. The Germans quickly gained ground. For the most part, no Frenchmen were alive to defend the ground that the Germans were capturing. The situation was close to desperate for the French.

French reserves crossing a river on the way to Verdun image public domain, wikimedia commons

French reserves crossing a river on the way to Verdun
image public domain, wikimedia commons

Then something interesting happened. Rather than run out of supplies and fall back in retreat as the Germans expected, the French pulled off a near logistical miracle. In spite of the dire conditions and the frequent storms of German artillery shells, they kept supplies and men moving forward. That small, solitary French road leading up to Verdun was filled with supplies and soldiers pushing forward against the flow of wounded Frenchmen being moved to hospitals.

If we try to understand the mindset of the French soldiers that were first sent to reinforce Verdun, it’s difficult to justify thinking of them as cowardly. They had a long walk toward the roaring artillery bombardment of the town on a narrow road jammed with wounded soldiers returning from hell on earth. That previously insignificant road would become known as La Voie Sacrée, the Sacred Path. If those first French troops at Verdun cannot be called cowards, what would we call the men in the last troop of reinforcements? They started up that road knowing that their chances of escaping death or serious injury were less than forty percent. Yet with that knowledge, they marched up that road to face the Germans.

The battle raged until December 16, 1916, and 362,000 French soldiers as well as 332,000 German soldiers died. Depending on how we evaluate injuries, each side also suffered around an additional 100,000 to 200,000 badly wounded soldiers. There were isolated incidents of French and German soldiers refusing to execute suicidal frontal attacks against each other’s positions during the battle, but these were exhausted, malnourished, sleepless men who had suffered long artillery bombardments day after day for weeks on end.

Verdun 1916 French 87th Regiment Cote 304 image public domain, wikimedia commons

Verdun 1916
French 87th Regiment Cote 304
image public domain, wikimedia commons

After December of 1916, both sides waged successive attacks and counter attacks until the end of the Great War. That War was indeed “great” in scale, but it was horrific in nature, and the French held their own. Even those few that suffered mental collapse cannot fairly be called cowards.

Given the independent character of Westerners, the French and their fellow Westerners will likely continue hurling insults back and forth. It’s something of an amusement to all who participate. We can keep telling those jokes about the lack of French military courage, but if any of us is ever tempted to believe those jokes, we should remember one simple word that more than any other word disproves the theory of French cowardice.

Verdun.

Mémorial de la Voie Sacrée, Maison Brûlé image by Gérald Garitan, wikimedia commons

Mémorial de la Voie Sacrée, Maison Brûlé
image by Gérald Garitan, wikimedia commons

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Bayard & Holmes

Cowardly French? Not at the Battle of Verdun!

Working Vacation

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

We’ll be out this week. We would tell you what we are doing, but we thought it would be much more fun for you to guess.

Not Bayard & Holmes, but it looks like fun.

Not Bayard & Holmes, but it looks like fun.

What other things do you think we might be doing this week?

Nobel Peace Prize: It Hasn’t Always Been a Joke

By Jay Holmes

This year’s nomination of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize has once again highlighted questions concerning the Prize’s legitimacy. The nomination came while Putin was orchestrating a Hitler-style takeover of the Crimean region of the Ukraine. Putin has responded to his nomination by accelerating the Russian military campaign and announcing that Russia might withdraw from the nuclear arms control verification process. No reasonable person would point to him as a shining example of a person who works for peace.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vladimir Putin image by Pete Souza, wikimedia

Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vladimir Putin
image by Pete Souza, wikimedia commons

If Putin’s nomination is comically absurd, he is not the first controversial nominee. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize only ninety days after taking office—too short a time for the Nobel selection committee to conduct anything like a thorough investigation of him as a candidate. Obama accepted the prize graciously, but he stated that he was surprised, and that he felt unworthy of the award. Many observers agreed. Since receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, expanded the world wide use of drone strikes, used Cruise Missiles to negotiate Gadhafi’s departure from Libya, sent a military aid team to the Central African Republic, authorized and – according to his supporters – personally orchestrated the U.S. military incursion into Pakistan to kill the infamous criminal Osama Bin Laden. I am not criticizing any of those actions, but only those who are religiously faithful to the president hold him up as an example of a “dove” at this point.

Of course Putin and Obama are not the first instances of controversy surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, after retired U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the Peace Prize, members of the selection committee admitted that their choice was politically motivated as a way to indirectly oppose the policies of President George Bush. Nevertheless, even if it was politically motivated, they at least picked someone who shunned the comforts of a wealthy retirement to spend his time directly working for world peace and to reduce the suffering of the poor.

1994 Nobel Laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin image by Saar Yaacov for GPO

1994 Nobel Laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin
image by Saar Yaacov for GPO, wikimedia commons

Far more controversial was their selection of Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in 1994. Opinions on Peres and Arafat vary wildly depending on whether you ask a Palestinian or an Israeli, but for neutral observers, ignoring Arafat’s leadership in Palestinian terrorist activities requires a strong reliance on denial. If we consider that Arafat ordered the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered, and that he was responsible for dozens of other terrorist strikes around the world, then Arafat’s selection for the Nobel Peace Prize stands out as the Nobel selection committee’s most shameful moment . . . so far.

In spite of the Nobel Committee’s occasionally asinine behavior, it is worth remembering Alfred Nobel’s peaceful intent in setting up the Nobel Prize system and the fact that the Prize has, on many occasions, served to promote world peace. Let us consider a few of the many obvious cases of deserving recipients.

Ralph Bunche

The first recipient who comes to mind as highly deserving is American Professor Ralph Bunche. Ralph received the award in 1950. Before mentioning a few of Bunche’s many achievements, I would point out one of his most endearing personal qualities. Ralph started life as the son of poor parents in Detroit and ended up being raised by his grandparents in Los Angeles. Although that kid from the Detroit underclass became a renowned professor and United Nations big shot, he never forgot the poor. In spite of his fame and achievements, Ralph Bunche never hesitated to stand shoulder to shoulder with the most disadvantaged people of this world.

After a difficult childhood, Ralph Bunche graduated valedictorian of his class at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1927, and was the valedictorian of his class at a time when many universities around the U.S. were not allowing “negroes” to enroll. Ralph attended Howard University as a graduate student on an academic scholarship and received his masters in political science in 1928. In 1934, he became the first African-American to receive a doctorate in political science from an American university, after which he studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

During World War Two, Ralph worked as an analyst for the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, he dedicated himself to working toward the foundation of the United Nations. Ralph Bunche and Eleanor Roosevelt worked tirelessly against staunch opposition from many nations’ delegates for the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Some felt that human rights did not belong in the foundation of the U.N., but Bunche and Roosevelt believed that the U.N. would have no legitimacy without recognizing universal human rights.

In 1947 and 1948, Ralph worked to try to end the Arab-Israeli War. He was the senior assistant to the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine and rose to the office of Secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission. In 1948, the U.N. appointed Bunche and Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden to mediate the conflict. In September 1948, members of the underground Jewish Lehi group assassinated Bernadotte in Jerusalem.

After the assassination, Bunche became the U.N.’s chief mediator. The Israeli representative was Moshe Dayan. Dayan was known to be an ill-tempered and stubborn individual. He wrote in his memoirs that his most productive negotiations with Bunche happened during billiards games in off hours. Ever the optimist, Bunche commissioned an artist to create memorial plates for each negotiator. When the agreement was signed, Bunche handed the negotiators their plates. Dayan asked Bunche what he would have done with them if the negotiations had failed, and Bunche responded, “I’d have broken the plates over your damn heads.”

Ralph Bunche, Ph.D. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress

Ralph Bunche, Ph.D.
Photo by Carl Van Vechten
Library of Congress

For achieving the 1949 Armistice Agreements, Dr. Bunche received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He continued to work for the U.N. and mediated in other war-torn regions, including the Congo, Cyprus, Kashmir, and Yemen. He was then appointed Undersecretary-General of the U.N. in 1968. In spite of his busy schedule as one of the most productive leaders in the history of the U.N., Ralph Bunche also lent his status, expertise, and experience to the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s.

In 1971, Ralph Bunche took ill and left his position at the U.N. In December of that year, he died and was buried in New York. The world had lost one of its greatest champions of peace. Ralph Bunche had upheld the highest ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Many other highly deserving Nobel Peace Prize recipients stand out as remarkable servants of peace. Co-recipients in 1976, Betty Williams and Mairéad Corrigan Maguire were two of the outstanding women of Northern Ireland who boldly stepped up the peace movement in the face of death threats from both sides of the conflict. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa received the prize in 1984 for his work on bringing a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa with his ability to gain the respect and trust of diverse church groups and help them to unite against the many opponents of peace in South Africa.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi of Iran received the Peace Prize. As a lawyer and author, Shirin champions human rights, and in particular children’s rights. That is never an easy task, and doing so while speaking out against the pseudo-Islamic junta that runs Iran usually results in a slow and painful death. Remarkably, she survived the anger of the militant mullahs after defending accused dissidents in Iranian courts and founding a human rights group in Iran. She now resides in London, where in spite of repeated death threats against her and her family, she continues her work for human rights. She remains an international champion for children’s rights.

In reflecting on the entire list of Nobel Peace Prize winners, we see that nominees like Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, and winners like Osama bin Laden Prototype Yasser Arafat demonstrate the weakest moments in Nobel Peace Prize history. Unfortunately, they usually receive the most attention. Today, let us remember that the Nobel Peace Prize has more often than not highlighted remarkable people who have worked for a better world.

What Nobel Peace Prize recipients do you consider to be most deserving?

Cliffside Rose Flash Fiction: And the Winners Are . . .

Two weeks ago, I challenged readers to a contest telling us how a rose would end up atop a desert cliff in the middle of nowhere. Their stories had to include the words “Dixie,” “witness protection,” and “cheese grater.”

See The Cliffside Rose–Flash Fiction Contest

For the last week, readers voted here and at our sister WordPress blog to determine the top three winners of The Cliffside Rose Flash Fiction Contest with the combined totals. With some brilliant entries, this was no easy task, but three entries tied at the top.

And the winners are . . .

Olympic Ring Espionage image from Ebay.com

Olympic Ring Espionage
image from Ebay.com


BrickHouseChick:  Olympic Ring Espionage

Dixie was conflicted about being on The Bachelor, but she wanted the chance to meet her Prince. And that she did. Thor was very CALIENTE and had cheese-grater abs. The problem was, that he was a spy in Russia during the Olympics and they were ‘on’ to him. Putin blamed Thor for the 5th ring not lighting up during the opening ceremonies and was not happy. Thor was about to give Dixie the FINAL ROSE. If she accepted the rose, she would enter the program with him (no TVs allowed in the witness protection program), if she didn’t, she would have to let him go, forever. After much pondering, Dixie decided that she could NOT miss the Oscars, and opted for the RED CARPET rather than the RED ROSE. She kissed him goodbye and ran home to watch the E channel. Thor was devastated and jumped off the cliff.

You want to WHAT? image via Canstock

You want to WHAT?
image via Canstock


Michelle Morrison:  You Want to WHAT?

After six years in witness protection, Diane was free. She moved home and reconnected with loved ones. She rescued a dog and named her Dixie, and they had lovely walks by the cliff near her house.

Diane met Peter. It was love. Peter seemed smitten also. “You’re special,” he told her.

She smiled. “So are you.”

Diane and Peter went for walks by the cliff. They watched the sun go down and threw sticks for Dixie. Peter gave Diane a rose each month.

At the fourth month, Peter gave Diane four roses and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve met someone else.”

“What is this?” Diane asked. “You’re unhappy?”

“It’s not you, it’s me; we can still be friends.” Peter said.

Diane beat Peter to death with the cheese grater she always carried. She left the roses by the body. The judge ruled justifiable homicide and she got probation.

Motorcycle or Death image from Canstock

Motorcycle or Death
image from Canstock


Gry Ranfelt:  Motorcycle or Death?

“You said it didn’t matter.”

Tom flexed his jaw and refused to look away.

“The court cares. Think of our daughter. What life will she lead if you refuse witness protection?”

Dixie swallowed the dry mountain air. Had he brought her to these uncomfortable heights just to tell her to do what she’d refused four times?

She slammed the roses into his chest. They fell to the ground, petals still intact.

“The entire evening was an act so I’d warm up and give in.”

“No, I –”

She turned away. “Take us home.” She hated the thought of wrapping her arms around him on his motorcycle.

His sigh trickled her neck. She stiffened.

“I can’t.”

He grabbed and pulled her towards a waiting car. “Sorry. I’m not letting you get the fucking mafia on us.”

She screamed. She struggled. The cliffs scraped her skin bloody like a cheese grater.

 Congratulations!

Each of you has won a copy of USA Today Bestseller Vicki Hinze‘s clever tale of death and romance, Down and Dead in Dixie.

Down and Dead in Dixie Cover

I will forward your emails to the awesome Vicki Hinze, and she will get in touch with you to send your your prize.

A Big Thank You to all of the participants.

May your remote wanderings never include cliffs

and/or cheese graters.