Fernando “X” — Cuban Hero, American Spy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Nine years ago, Bayard & Holmes designated October 31 as Love-A-Spook* Day—a day when we honor the men and women of the Intelligence Community who dedicate and sometimes sacrifice their lives to keep the fight from our shores. On this 9thAnnual Love-A-Spook Day, we make our most personal dedication to date to honor a Cuban we will call “Fernando X,” who devoted his life to saving his people from the Castro regime.

If you are a Castro-apologist this article will surely confuse and stress you. For the rest of you, if you ever visit Key West, Florida, stroll to the south end of the island. You will find there a monument heralding the southernmost point in the contiguous forty-eight states. The monument will tell you that Cuba is ninety miles to the south. The monument is mistaken. Cuba is ninety-five miles south. It could be corrected, but we hope it remains inaccurate. In its current condition it serves, albeit accidentally, as a monument to the many popular misconceptions that Western journalists and politicians harbor about the reality of Cuba.

Rather than focus on the many grim aspects of life in Cuba, we prefer to remember the brave Cubans that have risked their lives in the hope of bringing freedom and justice to the island of Cuba. At this point, most of them would settle for just the freedom.

Holmes will tell you about one of them in particular that he was honored to know and call friend—Fernando “X.”

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The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Revolutionaries

~ Jay Holmes

Fernando was older than I am. The last time I saw him, he told me he would not live to see Cuba free. He said in Spanish, “The son of a bitch assassin Fidel will outlive me. Well, that’s life. I have done the best I could, brother.” I knew he was right.

Fernando was in poor health and didn’t look like he had much left in him. I know the look. I was not ready to admit it. I lied to him. I told him with a few of my favorite Spanish curses that Satan couldn’t keep Fidel out of Hell forever, and that he would die soon. We laughed. Fernando looked at me, and he knew that I knew. He said, “It’s OK, hermanito. I can’t stay forever. Take good care of your children. Give them the love that I won’t be here to give them. I would have liked to. It was my one way of thanking you.” I wanted to cry, but I knew I owed him something better than that, so I just smiled and assured him that I would, and that they would not forget him. They haven’t, and they won’t. Neither will the people of Cuba.

Six and a half decades earlier, on an afternoon in October of 1958, Fernando’s life was about to get more exciting.

The teenage revolutionary wanted a rifle and grenades and some excitement on one of the many raids that were being conducted against the incompetent dictator Fulgencio Bautista’s clownocracy. Instead, Fernando was equipped with soap and sponges in his personal battle against the dirty pots and pans in his camp’s kitchen. He was not enjoying the revolution much. He wondered if he shouldn’t have listened to his mother and stayed home to tend the pigs and chickens. He was starting to miss his boring, more pleasant home life.

For reasons unknown, the group’s comandante decided to bring “El Niño,” the boy, along on the day’s raid.

Fernando remembered being excited. He intended to make a name for himself. He had insisted to his cohorts that his nickname was “El Tigre,” the tiger. His cohorts were even more insistent that his nickname would remain El Niño. Before the day ended, they were calling Fernando “El Tigre Con Cojones Imensos,” the tiger with immense balls.

Fernando was given a captured American made M-1 Garand. He was small and the rifle was heavy. Too heavy. The group decided he should carry a much lighter captured American made M-1 carbine. The fact that they had no ammo for it was a disappointment for Fernando. His cohorts assured him that they were just going to occupy a recently-abandoned police station, and that there would be plenty of ammo there for everyone. Fernando should just stay behind everyone else until they secured the building.

The five revolutionaries climbed into a Chevrolet sedan and drove to the supposedly abandoned police station, but the best-laid plans of mice and revolutionaries . . .

They arrived at the plaza where the police station was located and jumped out of the Chevrolet with much bravado. Oddly, none of the locals came out to cheer or jeer. The revolutionaries walked toward the front door of the station, and a shot rang out. The round kicked up dirt near them.

They jumped for cover—all of them except El Tigre. The fifteen-year-old Fernando stood his ground with his empty rifle.

The somewhat loyalist police retreated to the roof top. They had ammo in their weapons. Fernando wasn’t sure how many police there were, nor what they had to fight with, but he stood his ground without flinching. He stared up at the policeman that stared down from the parapet of the roof. The policeman said they didn’t want to kill anyone, and that the revolutionaries should all just get in their car, leave, and not return. Four of the five revolutionaries thought it sounded like a great deal and jumped in the car. They yelled to El Tigre to get the hell back in the car. El Tigre didn’t budge.

The policeman vanished from the parapet for a moment. A few seconds later, one of the police returned to the edge of the roof and yelled down, “Let us leave and you can have the station. Just let us leave without any shooting.” The cops were either impressed by the kid’s courage, or they just didn’t want to shoot a child on behalf of a government that they never much liked. The revolutionary comandante got out of the car and yelled up his agreement. No shots were fired that day, but a hero of the revolution was born.

Fernando was something of a celebrity—a teenage superhero.

A few months later, Cuban dictator Bautista realized that neither his fellow Latin-American despots nor the United States was going to back him up. He hit the road. Fernando and his friends celebrated. They were free. They could build a free and just society.

In the following months, as Fidel Castro consolidated his grip on power, inconvenient dissenters died publicly or vanished.

Then, as Fernando grew into adulthood, like many of his revolutionary cohorts, he grew disillusioned with the new regime. All he could see in Cuba was less freedom, more misery, and a vanishing hope for his people and country. The new bastard-in-chief Castro somehow managed to be even worse at governing than the previous bastard-in-chief Bautista had been.

With all the standard Soviet-style rhetoric and Soviet specialists assisting, Fidel and his elite friends assured the public that once they overcame the mostly-imaginary aggression of the evil American imperialists, they would all build their great socialist paradise. The new president of the American imperialists, John F. Kennedy, radically trimmed back the planned support of exiled Cubans for an impending invasion of Cuba. Worse still, the operation had been penetrated by the Cuban government. Eventually, against the advice of the US military, a half-hearted invasion occurred at the wrong location, the Bay of Pigs.

The previous president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an “invade Normandy with everything we can send” sort of man. He had been successful using that strategy when invading Normandy. However, the new president was a “do way more with way less” PT boat veteran. He had been somewhat successful with that strategy in the wildly dangerous waters of the Solomon Islands. In Cuba, the “way less” was way too little. The invasion failed. Fidel celebrated his “grand victory” over the feeble attempt.

Eventually, Fernando, whose first priority was always the Cuban people, decided it was time to resist against the new despots. He did. He helped the United States try to help Cuba.

As a revolutionary celebrity, Fernando had status and access to many top members of Fidel’s regime. This gave Fernando a great deal of valuable information about the regime’s intentions. Through a like-minded ex-revolutionary cohort, Fernando was able to make contact with the US Intelligence Community, and for several years, he risked his life by sharing valuable information with the United States. I will not elaborate on the nature or extent of that information. Suffice to say that, thanks to Fernando’s efforts, numerous Cuban dissidents were able to escape from Cuba and move to the United States or Spain. Many of these people would have been tortured and even executed if not for Fernando’s quiet help. He saved many lives and asked for nothing in return.

 It couldn’t last forever. Fernando was betrayed.

He ran for his life and hid, but he was eventually captured. To Fidel and his monsters, Fernando was a traitor. To us, he was a hero. Fernando expected to be shot. Instead, he was sent to the infamous political prison on Isla de Juventud to rot in grim conditions for a few decades. Day after day, year after year, he wondered if he would live to feel the sun on his skin before he died. He survived the torture and abuse, though many did not.

One day the prison authorities caught Fernando writing in a hidden journal. They broke several bones in each of his hands. He received no medical attention. For the rest of his life, his hands caused him great pain.

Nearly twenty years ago, by methods that I will not elaborate on or ever admit to, Fernando was able to leave the prison on Isla de Juventud and come to the United States.

Along with several others of my favorite Cuban exiles, we became close friends. In poor health, Fernando lived a sparse life here. My friends and I helped him a bit. He more than deserved it. He was poor in American terms, but in terms of spirit, he was a rich man with much to offer the world. I knew I was blessed to have him as my friend.

One Christmas I was home for the holidays, and I brought Fernando to our house to join my family and many of our mutual Cuban friends.

He had saved a few dollars from his tight budget to buy my children gifts. They were poorly wrapped by his tortured hands, but I thought they were the most beautiful gifts my kids had ever received. They loved Fernando and understood. They were touched by the gifts. My wife had knitted him a nice sweater and scarf. My father gave him a gift certificate for groceries. He was thrilled. I gave him a case of decent rum. He used a couple of shots before bedtime to deaden the pain in his hands enough to sleep for a while.

One of the party attendees, my dear friend, the brilliant Doctor Jesus Jose Acea Rodriguez, was also in attendance that evening. He, too, had taken risks to try to help Cuba. Jesus asked Fernando to recount his well-known heroic events for the benefit of Jesus’s teenage son.

Fernando described in brilliant detail the events of that day when he earned the name El Tigre. I could smell the salt air of the Cuban coast and feel the Cuban earth beneath my feet as I imagined the cop firing that shot. Then Fernando told us a previously unshared detail of that battle. He had not budged when the police fired because he was scared stiff and couldn’t move.

The police apparently misjudged the situation. Fortunately, everyone else except for Fernando misunderstood, as well. El Tigre was forever a hero because he was frozen in fear. We laughed a long time. Fernando comically pantomimed his famous stand-off as my son rolled on the floor laughing. We loved him. Everyone did. . . . Everyone except Fidel Castro and his regime.

Before driving Fernando home the next morning, I took my Garand rifle out of my gun safe and slipped it into my car. When we arrived at his apartment, I told him he had waited a long time for the rifle he wanted. I gave the M-1 to him. He laughed. He was thrilled. We hugged.

I am sitting here at the same antique table that we sat at that beautiful Christmas night. I miss him. The brilliant Jesus is gone now, too. I miss those two the most of the many Cubans that now reside in my past. They and many others stood up for freedom at a great cost.

Fernando once told me to never give up hope for Cuba, and to teach my children to understand that in the end, evil will always fail because freedom and justice are natural and right. He believed that. I do, too.

The Caribbean Sea holds the blood of many brave Cubans. Most of the many Cuban people that have secretly risked their lives in the hope of bringing Cuba a better future will never be known. Many did not live to see Cuba free. I might not live that long, either. But for all my days, I will hold onto my hope and remember my many beautiful Cuban cohorts. I hope that you will, as well.

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In honor of our 9th Annual Love-A-Spook Day, the Kindle and Nook versions of SPYCRAFT: Essentials and The Spy Bride are on sale now through November 3, 2018 for only $0.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click on these links . . .

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS on Kindle

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS on Nook

THE SPY BRIDE on Kindle

THE SPY BRIDE  on Nook

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*The slang term “spook” has been used for centuries in the Intelligence Community to refer to intelligence personnel. It derives from “a ghost that haunts and is undesirable.” Intelligence personnel of all races are commonly called “spooks.” Bigots have enough words. They can’t have this one.

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Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She is also a belly dancer and a former hospice volunteer. She has been working daily with her good friend Jay Holmes for the past decade, learning about foreign affairs, espionage history, and field techniques for the purpose of writing fiction and nonfiction. She currently pens espionage nonfiction and international spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, as well as post-apocalyptic fiction of her own.

Jay Holmes is a forty-something-year veteran of field espionage operations and a senior member of the Intelligence Community with experience spanning from the Cold War fight against the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored to the present Global War on Terror. He is unwilling to admit to much more than that. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

Together, Bayard & Holmes author non-fiction articles and books on espionage and foreign affairs, as well as fictional international spy thrillers. They are also the bestselling authors of The Spy Bride from the Risky Brides Bestsellers Collection and were featured contributors for Social In Worldwide, Inc.

When they aren’t writing or (in Jay’s case) busy with “other work,” Piper and Jay are enjoying time with their families, hiking, exploring back roads of America, talking foreign affairs, laughing at their own rude jokes until the wee hours, and questing for the perfect chocolate cake recipe. If you think you have that recipe, please share it with them at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

To keep in touch with Bayard & Holmes and to receive notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmesor at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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The Cold War and That Damned Berlin Wall

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On a cold, January day in 1961, in a world chilled by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, I sat near a radio with my family and listened intently to the words of a man that my very young mind idolized.

Even as a small child, it was not my nature to easily trust. I would listen to anyone, believe most of what they said, and count on very little of it. I liked nearly everyone and trusted few. I trusted this man and I believed his words. I had inherited the caution that my father and so many of my uncles exhibited. They and my aunts and my older cousins and siblings held great hope for this man. The new president of my country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, told me that day my freedom did not come from government, but from God.

I was too young to attend school with my older siblings, but I knew who God was. I was certain of His presence, and I understood him completely. A half a century later, I understand far less of God than I did then, but I have never stopped believing what that man told me, and I still hear some of his words in my memory. I can still feel the great excitement and the feeling that I was witness to a monumental occasion.

The new president told me that every nation, whether they wish us well or wish us ill, should know, “. . . that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” I hear those words still.

Few words have influenced my life as those words did. Few words have influenced the world as those words did. Millions of people around the world heard those words. Some found hope and assurance, and some heard them as a challenge to their right to take freedom from others.

Seven months later, the Soviet Union erected a wall between the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, and the Western-controlled sector of Berlin. Situated deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany, West Berlin was a beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of Soviet oppression.

By 1961, nearly four million Germans living under Soviet occupation decided to abandon their homes and seek freedom in West Germany. The easiest place to cross from East Germany to West Germany was Berlin.

One night in August of 1961, the Soviet and East German troops formed a cordon along the dividing line between East and West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, they began to erect a concrete wall. Streets and buildings were removed from the east side of the wall to create a killing zone–the Death Strip.

East Germans, under the control of the Soviet Union, built barbed wire-topped fences and guard towers equipped with machine guns. Like a monster from some cheap science fiction movie, the Wall grew taller and wider over time, as if it were growing fat on the flesh of the nearly two hundred East Germans who were murdered while trying to cross it.

The Soviets congratulated themselves for the effectiveness of the Wall in stemming the tide of escapees from the Soviet police state. I saw it as a shameful monument and an open admission by the Soviets that, given the opportunity, any sane man or woman would seek freedom over oppression.

During the Cold War, the great central debate between the Soviet- and Maoist-controlled East and the West centered, in theory, on the struggle between communism and capitalism.

While some of my generation debated the appeal of “Marxism” vs. “Capitalism,” I avoided those debates. Whatever Marx might have said didn’t matter to me. He was long gone, and his ideas weren’t deciding policy in Moscow. How the Soviets divided their land or ran their economy was of little concern to me. That Damned Wall and the men, women, and children who were murdered trying to cross it were all I needed to know about which side of the Wall I preferred to live on.

In the East, the Warsaw Pact had over 3.6 million troops facing the West and the South. In Western and Southern Europe, NATO countered that with 3.7 million troops.

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, the view east from West Berlin was much less comforting. In West Berlin, approximately 10,000 allied troops, known in the USA as the Berlin Brigade, were surrounded by 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Outnumbered or not, the Berlin Brigade did not intend to ever surrender if war returned to Berlin.

The Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the political dynamic between East and West for 28 years.

In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate, and at the same place that John Kennedy had delivered his famous Berlin speech within sight of the Wall, Reagan now delivered a speech. In response to reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s claims that the Soviet Union sought peace and prosperity he challenged Gorbachev to, “Tear down this wall!”

In August of 1989, the unwilling Soviet “ally” Hungary opened its border between Hungary and Austria.

Thousands of East Germans and other Eastern Europeans escaped to the West via Hungary. The Soviets pressured Hungary to stop the escaping Eastern Europeans. Hungary pretended to comply, but looked for opportunities to defy their KGB taskmasters.

Protests sprang up in East Germany. East Germans began to chant, “We want to leave.” Each week, the protests grew in strength.

In October, the long-time East German president and Soviet boot licker Erik Honecker resigned and was replaced by a slightly less homicidal maniac named Egon Krenz. On the occasion of his retirement, Hoenecker announced to the world that the Berlin Wall would remain for at least another 50 years.

East and West Berliners began to congregate at the Wall as the protests continued to grow. Krenz had been offered up as a reformist, but East Germans recognized him for what he was–a ruthless, self-promoting politician who was, in fact, attempting to crack down on reformers in his own government.

The East German military began to show signs of mutiny. Krenz was quickly becoming a puppet king without a kingdom, and East Germany had over $100 billion in debt with no way to make payments.

Buried under deep layers of its own cynicism and impaired by factional maneuvering, the Soviet Politburo was busy with its own internal struggles and felt little inclination to reinforce East Germany with cash or Soviet troops. Krenz was making fast progress on the road to nowhere. His Polish and Czechoslovak allies to the east had slipped the Soviet leash, and he was beginning to understand what the Berlin Brigade must have felt like for so long.

East German protesters changed their chant. “We want to leave,” was replaced with, “We want to stay. YOU leave!”

By November, it was becoming obvious that most of the East German border guards were sympathetic to the protestors. With a possible collapse of the government looming, nobody in the East German government wanted to have to answer for ordering a slaughter of the increasingly brazen protestors.

On November 9, 1989, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure that was threatening to rupture the East German state, the East German government announced that the gates would be opened in the Wall, and that anyone who wished could pass from East to West.

Until late October, I had been in Europe. On my flight back to Washington D.C., I wondered if my dream of seeing a free Eastern Europe was about to materialize. The Soviet steamroller that had kept Eastern Europe’s puppet communist regimes in power for four decades had run out of steam.

On November 9, I returned home from a martial arts class. When I entered the living room, my wife was smiling in a way that I had not seen her smile before. She said, “You got your wish,” and she pointed to the TV.

I felt compelled to get close to the screen, as though I could hug the Berliners who were dancing on top of that Damned Wall. I wished I had gone back to Berlin. I missed the biggest party in the history of the Cold War.

I was stunned and relieved, and simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. I felt joy for the people of Eastern Europe and for us. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish that a few people who mattered greatly to me could have remained among us long enough to see that night. They had paid that price. They had borne that burden. It had not been in vain. I never for a second thought that it would be.

Tonight, from the distant, warm, comfortable safety of my home, I offer my humble gratitude to them for never losing their faith, and to the people of Berlin and Eastern Europe for finding their faith and their freedom.

What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

 

Cotton Reigned Until Slavery Was Outsourced

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Today, Western nations are forced to consider the price and flow of crude oil in all foreign policy decisions concerning the Middle East. From Algeria to Iran, Oil is King. However, back in 1861, petroleum was not yet a major commodity for world markets. Instead, a major commodity was cotton.

America’s South had developed an important economic position in world markets by harvesting and exporting cotton to European markets. In 1860, the United States exported over four million bales of cotton to Europe, with each bale weighing 500 pounds.

 

Girls Picking Cotton
Image by Keystone View Co, public domain
Located at NY Public Library

 

The largest importer of US cotton exports was Great Britain.

American cotton was one of the two major ingredients in profitable textile mills in England. The other critical ingredient was cheap labor, and the UK had plenty of that, as well.

The cash that flowed into the South allowed it to import goods from Northern factories, mills, and foundries. The cotton formula was simple, and the Southern states had the long growing season and four million slaves to make cotton farming highly profitable. Many Southern leaders saw themselves as key players in the global market. As far as they were concerned, cotton was essential to Europe’s economy.

Today when we look back at the Civil War, we might wonder why the less-populated, less-industrialized South would have considered a war with its Northern neighbors.

In 1860, Southern states had a population of nine million citizens and nearly four million slaves. The Union population was twenty-two million. The Northern states could boast of having ten times as much manufacturing production as the South. And, in particular, Southern states produced almost no military equipment or firearms.

To add to the disparity, the Northern states operated with a single, standard railroad gauge covering nearly 98% of Northern routes. An engine in New York could, and did, run just as easily in Michigan. In the South, one symptom of “states rights” parochialism could be seen in its railroads. It had railroads but no railroad system. An individual investor built in any fashion that he saw fit. An engine in Virginia would not only not work in Mississippi, it likely wouldn’t even be able to traverse the state of Virginia. That lack of cooperative planning and central regulation haunted the South throughout the duration of the Confederacy.

On the eve of the American Civil War, the North had the guns, the manufacturing capability and the manpower. The South had cotton and four million slaves.  When the odds are considered, the North would have seemed to have a clear advantage.

 

Women Picking Cotton
Image by J.N. Wilson, public domain.
Located at NY Public Library.

 

However, the South was counting on three factors not normally reported in censuses and almanacs.

First, it was counting on fighting a defensive war, and it had no need to invade the North. The Union army would have to invade the South to recapture it and force its re-entry into the Union. Given the weapons available in 1861, being outnumbered two and a half to one was considered an even match. Trained military leaders with Southern sympathies would not have encouraged secession from the Union if a secession would have required “conquering” Northern states.

Second, and more subtle, the Southern leaders calculated nearly correctly the unwillingness of “lazy city folks” in the North to enter military service and campaign in the South to free slaves that, in the South’s estimation, most of them cared nothing about.

The third “ace up the sleeve” was the 1861 equivalent of an OPEC oil embargo. The South knew, or thought they knew, that European nations would not tolerate an interruption in cotton trade. In weighing the odds for war, many Southern leaders were confident that Europe would threaten intervention and coerce the US to accept the Confederacy’s independence. Guns, ammunition, and the massive mountains of manufactured goods required to feed the glutinous gods of war would flow from Europe like oxen to the sacrificial altar.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

Southern Belle
By Erich Correns, public domain.

 

 

Somewhere between the certainty of a bright Confederate future and Appomattox Courthouse, something went wrong for the South.

On a pleasant spring day on April 12, 1861 amidst a carnival atmosphere with well-dressed, picnicking revelers, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Tautant Beauregard ordered his artillery to open fire on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor in South Carolina. A merry time was had by all except for Union Colonel Anderson and the men trapped in the fort.

After thirty-four hours of bombardment, Anderson was allowed to withdraw his men by way of a Union Navy ship, and in exchange for safe passage, the remains of the fort were surrendered to the Confederacy. Beauregard was hailed as a Caesar by the jubilant picnickers and by their cousins across the South. Four hellish years and 630,000 dead Americans later, the spring picnic seemed somewhat less splendid.

 

Gate to Gettysburg local cemetery, which became a battleground.
Image public domain.

 

The Southerners had calculated the odds of defensive action correctly.

Their basic suppositions about the size of the Union forces needed were accurate enough. What was less accurate was their supposition that Northern couch potatoes would not fight. They did. Even after suffering the horrendous casualties while attacking prepared positions at numerous battles, the North still managed to fill the ranks of the Union Army and equip it.

The Southerners had not calculated that Northerners would be willing to pay such a high price in blood to defeat the Confederacy. They were wrong, and the South’s mighty monarch King Cotton had an accidental hand in assisting Union Army recruiters.

The Confederacy was not altogether surprised at England’s reluctance to send its navy to defeat Union Navy blockade of its ports. However, the South was accustomed to life in a democracy and was prepared to coax the Parliament and Queen into seeing the “Southern light.” Southerners knew that Queen Victoria considered slavery an abomination and was reluctant to defend the interests of wealthy slave owners in a fight against the US, so the South played the Cotton Card. . . . It stopped exporting cotton to England.

An island nation with mothers who can’t cook, artists who can barely paint , and army officers who buy their commissions does not come to rule the waves by being stupid. Great Britain saw that Southern move coming.

 

Cotton bales at Bombay port in 1860s.
Image public domain.

 

Great Britain had been at the trade game for a long time, and they were good at it. Unlike the British Army, the British Navy was a well-run meritocracy, and it communicated well with British governments and merchant marine by way of its Admiralty staff. In 1860, a bumper crop of cotton glutted the markets, and England was organized and disciplined enough to invest substantial long term capital in stockpiling it.

Also, far from London, and even farther from the cotton fields of the South, British colonial officials in Bombay saw an opportunity in the chaos caused by the anticipated cotton embargo. The Bombay area had the perfect climate and soil for cotton growing. It also had something better than slaves. Great Britain had cheap, disposable workers who showed up willingly and worked for less than it cost to operate an American slave. England outsourced its need for the Southern slave labor to India, Egypt, and Africa.

While the shortage of cotton imports from the Confederacy did hurt England, and thousands of English laborers were laid off, the problem was short-lived.

Interestingly, even after losing their textile jobs, the British working class remained strongly anti-slavery and pro-Union. Thousands of unemployed Irish, English, and Germans immigrated to the Northern US. Waiting for them on the docks were Army recruiters promising citizenship and bonuses to enlistees. By 1863, many Union regiments had immigrant majorities in their ranks.

Cotton production in India, Egypt, and Africa grew quickly.

By 1863, England had little concern for what happened to the mountains of cotton bales being stockpiled in the Confederacy. The guns, ammunition, and gold were not forthcoming for the South from Europe except at high prices. Cotton was, in fact, not quite king after all. It was nothing more than a commodity.

 

Bombay Cotton Merchant
Image public domain.

 

Across the South and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, gravestones mark the resting places of silent witnesses to a war fomented in ignorance and arrogance.

Cotton, the plantation elites, and the American President who had to fight almost more against his Northern cohorts than against the Confederates, are all gone. The great-grandsons of the slaves remain, and, although the reconstruction and social evolution have yet to be completed, the Union remains, as well.

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Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

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Farmers and Shopkeepers Raise Hell in a Cow Pen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On the morning of January 16, 1781, an independent minded New Jersey fellow named Daniel Morgan led a force of continental soldiers and militia in an orderly retreat up a muddy South Carolina wagon road, escaping the forces of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. It had been a long war for Morgan.

 

Daniel Morgan portrait by Charles Willson Peale

General Daniel Morgan, portrait by Charles Willson Peale

As a captain in the young Continental Army, he was captured by the British in the foolish American attack on Quebec. He spent nearly two years as their prisoner before being exchanged. The British were sure that, because of his poor health, he would be no further threat to them. They miscalculated.

After his release in 1777, Morgan rejoined General Washington in New Jersey. He had been promoted to Colonel for his heroic conduct during the assault on Quebec. Washington asked him to recruit, train, and command a fast-moving force to conduct hit and run raids against the British.

Morgan was given 600 of Washington’s best men and recruited several hundred more sharpshooters for his regiment. The new group was the 11th Virginia Regiment.

Morgan and the 11th Virginia excelled in their hit and run role. They developed the tactic of finding British forces far from base and concentrating their fire against British officers. Then they repeatedly attacked the retreating and largely leaderless British force for days. Morgan and his regiment remained in frequent combat until Morgan was forced to retire in late 1779 because of severe pain.

In October of 1780, Morgan returned to service at the rank of brigadier general. He was assigned to help General Nathaniel Greene salvage the waning fortunes of the rebellion in the Southern states.

In January of 1781, Tarleton (rhymes with charlatan) was dispatched by the confident and impatient British General Cornwallis to hunt down and kill Morgan’s force before they could unite with the rebel forces under Greene.

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Cornwallis’ intelligence obtained from royalist sympathizers was that Morgan had 800 men with him, and that a third of them were untrained militia. It failed to include recent additions of North Carolina militia to Morgan’s forces, as well as the fact that some of the militia were experienced woodsmen, equipped with accurate, long range rifles.

Cornwallis ordered Tarleton to take his cavalry forces, reinforced by light infantry, in hopes that they could out-speed Morgan’s force and attack them on the march before they could retreat back to North Carolina and resupply.

Tarleton had earned the hatred of the people of the Carolinas with his practice of murdering prisoners and civilians. Murder and plunder by British forces was not the norm. Tarleton was the exception.

Morgan kept riders out to cover his retreat. He knew Tarleton’s scouts were close. Morgan was searching for a favorable position from which to conduct a defensive action against the very well-trained and well-equipped British. He came to some abandoned cow pens near the Broad River.  The muddy road was flanked by thick woods on two sides and backed by some low hills. Morgan made his stand.

Morgan organized his troops into a defensive battle formation and had them sleep in their battle positions. Morgan had listened to what the locals said about Tarleton and guessed the general would order a frontal attack as soon as he arrived in the morning.

Cornwallis and Tarleton considered the woodsmen from the Carolinas and the Virginia wilderness to be worthless. The British, like all armies of the time when on the attack, relied on close up “volley fire” to do what damage they could at close range, followed by a disciplined bayonet charge. Typically, the British cavalry attempted to exploit the weak flanks of the opposing force in order to induce a panic and rout the enemy.

Morgan ordered the best marksmen to inhabit the first row of the defensive position. Behind them, he placed two rows occupied by the bulk of the militia. These men were mostly typical militia made up of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. Morgan placed his Continental forces on the top of the slope with one unit of Virginia militia on his left flank. He hid his cavalry on the north slope of the hill.

Tarleton camped about five miles away, and at about 3:00 a.m. on January 17, his forces cut their sleep short and proceeded north up the muddy road.

After marching five miles in the mud while the well-rested Americans enjoyed a warm breakfast and told dirty jokes about British and royalist women, the British formed up to attack Morgan. Tarleton charged with his cavalry. To his horror, he discovered that those poorly dressed civilians in the front row had rifles rather than smooth bore muskets. Worse yet, they seemed to be unusually good shots for untrained shopkeepers.

Tarleton lost several officers in the first charge. They retreated a few yards to regroup. To his relief, the first row of militia seemed to be retreating in a panic, just as militia are supposed to do. Tarleton resumed the charge and reached the second line of militia in time to discover that they had stopped their retreat and were cutting down his cavalry with deadly accurate fire.

Again, Tarleton retreated, and again he delighted to see the militia running off to Morgan’s left flank. He threw his infantry forward to attack Morgan’s center while his cavalry rode unhindered to attack Morgan’s right flank.

About that time, the unhindered flank attack became very hindered by Morgan’s cavalry as they appeared from behind the hill. Tarleton’s plans had not gone to hell in a hand-basket, but to a muddy cow pen in South Carolina.

The British and the rebels fought at close range. Tarleton ordered a retreat to regroup in a defensive disposition where he would be able to use his two light artillery pieces that sat in reserve behind his attacking force. Before the British could retreat though, something of a miracle occurred.

In what remains the finest hour in the history of what we now call the US National Guard, the militiamen who ran to the rear as instructed ignored instructions to save themselves and kept running all the way around the hill to throw themselves into Tarleton’s flank. They created the first double envelopment ever conducted by American forces. Tarleton escaped. Over 100 British were killed, and about 830 were captured. Morgan lost 12 men.

Oddly, Cornwallis did not court-martial and hang Tarleton for abandoning his men. We can only assume that Tarleton was well-connected in parliament. Cornwallis knew that he could replace his losses, but he needed to go into a defensive encampment until reinforcements and supplies arrived. Cornwallis retreated to the Virginia coast and found a perfect defensive position. Yorktown. But that’s another story for another day.

National Guard Logo

When you see the unusual National Guard symbol that looks like a farmer with a rifle rather than a well polished soldier, think of those poorly trained volunteers at the Battle of Cowpens.

Years later when recounting the battle to friends, Morgan said that he had never felt so proud of his countrymen as when he saw those farmers who should have been long gone from the battle throwing themselves into Tarleton’s flank.

The US Navy honored the Battle of Cowpens by naming a Ticonderoga class cruiser the USS Cowpens CG 63. She participated in combat in the Gulf, and had a prolonged deployment with the 7th Fleet in the Far East.

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

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Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

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Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Pfc. Doss’s story is being brought to the big screen on November 4, 2016, in the movie HACKSAW RIDGE. Watch for the Bayard & Holmes review.

 

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

 

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

ANTHROPOID — Espionage Legend on the Big Screen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

ANTHROPOID brings one of history’s legendary espionage events to the big screen – the WWII assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich by two Czech paratroopers and a few Czech resistance fighters.

 

2016 Aug Anthropoid Movie Poster

 

Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, was the architect of Hitler’s death camps and third in command after Hitler and Himmler. Jan Kubis (played by Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik (played by Cillian Murphy) trained for months in the UK and then parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Once in Prague, they met up with the dwindling group of Czech resistance fighters, who helped them plan and execute Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich was the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during WWII.

Piper Bayard:

This movie is a symphony compared to a Bourne movie rock concert.

If you’re looking for unrealistic characters who do unrealistic things to thwart unrealistic villains with unrealistic explosions and quippy dialogue, this is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you enjoy historically accurate war dramas about real events and real people, then you will likely find ANTHROPOID captivating and informative.

ANTHROPOID thankfully makes no effort to glamorize espionage, war, or the ordinary people made extraordinary by the demands of integrity and circumstance.

Courage falters, equipment fails, and humans make stupid mistakes, while at the same time they rise over and over again with a stubborn courage and devotion to their mission and to the Czechoslovakian people. While historical sources differ on the details, the main events surrounding the assassination are well portrayed.

 

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and
Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

 

The tension and conflict are well drawn in spite of a script that is at times a bit stiff.

The stakes are clear. There is no doubt that not only are the lives of the Czech resistance fighters on the line, but also the lives of their families and the people of Czechoslovakia. The drama is not manufactured, but rather real, and raw, and tremendous in the fact that in spite of all human fears and failings, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik carried on and succeeded in one of the greatest assassinations in history.

Jay Holmes:

In the way of disclosure, I must explain that I could not view Anthropoid with the objectivity that a reviewer should always employ.

Though I was not alive at the time of the operation, and I am not of Czech descent, I admire the operatives that conducted the operation, and I have always considered the Nazis to be contemptible. That combination makes it difficult for me to be completely objective in reviewing a movie like ANTHROPOID, but I am happy to share my impressions.

 

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik Image by UK Govt., public domain

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

 

Most war movies and action films that depict historic events are created with an emphasis on watchability, and the pace of events, the characters, and the dialogue sacrifice accuracy to make them more fun to watch. ANTHROPOID is not fun to watch, but it is an excellent movie all the same.

I am fairly well read on Operation Anthropoid, and I was once fortunate enough to meet a retired member of British Intelligence that had helped prepare the mission.

It is my impression that the movie ANTHROPOID succeeded in closely portraying the actions and moods of the men and women that were involved in the operation. For me, this made the movie more acceptable. It seems to me that the writer, producer, and actors were perhaps somewhat reverent in their attention to detail and accuracy. The movie may be the best memorial to Operation Anthropoid yet created. As such, I applaud it.

 

Reinhard Heydrich's car after the attack. Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

Reinhard Heydrich’s car after the attack.
Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

 

Interestingly, the process of researching and producing the movie has reawakened the Czech public’s interest in the event.

The Czech Government has now agreed to do forensic work to try to identify bodies from unmarked graves of that period and location to try to locate and rebury the Czech resistance fighters involved in Operation Anthropoid, and give them a proper military burial. I commend the Czech people for pursuing this course. The makers of Anthropoid can be proud that their movie has a tangible result beyond, and more important than, the box office.

Our Rating:

Overall the early reviews of the movie have been tepid. We will depart from the trend and give Anthropoid the Bayard and Holmes .44 magnum – our highest rating.

If the events of WWII and the moral questions surrounding those events matter to you, or if you are interested in raw espionage legend and the feats of real operatives, then you should make the short pilgrimage to see ANTHROPOID. Enjoy the symphony.