Josephine Baker–Dancer, Singer, Mother, Booty Spy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

We often expect our military heroes to come equipped with great athletic prowess and years of grueling training. A few ultramodern, nearly-magic gadgets and good looks don’t hurt either. Josephine Baker showed up with one of the four.

Josephine Baker 1949 Carl Vn Vechten Library of Congress

Josephine Baker in 1950, image from Library of Congress

On June 3, 1906, Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St Louis, Missouri. She was the daughter of a black American washerwoman, and, according to her foster son Jeanne-Claude Baker, her father may have been a white German-American for whom her mother had worked.

When Josephine was eight years old, she went to work for a wealthy white family as a washer girl. According to her biography, the women of the house purposely burned her hands for using too much soap on the laundry.

When Josephine was twelve, she quit school and became a homeless person. Josephine lived in cardboard boxes and scavenged food from trash to survive. Is it possible anyone who saw her scavenging for food in the alleys of St. Louis imagined that she would some day do great service to the Allied armies and the people of France during World War Two?

At age thirteen, Josephine obtained a job as a waitress, and she married one of her customers, Willie Wells. By the time Josephine was fifteen, she had earned a reputation as a talented dancer, and she was able to support herself. She left Wells and quickly rose to the top of the Vaudeville dance circuit, spending the next six years entertaining American audiences.

In 1921, Josephine married an American with the last name Baker. She kept that name for the rest of her life, though she divorced him.

In 1925, Josephine traveled to Paris to perform for enthusiastic Paris audiences. She was an instant celebrity. France fell in love with Josephine, and Josephine fell in love with France.

Josephine enjoyed greater integration in Paris than she could at home in the USA. She expanded her career to include movie acting, singing, and song writing. According to Ernest Hemingway, she was the most exciting woman in Paris.

Josephine Baker Banana DanceJosephine Baker in 1920s, Banana Dance, image in public domain

In 1935, Josephine returned to the USA to tour with the Ziegfeld Follies stage show. She had grown accustomed to something close to racial equality in France, and when she failed to “keep her place” in the United States, she generated mixed reviews.

In 1937, Josephine returned to France. She soon married a Jewish French Industrialist named Jean Lion. By marrying Lion, she acquired French nationality.

As World War Two approached, France contacted Josephine and asked if she would report on any interesting information that she picked up while attending parties, including some at European embassies. Josephine agreed. She quickly developed a skill for charming many fascist big wigs, who were desperate to cultivate an appearance of culture by being seen with her.

When Germany invaded France, Josephine received brief emergency instruction in spy craft and was taught to use invisible ink and make safe information passes.

During the Nazi occupation, Josephine was a prized commodity for parties and events held by Nazi and Italian fascist big shots. She was allowed to travel in and out of Vichy, France, Nazi-occupied France, and neutral countries such as Portugal and Switzerland.

Josephine set up a theater and stage company in Marseilles, France and used it as a cover for a large espionage and sabotage organization. Refugees from Belgium and occupied France were taught to pose as stage artists, and the stage artists were taught to perform as spies. Her seemingly harmless musicians and actor types formed a valuable branch of the French Resistance.

In 1941, Josephine was stricken with a bad case of pneumonia. She and some of her recruits traveled to North Africa seeking a dryer, warmer climate. Free French leader General Charles De Gaulle and his staff felt that Josephine had done more than her share and encouraged her to remain safely in French Colonial Africa to recover her health. Josephine was highly committed to the cause of freedom, and instead of remaining safe, she traveled to Morocco and set up an expanded espionage operation.

From her base in Morocco, Josephine safely traveled back and forth to Spain to communicate with allied agents. She was able to assist the badly outnumbered US OSS agents in Europe in setting up improved communications. Josephine apparently was warned to keep her distance from the OSS because it was known that a mole was loose in their European operations. She had to know that she was taking a tremendous personal risk by working with both the multiple branches of the French Resistance and agents of the OSS. Whatever risk she sensed did not slow her down.

Josephine suffered a miscarriage and received an emergency hysterectomy due to infection. The recovery rate from emergency hysterectomies at the time was astonishingly low; however, Josephine survived. The Free French Government ordered that she be transported to England and to a desk job. She refused her evacuation and remained active in the field until the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945.

After the fall of the fascists, Josephine carried out one last, very personal mission. She traveled to Buchenwald and performed what must have been her single most important stage performance. She performed for the rescued death camp prisoners who were still too sick and weak to be moved.

For her long and distinguished service in the war against Nazi tyranny, Josephine was decorated for bravery on three occasions. She received the French Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la Resistance, and a knighthood from General Charles De Gaulle as a member of the order, Legion de Honeur.

After the war, Josephine left her life of espionage behind and returned to the stage. She adopted orphans of Algerian, Korean, Japanese, Finnish, French, Israeli, Moroccan, and Hispanic extraction. She referred to them as her “Rainbow Troupe.”

Josephine Baker in 1951, image by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress

In 1951, when Baker was refused service at the Stork Club in Manhattan, Grace Kelly was in attendance and took exception. The future Princess Grace of Monaco took Josephine’s arm, and they stormed out together, followed by the rest of Grace’s party. Grace Kelly and Josephine became life long friends, and when Josephine and her large family of orphans faced financial trouble, Princess Grace gave her a palace and financial assistance.

In 1963, Josephine was the only female to speak at the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, she was offered and declined the leadership of King’s civil rights organization. She felt that her slew of young children needed her.

Ten years after the March on Washington, Baker opened a show in New York at one of the world’s most prestigious venues, Carnegie Hall. Before the first note of the show could be performed, a packed house rose and gave her a very long standing ovation. The homeless orphan girl from the alleys of St. Louis had finally come home, and America had finally come home to her.

On April 12, 1975, Josephine died of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was the first American woman to receive a military funeral with full honors. Twenty thousand French, Europeans, and Americans who had not forgotten her extraordinary service in the liberation of France joined her funeral procession.

Without benefit of athletic prowess, much formal education, gadgetry, military or intelligence training, and armed with little more than her courage and commitment, the homeless girl from the alleys of St. Louis had made a difference in the world.

“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.” ~ Josephine Baker

 

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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.

 

Virginia Hall–Bayard & Holmes 7th Annual Love-A-Spook Day Honoree

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

In 2010, Bayard & Holmes declared Halloween to be Love-A-Spook Day. It is the day when we honor the remarkable unsung heroes of the Intelligence Community, without whom we could not hope to enjoy the benefits of this great nation. This year, our honoree is Distinguished Service Cross recipient Virginia Hall, who served with distinction behind enemy lines during WWII with the British Special Operations Executive and later with the OSS and the CIA.

 

Virginia Hall receiving Distinguished Service Cross from OSS Gen. William Donovan, 1945 Image by US Govt., public domain.

Virginia Hall receiving Distinguished Service Cross
from OSS Gen. William Donovan, 1945
Image by US Govt., public domain.

 

Virginia was born on April 6, 1906, to a wealthy family in Baltimore, Maryland. Having a gift for languages, she studied French, German, and Italian at Radcliffe College and Barnard College and then traveled to Europe to continue her education in Austria, France, and Germany. Virginia hoped that her language skills would allow her to enter the US Foreign Service.

After finishing her studies in 1931, she was hired as a Consular Service clerk at the US Embassy in Warsaw.

From there, she was assigned to a consulate office in Izmir, Turkey. While in Turkey, Virginia had a hunting accident and had to have her lower left leg amputated. She obtained a wooden prosthetic leg, which she named “Cuthbert,” and was then assigned to the US consulate in Venice.

Virginia requested permission to take the US Foreign Service Exam, but she was informed that due to her injury, she could not apply for a position as a diplomat. She returned to the US and attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.

In 1940, Virginia was visiting Paris when Germany invaded France.

She responded to the invasion by volunteering with the French Ambulance Corps and driving ambulances to evacuate wounded French soldiers from the front. When France surrendered to Germany, Virginia escaped to Spain, and then on to England.

In London, Virginia met Vera Atkins, a recruiter for British Special Operations Executive (“SOE”).

The circumstances of that fateful meeting are not clear. Some sources say they met on a train while evacuating France, and others claim that they met at a party in London. Never one to avoid danger, Virginia applied for service in the British SOE and was accepted.

Virginia trained in weapons, communications, and as a resistance organizer for occupied France. In August of 1941, she infiltrated Vichy, France. Some sources state that she was the first female SOE agent to do so.

The US was not yet directly involved in the war, so Virginia posed as a news correspondent for the New York Post. Once the US entered the war in December of 1941, the sensible thing for her to do would have been to quickly make her way back to England. Fortunately for the allied effort, she declined to escape and went underground.

When Virginia infiltrated Vichy, France in 1941, the Vichy Republic region was not yet occupied by the Nazis because the Petain government fully collaborated with the Nazis. At that time, operating in Vichy was more dangerous for an SOE agent than operating in the Nazi occupied region of France. The Vichy government had command of the French police departments, and with so many reliable local assets, it could more easily discover infiltrators and resistors. Most SOE agents sent into Vichy, France in 1941 and 1942 were killed or captured within days.

Virginia clearly had the right talents, education, courage, and determination for her difficult work. She quickly earned a reputation as a great recruiter and resistance organizer in France.

She was instrumental in the rescue of hundreds of downed allied aviators, and she arranged their safe return to England. She also organized a network of safe houses and coordinated numerous air drops of weapons and supplies to the French Resistance at a time when most drops were being intercepted by the Vichy police and the Gestapo.

Virginia’s successes did not go completely unnoticed by the Vichy government and the Nazi Gestapo. The Gestapo branded her as the most dangerous spy in all of France, and they made her capture a priority.

In November of 1942, most of the Vichy-controlled French colonial military forces in northwest Africa offered only token resistance to the allied landings in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The Nazis decided that the Vichy government was not collaborating to Hitler’s satisfaction, and they took over control of the Vichy Republic. Infamous Gestapo leader Clause Barbie demanded that “the woman with the limp,” as Virginia was known, be captured and brought directly to him so that he could personally strangle her.

Virginia managed to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo, and that winter, she escaped on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain.

During her trek over the snow-covered Pyrenees, Virginia radioed her progress to the SOE and mentioned that she hoped that “Cuthbert” would not give her too much trouble. The SOE officer that responded, apparently not in on the joke, messaged back that if Cuthbert gave her trouble, he should be “eliminated.” Fortunately, Virginia managed to keep Cuthbert in her service and made it to Spain, where she was captured by the Spanish police.

After the US embassy learned of her internment, they claimed her as a legitimate US citizen and demanded her release. Virginia then began working undercover in Spain. After four months, she decided that she was no longer achieving enough, and she returned to England in hopes of doing more “useful” work. In 1943, England’s King George VI presented Virginia Hall with an Honorary Membership in the Order of the British Empire for her remarkable courage and successes.

Though she could have accepted a position as an instructor or agent handler in England, Virginia left the SOE in order to join the fledgling American Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. Remarkably, she volunteered to return to occupied France.

Virginia dyed her hair gray and disguised herself as an elderly farmer. Since her wooden leg made a nighttime parachute drop too dangerous for her, she was infiltrated back to Bretagne, France on a British torpedo boat. Using the alias “Marcelle Montagne” and the code name “Diane,” she made her way to central France, where she set up radio communications with London. In addition to transmitting intelligence back to London, Virginia again organized successful supply drops for the French Resistance, established safe houses, helped train three battalions of Free French guerilla forces, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allied invasion. In spite of Clause Barbie’s personal vendetta against her, Virginia avoided capture and continued operating until the Allies liberated central France in 1944.

In September of 1945, on behalf of a grateful nation, OSS General William “Wild Bill” Donovan presented Virginia Hall with a Distinguished Service Cross.

That was the highest honor received by any female civilian during World War II. President Truman had intended to present her the award in a public ceremony at the White House, but Virginia insisted that the ceremony be kept from public view because she was “anxious to get back to work” and still needed her cover. She wasn’t finished yet.

Virginia went to work undercover in Italy operating against Soviet efforts to cultivate Italian communist groups. Afterward, she worked with a CIA front group, the National Committee for a Free Europe, which was associated with Radio Free Europe.

In 1950, Virginia married OSS Agent Paul Goillot, and in the following year, both Virginia and her husband joined the newly-established CIA. Virginia became an expert on resistance groups in Soviet-occupied Europe. She remained in the shadows and worked on a variety of projects until her retirement in 1966.

Virginia Hall Goillot passed away of natural causes at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, on July 8, 1982. To this day, her remarkable history of selfless service in the cause of freedom remains a shining example for the intrepid few who might dare to follow in her footsteps.

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Previous Love-A-Spook Day Posts

1st Annual Love-A-Spook Day — Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik

2011 post on Josephine Baker currently being added to a book.

Billy Waugh–On Teams That Found Carlos the Jackal and Osama Bin Laden

An Insignificant Irish Quaker Woman

The Untalented Bank Clerk

People’s Republic of China — The Pirate of the South China Sea

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On July 12, 2016, a landmark event occurred for the South China Sea — the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against the People’s Republic of China in a case filed by the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rejecting China’s claims to western Philippine islands.

 

China's Maritime Claim (red) UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue) Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

China’s Maritime Claim (red)
UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue)
Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

 

In 2013, the Philippines filed the case as a direct challenge to Communist China’s expansive territorial claims that stretch to within a hundred miles of the Philippines west coast.

The court’s ruling makes it clear that the international community has rejected China’s imperialist aggression in the South China Sea. There are no enforcement provisions in the UN convention, so the court ruling against China does nothing to directly prevent it from continuing to expand its presence in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the ruling is a major diplomatic and public relations disaster for China’s imperialist agenda.

The ruling matters to several countries for several different reasons.

It completely validates the positions of Communist China’s opponents in the dispute. Since the ruling, Indonesia, Malaysia, and to a lesser extent Borneo have experienced an increase in public interest in opposing the China’s aggression.

In the Philippines, the public celebrated the ruling while protesting against China.

Interestingly, the current administration in the Philippines has, with less fanfare, increased its efforts to negotiate economic sharing of the South China Sea. China is happy to play along with negotiations, but their word will be about as good as it usually is, which is not at all.

In Vietnam, the response has been less public.

Vietnam continues to oppose the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea dispute, but it has been careful this week to not allow public anger against China to manifest in the form of protests at Chinese diplomatic facilities in Vietnam. For the moment, Hanoi is taking a quiet but determined approach in dealing with China and is happy for the conflict to be framed as a Philippine-China problem on public relations terms. Vietnam’s caution is understandable. The closest points of land between the Philippines and Communist China are over 500 miles away from each other. The distance from China to Vietnam is only an inch.

The government of France made what might appear to be a surprising, or perhaps comical, move by announcing that it will support free navigation in the South China Sea by conducting freedom of passage exercises.

France has stated that it remains devoted to international law and order . . . Right. Maybe so. But for the moment, I’ll view France’s “freedom of navigation plans” in the South China Sea with a bit of historical context.

For reasons of free trade, France, along with nearly everyone on the globe, has a legitimate interest in the free navigation of the South China Sea. Additionally, France understandably wants to maintain maritime communications through the South China Sea between its colonial outposts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, as far as France’s noble and rather sudden religious devotion to global peace law and order, I remain skeptical. This is the same nation that wanted to deliver two Mistral class carriers to Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Currently, the French government is continuing to do all that it can to support the French defense industry through the export of warships, fighter planes, air transports, armor, artillery etc. If it could convince anyone that croissants or French lingerie were useful defense products, they’d be busy boxing some up at this very moment. Come to think of it, French lingerie would be a major improvement at all those damned boring European defense industry expos. I’ll take a French lingerie model over a skanky Airbus 400 any day.

French freedom of navigation exercises won’t do much to dissuade Beijing’s imperialist agenda, but they might drum up some nice weapons sales for French corporations.

I’m not at all opposed to France competing in the world arms market. For one thing, people that are forced to share a planet with the likes of Communist China, North Korea, Russia, and the various Jihadistans have a right to defend themselves. Some of the less fortunate countries don’t have a Lockheed Martin, an Airbus, or a Finmeccanica on which to lavish trillions of dollars or euros. These less fortunate nations must lavish their paltry billions on foreign suppliers.

When the capitalist warmongering US or the holier-than-thou peace loving European nations manage to sell their defense products on the international market, it enables their defense industries to maintain higher quality and innovation in the weapons that their own militaries use.

France is, after all, an ally of the US and an important member of NATO. So that’s fine if the French can drum up another big defense contract. I just don’t want to gloss over France’s arms sales campaigns with anything like “…devoted to international law and order,” or any other pseudo socialist pabulum.

In China, the response has been predictable and highly managed as ever.

The People’s Republic of China has allowed an egg throwing festival-type protest against the demon aggressor Obama. The government provided members of its public with large quantities of eggs and posters of Obama to use as targets. If China didn’t have nuclear weapons, they’d be so damned funny.

In Beijing, no protests were allowed at the US or Philippine embassies. Also, China has minimized the rage factor against Obama and the Philippines on the internet. The interesting thing is that China is choosing not to overextend its credibility with the Chinese public by overplaying the old “rage against the capitalists” routine.

That restraint tells us something important — Communist China is not as confident as it likes to pretend to be about its ambitions in the South China Sea.

While swearing that it will never back down an inch, it in fact is hoping to negotiate a face saving way out of its South China Sea public relations disaster. Otherwise, it would be encouraging a much more toxic rage in the Chinese public.

The People’s Republic of China routinely relies on manufactured outrage to try to manage public and international policy. It’s a tough habit to break, even momentarily. For Communist China, its most dangerous and vicious opponent in the South China Sea remains Communist China. That is perhaps the one thing that it and the US have in common in the South China Sea.

So what does all this mean to US taxpayers?

The US administration won’t gloat about the ruling against China. Along with everyone else, the US expected this result, but the US will continue to encourage Communist China’s neighbors to better develop their own defenses to deal with that country’s imperialist agenda.

The US will continue freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, but at the same time, this administration and congress won’t take the obvious steps for opposing China’s imperial agenda by withdrawing its “most favored nation” status.

Corporate America and American consumers will continue to support Communist China’s economy by purchasing low quality overpriced junk from it. The trade balance between the US and China will remain hideously unfavorable to US taxpayers and the US economy, but don’t expect this congress or this administration to do anything about it. They won’t.

The important silver lining to all this is that although the People’s Republic of China will never admit it to the Chinese people, it clearly does not intend a major military escalation in the Pacific.

Its usual temper tantrums are not working, and in China, as on Wall Street, money talks. The shrill Communist Chinese rhetoric will continue, but expect some quiet back alley diplomacy from the Chinese in the next few years.

The People’s Republic of China will demand everything, but it will take what it can get.

ISIS Attacks Paris — A Major Mistake

Bayard & Holmes
~ Jay Holmes

On the night of November 13, 2015, cowardly criminals from the ISIS gang carried out coordinated attacks against innocent people in Paris, France. So far, 136 people are confirmed dead, and many more remain wounded.

 

Memorial at Bataclan Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

Memorial at Bataclan
Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

 

Before examining the effects of the attacks beyond the casualties, Piper and I wish to offer our respectful sympathy to all the families that lost loved ones in the attacks. We also wish to assure the people of France that civilized people throughout the world stand in solidarity with them.

It is easy to see why reasonable people might view the Paris Attacks as a “success” by ISIS.

ISIS got attention, and its vainglorious leaders lust for that. They hurt France and, by extension, all French allies and sympathizers. The attacks were a tactical success in that, while they likely killed far fewer people than the ISIS head-monkeys had hoped for, they killed more than enough to justify their efforts in tactical terms.

All this notwithstanding, I view the Paris attacks as a gigantic failure on the part of ISIS.

That’s because the violence in France does not, and will not, support ISIS’s goal of extending its control over more Middle East territory. It certainly doesn’t get the group closer to its stated goal of worldwide Islamic rule.

The Paris attacks have already resulted in increased French air strikes against ISIS assets in the Middle East. As for ISIS assets in Europe, France and other European nations have redoubled their efforts in rounding up the ISIS vermin that have been roaming free across that continent. If you are an agent of ISIS in Europe, your life is more difficult this week than it was last week. Those seventy-two virgins are closer than you think.

This does not mean that ISIS is incapable of carrying out further attacks in the West.

It is never difficult for criminal enterprises to recruit the losers in any society. But since the latest attacks, Europeans will be more willing to tolerate increased police activity and higher military budgets. Those higher military budgets, coupled with increased Western willpower to use military force against ISIS, will equate to a higher rate of vaporization of ISIS thugs across the Middle East. If anyone disagrees with this theory, please note the ISIS casualties these last few days in Syria and North Africa. It’s not a good time to be waving an ISIS flag.

So then, why would a group that claims to be the rightful rulers of all the people on the planet be so unwise as to carry out the Paris attacks?

One critical element of the answer is stupidity. No sane, intelligent person would join ISIS, let alone try to lead it. Lots of types of individuals might join ISIS, but one of the common traits they share is an inability to reasonably perceive reality. Even those that join because they wish to rise in personal status from unemployed dishwasher to “badass terrorist gun slinger” must be intellectually deficient in order to volunteer for life as an ISIS gofer. Being the lead lowlife in a group like ISIS is, at best, a short-term thrill. Being at the bottom of the lowlife heap must be hellish. We are not dealing with a collection of 25,000 brilliant scholars. We are dealing with heartless, bloodthirsty idiots. And they will fail.

When ISIS first came to the forefront of Western media, some analysts predicted that they would be very difficult to defeat. I stated openly that with any real effort by the West, ISIS could be sent back to the caves and sewers that they crawled out of. Some observers viewed the well-publicized parades of black clad jihadists waving ISIS flags as a terrifying new event. I viewed them as an ideal opportunity for target practice for Western and Middle Eastern militaries. A few (very few) experienced military analysts scoffed at the notion that ISIS could be defeated with less than years of major military effort including thousands of US “boots on the ground.”

Thus far, with minimal effort by the US and far less serious efforts by a few of our allies, the ISIS Middle East blitzkrieg has been halted.

Keep in mind that Western efforts have amounted to airstrikes against ISIS targets, pathetically small assistance to the Kurds, a mammoth infusion of cash and arms to that vaguely defined troupe of hapless clowns that we so generously call “the Iraqi Army,” and minimal efforts at helping independent Syrian rebels. We will not at this time delve into any possible covert actions that may have occurred against ISIS.

Thus far, the airstrikes have been partially effective.

Some in the West have called for a more robust bombing campaign against ISIS targets, but that’s a topic for another discussion. The under-armed, outmanned Kurds, now assisted by a few poorly-armed Yazidis, have been very successful in their struggle against their well-armed ISIS opponents. The fact that the Yazidis and Kurds are willing and able to cooperate with each other is further bad news for the despised ISIS. Our wildly expensive efforts with the Iraqi Army have resulted in little more than accidentally supplying ISIS with weapons, ammo, and equipment. Our efforts at assisting Syrian rebels have yet to yield meaningful results. And yet, with such minimal effort by the West, ISIS has been stalled.

What about ISIS’s many friends across the Middle East?

They no longer have any. Thus far, the ISIS Middle East Foreign Policy Initiative has consisted of creating steadfast enemies in Jordan, infuriating the Egyptian government, and declaring war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, thus earning the always generous hatred of the Iranian Shia junta. All of this has been done without them initiating their most important battle – their “coming war” against Israel.

Even by the low standards of ISIS logic, the Paris attacks were a foolish move. ISIS’s future has never been bright. This week, it’s dimmer still.

Vive la France! Vive la liberté!

À la ferme porcine avec ISIS!

Charlie Hebdo and the State of “Free Press”

By Jay Holmes

The recent terror attacks in Paris have been a central theme in Western news outlets for the last couple of weeks. The outrage at these cowardly attacks is understandable, and responses from Western European leaders have shared some common themes. Condemnation for the murder of innocents, the assault against “free speech” and the “free press,” and vows to do more to fight terror were repeated across Europe. But precisely what can we expect in the way of increased defense of freedom of expression? The details are a bit less clear-cut than the rallying cries.

 

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims
Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

 

Many Westerners quickly noticed that, while chiming in to support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, numerous US television news networks carefully blocked out the now famous cartoon that Charlie Hebdo published. Apparently, “free speech,” as practiced by many of the US news giants, means something like “free as long as we agree with it, and it doesn’t violate our cowardly pathology for political correctness.” Perhaps it’s simply a case of “free to agree with us.”

In his condemnation of the attacks, US President Obama—that same fellow who claimed he would build the most “transparent” US government in US history— wisely did not specifically address the “free speech” or “free press” aspects of the attacks in his response. It simply would have been too ironic right now, considering the “transparency” we have enjoyed from the White House about matters like Afghanistan.

Remember that war in Afghanistan that ended last year? The one that is no longer a war, but that we are still funding and fighting? That war is part of the US global war on terror. The basic reason for conducting the global war on terror is to defend the freedom of the people of the US and, by extension, the freedom of our allies. Freedom is an important thing, and a “free press” is an important aspect of it.

Unfortunately, right about now, “free press” doesn’t apply to our conduct of the not-really-a-war in Afghanistan.

Every quarter the US military delivers vital statistics concerning the Afghan not-war to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko. These statistics include evaluations of the progress of the fledgling Afghan Army, police forces, and national government at large. The reports also include information about bribery and corruption in the Afghan government. In his previous evaluations, Sopko has been critical of the cost and lack of results in Afghanistan. His evaluations were shared with the people of the US. This quarter’s statistics were declared “classified” by the US Army.

John Sopko and his staff will receive the information, but they will not be able to share it with us.

We don’t get to know who specifically made that decision. My suspicion is that the decision to classify the data came from the White House. The rationale is the old “we don’t want this vital information to get into the hands of the enemy” ploy. However, by “enemy,” we can’t be sure if the Army is referring to the Taliban or the US taxpayers that are starting to wonder where the hell all the money went in Afghanistan.

If the data is, in fact, valuable information for the Taliban and their assorted competing warlords, then who shall we court martial for allowing the information to be released to the public for the last six years? But remember, talking less about what we are doing in Afghanistan is an important part of defending “free press” and “free speech” in the US. It’s a rather curious example of “transparent government.” Are you feeling warmer and freer yet? I’m not. As they say in the more fashionable taverns in Georgetown, “Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.”

About now, our French readers are enjoying a good laugh at those politically and culturally less sophisticated Americans. Go ahead and laugh. You should. But then take a closer look at things in France.

While addressing members of the French Navy on board the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, French President Hollande said, “I continue to regret the fact that the international community did not act in the required time to stop massacres in Syria and prevent extremists from gaining even more ground.” Indeed. There is much room for regret.

Hollande forgot to mention that of all the major European nations, France has been the most reluctant to get involved in Syria. Hollande has thus far declined to conduct air strikes in Syria. He was probably counting on French voters to forget that he only authorized the French military to conduct strikes against ISIS in Iraq and not in Syria.

So other than photo ops on an aircraft carrier, what has the French government done in response to the terror attacks?

They have, for the short term, increased police presence backed up by military forces to patrol French cities. As far as cracking down on terrorists that threaten free speech, they have made it clear that too much free speech will not be tolerated in that they have been arresting people who say anything in support of Islamic terrorists. This included the police questioning of an eight-year-old boy when his teacher reported that he was sympathetic to the attackers. The boy’s lawyer has since claimed that the boy does not know what a terrorist is. It’s never too early to teach children about “free speech.”

But let’s not pick on Hollande. There is plenty of French hypocrisy to go around. Angry at Fox news for referring to Islamic enclaves in Paris as No-Go Zones, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo stated that Paris will sue Fox news. I think the statement was made between passionate cries of “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” and “Vive la presse libre!” Clearly, France is not going to tolerate Fox news having an opinion about Paris neighborhoods. Since they are not busy in Syria, will Hollande authorize a carrier strike against Fox News?

UK Prime Minister Cameron was, of course, quick to denounce the attacks in Paris, and he made clear the importance of free speech and a free press. That’s a nice sentiment, but how far does it go? Does it apply to his government? Perhaps not.

The UK government has joined other European governments in wanting to require “back door access” to be built into social media products so that European governments can more easily spy on its citizens without a warrant. The government of the nation that invented the concept of the warrant doesn’t think it needs one to routinely listen to private citizens on social media.

As for “free press,” time will tell how free the UK Ministry of Defense has been with information about their planned reductions in the UK military. There are currently allegations making the rounds on Fleet Street that the Ministry of Defense is planning much larger cuts than what they are currently admitting to the public.

If this all sounds too sinister and depressing, don’t worry.

By comparison, people in Western Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, NZ, and Japan still enjoy a higher degree of freedom than the rest of the world. The fact that I can write this article without expecting to get arrested is proof of that. As long as we can remember to frequently and publicly laugh at our politicians, there is hope that freedom will survive.

 

 

 

At the Crossroads of NATO and Russia

By Jay Holmes

Friday, November 14, 2014 might end up being an important date in Western history—not for what happened on this day, but rather for what didn’t happen. The French government failed to deliver the new Mistral class helicopter carrier to the Russian Navy.

 

FS Mistral Amphibious Assault Ship in Toulon Harbor Image by Rama, wikimedia commons.

FS Mistral Amphibious Assault Ship in Toulon Harbor
Image by Rama, wikimedia commons.

 

On December 24, 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the sale of two French Mistral class ships to the Russian Navy. The contract was signed on January 25, 2011, with a delivery date for the first helicopter carrier, the Vladivostok, in October of 2014 and the second ship, the Sevastopol, to be delivered in 2015. Two more ships of the same class were then to be constructed under license in Russia. The price of the contract for the first two ships was 1.37 billion euros. This, of course, represented thousands of jobs for the troubled French economy.

In what was likely a well-rehearsed press briefing, Russian reporters asked Russian General Staff member General Nikolai Makarov why the ships would not be built in Russia where Russian workers could benefit from the project. General Makarov stated that the reason for purchasing the French design, rather than Russian, was that “Russia would require another ten years to develop technologies” that could match the Mistral class capabilities and that the Russian Navy did not want to endure that delay. In answering the question, he effectively confirmed the concerns of the US and some of its NATO members.

When the contract was announced in 2010, US Republican senators, led by John McCain, sent a letter of protest to the French Ambassador to the US. NATO member states Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia also protested against the sale. During his visit to Paris on January 8, 2011, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressed US concern over the substantial military technology upgrade that the French were exporting with the sale of the Mistral class ships to Russia. When questioned by journalists, Gates’ representatives stated that, in spite of US concerns, there was nothing that the US could do to block the sale of the Mistral ships to Russia. France had anticipated the complaints and ignored them. The construction proceeded on schedule.

On February 27, 2014, when the Russian flag was hoisted over the Ukrainian parliament in Crimea, the pending transfer of the Mistral ships to Russia quickly became a much more serious problem to Ukraine, to NATO member states, and to Sweden. With a planned delivery date of October 15 looming on the horizon, the US and NATO quietly stepped up pressure on the French government to halt the sale of the high tech Mistral ships. The French quickly complained that they would have to reimburse Russia the 1.1 billion euros already paid for the ship construction, and that it would cost France over a thousand jobs.

Members of the US Congress responded that NATO should purchase the two ships for use by the NATO Standing Force Atlantic and NATO Standing Force Mediterranean. NATO was slow to respond, but after a few weeks, they decided that they lacked the funds and mechanism for making such a purchase. In reality, if the UK and the US cooperated, an offer to purchase the ships at their original sales price could be made within days. France would have no doubt as to the validity of the offer, but that does not mean that France would easily agree.

In less public communications, the Russian government offered, in general terms and without producing a contract, to make further substantial warship purchases from the French shipyards if France delivers the two Mistral ships. Russia is also in a position to quietly make a variety of generous financial offers to the French government or to members of the French government. I am not aware of what other offers have or have not been made.

 

 

In response to pressure from its fellow NATO members, France delayed the projected delivery date to November 14 with the condition that a cease-fire and a permanent political solution be in place by then.

Only days before the deadline, Vladimir Putin did what he always does best. He hurt Russia. On November 10, 2014, Australia deployed warships to shadow Russian warships that had approached the Coral Sea. On November 13, the Russian ships were in the Coral Sea, where they approached, but did not enter, Australian territorial waters.

This bit of Putinism was in response to the announcement by the Australian government that at the G-20 meeting, they would confront Vladimir Putin about the fact that Russian forces had shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014. Thirty-eight Australians were killed in that attack.

On November 12, another Russian armored column crossed into Ukraine, further escalating the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and making it more politically difficult for France to deliver the ships. The November 14 delivery date has now passed, and France has thus far declined to turn over the ships to Russia.

The Russian government responded with its traditional lack of finesse. It officially announced that it would make financial claims against France if the first Mistral is not delivered by the end of November. Less officially, but quite publicly, they have announced that the financial claims would be in the neighborhood of 3 billion euros, and that France would face “grave consequences.” France responded by stating that it would not be forced into any decisions by anyone outside of France.

In spite of what Vladimir Putin’s media machine will tell the Russian public, Russia is, in fact, in no position to deliver and “grave consequences” to France. The Russian ships in the Coral Sea are not capable of overcoming Australia’s defenses, but the move plays well on Putin-controlled state media. As for Australia, Putin doesn’t give a damn what anyone in that country thinks.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin contemplating the  "grave consequences" he would like to deliver. Image by www.kremlin.ru.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
contemplating the “grave consequences”
he would like to deliver.
Image by http://www.kremlin.ru.

 

While NATO maintains that it cannot purchase the two Mistral ships from France, some interesting options are available.

In 2010, Poland expressed an interest in possibly purchasing a Mistral class ship from France. For lack of funds, no offer has been tendered. Canada, a nation that has the funds, has also expressed an interest in purchasing two Mistral class ships from France. The UK, a nation that has the funds but won’t give the funds to its navy, has not expressed any interest in purchasing a Mistral class ship. Perhaps it should. With the once mighty Royal Navy currently reduced to having no carriers in service, the purchase of a single Mistral class helicopter carrier could serve to boost the Royal Navy’s defense capabilities until the two new Queen Elizabeth carriers enter service sometime after 2016. The helicopter carrier would remain useful to the Royal Navy long thereafter.

The likelihood of the UK considering the purchase of one of the Mistral carriers is approximately equal to the likelihood that I will win the lottery. I don’t buy lottery tickets. Since the US is expected to pick up the slack from the Royal Navy, and since there is next to no Canadian navy afloat from which to pick up any slack, it is in the direct interest of the US to offer partial financial assistance to Canada or to Poland for the purchase of the two Mistral carriers. The key to getting such a deal done would be to allow the French to announce that any such arrangements were the results of inspired, avant-garde thinking by members of the French government. Neither Canada nor Poland would care who claimed credit for any such deal.

My best guess is that between now and the end of November, Vladimir Putin will not learn to act in the best interests of Russia. Russia will continue its aggression against Ukraine, and, therefore, France will want to avoid suffering the political damage that will result in supplying Russia’s invading military with a new high-tech warship. Time still remains for France and its Western allies to come to their senses and redirect the Mistral ships to an allied navy. Whether or not reason will prevail in the long term remains to be seen.

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Becoming Josephine — From Carefree Creole to Empress of France

By Piper Bayard

In BECOMING JOSEPHINE, Heather Webb eloquently traces the transformation of Rose Tascher, carefree Caribbean island girl, to Empress Josephine, wife of the most powerful man of her century—Napoléon Bonaparte.

 

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

 

Rose Tascher is a daydreaming Creole in Martinique who fantasizes of adventures in Paris and a grand life at the French court. When her beloved sister dies, Rose is sent in her place to marry Alexandre, an aristocrat and soldier. Before long, the stage of fancy dresses and glitzy balls devolves into a harrowing era of political witch hunts, when no one’s neck is safe from the guillotine. After narrowly escaping death in the infamous Les Carmes prison, Rose once more climbs her way up the social ladder. With her youth fading, along with her options for independence, her courtship with General Bonaparte ensues, and their rise to ultimate power begins.

Webb paints history with linguistic finesse, depicting characters and events with colorful, active palettes of expression. She draws her readers into the fear, uncertainty, and upheaval of revolutionary France through her vivid portrayal of Josephine Bonaparte as a passionate, imperfect, determined survivor. BECOMING JOSEPHINE is not only a refreshing perspective on the Napoleonic Era, it’s a great story.

Highly recommended.