The Triumph and Defeat of Japanese Militarism

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On February 26, 1936, a group of young Imperial Japan Army officers led a violent coup against the Japanese government in an attempt to restore absolute power for the monarchy.

From a Western point of view, the coup appeared to be an effort to install military rule over civil authority. That was, indeed, one of the goals of the coup leaders and supporters, but they also intended to murder or remove senior army officers from rival military factions.

 

Flag of The Righteous Army wikimedia commons, public domain

Flag of The Righteous Army
wikimedia commons, public domain

 

In the decade leading up to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Western diplomats viewed the internal politics of Japan as being a rivalry between a “Peace Faction” and a “War Faction.”

The reality was quite different. The actual “Peace Faction” in Japan was quite small and lacked significant power. The actual “War Faction,” the real power in Japan, was a variety of military factions and supporting wealthy industrialists.

The principal military faction consisted of senior military officers that were aligned with Japan’s growing industrial giants.

They wanted to pursue a thorough physical modernization of the Japanese Army and Navy prior to conducting any wars against Western nations. At the time, they were concerned with building an Army to defeat the Soviet Union and conquer vast areas of eastern USSR and eastern China, and their basic intent was to defeat communism before communism could destroy Japan.

This principal military faction, as well as other factions, believed that sufficient oil, iron, and coal for Japan’s industry and war machine could be obtained from the conquered areas of China, Korea, and the USSR. However, while large quantities of steel were produced in the Japanese-occupied areas of China, Japan failed to locate and develop any significant new oil fields from their territories on the Asian mainland. Oil, then as now, remained a critical factor in political decisions.

The coup leaders believed the Japanese military did not need more modernization, and they didn’t like the influence the wealthy industrialists held over the Emperor. They viewed Emperor Hirohito as the victim of these industrialists, and they naively believed they needed to rescue him from them, as well as from the corrupt politicians and military officers.

By February 22, the eight principle coup leaders had managed to recruit eighteen more young officers. They began to finalize their plans. The coup leaders dubbed themselves “The Righteous Army.” They mobilized over 1,400 soldiers under their command. Most of the soldiers were ignorant of any conspiracy and were told simply that they had been called out to defend the Emperor from unspecified conspirators.

In the early morning hours of February 26, the coup leaders divided their 1,400 troops into six groups. At 5:00 a.m., they conducted simultaneous attacks on the Prime Minister’s residence, the Tokyo police headquarters, the War Ministry, and the homes of three prominent politicians.

The attack on the Prime Minister’s Palace succeeded in capturing the palace. The attackers murdered the Prime Minister’s brother-in-law, mistakenly identifying him as the Prime Minister, which left them unaware that the Prime Minister escaped. The attack on the Police headquarters succeeded, as well, but due to lack of proper preparations, the other four attacks on political targets failed.

The entire conspiracy was based on the notion that the conspirators would rescue the Emperor from the corrupt industrialists and their military lackeys.

Unfortunately for them, the conspirators failed to understand that Emperor Hirohito felt no need to be rescued by the Righteous Army or any other faction. In spite of popular perceptions, the Emperor agreed with the aims of the industrialists and the military modernists. He was also being well compensated financially by the new industries being built in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and Korea.

The conspirators gained entrance to the Royal Palace grounds by posing as a relief force. Once the subterfuge of the young officers leading the “relief troops” was discovered, they were expelled. The Emperor subsequently instructed his staff to issue a proclamation denouncing the coup.

The Emperor’s staff wisely made that proclamation vague, and the conspiracy leaders mistook it as a declaration that they had been victorious.

It took an additional three days to convince them to stand down and return to their barracks. When they finally abandoned the captured grounds of the Police headquarters and the Prime Minister’s Palace, the officers and over a hundred co-conspirators were arrested. Nineteen of the officers were executed, and three others committed suicide.

The coup itself was dramatic enough, but the aftereffects were even more dramatic.

The military underwent a reorganization that left the modernist “pro-war” faction in control of the Army and Navy. The civil government ended up under tighter military control. Anyone in the government or military that even vaguely resembled anything like a peace supporter was assassinated or marginalized.

Japan was already at war with China, and the path toward expanding and escalating that war now shone more brightly than ever.

The civilian influence over government policy dwindled after the coup attempt, while the most aggressive military expansionists used the reorganization to consolidate their power and further their agendas, shaking out anything like a peace faction. The only question that remained was whether Japan should secure oil by capturing the Western USSR or by striking south and capturing Borneo and Sumatra.

In May of 1939, a force of 35,000 Japanese attempted to capture part of eastern Mongolia. The Japanese underestimated the Soviet commitment to defending their Mongolian allies. By September, 65,000 Mongolian and Soviet troops had expelled the Japanese. In the aftermath, the Japanese commanders in Tokyo decided that it would be best to capture and secure oil, tin, and rubber sources in the southwest Pacific region before building up forces in northwest Manchuria for a major assault against the USSR.

Planning for a surprise attack on US Naval forces in Pearl Harbor, the conquest of the Philippines, and the conquests of Borneo and Sumatra now began in earnest.

In the summer of 1941, when the German Army invaded the USSR, its early successes confirmed for the Japanese the wisdom of first striking southward. They were certain that the Germans would prevent the USSR from causing any trouble in Japan while Japan swept up the valuable resource areas of the Southwest Pacific.

The Japanese were right about the USSR being busy with the German invasion, but they grossly underestimated the determination and ability of the US to mobilize vast military forces to defeat them in the Pacific. That miscalculation was not fully understood until August of 1945, when Tokyo lay in ruins, and nuclear weapons had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

 

US General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito September 27, 1945 public domain, wikimedia commons

US General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito
September 27, 1945
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

On May 3, 1947, Japan adopted a modern democratic constitution, formally ending its era of military dominance over its government. In the final chapter of the struggle for control over modern Japan, the “war factions” were brought to their knees, and the small and previously powerless “peace faction” had the last word.

Intelligence Fail–Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet View

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

In our last post, we discussed the intelligence lesson to be learned by Hitler’s choice to invade the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. On the other side, the Soviet Union’s reaction to that invasion provides us with one of history’s most glaring examples of bad intelligence assessments.

Intelligence professionals that read this series should be aware that I use the term “assessment” in the generic English sense rather than in the technical professional sense. All intelligence agencies have their own requirements and rules for what an “intelligence assessment” should look like. We are not following any of those requirements other than the ones that coincide with the researching and writing of history.

To understand the Soviet Union’s failure to adequately prepare for the German invasion of June 22, 1941, it’s important to consider the decision making process of the Soviet Union.

 

Josef Stalin in Berlin, 1945 Image from US Library of Congress,  public domain.

Josef Stalin in Berlin, 1945
Image from US Library of Congress,
public domain.

 

Josef Stalin was a dictator that only nominally reported to the Communist Party of the USSR. In reality, the Communist Party lacked the will or practical authority to oppose any decisions taken by Stalin.

By 1941, everyone in the USSR understood that disagreeing with Stalin about anything was likely to lead to arrest, torture, and possible execution. Not surprisingly, Stalin had grown accustomed to people agreeing with him. While he may have enjoyed his success in bending the entire USSR to his will, it had an isolating effect that would prove disastrous.

Even though Hitler vastly underestimated the war fighting capability of the USSR, he understood that the USSR had a much larger military than did Poland or France. Accordingly, he instructed the German military to move approximately 3.8 million troops into position to invade the USSR. Some of those troops were not for employment in the spearheads of the invasion, and, therefore, did not need to be kept close to the Soviet borders. Still, even in the pre-satellite age, it was difficult to disguise German troop buildups.

 

The six lines of attack comprising Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. From The Battle of Russia, the fifth film in the Why We Fight series by US Govt. public domain

The six lines of attack comprising Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.
From The Battle of Russia, the fifth film in the Why We Fight series by US Govt.
public domain

 

So how did Stalin manage to ignore the massive German buildup leading to Operation Barbarossa?

There are various opinions about the details of how and why Stalin failed to anticipate a German invasion, but some aspects are nearly universally accepted. One might assume that the Soviet NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) and military intelligence forces were inadequate or perhaps nearly blind to all evidence. This was clearly not the case.

The Soviet Union leadership considered itself to be in a perpetual state of war with the rest of the world. From their point of view, the character and intensity of that war varied, but there was no such thing as real “peace” with Western nations. The Soviet State also operated on the assumption that it was and would always be in a state of war with a significant portion of its own citizens.

These two fundamental assumptions caused the USSR to invest heavily in intelligence efforts. Both the NKVD and Soviet military intelligence accurately assessed that Hitler was planning an invasion of the USSR. They had done an excellent job of penetrating Hitler’s Foreign Office, intelligence services, military staffs, and industry. They were receiving more than enough information from a variety of independent sources to be certain that Operation Barbarossa was imminent.

In addition to its direct sources in Germany, Stalin’s intelligence community was aware of US and UK assessments of Hitler’s intentions.

When diplomats from the US and the UK informed Stalin of German plans to invade the USSR, Stalin had already heard this from his spies in the UK and the US. He assumed that all the warnings coming from the Western nations were part of a Western conspiracy to force him to go to war with Hitler prematurely. Stalin preferred to let the West demolish itself, and he planned to step into a convenient power vacuum of a destroyed Western Europe.

Opinions vary about precisely how, in the face of so much corroborative information, Stalin failed to anticipate the German invasion. In one sense, he didn’t.

Just as Hitler understood that carving up Poland with the USSR would in no way appease Stalin’s long term goal of annihilating Western nations and governments, Stalin clearly understood that Germany would try to attack the USSR. Stalin’s basic reaction to that reality was to attempt to outsmart the Western nations.

Remember, from Stalin’s point of view, the UK, France, and other Western enemies were as much a threat to the Soviet system and Soviet ambitions as was Germany. All Westerners were Stalin’s enemies, and all of them needed to be accounted for in the Soviet geopolitical calculus of the day.

In addition to considering the threat from his Western neighbors, Stalin had to consider the very real threat of invasion by the Japanese military to the east. Japan had already conquered vast swaths of China, and it could not be completely ignored.

Stalin responded to the threats that surrounded him by using his vast NKVD resources to try to maneuver Western countries into war with themselves and by counting on the Japanese to continue being strategically diverted with their slaughter of the Chinese. From Stalin’s point of view, Hitler’s invasion of his Western neighbors perfectly fit into his plans.

 

Wehrmacht troops cross the USSR borders in Operation Barbarossa, June 22, 1941. public domain

Wehrmacht troops cross the USSR borders in Operation Barbarossa,
June 22, 1941.
public domain

 

Stalin never doubted that Hitler would invade the USSR, but since Germany was still busy dealing with the undefeated UK, he was certain that Hitler would not make the mistake of throwing Germany into the same sort of two-front war that brought that country to ruin in 1918.

When Stalin’s magnificent intelligence services explained to him that Hitler was not going to wait for the fall of the UK to invade the USSR, his megalomaniacal personality enabled him to ignore them. When anyone in his intelligence, diplomatic, or military organizations foolishly attempted to argue the point with him, he accused them of being enemy agents and had them murdered or banished to labor camps.

Since June 22, 1941, Stalin’s miserable intelligence assessment of German intentions has been a popular topic of study. As more files have been obtained from the now defunct USSR, more explanations are offered as to precisely how Stalin managed to deceive himself.

 

German soldiers in Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, June 1941. Image from German Federal Archives, wikimedia commons.

German soldiers in Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa,
June 1941.
Image from German Federal Archives, wikimedia commons.

 

Thus far, the various theories and occasional new evidence have not changed the essential facts of the case.

Stalin failed to prepare for Operation Barbarossa because he refused to acknowledge that anyone might understand the strategic situation as well as or better than he could. The results of his grand miscalculation were devastating for the USSR. We cannot assume that the best possible preparations by the USSR would have completely and bloodlessly defeated the German invasion, but it is reasonable to assume that the USSR would have suffered far fewer casualties in halting the German advances.

There is one other “what if” that we usually ignore when examining Stalin’s grotesque mismanagement of the Soviet military machine. If indeed Stalin had been able to defeat Hitler’s invasion more efficiently, then Soviet forces likely would have advanced further west before the Allied Forces reached the same positions. Then the post-war division of European nations might have left even more European nations enslaved by Soviet occupation.

Stalin’s horrendous failure to anticipate Operation Barbarossa reinforces the lesson that even the best intelligence is only useful when leaders use it effectively. Stalin’s failure in 1941 also demonstrates another important lesson from Intelligence history . . .

Nations and their leaders should be aware that their own plans and ambitions can blind them to their enemies’ intentions.

In our next segment we will consider an oft-ignored intelligence wild card in Operation Barbarossa.

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Conquest

By Jay Holmes

This week, the Western media has, in a fashion, been covering the political crisis in Ukraine with growing interest. While the storm over the steppes has been brewing since November 2013, it has grown to crisis proportions during recent weeks. The growth and severity of the crisis has been sudden, but it has in no way been accidental.

Critical events are occurring at such a rapid pace as to render any published analysis out of date by the time even the speediest editors can post it. Nonetheless, the outcome of the conflict in the Ukrainian Republic will have far reaching consequences for Ukrainians and for much of the Eurasian continent. To a lesser, but still significant degree, secondary political and economic consequences will be felt across the world.

Though the media reporting usually presents the Ukraine in its own vacuum, outside factors have heavily influenced the present situation. One of the most influential outside factors has been Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0.

Vladimir Putin image by premier.gov.ru

Vladimir Putin
image by premier.gov.ru

As complicated as that may sound, the reality is even more complicated. To better understand the present conflict in Ukraine, we need to consider the long and complex history of the region. While the current situation is violent and threatens to become more violent at any moment, the previous centuries in the region were even more violent. For the sake of brevity, let us look at a timeline of the critical events in Ukrainian history that are shaping today’s conflict.

Ukrainian Timeline:

Circa 900 A.D.

A Ukrainian ethnic identity becomes evident in what we now refer to as Ukraine.

907 A.D.

Ukrainians found the city of Chernihiv.

While the Ukrainians see themselves as distinct, their Russian neighbors see Ukraine as a Russian hinterland. This particular hinterland is huge, has a Black Sea coast, and has better climates for agriculture than areas further north.

This particular geographic dynamic will shape the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians for the next millennia.

1256 A.D.

Danylo, King of Rus, founds the city of Lviv.

1651 A.D.

The Polish kingdom to the northwest has grown more powerful. At the Battle of Berestechko, the Poles defeat the Ukrainians.

1653 A.D.

A Russian army seizes Smolensk, Ukraine, and initiates a bloody Thirteen Years War between Russia and Poland over Ukrainian rule. In a larger sense, the Thirteen Years War does not quite end until 1670, after a long series of battles and negotiations that include Russian, Cossack (Ukrainian), Tartar, Polish, Swedish, and Turkish armies.

1654 A.D.

Poland cedes Kiev, Smolensk, and Eastern Ukraine to Russia in the Treaty of Andrusovo. The Poles and Russians rule their respective occupied areas with iron fists.

1670 A.D.

Ukraine establishes autonomy from Russia and Poland. While exerting military pressure on its neighbors, it remains under constant military threat from those same neighbors on all sides.

1744 A.D.

A measure of economic prosperity allows for the construction of the magnificent St. George Cathedral in Lviv.

St. George Cathedral in Lviv image by Robin & Bazylek

St. George Cathedral in Lviv
image by Robin & Bazylek

1746 A.D.

The Ukrainian city of Vilkovo is founded. It becomes a cosmoploitan trade center with foreign residents and a vast network of canals. It can be considered the “Venice of the Crimea.”

1783 A.D.

The Ukrainians have lost much of their territory to the growing Russian Empire. Catherine the Great orders the construction of the fortress of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula and the founding of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea headquarters.

1834 A.D.

The University of Lviv is founded.

1863 A.D.

Russia outlaws the Ukrainian language.

1890 A.D.

The first Ukrainian political party, Halytska, is formed. Its platform is essentialy Ukranian nationalism.

1905 A.D.

The ban on the Ukrainian language in Russian-occupied Ukraine is lifted.

1917 A.D.

Ukrainians establish a central parliament, the Rada, in Kiev following the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I.

1918 A.D.

Ukraine declares independence, and the Ukrainian People’s Republic is established.

1921 A.D.

The Soviet Army gains control of Ukraine and establishes a puppet state, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

Red Army in Kiev 1920 image public domain

Red Army in Kiev 1920
image public domain

1932 A.D.

As part of Stalin’s genocidal campaign against Ukrainians, seven million peasants are starved to death in a Soviet-engineered famine. This holocaust is not well known outside of Ukraine, but it heavily influences Ukrainian thinking today.

1937 A.D.

The Soviets carry out mass executions and deportations in Ukraine as part of Stalin’s systematic purges against intellectuals.

1941 A.D.

Nazi Germany invades Ukraine. At first, many Ukrainians view the Germans as liberators and volunteer to fight against their Soviet oppressors. Hitler misses a golden opportunity in his war against the U.S.S.R., and rather than accepting Ukrainian help against Stalin, he installs a brutal occupation in Ukraine. The Nazis murder most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews between 1941 and 1944. About five million Ukrainians die fighting against Nazi Germany, both in Ukraine and in the ensuing Soviet counter-invasion of Germany.

1945 A.D.

The World War II allied victory leads to Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine lands. Fifty thousand Cossacks that had fought on the German side against the U.S.S.R. are forcibly repatriated from Western Europe to the U.S.S.R., where they are executed.

1954 A.D.

The brutal Soviet occupation of the Ukraine stirs resistance. With the help of Soviet spies in Western governments, the Soviets defeat the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

1985 A.D.

The Soviet police state begins to collapse after decades of economic ruin.

1986 A.D.

Despite the remarkable courage of firefighters, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine explodes and sends a radioactive cloud across parts of Europe and Asia. The area remains heavily contaminated to this day.

Chernobyl 2013 image by Antanana 2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Chernobyl 2013
image by Antanana
2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

1989 A.D.

The Ukrainian People’s Movement, the Rukh, is founded by writers and intellectuals. Their basic platform is Ukrainian independence and human rights.

1990 A.D.

The Rukh organizes a Human chain protest for Ukrainian independence, and they proclaim Ukrainian sovereignty from the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union files for political bankruptcy.

Vladimir Putin is an officer in the KGB. Ever the capable and ambitious pragmatist, he resigns his KGB position and openly goes to work for the Leningrad city government as a political adviser on international affairs. Not one to wait for the car to sink too deeply into that famous Russian mud, Putin has in fact been working for the mayor of Leningrad since the spring of 1990, while still a KGB officer. Score one for Vlady’s foresight.

1991 A.D.

Ukrainians vote overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. Leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine sign an agreement, The Commonwealth of Independent States, to end Soviet rule in the region.

In December of this year, the Soviet Union officially completes its dissolution process. Fifteen separate countries are formed. At this time, Vladimir Putin is working in the Foreign Intelligence Directory.

1994 A.D.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign the Kremlin Accords, which provide for the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal in Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma succeeds Leonid Kravchuk in Ukrainian presidential elections. Ukraine signs a treaty of cooperation with NATO that provides for training assistance and joint training between Ukrainian and NATO forces.

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton image by www.kremlin.ru

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton
image by http://www.kremlin.ru

1996 A.D.

Ukraine adopts a democratic constitution and a new currency, the hryvnia.

1997 A.D.

Ukraine and Russia sign a friendship treaty. They reach an agreement that Russia will operate a headquarters base in Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukraine has its own Black Sea fleet separate from Russia.

1999 A.D.

On March 25, Ukrainian nationalist hero and presidential candidate Vyacheslav Chornovil dies in a car crash. Ukrainian nationalists believe that the crash is a well-designed assassination carried out by ethnic Russians in the Ukraine with the assistance of Russian state security forces. In spite of recent declines in popularity due to his pursuit of closer ties with Russia, Ukrainian President Kuchma is re-elected with strong support from ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians today remain certain that his re-election was rigged with Russian help.

In August, President Yeltsin appoints Vladimir Putin as one of Russia’s three deputy prime ministers. Later that same month, Putin obtains the office of Prime Minister. He wastes no time. In a climate of political chaos, he orchestrates an effective crackdown on the separatist rebels in Chechnya in Central Russia. He also conducts a loud and well-filmed campaign against corruption that is likely more drama than substance. The giant public relations scheme is effective.

Boris Yeltsin and his family come under investigation for corruption charges in the winter of 1999. In December, the ailing Yeltsin steps down, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin becomes the Acting President of Russia.

2000 A.D.

Vladimir Putin is confirmed as the new President of Russia.

In Part Two, we will look at how the entanglements between Russia and Ukraine intensify when Putin struggles to keep the Ukraine from building strong relations with Europe and becoming part of the West, and we analyze the basis of the current situation and what it means to Western nations.

Overflights and Posturing: U2 Incident and the Cold War Dance

Today, we are delighted to once again welcome author and engineer Nigel Blackwell, student of history and fan of all things that move. His intelligent, thoroughly researched blogs cover everything from futuristic cars to the history of supersonic flight. So when Nigel offered to help us out with a few guest blogs while we are both away, Holmes and I could not have been more honored.

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Overflights and Posturing: U2 Incident and the Cold War Dance

By NIGEL BLACKWELL

In December 1959, the USA, Britain, and France simultaneously proposed to Nikita Khrushchev, the Chairman of the USSR, a meeting to “consider international questions of mutual concern.” Khrushchev agreed, and a summit was arranged for May 16, 1960 in Paris.

Among the topics “of mutual concern” was the Berlin situation, where the USSR was furious that its citizens were escaping to the west, and a Test Ban Treaty, which would have slowed nuclear weapons development and perhaps prevented further proliferation.

Eisenhower, leery the USSR would under- or over-exaggerate its weapon stockpiles in any negotiations, approved the use of the U-2 spy plane to obtain photographic evidence of Soviet nuclear capabilities. The U-2 was born in the Cold War and designed to carry cameras at 70,000 ft., a height where the US believed its pilot would be safe from the enemy fighters and missiles of the day.

So, on April 9, 1960, Bob Ericson flew a U-2 from northern Pakistan across the southern half of the USSR, and landed in Iran. The Soviet Air Defense Force made several attempts to intercept him, but they were unable to reach his altitude. The photographs were valuable, and the CIA declared the mission a success. A second mission was planned.

On May 1, 1960, a second CIA pilot, Francis Gary Powers, departed from the same northern Pakistan base with a planned zigzag route north, overflying ICBM sites and plutonium production facilities, and landing at Bodo, Norway. Obviously, the route was planned to avoid known SAM sites since altitude was the U-2’s only means of defense.

After Ericson’s flight, the Soviet Air Defense Forces had been on red alert and scrambled to intercept Powers with an array of aircraft and ground launched missiles. Some 1200 miles inside the USSR, near Yekateringburg, they did.

At the time the US only knew that Powers had appeared to descend rapidly from 65,000 ft. to around 34,000 ft. and disappeared from their radar.

The USSR, on the other hand, knew that the aircraft had been brought down and the pilot picked up by a group of puzzled locals, disarmed and driven to the authorities.

In Powers’s book, Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident, he relays that he didn’t even have a cover story planned, and as he was captured by a car load of locals, he realized practically everything he carried was carefully labeled “made in the USA.” He even carried a US flag.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that a US plane had crashed within the USSR, and the US immediately generated a cover story.

NASA announced that it had lost a weather plane when its pilot reported he was having oxygen problems. They even painted a U-2 in NASA colors and distributed leaflets describing the “weather aircraft” to prove it was operating the U-2. Statements were issued to the effect that “there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been.”

Unfortunately, Nikita Khrushchev had a public relations ace up his sleeve when, a week later, he reported the following:

“I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report, I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well … and now just look how many silly things they (the Americans) have said.”

In the remaining week before the Paris Summit, Khrushchev kept public pressure on the US by staging the presentation of Gary Powers and the wreckage of the U-2.

The US back pedaled on the NASA weather aircraft story, juggled to defuse the situation, and tried to establish access to Powers, all while preparing for the Four Powers summit in Paris.

The USSR was expected to use the U-2 incident to their advantage at the meeting, but no one knew how. Anticipation grew when Khrushchev arrived two days prior to the meeting.

But when Eisenhower arrived the following day, Khrushchev ignored him and visited French president, Charles de Gaulle, and British Prime Minister Macmillan. Khrushchev would later claim this was because Eisenhower hadn’t indicated an interest in meeting, but neither de Gaulle nor Macmillan had done so either.

In his own meeting with de Gaulle, Khrushchev handed over a document outlining the USSR’s displeasure over the U-2 incident, along with three specific conditions for his participation in the Paris Summit, namely that Eisenhower should:

1) Condemn the USAF’s provocative act (which must have made someone in the CIA smile, because it was a CIA operation).

2) Guarantee that the US would refrain from such acts in the future.

3) Punish the individuals responsible for the U-2 operation.

Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and Macmillan knew that should the contents of Khrushchev document be leaked to the public, he would have no way to back down without losing face. In fact, by presenting his demands to the British and French, it may have been Khrushchev’s intention that they were leaked to the press.

Either way, at the opening of the summit, where the four powers were to discuss the agenda items for the meeting proper, Khrushchev made public his demands. Eisenhower stated that overflights had been suspended and would not be resumed, but on the other points he was silent.

Khrushchev postured and berated the US for some time and eventually ended by withdrawing a long-standing invitation for Eisenhower to visit the USSR. It was a public slap in the face for Eisenhower.

The meeting collapsed at this point. Khrushchev departed Paris. The Test Ban Treaty was stalled for a further three years, and even then it was very limited in scope. The situation in Berlin persisted until the Soviets constructed the Berlin Wall (which symbolized their failure just as much as the flow of the citizens through Berlin).

The Soviets played the part of the grievously wounded for all they could and sentenced Powers to ten years in prison, only to release him within two years in exchange for a Soviet spy caught in the US. The USSR did no posturing then; perhaps they found it hard to justify the difference between a spy at 70,000 ft. and one on the ground.

The failure of the summit disappointed many around the world. Some say that Eisenhower could have handled the situation better, or that the US should not have put so much at risk with the overflights. Or that Khrushchev had already decided to walk away from the conference, and the downing of Gary Powers gave him the perfect excuse.

What do you think?

Cheers

Nigel Blackwell

Syria and the Sands of Time

By Jay Holmes

Since I published my last update on Syria in late November, the conflict remains in overtime, waiting for a tie breaker. It’s easy enough to watch the events play out from this safe distance, but for the 22.5 million people living in Syria, things must seem a bit more urgent.

Looking at the human side of the conflict leaves one with a grim view. Since our update, Syrian security forces have killed more than a thousand additional protesters. That indicates the death rate for Syrian protesters, according to UN figures, has sadly risen from approximately 15 civilians killed per day to 25 civilians killed per day.

photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, would quickly point out that not all of those killed were unarmed protesters, but it’s clear that most were. According to UN figures, the death toll for Syrian protesters has now surpassed 5,000 lives.

Some Western observers and a few Arab observers are claiming that the UN figure is likely less than half of the actual number of protesters killed. In addition to the over 5,000, there are, depending on who you ask, somewhere between 7,000 and 40,000 prisoners confined in miserable conditions in Syrian prisons. Numbers aside, it is clear that, in spite of the presence of 65 Arab League observers (who are escorted by Assad’s security forces), the Assad regime has become more willing to kill his unarmed citizens.

To consider those deaths from another perspective, the deaths of protesters in Syria have now surpassed the total number of US combat deaths during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. The faces of the dead protesters are less visible to us, thanks to the tight media control in Syria. But if we think of how anguished we have been about our losses in Iraq, we can understand the growing anxiety of expatriate Syrians who have families in Syria.

I went to the trouble of sending a polite and innocent journalistic query to the Syrian security forces and the Assad government via a safe intermediary, but neither has responded. My best friends and Assad’s best friends don’t have a history of playing nicely together so their lack of response is no indication of anything other than the fact that they don’t like my friends.

Speaking to the rebels is a bit easier if we’re not too particular about which random rebel we speak to. While the rebels remain in agreement that Assad should depart Syria in his jet, his yacht, or a garbage bag, there is not yet a strong consensus about what a post-Assad Syria would look like.

The hordes of the interested outside parties remain unchanged in Syria. The Arab league does not want to see a change to a regime influenced by Russia, by Western states, or by business interests other than their own. To that end, they have promised to send more observers to Syria, and they have throttled Syria’s banking system by halting trade with banks from other Arab League nations.

Iran would like to see anyone “not Sunni” in charge in Syria as long as they are willing to continue recognition of Iranian suzerainty over Syria and Lebanon. Normally, Iran would be conducting more desperate efforts to influence events in Syria because Syria is important to it for the control of Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. The Hezbollah gang has what Iran considers to be an unfortunate tendency. It often starts imagining itself to be an independent political entity capable of being all grown up without Iran. Given that Syria is 74% Sunni, and that Shiites are hard to find in Syria, Iran’s long term prospects in Syria are not looking too good.

Russia, or at least the “Putinos” in Russia, would like to see anyone of any religion or no religion in charge in Syria, as long as they happily continue purchasing vast quantities of military toys from Russian factories allegedly financially controlled by Putin and his closest Putino pals. In Putin geopolitical theory, the “new” Syria would allow an expansion of Russia’s naval base in Syria to house the imaginary vast Russian Mediterranean Fleet that Putin fantasizes about while doing whatever it his he does at night before he goes to sleep. (His poor wife….)

My guess is that, after considering the ongoing nuclear disasters at Russian Northern Fleet naval bases, the average Syrian is not going to be thrilled by the prospect of becoming Russia’s latest Naval success story. Given that the average Syrian is aware that Assad and his tiny Alawite minority could never have taken and held power in Syria without Soviet intervention, it seems likely that Syrians would love to be nobody’s naval base, and they would likely spend their defense cash any place but Russia.

Western Energy moguls would love to see vastly expanded oil pipelines built to transport Arabian and Iraqi oil to a Syrian Mediterranean port like Tartus. That would be lovely for Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It would be lovely for energy moguls, and for western oil addicts like you and I. It would be a dark nightmare for Iran. Threatening to cut off the straits of Hormuz would be no fun for the fake mullahs running Iran if the only tankers sailing the Straits were all Iranian.

Secondarily, Western energy moguls would like to see further natural gas development in Syria with taxpayer financed foreign aid from Western nations. Why let those silly Syrians use that natural gas if you can export it to Europe at huge profits while generous Western Taxpayers finance the deal and pay huge prices for the oil? That would be crazy. So who was behind the recent oil line attack in Syria? I can’t be sure, but the attack suited Assad, Iran and nobody else.

When energy moguls are not watching, other Western moguls would like Assad to be gone by any method that does not involve them having to spend cash, expensive cruise missiles, and political capital. Western governments would like a safe transfer of Syria’s nerve gas stockpiles (some of which once belonged to his neighbor, Saddam Hussein) for destruction and disposal. A Syrian government run by the majority of Syrians and not by gangsters claiming to be religious authorities would make the West happy.

So what abut the people doing the bleeding in all of this? What do the Syrians want?

Since having an opinion has not yet been legalized in Syria, and since a departure by Assad won’t guarantee freedom and justice for them, it’s hard to know for sure. I am willing to make a few guesses. They would like their security forces to stop killing them. They would like unemployment rates lowered. The religious leaning rebels in Homs would like a Sunni theocracy, but they are in the minority and might not be able to pull it off. If Assad leaves, dies, or in the unlikely event that he becomes a nice person, Syrians might be able to form a working parliamentary government.

And Bashar Assad? What he wants today is to not star in a you tube video about how unskilled Syrian teenagers dispatch nasty dictators. His long term hopes are becoming more difficult to imagine.

With Assad’s banking system crumbling and desertions from his military increasing, it’s hard to imagine a happy future for him. Assad may be using his rose colored sunglasses to see a future where Western nations are so busy with the nasty little mullahs in Iran and their uranium issues that they never intervene in Syria, and he simply remains in power.

The sands of time will continue to run, with or without Western military intervention, and Assad should know and remember that sand is always corrosive. Assad could perhaps call up the jovial director of the Venezuelan Club Commie Resort and ask if Uncle Momo’s reservation is still available. The trick would be getting from his house to Hugo Chavez’s resort without being shot in the back by the frightened and badly outnumbered clan he would be leaving behind.

Normally “Good Luck Bashar” would be a handy phrase for ending this article, but I won’t pretend to wish him any such thing. Instead, I will offer my humble best wishes to the people of Syria. In my estimation, the majority of them are decent and reasonable people. If it is left up to them, the better country that they build for themselves need not be a threat to anyone else. A Syria that concentrates on it’s own well being would be an improvement for every reasonable person concerned.

The Gangster and the Poet – Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel

By HOLMES

This week, we have been treated to odd bits of news from the North Korean state media machine. According them, Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Saturday, December 17, 2011. The “news” that has been broadcast from North Korea has been rather interesting.

One of my young coworkers took the time to read and analyze some of the very odd claims that were made for North Korean consumption and for those imaginary North Korean admirers that the NK government likes to pretend exist in large numbers across the world. Here are a few of the recent outlandish claims from a nation that is so crippled it can produce little more than outlandish claims.

Kim Jong Il lived for five thousand years. Kim Jong Il did not urinate or defecate because he was a higher being that didn’t need to do those lowly human functions. It’s not often that Westerners or anyone living outside of North Korea agrees with the NK media, but based on that particular claim, Westerners were apparently being fair and accurate when saying that Kim was “full of shit.”

We are now being told that a mountain peak in North Korea that was named after Kim Jong Il glowed for an hour after he died. As absurd as it seems, that claim might be accurate. It could be that the insects hiding beneath the frozen surface were so overjoyed at the death of the despised dictator that they glowed like glow worms and fire flies in celebration of his departure from their ecosystem.

The nonsensical and amateurish propaganda that flows from North Korea would all be nothing more than cheap comedy if not for the fact that it tells us something about the current state of their tortured society. Even in authoritarian police states like China, Cuba, Syria, and Iran, there are limits to how outlandish the propaganda can be. Neither North Koreans nor Cubans would believe that their respective crime syndicate leaders were five thousand years old, but the difference is that the Cubans would loudly refuse such asinine statements. It’s a sad comment about the lives of the victims of the North Korean crime state that they feel compelled to pretend to believe such absurdity.

Kim Jong Il had announced that his third son, Kim Jong Un, would inherit the family crime syndicate, but not all is going as planned. Today, North Korea announced that Kim Jong Un’s aunt and her husband would share power with him, and that the military would have more power than they did under Km Jong Il.

My impression is that the North Korean military hates Kim’s sister and her husband and will wrestle for control of the country. At least in the short term, it seems unlikely that the people of North Korea can expect much improvement in their lives. Chronic malnutrition and a complete lack of freedom will continue. Kim Jong Un has a long way to go to gain complete control of North Korea, but the undeserving victims of the ongoing Kim family crime spree have even further to go to reach freedom and human rights.

Kim Jong Un – To show their loyalty, all North Koreans are required to get bad haircuts before Friday. (That’s actually a joke. So far.)

While the news is filled with the farcical proceedings in North Korea, another important world leader left us on December 18, 2011. A brilliant poet who I admired.

On October 5, 1936, a boy, Vaclav Havel, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. That boy would one day prove instrumental in leading the nation of Czechoslovakia out of the dark ages of forty-nine years of brutal Nazi and Soviet occupation.

image by Ondrej Slama

image by Ondrej Slama

Vaclav Havel was the son of a theater owner father and a wealthy mother. During the Soviet occupation, he was not allowed to attend secondary education because of his “bourgeois” parents, and he was shunted to industrial training. He worked full time and attended night school. Then, he dropped out of economics school and found work as a laborer in theater productions. From that humble beginning, he went on to become one of Europe’s most respected writers, admired poets, and esteemed world leaders.

While living under constant police surveillance and suffering through multiple prison internments, including a five-year stint, Havel managed to write popular plays and was able to see them produced in spite of sabotage by the Czech secret police. What did he have to say after years of abuse? “Truth and love will prevail over lies and hate.”

In 1989, as the Soviet lead Warsaw Pact began to unravel, Havel became the de facto leader of the Velvet Revolution. The Czech secret police and the Soviet KGB had long seen Havel as a dissenter. It is my belief that the Czech police state and the Kremlin decided Havel was just a poet and playwright and would never be able to successfully lead a revolution. They denied permission to their field operatives to assassinate him. They likely feared that killing Havel would have left less known and less visible leaders in charge of the resistance.

Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989 and served in that office until July, 1992. He later served as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic from 1993 until 2003.

The Soviets underestimated the poet and the people of Prague. Now, that poet is gone, but his memory and the freedom that he helped create lives on. The world was a better place with Vaclav Havel in it. It remains a better place for his having passed here.

To his family and to the courageous people of the Czech Republic who defeated brutal tyranny with little more than reason and moral conviction, I offer my sincere condolences and my deep admiration. May reason and moral conviction reign forever in the Czech Republic. May truth and love always prevail over lies and hate.

Tonight, in North Korea, the notions of freedom and human rights appear to be beyond all hope. Only 25 years ago, we would have said the same about Czechoslovakia.

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

By Jay Holmes

In 1970, the last US base in Libya closed. The American troops were happy to let oil tycoon Armand Hammer work his deals without them having to hang out in a place filled with sand, heat, more sand, more heat, and little water.

Moammar had just come to power the year before, and it was obvious from the start that he would be trouble for everyone, including Libyans. But even with his highly limited brain power, he attempted vast reforms. Moammar is not very smart; however, he was smart enough to listen to the Western technocrats that he claimed he hated. Because he listened, not all of the oil cash went to his foreign banks. Surprisingly, extensive water and agricultural projects, oil and gas field development, hospital construction, and education reform did occur. He greatly improved education and opened hospitals that Westerners would cringe at, but that were, by Libyan standards, an improvement for Libyans. Moammar presented himself as the great, pan-Arab, revolutionary, Jew-crushing, west-defying, oil-price-raising Don of Dons. . . . Or would that be Caliph of Caliphs? . . . . Well, whatever.

In November, 1970, Moammar actually convinced Sudan, Syria, and Egypt to join together in one, big, happy “Arab state.” Syria and Egypt believed that they would be able to control the situation, and that they would eventually end up in charge of Libyan oil fields. Moammar, the intended victim, proved to be a step ahead of his co-conspirators, and it became apparent that he and his petro cash would be calling the shots.

The Egyptian people loudly reminded the Egyptian government that they were not Arabs. Egyptian generals frankly explained that they “had no intention of taking orders from that Bedouin Goat.” Also, Syria realized that this would not be “oil for solidarity,” but, rather, a game of Everybody Loves Momo. The show got canceled before the pilot was produced. Momo tried the same scam with Tunisia and was left standing alone at the altar in a very ugly wedding dress.

With hopes of being hired for the role of The New Prophet, Moammar quickly hopped into bed with the Soviets. And that is not a joke. Moammar did go thru an I-Am-the-New-Islamic-Prophet phase. You can just imagine how much that endeared him to the Iranian Shiites. No Shiite junta will ever trust Moammar.

The “terrorism for fun and profit” age of Libyan history began with the July, 1973 hijacking of a Japan Air flight to Libya. Moammar was kind of new to the prime-time terrorist scene and didn’t quite know what to do with the plane after his pals hijacked it. So they took it to Libya and blew it up. Unlike the Barbary pirates of 1801, they forgot to demand ransom money. Think about that. What do you make of a guy that commits a major crime and forgets to grab the cash? No cash, no political demands, just the raw fun of hijacking an airliner.

In 1973, the Irish Navy—even smaller and more ridiculous than Steven Decatur’s fleet—intercepted five tons of Russian-made arms and explosives being rowed to Northern Ireland from Libya for an IRA big shot named Joe Cahill. The Irish Navy had no US Marines. They had no British Marines. They had no Redsox fans. They only carried water pistols and a few .303 British Enfields that the UK had left in a trash bin. How did they manage that one?. . . Hmm. . . . It’s almost like they knew the Libyans were coming and when they would be there. . . . I am eternally grateful that some Russians always hated the Kremlin more than we ever did, and were often willing to talk.

In 1974, Libya signed an arms purchase agreement with the USSR. It was the largest arms sale in USSR history. (The USSR made larger arms transfers, but none that paid cash.) The modern “triangle trade” began to fuel a massive Libyan terror campaign. Instead of rum, sugar, and slaves, it was oil to the West, dollars to Libya, then dollars to the USSR for arms to Libya. The USSR got the cash it desperately needed to help fund its seriously stalled world communism gig, and Moammar the Criminal got more arms with which to create suffering

Libya then became involved in so many scams, schemes, and dramas that I cannot list them here without turning this into something more voluminous and painful than the recent Obama health care bill. Let us attempt a digestible outline.

We know Moamarr was one of the key supporters of so many European “little red revolutionaries,” as well as the hatcher of frequent, often bazaar, attacks in the West from Sweden to Australia. But we should realize that Moammar’s war with the West was nothing compared to the brutality and genocide that he promoted and pursued in Africa. Tanzania, Uganda, the Sudan, Chad, Angola, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea have all felt the loving, fatherly influence of that great liberator of the masses. Unfortunately for many thousands of them, liberation came in the form of death.

I wonder how many bewildered African children saw their families murdered before they were carted off into slavery because of this homicidal maniac? To be sure, Moammar did not invent African genocide, but he made every effort to increase it by providing more and better arms, and by using Africa’s many tribal conflicts in his sick dream of becoming the Hitler of Africa.

In January, 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s pathetic, half-wit brother, Billy, accepted at least $240,000 to act as a lobbyist for the Libyans. Allegations of additional funds changing hands were unproven, but the FBI discovered the $240,000. Billy was apparently unaware that the CIA and US Treasury were doing their best to track money from Libya entering the US in an attempt to ward off funding of terrorists in America. As events came to light, Billy quickly remembered to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Libya. Taking money to represent a foreign government without that bit of paperwork is called treason.

This was an embarrassment that, in my view, President Carter did not deserve. You can pick your president, but you can’t pick your family. . . . Or the president’s family. NATO member nations were not favorably impressed. The state department was humiliated. The Pentagon was quietly outraged. The voters were not pleased. Between Billy and the Iranian violation of the US embassy in Tehran, Ronald Reagan easily defeated Carter in the November, 1980 elections.

In 1981, the CIA and NSA both presented concrete proof that Moammar was behind terrorist bombings in France and Italy that killed Americans. Several European governments presented similar evidence to the US government. President Reagan instructed the US Military and the CIA to conduct limited operations against Libya. I always assumed that “limited” meant “try not to disrupt the oil flow.” Reagan was under pressure from NATO member states to act with restraint. In this case “restraint” meant, “whatever happens we need that oil.” The US needed the oil, and Europe needed it more desperately than the US did. The dream objective was always “more oil and no Moammar, and please be sure someone worse doesn’t take over”.

On August 19, 1981, Libya launched two SU-22s in an attempt to shoot down an unarmed US E-2 Hawkeye surveillance plane in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra. This was the third Libyan attack on unarmed US aircraft, and this time, the US was out of patience and ready to act.

Like the Irish Navy, the Hawkeye had no US Marines or Red Sox on board. What the Hawkeye did have was two F-14 Tomcat fighters from the Navy Black Aces Squadron, tucked in a loving embrace under her big, motherly wings. The Tomcats dropped down from mama and made a turn toward the attacking Libyans.

Without the Tomcats entering Libyan air space, the Libyans obeyed orders from their ground controllers and fired their Soviet-made, air-to-air missiles at the Tomcats. The Tomcats were able to scramble the electronic control systems of the attacking missiles, and the Libyans watched their very expensive Russian missiles fall into the ocean.

The Tomcats fired on the SU-22s, and the SU-22s were helpless against the American missiles. Both SU-22s were shot down. Both Libyan pilots ejected, but one of the Russian-made ejector seats was apparently made by one of the many Russians that did not like the Kremlin. The chute failed to deploy, and the pilot died. (Naturally, Gadhafi claimed that the US Navy pilots shot him while he was in his parachute.) The Libyans scrambled two Mig 25s to join the fray. The MIG 25 pilots wisely declined to approach the US planes or the carrier task force.

Moammar realized that attacking US military forces was a bad tactic and continued to concentrate on sponsoring terrorism, instead. Libya became the great hub of Soviet Block terror training centers for everyone from Spanish ETA terrorists to Colombian M-19 junkies. Western observers marveled at how Libya sometimes played host to opposing terrorist groups that were sworn to kill each other. One group would train with gratitude for their kind host, while their opponents would do the same, miles away, on another sand dune in the vast Sahara. I always wondered if they ever crossed paths in the Tripoli airport. I always wanted to observe that socially awkward moment.

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This Special Edition Libya timeline was begun at Timeline, Part I and is continued at Timeline, Part III.