Gaza — An Exercise in Subtle Intelligence

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Intelligence work is usually thought of as being conducted by costly and sometimes high tech methods. A glance at the intelligence budgets of the US, Russia, China, and a few others would confirm that view.

For the most part, that view is accurate.

 

canstock-2016-sep-spy-satellite

We expect our intelligence agencies to use extravagantly expensive satellites, planes, drones, submarines, ships, and listening stations. They do, and those methods often lead to obtaining critical intelligence.

We also expect agencies to conduct Human Intelligence, or “HUMINT.” HUMINT requires vast amounts of personnel around the globe and at home to penetrate the governments, military, and industries of states that are of concern to us. It’s expensive, but it does indeed get results. It never gets as many results as we would like, but it gets a lot more than if we didn’t try.

Teams of analysts rely on these and other sources to create best guesses about what is going on in the world. With so much data of various forms arriving all day, every day, every week at the desks of various teams, it’s not always easy to sift through the chaff to find the best wheat. The collective experience of an analytical team is a huge factor in this. Modern computers with good software help improve the results.

With so much high dollar, high tech spying going on, it’s easy to miss subtler pieces of intelligence that become available to us. Yet sometimes, these seemingly mundane, inglorious bits of information can give us important insights.

One current example of an important subtle bit of information is staring us in the face in the Gaza Strip.

In a land where bombs, missiles, assassinations, and kidnappings are daily events, sets of well-proven expectations enter into our judgements about the current situation in Gaza. One clearly verifiable phenomena occurring in Gaza today is the change amongst Palestinian voters regarding the upcoming elections, which will possibly be held this October.

In the 2005 elections, Hamas ran on a We Hate Israel So You Must Love Us platform. That platform plank was supported by another tried-and-true Hamas marketing method, the Love Us and Vote for us or We Kill You method.

 

canstock-2016-sep-burning-flags-of-palestine-and-israel

Unlike the Palestinian West Bank, where the Fatah political group held sway, in Gaza, Hamas had most of the guns and controlled most of the local media so Hamas got the votes. The Vote for Us or We Kill You method is effective for winning elections. It’s far less effective at governing. Hamas has demonstrated the difference very clearly.

Thanks to Hamas, Gaza is an economic disaster, a health disaster, and a hellish place for Palestinian children to live.

The basic fact that Hamas is even worse than the governments in places like Chicago or DC when it comes to completing the basic tasks of government is no great intelligence coup. As long as Hamas could show that they were hurting Israel, they could keep their outside financial support from Europe, various fellow terrorist governments, the UN, etc. The question of whether or not Hamas would govern anything other than the usual Kill the Jews program was generally ignored by many Palestinians and many outsiders.

So here is the good news.

Unlike during the 2005 campaign, Palestinians are frequently and sometimes openly speaking against Hamas. Hamas’s chief rival, Fatah, is happy about that. But when we look more closely, the Palestinians in Gaza are not expressing much love for Fatah either.

The most important piece of intelligence data in Gaza today has to do with the Palestinian people in Gaza.

They are less impressed than ever with suicide bombs in Israel, missiles fired into Israel, kidnapping of Israelis, etc. The majority of the Palestinian public in Gaza is now most concerned with fixing Gaza. They want real schools, real health care, jobs, and reconstruction of the many bombed out areas of Gaza. Crushing Israel is not on most of their wish lists.

Both Fatah and Hamas are aware of this shift in their respective voters.

Both groups have responded with massive social media campaigns. Both parties have adopted newer platforms, or at least are presenting them in social media. In fact, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get a few Gaza trolls attacking this article.

The problem for both groups, but especially for Hamas, is that few Palestinians are buying Hamas’s shiny new You’re Better Off Today Than You Were Six Years Ago campaign.

Palestinians are openly laughing at Hamas’s ridiculous claims of having improved life in Gaza. It hasn’t, and the folks in Gaza know it and admit it.  In particular, young Palestinian adults are mocking Hamas’s social media campaign. They routinely convert Hamas campaign videos into dark comedy.

None of this means that we should expect a sudden and dramatic change in life in Gaza after the October elections.

The Palestinian public may not be able to exercise a democratic choice. A panicking Hamas is capable of anything. But an important implication for intelligence on Gaza should not be ignored. The Kill the Jews sales pitch is no longer a sufficiently popular product with the voters in Gaza.

canstock-2016-sep-palestine-and-israel-flags

Over time, this may lead to improvement in Gaza and a lessening of the conflict with Israel. A few decades ago, an Israeli woman told me, “There will be peace in Israel and Palestine when Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israeli children.” I have always been certain that she was right. That day may be arriving in Gaza.

With or Without the Archduke

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Conventional history widely attributes the cause of WWI to be the assassination of Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian Gavrilo Princip. While the Archduke’s murder was the excuse for WWI, it was not the reason. Whether or not the Archduke had been targeted, the relevant parts of history would still read the same.

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo
public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

 

At the time of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary were poised, waiting for the right moment to strike.

They had already calculated that they could invade, capture, and annex Serbia before its ally, Russia, could mobilize a response. They assumed that, when presented with a fait accompli, Western Europe would protest loudly, but not mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary. They only needed an excuse. That excuse came in the form of Gavrilo Princip, a member of the anti-Austria-Hungary Serbian group Black Hand.

Princip has often been described as an anarchist. However, he was part of a popular movement that sought the formation of a new nation-state that would arise from the joining of Serbia, Herzegovina, and Bosnia. The nine-member conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke appears to have been arranged by the head of Serbian Army Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitijevik, without the knowledge or approval of the Serbian government.

Princip fired on the Archduke at close range, striking him in the neck and hitting the Archduke’s wife in the abdomen. Princip then turned his pistol on himself, but police and spectators took him under control before he could fire. According to Serbian law, he could not be sentenced to death because he had not quite reached his 20th birthday. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence. Princip died in prison of tuberculosis four years later.

 

Gavrilo Princip public domain, wikimedia commons

Gavrilo Princip
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

One of the terrible ironies of WWI is that the Austria-Hungarian royal family and its government might have eventually assassinated Archduke Ferdinand themselves.

He had become a source of consternation to his Hapsburg family by insisting on marrying Sophie Chotek. Chotek was a member of a royal family, but not a direct descendant of a European ruler, and, therefore, was not eligible to marry Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. His royal relations and the leaders in Vienna were not pleased.

After the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary made one of the worst diplomatic moves in the history of mankind.

On July 23, 1914, Austrian diplomat Baron Giesl von Gieslingen delivered an ultimatum to the government of Serbia – a demand that it outlaw anti-Austria-Hungary statements and activity and arrest of groups that Austria-Hungary believed to be involved in the assassination, including the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary also demanded control of the Serbian investigation, and a reply within 48 hours. The Austrians and their German allies had carefully crafted this ultimatum to ensure a negative response.

 

Library at Louvain public domain, wikimedia commons

Library at Louvain
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The next day, in response to Serbian pleas for help, Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its large, but poorly-equipped army. On July 25, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic ordered the Serbian Army to mobilize, and he personally delivered Serbia’s response to the Austria-Hungarian embassy. Serbia agreed to all terms but one – while it would allow international observers to participate in the investigation of the Archduke’s assassination, it would not violate its constitution by allowing Austria-Hungary to take full control of the investigation.

On the flimsy excuse that Serbia would not turn over the investigation, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations and, on July 28, initiated WWI by declaring war on Serbia. With visions of what it thought would be a cheap victory that would expand the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Austria-Hungary launched what it was sure would be a fast and successful military campaign.

The leaders of Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity that did not exist, and they outsmarted themselves, bringing a hitherto unimaginable tragedy to Europe. Four years and 16,500,000 dead people later, the Austria-Hungarian empire had vanished. Most of Europe was left in ruin, and the conditions for World War Two were in place.

 

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat'l Cemetery Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery
Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

 

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “Unknown Soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I – the Great War. Thereafter, November 11 became known internationally as Armistice Day.

America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America, and in 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

 

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Our profound gratitude to all veterans, past, present, and future, on this Veterans Day.

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The Four Freedoms

By Jay Holmes

Since World War Two, many have viewed the US as something of a “world police force.” The term has been used both as a compliment and a criticism, depending on the observer’s point of view.

World Police canstock

While modern Americans, their allies, and their critics are accustomed to a high level of international intervention by the US, it has not always been the norm for America to take a lead role in international affairs. Until 1941, isolationist policies were the standard for our government and were the extension of the sentiment of the majority of Americans.

In June of 1914, Germany declared war on France. In spite of the vital US interests that were being affected by that conflict, America did not declare war on Germany until April of 1917. Although the US Coast Guard and US Navy had engaged in combat against German U Boats since the beginning of the war, US ground forces were not heavily involved until October of 1917.

After the war ended, US President Woodrow Wilson stood out as a “naive” fool in the eyes of European governments because of his attempts at implementing his idealistic 14 Points Agenda for post war Europe. Wilson was largely ignored, and the US returned to its happy isolation. That isolation was accommodated by vast domestic reserves of natural resources and a false sense of safety created by the fact that the US was “protected” from the world’s worst troubled spots by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Seventy-two years ago, on January 6, 1941, a fundamental shift in the history of the US occurred when President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of his most important speeches to Congress. We remember that speech as the Four Freedoms Speech. It was a speech that had been nearly two decades in the making.

In 1940, President Roosevelt, his cabinet, and the US military watched with dread as European nations fell before Hitler and his growing NAZI war machine. Europe had failed to enforce some of the most critical terms of the Versailles peace accord, and Hitler had used that lack of enforcement to rebuild the German military. Roosevelt and many of the nation’s leaders in government and industry were less certain of the safety that the great oceans on her borders would afford her in an age of modern submarines, long-range aircraft, and aircraft carriers.

Roosevelt understood that Europe’s failure to enforce the Versailles treaty was a product of the allied nations’ collective memory of the misery and suffering of World War One and the idealistic hope for peace that had filled many sensible European minds in response to that war. Roosevelt knew that he needed to appeal to the idealistic, democratic instincts of the majority of Americans. He hoped to stir Americans from their comfortable isolationist slumber to prepare them to take an interventionist position on the war fermenting in Europe.

In his address to the 77th Congress and the nation, Roosevelt proposed that the greatest need of the moment was to deal with the growing crisis in Europe and Asia. Roosevelt told the nation that all her domestic problems had become intertwined with the great emergency that was playing out far from American shores.

In that address, Roosevelt insisted that people in all nations of the world shared Americans’ entitlement to four essential human freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. While many in Congress and across the nation clung to their isolationist views, the speech was an effective, though quite late, wake up call to the people of the US.

Roosevelt and his supporters had long struggled to build a Navy and an Air Corps that could effectively defend the US from foreign attack. While they did not succeed in completely preparing the US military for the events of December 7, 1941, had they not struggled to get the funding for the military, the US would never have been able to prevail in the Pacific battles of Midway and Guadalcanal in 1942. America would have been even less successful in dealing with attacks on commerce by German submarine forces in the Atlantic.

The young pilots who entered the battle in 1942 and the new aircraft carriers and destroyers that were commissioned in that same year resulted from commitments to recruitment, training, and construction that had occurred long before Roosevelt delivered his “Four Freedoms” speech. However, that speech represented a national decision to support democracy against the fascist menace in Europe and the ruthless Japanese Imperial Dragon in the Far East.

Roosevelt’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, carried out some of his best work concerning his political ideals after his death and the end of World War Two. Eleanor Roosevelt represented the US in the effort to form the United Nations.  She frequently referred to the Four Freedoms in her fight to bring to life the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mrs. Roosevelt helped draft that declaration, and the UN adopted it in 1948.

In the sad and often shameful history of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represents its finest moment, and is, in my view, the greatest monument to the best efforts of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his remarkable First Lady. The United Nations has been used cynically by many members on many occasions, but on that occasion, the best hopes for mankind captured the moment, and against great political odds and to the dismay of many despots, the rights of man took precedence over “the right of might.”

Isolationist instincts remain strong in American opinion, and politicians ignore that at their own peril. But for better or worse, the US has not returned to the isolationist stance that it clung to prior to Pearl Harbor. While the Nazi’s are long gone, and the Japanese Imperial House was effectively neutralized after World War Two, the advent of ICBMs and dirty bombs, the rearmament of the 1300- year-old Islamic Jihad, and the world’s intense competition for resources and wealth seem to make an isolationist stance unlikely for the US or Western nations, but it would serve us well to remember the roots of that isolationist view of world policy.

Intervention is rarely cheap in lives or treasure. The pursuit of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms is always noble, but it’s not always obtainable at a cost that is acceptable or sustainable by the pursuers. While considering the Four Freedoms for other corners of the earth, we should remember to ensure them for our own citizens.

Four Freedoms Monument image by Ebyabe, wikimedia commons

Four Freedoms Monument
image by Ebyabe, wikimedia commons

What Do You Remember?

image from US Navy

I woke up to hear a voice on the radio saying that two planes had crashed into the twin towers. I knew instantly it was no accident, but I had no way to compute the information with my pre-9/11 mindset. Then I turned on the TV, and I knew our world was changed forever. And I held my children close and wept.

One of the many things I remember was how all of the hospitals were preparing to take in survivors, but so few came. People either died, or they walked away.

What do you remember?

Never forget.

Piper Bayard

Turkey–Giving America the Bird

By Jay Holmes

As we looked at last Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Turkey highlights the tensions between our two countries. (See Turkey–America’s Special Frenemy) In the long history of our “frenemy” relationship, the Kurds represent an interesting point of conflict. In fact, it’s played out like an Italian opera, minus the great singing. I’ll give you the short version.

Iraq oppressed the Kurds, even striking them with chemical weapons. Some of those Iraqi chemical weapons that many Westerners claim were all a figment of Bush’s imagination were manufactured by Iraqis in Republican Guards-controlled areas in the Iraqi Kurdish homeland. Saddam hated the Kurds so we liked them. Americans—the kind that also don’t officially exist—made friends with the Kurds. “Friends” as in the sort of friends who go shooting with you and agree to shoot at the same people you are shooting at. Good friends.

Our good friends, the Iraqi Kurds image from US Navy

Our good friends, the Iraqi Kurds
image from US Navy

The Turks didn’t like that much, but they understood the “shooting at Saddam’s pals and destroying his chemical weapons” part of the equation. What the Turks did not want was an autonomous Kurdish state in the post-Saddam Iraq.

At that time, a Kurdish group known as the PKK had been carrying out terrorist strikes against the Turkish government and Turkey did not want those attacks to continue or increase. The PKK assured the US that such attacks would cease, and the US generously passed on those assurances to Turkey. Those assurances were roughly as solid as assurances by Hamas that they won’t attack Israel any more. Ah, well. The best operas do include some comedy.

When it came time for the US to invade Iraq and depose Saddam, Turkey reversed itself at the last minute and refused to allow US troops, welcomed to Turkey as part of the pending invasion, to launch any attacks from Turkey. That decision left the US-led coalition without almost half of the forces that they had intended to use in the invasion. A back stabbing by Erdogan that some politicians in the US seemed to quickly forget.

Thanks to a vast superiority in equipment, quality of troops, and military leadership, the coalition still performed very well against Saddam’s forces and defeated his regime. Unfortunately, it took longer and cost more coalition lives than it would have had the coalition been able to use all of its assembled forces.

Then, something interesting happened. Turkey looked at the rising cost of oil and realized that there are sizeable untapped reserves underneath those quaint Kurdish mud hut villages. Turkey then did what Western oil companies and governments had already done. They started salivating over the idea of Kurdish oil flowing into the West via Turkey. In the Turkish version of the fantasy, less of that Kurdish oil flows out of Turkey into Europe, but what’s a few billion barrels of petroleum between old friends? The petroleum worked its old black magic and Turks and Kurds started getting along.

The US’s primary concern in Iraq was the survival of a central government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Importantly, during Maliki’s tenure, Iraq has doubled its oil exports. The West understands Maliki is a less than ideal leader. From the Saudi king’s point of view, Maliki is an “Iranian agent.” Unfortunately, most of the idealists in Iraq were long dead when Maliki came to power, and in a nation full of intolerable political candidates, he was tolerable from the point of view of the present and previous US administrations.

As part of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Iraqi Interim Government responded to coalition pressure and gave Kurds semi-autonomous status in the north. The Turkish government was dead set against it at the time. Then, Turkey followed the example of US and Western oil companies and negotiated oil deals with the Kurds. Unfortunately for the Iraqi government in Baghdad, Turkey did not include them in their wheeling and dealing with the Kurds.

This presents a problem or two for the US. The obvious problem is that the Iraqi national government is being badly undermined. If the Baghdad government collapses, its replacement may be much worse. The second possible issue is that the US government may, for many rea$ons, have its own strong feelings about precisely who should be scarfing up that Kurdish oil. From the Kurdish point of view, it’s great to have multiple suitors.

Springtime always makes for a great setting in any opera. Ah, yes. The Arab Spring. Is that freedom that I smell in Syria? Some of the Syrians think so. But not all Syrians agree on what “freedom” should look like or who should be in charge of it.

In the political vision shared by Erdogan and Obama, the US would support Turkey in helping Syrians to oust Assad from Syria. The US would maintain the smallest possible visible profile in the conflict, and Erdogan would provide the locals leadership in helping the Syrians to form a united democratic front in Syria. Assad would depart as a passenger in a plane or in a box on a truck, and all would be well. That vision has not become reality.

What was to be a momentous coming of age for Erdogan and Turkey has become an embarrassment. Erdogan sponsored purges of Turkey’s military and intelligence leaders, and now he is handicapped by that. His military and intelligence services still have well trained troops, but their leadership was badly damaged. Some of the very people who could help subtly bring to bear Turkish influence in Syria are rotting away in Turkish prisons for imaginary crimes.

Turkey now houses thousands of Syrian refugees, and they can’t be sure how many of them are terrorists that might soon turn on Turkey. Erdogan’s attempts at rallying the various Syrian factions to cooperation and victory have been a complete failure. That helps explain his cliché anti-Israeli act at the recent Arab summit. He plays to a tough audience at Arab summits and they were not impressed this week. Just as Erdogan gained a position of eminence among the Middle Eastern Islamic nations, his stardom is quickly fading.

In yet one more political irony, Erdogan is now quietly begging the US to “take a more active role in bringing about change in Syria.” The same man that back-stabbed the US lead coalition because he supposedly could not bring himself to attack another Islamic nation now desperately wants the US to send its military to clean up the problem in his front yard. If you laughed as you read that, don’t feel bad. It’s okay. If you can’t laugh a bit when you consider foreign affairs you should avoid foreign affairs altogether or you might find yourself suicidal or in need of medication.

Erdogan’s quiet but desperate whispers to John Kerry were likely answered with charming and not very reassuring platitudes. I can just imagine Kerry smiling as he told Erdogan, “You have our full confidence. You know we’ll do everything we can to help you.” The entire time, Kerry had to be wondering what in the world the US could do to turn Syria into a happy and peaceful place without committing the US to yet another unpopular war.

As a NATO member, the US has sent Patriot air-defense missiles to protect the Turkish border, but it seems unlikely to me that the White House would be willing to get any more involved than that in Syria. After all, we are still busy building the world’s best disguised “democracy” in Afghanistan, listening to that ridiculous toad in North Korea threaten us with nuclear annihilation, and contemplating a possible war with Iran.

In less than four years, we will have a new administration in the White House. Erdogan might manage to stay in power beyond that in spite of growing opposition from many of his once staunch friends. Two things that won’t change by then are the geography or the West’s need for oil. Turkey remains the best route to the West for Central Asian oil. Our overriding need for oil combined with the fact that Turkey is in a rough neighborhood and needs friends means the Turkish-American Opera will be playing more acts for a long time to come. Turn up the music. It might drown out the rhetoric.

Attack on the Capitol!

By Jay Holmes

What if a terrorist group managed to detonate a bomb in the Capitol building? In the War on Terror, one of the most obvious targets in the United States is our nation’s iconic Capitol building. If terrorists did manage to bomb the Capitol what would the reaction be?

image by Raul654, wikimedia commons

image by Raul654, wikimedia commons

Most readers will likely remember that on 9-11, the Capitol was saved from a terrorist attack. Not by the US military, the intelligence services, or any law enforcement agency, but rather by unarmed passengers on United Airlines flight 93 when they resisted the al-Qaeda criminals that had hijacked their flight. Thanks to their courage, flight 93 was stopped from crashing into the intended target, the US capitol.

Undoubtedly, some members of the Department of Homeland Security spend their hours considering the possibility of another attack on the Capitol and work to prevent it. They’re too late to prevent it. It’s already happened, but it’s best that they keep it from happening again. As much as I dislike about half of our congressmen, I don’t want to see them attacked again.

Many in the USA may have long forgotten that a gang of violent foreigners already succeeded in attacking our Capitol.  Which Islamist radicals managed to pull it off? Can you remember? Let me give you a couple of hints. They were not Islamic. They were English, and they succeeded.

In 1814 during our poorly planned and ill-conceived War of 1812, British soccer fans dressed in red uniforms similar to those of the British Army invaded Washington DC and expressed their displeasure with American literature by setting a bonfire in the still uncompleted Capitol using books from the library of Congress.  Even back then, congressmen knew what British soccer fans were like and they mustered the good sense to leave the premises before those fans arrived. After roasting some unpalatable English food over the fire, the British soccer fans departed. Fortunately for the US, British taxpayers grew tired of the higher taxes and loss of trade with the USA that the war had provoked in Great Britain, and in 1815, Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, promising to keep their soccer fans on their side of the Atlantic.

Fortunately, no British tourists have behaved quite so poorly since that terrible night in 1814. Unfortunately, other folks have not been quite as well behaved in the Capitol since then.

If some members of the press feel a bit abused these days by the current administration, they should feel lucky compared to 19th century DC reporters.  If we don’t count the vicious fist fights that occurred between congressmen in the 19th century, then the next attack occurred on February 28, 1890 when the tall, muscular ex-congressman William Taulbee of Kentucky assaulted a small and very sickly journalist by the name of Charles Kinkaid.   Taulbee had previously assaulted Kincaid in public, but the local authorities ignored the attacks. Taulbee harbored a raging grudge against Kinkaid because the journalist had exposed an extramarital affair between him—a married, ordained Methodist minister and congressman—and a female employee of the US patent office. Taulbee’s wife was less forgiving than Hilary Clinton and sent him packing. The conservative voters that he represented with a conservative platform were less forgiving than modern voters and Taulbee had to resign.  On February 28, 1890 when Taulbee attacked Kinkaid on the east stairs of the House Chambers, Kinkaid shot him in self-defense. Taulbee died a few days later. Supposedly, the blood stain can still be seen on the east House stairs.

William Taulbee, image public domain

William Taulbee, image public domain

In 1915, in response to the US declaration of neutrality in World War One, German immigrant Erich Muenter, aka Frank Holt, detonated a bomb in the Senate visitor’s waiting room. Fortunately, the bomb detonated at 11:50 p.m. and nobody was killed. The next day, Muentner shot and badly injured JP Morgan Jr. Muentner was arrested and committed suicide in his cell. Whether or not it was an “assisted suicide” is unknown.

For the next 39 years, peace reigned on Capitol Hill. Then, on March 1, 1954, Puerto Rican Nationalist terrorists Lolita Lebron, Rafael Miranda, and Andres Cordero fired shots from the House gallery and wounded five congressmen. Fortunately, they were captured before they were able to kill anyone. Unfortunately, they were captured alive and were brought to trial. They got long sentences, but Cordero was released from prison in 1978 due to terminal cancer. His fellow assailants and a co-conspirator were released in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter as part of a plan to gain the release of US prisoners in Cuba.

The next gang of terrorists that managed to carry out an attack against the Capitol was a group of very odd and incompetent criminals that called themselves the Weathermen. On March 1, 1971 a bomb they set exploded at night in a men’s rest room in the Senate and nobody was injured. The Weathermen carried out several bombings in the US, and their apologists claim that they never hurt anyone. That’s simply not true.  When they bombed a San Francisco police station, one policeman was killed and one was badly injured. Fortunately, the Marxist Weathermen managed to kill more of their own members than they did their intended victims when a nail bomb they were constructing exploded in their Greenwich Village apartment in New York City and killed three of them.

On November 7, 1983, a Weathermen splinter group calling themselves the Armed Resistance Union bombed the US Senate at the now traditional 11 p.m. capitol bombing hour. They were apparently unaware that the fighting was over in Grenada, as they were demanding an end to the “brutal US War in Grenada.” Fortunately, by adhering to that important 11 p.m. bombing schedule, nobody was hurt.

Unfortunately, the next attack on the Capitol was not as harmless. On July 24, 1998, a mentally ill man by the name of Russell Weston entered the Capitol and murdered two Capitol policemen. He explained that he was saving the US from being destroyed by cannibals. Weston had been previously diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after repeatedly threatening neighbors at his home in Montana, but he had been released after 51 days in a mental institution without adequate follow-up treatment. After the shooting at the Capitol, he was found to be incompetent to stand trial and he is still in a federal institution.

So if you visit our nation’s Capitol, arrive early because the security measures will slow you down a bit. Be patient. The security is justified.

Don’t Cry for Me, California — Mexican/American War, Part II

By Jay Holmes

We remember the Mexican-American War as a fight between the USA and Mexico. However, the UK and France were directly involved in the region, as well.

France and Great Britain both recognized Texas’ independence, and they both encouraged Mexico to do the same. Simultaneously, both countries wanted California for themselves. Given Great Britain’s strong naval presence in the North Pacific, their takeover of California was by no means farfetched.

Map of Mexico 1842 Hpav7 wikimedia public domain

Mexico, 1842, image by Hpav7, public domain

Concurrent to Britain’s salivating over the fertile areas of California, the USA wanted to expand its territories in the area that we now refer to as the states of Washington and Oregon. In 1844, James K. Polk of the Democratic Party ran for the presidency on a platform of expanding America’s western borders. Polk won the election, and he and his party began badgering Great Britain over the Oregon territory.

The area was a net economic loss to Great Britain based on the diminishing fur trade profits and the high cost of maintaining a large military presence in southwestern Canada. However, Great Britain was not inclined to sustain any damage to her prestige by acceding to demands by the uppity ex-colonists.

Polk’s administration continued to negotiate, but offered nothing real in exchange for the disputed lands. The British Navy had a local superiority and several strong forts in the disputed area against an American population that was growing quickly. In the end, dollars and food settled the issue.

Great Britain depended on food imports from Ireland and profited fantastically from its trade with the USA.  Given the situation in Ireland, Great Britain did not want North Atlantic trade disrupted by the sort of tactics that the US Navy had employed in the war of 1812.

After a series of compromises, Great Britain, while under economic pressure caused by a series of crop failures in Ireland, agreed with the USA and quit its claims up to the longitude of 54 degrees 44 minutes north. The settlement of the “54-40” issue left the USA in a better position to press any claims, fabricated or legitimate, against Mexico. Polk had no intention of missing out on the opportunity. Trade with the USA continued profitably for both sides.

Most of the political factions in Mexico were opposed to Texas becoming a state of the USA. They informed the US government that they would declare war on the USA if Texas were ever annexed. While the Texas-Mexican drama continued, more uninvited immigrants from the USA entered southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In 1845, President Polk sent John Sidell and a large sack of gold to Mexico on a clandestine mission. Sidell was to negotiate the purchase of New Mexico, Arizona, and California and take any measures possible to prevent the French or British purchase of California. He was authorized to pay up to $30,000,000.

However, Mexico was unable to maintain a government long enough to negotiate with anyone. In 1846, the presidency of Mexico changed hands 4 times. Sidell failed in his mission, but he at least created enough intrigue and confusion to divert the Mexican government from selling California to France or Great Britain.

John C. Fremont Portrait William Smith Jewett cliff1066 wikimedia

Portrait of John C. Fremont by William Smith Jewett

photograph by cliff1066, wikimedia commons

In the winter of 1845-1846 in what we would call today a “covert operation by special forces,” John C. Fremont took a band of soldiers posing as civilians into California. Fremont first claimed that he was slightly off track on his trip to Oregon and was just visiting to buy supplies. After moving further west to Salinas he offered the excuse that he was actually shopping for seaside property for his mother. You have to love John Fremont. It’s tough to maintain a sense of humor when you’re badly outnumbered behind enemy lines, but Fremont managed to do it.

Of course, one thing that helped Fremont to laugh was the fact that so many of California’s residents did not support the Mexican government in maintaining control of California. The Mexican government ordered Fremont to leave California, but Fremont set up a makeshift fort at Gavilan Peak. Eventually, the Mexican government in California brought sufficient troops to the area so the US government ordered Fremont to withdraw.

On April 14, 1846, California, with the acquiescence of some of its Mexican officials, declared its independence at Sonoma. Fremont returned to California with 60 soldiers and took command of the rebels. The independent Republic of California, after its long and distinguished three-week history, became part of the USA.

The Mexican government tried to muster support from Mexicans in California, but the vast majority of Mexicans in California supported the rebels. They preferred to be part of the USA. Mexico sent a small force of less than 60 soldiers to reconquer California, but with no local support, they were quickly defeated.

While losing California, Mexico was simultaneously occupied with its attempts to recapture Texas. Mexico never accepted the Treaties of Velasco that Mexican President Santa Ana signed after his humiliating defeat at San Jacinto. The USA claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border, while Mexico claimed the Nueces River further north as the border.

In June, 1845, multiple intelligence sources indicated that Mexico was preparing to invade the USA in Texas. James Polk ordered the battle-hardened General Zachary Taylor to take 1,800 men to the Nueces River in anticipation of a Mexican invasion. Taylor kept most of his troops near Corpus Christi, but sent a small detachment to build what became Fort Brown on the Rio Grande, across the river from the Mexican town of Matamoros.

Both Mexico and the USA sent reinforcements to the area and attempted to negotiate, but the Mexican military was badly hampered by the lack of a believable government in Mexico City.  On April 25, 1846, a patrol of about 70 USA soldiers was attacked and defeated by a force of 2000 Mexican soldiers north of the Rio Grande. In response to Sidell’s failed negotiations and the attack by Mexican forces, Congress approved a Declaration of War against Mexico on  May 13, 1846.

To be continued. . . .