Vietnam- Policy and Intelligence Failure

America’s blind obedience to the dogmas of… monolithic communism and the Domino Theory led to tragedy of the Vietnam war.  In 1945, American intelligence officers established clear and firm links with the Viet Minh and its leader, Ho Chi Minh.  The Vietnamese nationalists of the Viet Minh were resisting Japanese rule and providing our OSS officers with valuable intelligence.  Ho Chi Minh sought the national self-determination Franklin Roosevelt seemed to be promising the world.  The OSS agents believed Ho to be the best alternative to govern Vietnam.  FDR let them both down.

America’s point man in Indochina was… Lt. Col. Archimedes Patti.  Dubbed “The Deer Team,”  Patti’s men contacted the Viet Minh and began to equip and train a select number of their best troops.  In return, the Viet Minh assisted in the recovery of downed American flyers, provided invaluable intelligence, and battled the Japanese.  With the surrender of Japan, Ho Chi Minh was prepared to move forward with Vietnamese independence- a dream thousands of years in the making.

Ho with US military intelligence, 1945
(Rene Defourneaux-Photo)

Ho Chi Minh dined with Lt. Col. Patti in late August 1945… to discuss the transfer of power and disarming Japanese troops.  Near the end of the meeting, Ho presented Patti a document- a draft of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence he planned to release on September 2.  Patti was taken aback to read the words of Thomas Jefferson quoted reverently in the brief document.  Both men toasted the future of an independent Vietnam… Patti remembers,   “We had him, we had Ho Chi Minh on a silver platter…the Soviets were in no position to help him-only we could…I did prepare a large number, and I mean about, oh, well over fifteen position papers on our position in Vietnam. But I never knew what happened to them. Those things just disappeared, they just went down the dry well.”

Patti with General Giap

Roosevelt had already decided to give Indochina… back to the French.  Churchill insisted the French empire not be broken up, lest the British empire would follow.  Rather than disarm Japanese troops, British forces rearmed them and turned them against supporters of Ho Chi Minh’s government.  A temporary division of the country was allowed to solidify.  The OSS agents were marginalized, accused of fomenting revolution, and finally forced out of Saigon by the British commanders.  The expulsion led to the murder of Colonel Peter Dewey, America’s first casualty in Vietnam.  America had followed the wrong course, in spite of all the masterful intelligence work done by Archimedes Patti and his OSS team.  The Vietnam war was our fate

Facts in Five

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Lincoln and Military Justice Edition:

  • Lincoln was petitioned with over 1,600 military justice cases
  • 343 military pardons were issued during his time in office
  • Three time offenders, rapists, and traitors were shown no mercy
  • Lincoln’s liberal pardoning policy was unpopular with his Generals
  • Though disliked by his Generals, Lincoln’s use of military clemency was popular in the ranks and with public opinion

“I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator, and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but, withal, a great mercy.”

Not the Party of Eisenhower

Would Dwight D. Eisenhower be welcomed in today’s Republican party?… Today’s GOP- dominated by fiscal Conservatives like the so-called “freedom caucus;” scrawny descendants of Do-Nothings of the 80th Congress who obstruct, protest, and bloviate over the slightest Federal spending. The insistence on labeling government programs as “entitlements” will give these rank amateurs undue influence in policy making.  Programs like Social Security, GI Bill, unemployment insurance, the interstate system, Civil Rights and the National Parks are all seen as drains on our government and in need of outsourcing. The current GOP has evolved into a cult of personality built around a twice-impeached President. There was no party platform in 2020.

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Eisenhower oversaw the expansion of all these “drains” and expanded so-called entitlements …. and had a very different view of governing:

In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people’s money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.”

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Ike’s domestic policy was bold and equitable in the face of … the traditions of his party.  Sadly, such a leader would be expelled by today’s Republicans–  no longer the party of Lincoln.

A New Look at Grant

Frank P. Varney, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, California, Savas and Beatty, 2013

A critical examination of Grant’s memoirs and their effects on the historical record. 

 

Professor Frank Varney’s first book is a bold effort to right historical wrongs…. and the wrongs were perpetrated by none other than US Grant.   Varney proposes a three volume examination of the inconsistencies, mistakes, and outright lies found in Grant’s widely utilized memoirs.  Volume one takes Grant (and his historical defenders) to task for ruining the reputation of Major General William S. Rosecrans.  Varney carefully dissects both the historical record and the secondary sources which were deeply influenced by Grant’s account.

“The well of data about Rosecrans has been so tainted that many historians… are simply not motivated to look beyond the traditionally relied-upon sources- the writings of Grant prominent among them.”   Varney sums up how Grant’s memoirs have affected Civil War historiography.  Researchers simply assume Grant was right- they fail to verify with lesser known primary sources; what source could be more valuable than the man credited as the Union victor?  Varney’s research is extensive and provides key insights to the Grant/Rosecrans feud.  At the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was miles from the fighting- his battle reports change over time- and his memoir bears little resemblance to the Official Records.  Historians like Steven Woodworth and T. Harry Williams  have been complicit in propagating Grant’s distorted account and Varney cites key examples of his peers failing to carry-out the most basic research methodology.

Far from a redemptive piece about Rosecrans… Varney acknowledges the flaws in the man.  But, the evidence of tampering and distortion are too extensive to be ignored by the historical community.  Rosecrans had his flaws, but Grant’s accounts of the war have forever tarnished a General with widely accepted military skill.  Grant didn’t care for his subordinate and Varney skillfully shows how he took credit for victories, exaggerated his own actions, and distorted (even lied) about the performance of others.  Rosecrans was the victim of a concerted effort led by Grant- and historians have failed to give a balanced account of this chapter in Civil War history.  Hopefully, Professor Varney’s future volumes will be as detailed and insightful as this first edition.

The recent Grant renaissance should be reconsidered. 

Franklin on Chess

Almost Chosen People

Benjamin_Franklin_playing_chess

Benjamin Franklin had ceaseless energy to match his brilliant mind.  In 1779 while our ambassador to France, and involved in ceaseless negotiations to make sure that the new found alliance did not founder, he found time to write a brief monograph on chess, perhaps his favorite game:

The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.

1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually occuring to the player, ‘If I move this piece, what will be the advantages or disadvantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it…

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Mary Pickersgill and the Star Spangled Banner

Presidential History Blog

Most people today know the story, true or legend or both, of Betsy Ross.

The Original Flag

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The legendary Betsy Ross

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The original design

In 1776 (or thereabouts) it is said that George Washington himself, or a small delegation from Congress, approached seamstress Betsy Ross of Philadelphia to design and make the flag, which she did. That may be debatable, but her house still stands in Philly, and visitors are always welcome.

Fast Forward Nearly 40 years

By 1812, the USA had rooted and grown. As new states were admitted, the flag had been adjusted accordingly: Fifteen stripes and fifteen stars. But the addition made the flag design unwieldy, and while the original thirteen stripes would remain, only new stars would be added. But that had not been in effect by the War of 1812.

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The unwieldy 15 stars and stripes

Also by 1812, Baltimore, MD had become the third…

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Kennedy and Cuba- A Lingering Trouble

JFK addressed the National Security Council following the Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy appears less than optimistic about the future of the Caribbean

Notes on Remarks by President Kennedy before the National Security Council Tuesday, January 22, 1963

I will start by reviewing areas of policy which will be before us in the coming months and indicate the general attitude which I have toward them and to emphasize where we might put our emphasis in the next few months.

The responsibilities of the United States are worldwide and the U.S. is the only country which is recognizing its wide responsibilities. We are part of NATO, SEATO, etc. and support other pacts even though we are not a part of them. Other nations are not doing their share.

Would like to say a word first about Cuba.

The indications are that the importance of timing is of paramount importance in reaching judgments–both by the USSR and the US. Our big problem is to protect our interests and prevent a nuclear war. It was a very close thing whether we would engage in a quarantine or an air strike. In looking back, it was really that it presented us with an immediate crisis and the USSR had to make their judgment and come to a decision to act in twelve hours. In looking back over that four or five day period, we all changed our views somewhat, or at least appreciated the advantages and disadvantages of alternate courses of action. That is what we should do in any other struggle with the Soviet Union–and I believe we will be in one in the future. We should have sufficient time to consider the alternatives. You could see that the Russians had a good deal of debate in a 48 hour period. If they had only to act in an hour or two, their actions would have been spasmodic and might have resulted in nuclear war. It is important that we have time to study their reaction. We should continue our policy even though we do not get Europe to go along with us.

The time will probably come when we will have to act again on Cuba. Cuba might be our response in some future situation–the same way the Russians have used Berlin. We may decide that Cuba might be a more satisfactory response than a nuclear response. We must be ready–although this might not come. We should be prepared to move on Cuba if it should be in our national interest. The planning by the US, by the Military, in the direction of our effort should be advanced always keeping Cuba in mind in the coming months and to be ready to move with all possible speed. We can use Cuba to limit their actions just as they have had Berlin to limit our actions.

[Here follows discussion of other subjects.]

Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings, 1963, No. 508, 1/22/63. No classification marking. A note at the top of the memorandum indicated it was drafted by a “CIA Reporter.” McGeorge Bundy prepared a briefing memorandum, January 21, for the President for this meeting. (Ibid.) The portion of Bundy’s memorandum on Cuba is in the Supplement.

Chancellorsville By the Numbers

Chancellorsville is often called Lee’s “perfect battle”… facing the longest odds, using the boldest tactics, and winning the ultimate triumph- but a closer examination of the battle’s casualty statistics reveal a very different picture.  Far from perfect, Lee’s victory over Hooker was a costly, bloody gamble with marginal payoff.

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Twice dividing his outnumbered force before a superior foe… and executing a bold flanking maneuver clouds the true cost of the battle.  Hooker’s inaction is far more striking than Lee’s tactical decisions.  By surrendering the initiative to Lee, Hooker allowed his opponent tactical discretion, thus making the flank attack possible.  Union reinforcements nullified Confederate gains on May 2.  Hooker’s refusal to counterattack with those additional troops only accentuated the modest Confederate gains.

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Lee went into battle with just under 60,000 effectives… and suffered nearly 13,000 casualties- of which, over 10,000 were wounded or killed.  Almost a quarter of his men were gone at a time when the Confederacy was increasingly unable to replace such loss.  Comparatively, Hooker entered the battle with well over 130,000 troops, and suffered over 17,000 casualties.  But, of this number, nearly 6,000 were captured(11th Corps victims of Jackson’s attack.)  Factoring the captured, Hooker’s loss was a much smaller figure of just over 11,000.  The statistics show that Lee’s army actually took the worst of the fighting- His action, and Hooker’s inaction have permanently altered the history of the battle.  Far from the great army “cut to pieces” as remembered by Horace Greeley, Hooker’s men fought well and proved their mettle in battle

Stories in Stone: Thomas Waterman Wood

M.A. Kleen

Memorial to Thomas (1823-1903) and Minerva (1824-1889) Wood in Green Mount Cemetery at 250 State Street (U.S. Route 2) in the City of Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont, on bluffs along the north bank of the Winooski River. Thomas Waterman Wood was a prominent rural portrait and figure artist and president of the National Academy of Design.

Thomas Wood (1823-1903)

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April 30, 1863: Hooker Arrives at Chancellorsville

Almost Chosen People

Fighting Joe HookerHooker arrived at Chancellorsville on the morning of April 30.  He was in high spirits and issued this order to his army:

GENERAL ORDERS No. 47.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 30, 1863.

       It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.  The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements.

       By command of Major-General Hooker:

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant General.

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