Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Category: History

JFK Documents Released

I have spent far too much time digging through the documents released about the JFK assassination. It’s fascinating stuff if you enjoy learning about Cold War history. For example, this document about the CIA’s attempts to get the Mob to kill Castro and the way the insiders worked the system – including a oblique briefing of Allen Dulles (his biography by James Srodes is an interesting read) where nobody said any “bad words” – is a lesson in how the Washington Mandarins operate.

Or this memo from the infamous CIA spy hunter James Angleton (this was a year after his British friend and mentor, Kim Philby, defected) to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in an example of interagency cooperation.

Or this review of Operation Mongoose.

“Dallas” Brought Down the USSR


TV show Dallas was the main reason behind the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, it has been claimed.

Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart said that former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev told him that the 1980s soap opera ‘had more effect’ in ending the Cold War than anything else.

Mr Stewart, 68, said the Gorbachev admitted an illicit broadcast of the US show in Russia had opened his people’s eyes to Western life, and the Texas-based show ‘brought down’ the communist superpower.


Mr Stewart said it had taken place in the early 1990s just as the Soviet Union was starting to open up. Before then, the Russians had been stopped by the government from listening to Western music or watching TV shows.

He said: ‘He was saying what brought Russia down was they weren’t allowed to see any shows from anywhere and they had in the churches they had giant blockers of signals so they’d only get fed the information from the government.


‘What Gorbachev was saying it was Dallas the TV show, somebody managed to get a VHS to work and broadcast it to part of Russia and they thought, ”Hang on, that’s how people live in America?”

‘He said that had more effect, that half an hour, than anything else.’

About that Lincoln SCOTUS Nominee…

Heh. I always love learning a little history.

Well, according to a report from The Washington Post on Thursday, Harris did not accurately describe what took place under Lincoln when filling the vacant seat of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

“Harris is correct that a seat became available 27 days before the election. And that Lincoln didn’t nominate anyone until after he won,” the Post wrote. “But there is no evidence he thought the seat should be filled by the winner of the election. In fact, he had other motives for the delay.”

According to Lincoln historian Michael Burlingame, Lincoln told his aides he wanted to delay his Supreme Court confirmation process because he was “waiting to receive expressions of public opinion from the country,” though the Post noted, “that didn’t mean he was waiting for ballots so much as the mail.”

“The overarching effect of the delay is that it held Lincoln’s broad but shaky coalition of conservative and radical Republicans together,” the Post explained. “Congress was in recess until early December, so there would have been no point in naming a man before the election anyway. Lincoln shrewdly used that to his advantage. If he had lost the election, there is no evidence he wouldn’t have filled the spot in the lame-duck session.”

The Post concluded, “So Harris is mistaken about Lincoln’s motivations in this regard.”

History is Already Written

History is already written. It happened. History books are merely the effort by people to discover the facts and understand the complex unfolding of the tapestry of human existence.

I am a lifelong consumer of history. I tend to drift through eras and will read multiple books on a subject before moving onto something else. I especially love period books. For example, I have a WWI history book that was written in 1919. It reads like the era it was written in – full of nationalism, bigotry, and ignorance of things that would not be known for many years after the book was written. When reading history, it is always important to remember that whatever you are reading was written by a person. That person has a perspective, a work ethic (or lack thereof), an ax to grind, a purpose for devoting years of their life to the narrative, and is bound by the social and information limitations of their own time and culture. Reading Dodge is very different than Toland who is very different than Tacitus, but they all have their place in telling our human story.

The same is true for the people pushing The 1619 Project. They have a perspective. They also have several of their facts woefully wrong because they are pushing a specific agenda. As long as we understand that, reading their perspective can add to understanding. It is a shame that it takes a Brit to remind Americans of what their history really is and that it is still OK to be proud of our nation’s birth story.

The 1619 Project undoubtedly provides a huge amount of very important information about the history of American slavery and I would encourage people to read it.

But the central tenet of the main author’s belief is historically wrong, incredibly damaging, and it should not be part of any school curriculum.

American kids should not be told that their country’s great War of Independence was waged to maintain slavery.

That’s not why most colonists fought it; they fought it to end British colonial rule and establish the United States of America.

Young Americans should feel proud of that victory, not ashamed, and should be taught that their country began in 1776 with the glorious Declaration of Independence, not in 1619 with the ignominious arrival of slaves to Virginia.

To reframe the dismantling of British rule as a battle to maintain slavery in the way the NYT has done is not just misguided, it’s disgraceful.

Illinois Rep Wants to Stop Teaching History

Destroy history so that they can write a new one. I’m all for teaching all kinds of history. I’m a history junkie and read constantly. But those old white guys did some pretty neat things too.

In a press release received by the outlet before Sunday’s event, the state representative called for the “abolishment of history classes” and demanded that the Illinois State Board of Education “take immediate action by removing current history books and curriculum practices that unfairly communicate our history” until “appropriate alternatives are developed.”

Celebrating Juneteenth

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

There is currently a bipartisan push to make June 19th, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. June 19th, 1865, is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to occupy the state and announce that all enslaved people were free. It is regarded as the date when the news of emancipation reached the last of the remaining slaves in the United States. While it is not the date of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), or the date of ratification of the 13th Amendment (December 6th, 1865), Juneteenth has become the anniversary that we celebrate the end of the evil practice of legal slavery in the United States.

The first question to ask is should we celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday? Absolutely. Slavery was the original sin of our nation and we atoned for it with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans in a brutal Civil War. Ending slavery was a seminal moment in our nation’s history that brought us closer to the ideals of liberty and equality as beautifully enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence. It is long overdue that we have a formal celebration of the abolition of slavery.

Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Renaming The Pettus Bridge

Interesting debate here. It’s almost as if history is messy and nuanced. Huh… who’da thought?

SELMA, Ala. (AP) — Thousands gathered in this river city in 1940 to dedicate a new bridge in honor of white supremacist Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general and reputed Ku Klux Klan leader. Just 25 years later, the bridge became a global landmark when civil rights marchers were beaten at its base.

Today, with thousands protesting nationwide against racial injustice, a years-old push is gaining steam to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of Rep. John Lewis, who led the 1965 marchers on “Bloody Sunday.” But the idea is drawing opposition in Selma, including from some who marched with Lewis that day.

Pettus’ name has ironically come to also symbolize Black freedom and shouldn’t be painted over, some say. Others oppose the move because Lewis was an outsider who followed in the footsteps of locals who had worked to end segregation for years before he arrived. Still others fear a change would hurt tourism in a poor town with little going for it other than its civil rights history.

Lynda Lowery, who was 14 and received 35 stitches in her head on Bloody Sunday, doesn’t want the bridge renamed for anyone. She said the span over the muddy Alabama River “isn’t a monument, it’s a part of history.”

Old Buildings

I spent the better part of the week on a last minute work trip to Amsterdam and London. You know one thing that’s cool about Europe? There are buildings that are centuries old and are still in active, vibrant use. The West Bend School District could learn a thing or two.


Revisiting the Holocaust

Perhaps this would be a good time to revisit these masterpieces.

This year is the centenary of Levi’s birth, and a fine moment to revisit his three Holocaust memoirs. If This Is a Man, written almost as soon as he returned home after the war, describes his time in Auschwitz. The Truce, written over a decade later, describes the odyssey between leaving Auschwitz and returning to Turin. Three decades after that, and shortly before he died, Levi wrote The Drowned and the Saved, a polemic in which he took on the myths that had gathered around the Holocaust in his lifetime.

“It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944,” wrote Levi. At that point, late in the war, the Nazis had decided to extend the lifespan of valuable Jewish labourers and no longer executed them on a whim. That improved the odds. Still, of the 650 Italians that arrived on the same train as Levi, only 20 survived.

It took some time before Levi realised what the camps were. For the Jews, they were neither extermination camps, nor labour camps. They were designed for “the demolition of a man”. On arrival, the newcomers were herded into two groups – useful or not – and Levi, though not a formidable man, found himself in the first. They were stripped, shaved and tattooed: Levi became 174517. The language, by turns heroic, indignant and fearful on the opening pages, changes to the present tense.

From then on, Levi’s account is neither a philosophical nor historical treatment of his experience. It does not explore the roots of Nazism, nor the origins and nature of evil. Instead, it focuses on details of life in the camp. Levi liked to say, wryly, that he modelled his writing on a chemist’s lab report. Here, his telling is so matter of fact that there are even moments of bone-dry comedy. But mostly it is eerie and disturbing, and unmistakably real.

JFK Papers Released

Well, I know what I’m doing for the next few days

Thousands of documents from the Kennedy have just been released.One of the documents included a transcript of a Nov. 24, 1963, conversation with then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The conversation describes a threat against Lee Harvey Oswald, the gunman suspected of assassinating the President Kennedy. Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner on Nov. 24, 1963.

“There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead. Last night, we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.”

He described how they called the chief of police that night and again the next morning. “He again assured us adequate protection would be given. However, this was not done,” Hoover said.

When Oswald died, Hoover said, “We had an agent at the hospital in the hope that he might make some kind of a confession before he died, but he did not do so.”

America’s Titanic

150 years ago today.

The worst maritime disaster in American history occurred 150 years ago on April 27, 1865. Unlike the Titanic disaster, however, odds are you may never have heard about the Sultana wreck, which claimed over 1,800 lives.

At 2 A.M., three of the overloaded steamboat’s boilers suddenly exploded. The blast blew gaping holes into the decks and killed hundreds instantly. “The explosion came with a report exceeding any artillery that I had ever heard, and I had heard some that were very heavy at Gettysburg,” Union Private Benjamin Johnston recalled. Hot coals rained down on the steamship, which erupted into a floating inferno.

Those unable to swim—which were most of the passengers—were forced to make split-second decisions between burning or drowning. The struggle to stay alive became a survival of the fittest among a bunch of very unfit men. Already weakened passengers desperately fought the strong currents and exposure as they clung to wooden debris, mattresses and the charred carcasses of army mules floating in the freezing river. As soon as Sultana’s sole lifeboat hit the Mississippi, dozens of flailing men clawed to climb aboard, and the collective weight took all of them down to the river’s murky bottom. A soldier even attacked a woman in an attempt to rip off her life belt. “The animal nature of man came to the surface in the desperate struggle to save himself regardless of the life of others,” wrote Union Private John Walker.

For days afterward, rescuers plucked bodies from trees near the blast zone and pulled them from the river as far south as Vicksburg, 200 miles away. Historians believe that more than 1,800 of the paddle wheeler’s passengers perished. Although called “America’s Titanic,” the Sultana disaster actually claimed 300 more lives than the famed 1912 shipwreck and still remains the greatest maritime disaster in American history.

General Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse

150 years ago today.

The two generals talked a bit more about Mexico and moved on to a discussion of the terms of the surrender when Lee asked Grant to commit the terms to paper:

“‘Very well,’ replied General Grant, ‘I will write them out.’ And calling for his manifold order-book, he opened it on the table before him and proceeded to write the terms. The leaves had been so prepared that three impressions of the writing were made. He wrote very rapidly, and did not pause until he had finished the sentence ending with ‘officers appointed by me to receive them.’ Then he looked toward Lee, and his eyes seemed to be resting on the handsome sword that hung at that officer’s side. He said afterward that this set him to thinking that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require officers to surrender their swords, and a great hardship to deprive them of their personal baggage and horses, and after a short pause he wrote the sentence: ‘This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage.’

Grant handed the document to Lee. After reviewing it, Lee informed Grant that the Cavalry men and Artillery men in the Confederate Army owned their horses and asked that they keep them. Grant agreed and Lee wrote a letter formally accepting the surrender. Lee then made his exit:

General Lee leaves
From a contemporary sketch.

“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay – now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

Paul Allen Finds the Musashi

Very cool.

Manila (AFP) – Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan’s biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II.

Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the American billionaire for his high-tech mission that apparently succeeded after so many failed search attempts by others.

Allen posted photos and video online of parts of what he said was the battleship Musashi, found by his M/Y Octopus exploration vessel one kilometre (1.6 miles) deep on the floor of the Sibuyan Sea.

“World War II battleship Musashi sank 1944 is found,” Allen announced in a Twitter post that has been re-tweeted close to 19,000 times.

Divers Find Lost Thermonuclear Bomb

What a vacation story! Thankfully they found it before the Iranians did.

Savannah| A couple of tourists from Canada made a surprising discovery while scuba diving  in Wassaw Sound, a small bay  located on the shores of Georgia. Jason Sutter and Christina Murray were admiring the marine life of the area when they stumbled upon a Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb that had been lost by the United States Air Force more than 50 years ago.

UPDATE: This story is just that… a story. It’s false according to Snopes.

Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart

What a story. Go read the whole thing.

Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was a one-eyed, one-handed war hero who fought in three major conflicts across six decades, surviving plane crashes and PoW camps. His story is like something out of a Boy’s Own comic.

Carton de Wiart served in the Boer War, World War One and World War Two. In the process he was shot in the face, losing his left eye, and was also shot through the skull, hip, leg, ankle and ear.

In WW1 he was severely wounded on eight occasions and mentioned in despatches six times.

Having previously lost an eye and a hand in battle, Carton de Wiart, as commanding officer, was seen by his men pulling the pins of grenades out with his teeth and hurling them with his one good arm during the Battle of the Somme, winning the Victoria Cross.

Thank a vet

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. It felt good to turn away from politics for a moment. Here it is.

Thank a vet

Election Day gives way to Veterans Day

Now that the hostilities of the election season have just about come to an end, we can turn our attention to the things that unify us as a nation and remind us of how blessed we are to be Americans. Ninety-six years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the booming guns of “The War to End All Wars” fell silent.

A year after the end of hostilities in The Great War, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first commemoration of Armistice Day by saying, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Since then, a grateful nation has broadened the scope of Armistice Day to include all veterans who served either in war or peace, and renamed the day Veterans Day. Americans set aside Nov. 11 each year to look back, and look around, to thank veterans for their sacrifices in service to our liberty. It is a fitting day for such a remembrance. That Nov. 11 in 1918 was a day that began with the roar of guns and cries of the dying, but ended with the serene silence of peace. While liberty too often requires the shedding of blood in order to be preserved, it is the fervent prayer of a free people that the sun should always set upon a peaceful planet so that no more sacrifices will be needed from our brave veterans.

On Veterans Day this year, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir will perform “American Homeland: A Veterans Day Concert,” to honor veterans. The concert will be performed at the Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School Performing Arts Center in Jackson at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Jeff’s Spirits on Main in West Bend, or at the door.

Thanks to a generous sponsorship by Delta Defense LLC of West Bend, 100 percent of the proceeds from the concert will be donated to Fisher House Wisconsin, which provides a free “home away from home” for veterans’ families who are receiving treatment at the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee.

Due to the high number of veterans who receive treatment in Milwaukee – including more than 8,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — Fisher House is planning to build a 13,000-square-foot facility that will be able to house 128 family members of veterans so that they can be near their loved ones at no cost during their course of treatment. There are few more enjoyable ways to help veterans and their families than by listening to the renowned Milwaukee Children’s Choir sing tributes to honor our veterans.

There are more than 20 million veterans in America who served our nation with honor and pride. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of this year, please take a moment to stop and think of the sacrifices they have made to protect and preserve the freedom that we all enjoy. And whether by thought, word, or deed, thank a vet.

(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)




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