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HISTORY MATTERS: How Japan’s victory at Pearl Harbor lost a war

As Japanese pilots returned to their carriers on 7 December 1941 following their attack on Pearl Harbor, they left behind a destroyed American fleet. American sailors, soldiers, and Marines enjoying a weekend in paradise were startled out of their bunks by the sounds of enemy planes overhead dropping bombs on a nation that – when they went to sleep the night before – had been at peace. In the space of a few hours on Sunday morning, dozens of ships and hundreds of planes were destroyed, seemingly wiping out our ability to strike back.

But what the Japanese war planners had no idea of when their warships silently slipped out of port on 26 November was the annihilation they would bring upon themselves when the United States used Pearl Harbor as a rallying cry, inspiring millions of young men to join the Armed Forces and avenge the 3,000-plus killed and wounded in the surprise attack. In the words of Admiral Hara Tadaichi, “We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.”

The Japanese had been fighting a war for ten years by the time the Roosevelt Administration shut off American oil exports to Japan. This was viewed as an act of war since the Japanese needed vast quantities of oil to run their economy and war machine. So when we cut them off, they turned their sights on invading the oil-rich European colonies in Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies.

However, our Pacific Fleet, which had recently transferred its headquarters from San Diego to the territory of Hawaii, stood between Japan and their conquest, and their admirals realized that the only way to get the oil they so desperately needed was to wipe out our ships in a surprise attack.

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Maskirovka Matters: Khrushchev Puts a ‘Hedgehog Down Uncle Sam’s Pants’

[Originally published at]

56 years ago this week, the United States and Soviet Union were on the verge of all-out nuclear war. Suddenly, American families learned that they were in the crosshairs of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles stationed 90 miles away from Florida, and virtually the entire continental U.S. was now moments away from annihilation. We know how the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, but how did it come about in the first place?

During the early days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a big problem: mutually assured destruction only works when both sides can assure destruction. The United States could target Moscow with intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and nuclear-armed submarines. By deploying nuclear missiles to Italy and Turkey, the USSR could be devastated in just minutes. Sure, the Kremlin could target Western Europe and Alaska, but Washington, D.C. was well outside of the reach of the Soviets.

That was a problem. But Nikita Khrushchev saw a solution, and he declared his intention to “throw a hedgehog down Uncle Sam’s pants.”

Khrushchev meets with fellow officers during the Battle of Stalingrad (RIA Novosti image)

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COURAGE 53: Black Hawk shot down over Mogadishu 25 Years Ago

[Originally published at]

In the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 1993 – eight days before the famous Battle of Mogadishu that will claim the lives of 19 Americans – an enemy rocket-propelled grenade slams into COURAGE 53, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter conducting a night reconnaissance “Eyes Over Mogadishu” mission.

The grenade blast ignites the aircraft’s fuel, killing three soldiers on board. Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Dale Shrader and copilot CWO Perry Alliman fight to keep the helicopter in the air long enough to reach friendly lines at the port, but the helicopter crashes into a building and slams into the street. Alive, but critically injured, Shrader and Alliman are down and behind enemy lines.

A 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier fast ropes from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez)

In 1993 Pvt. Jason Wind was a 19-year-old combat engineer attached to “Tiger” Company, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, part of the quick reaction force (QRF) sent to secure the crash site and evacuate the casualties. On the 25th anniversary of the battle to secure the COURAGE 53 crash site, Wind shares his account with us.

OPSLENS: What what was the situation on the night of the crash?

WIND: As part of the QRF, we were used to getting all sorts of alerts to mobilize. Most of the time we would wind up standing down without leaving the university compound or just go to the airfield and wait for nothing.

This time we got a hot “QRF get it on now” wake up call in the middle of the night. As usual, we quickly got our gear on, picked up heavy weaponry and made our way to the TOC [tactical operations center] so the COC [chain of command] can be briefed. Word got around that a bird got hit and our orders were to secure the site and look for our troops that were in the bird.

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Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: Boonslick Country to Missouri’s Grand Divide

[This is part five in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]

In this post, I pick up the trail west of Jefferson City, Mo. and continue along the Missouri River until reaching the Chariton River.

Along the way is the town of Boonville, Mo., which was the site of a tiny battle that had a huge impact on the Civil War.

On May 10, 1861, just days after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter (S.C.), several hundred Missouri militiamen were drilling at Camp Jackson, just outside the city limits of St. Louis. A pro-confederate force had recently overrun the federal arsenal at Liberty, Mo., and Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon suspected the force amassed at Camp Jackson was going to seize his large arsenal in St. Louis and he ordered his federal troops to capture the Missouri Volunteer Militia members.

As the Union troops marched their prisoners through town, they were harassed and pelted with rocks and other objects by a secessionist mob. Lyon’s men eventually opened fire on the crowd, killing 28 civilians and wounding dozens more. Missouri’s pro-confederate governor Claiborne Jackson and Missouri State Guard commander Maj. Gen. Sterling Price (a former brigadier general of volunteers and veteran of the Mexican-American War who opposed secession until the Camp Jackson incident) met with Lyon and told him that his federal troops were not to travel beyond St. Louis. Lyon responded by saying their demand “meant war” and declared his men would have free passage throughout the state. He allowed Jackson and Price safe passage out of St. Louis and the pair fled west to Jefferson City. However, Lyon and his force of U.S. Army regulars and Missouri militia were hot on their tail.

Looking east from the Boonslick Bridge, just north of Boonsville, Mo. (Google Street View image)

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Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: The City of Jefferson

[This is part four in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]

Three weeks after beginning their journey westward, Lewis and Clark reached the site of modern-day Jefferson City. There were no white settlers in this area – just water, trees and rocks. In fact, the Corps of Discovery passed the last European settlement right after shoving off from St. Charles (read the first piece in the series for more).

Crossing the Missouri River, just north of Jefferson City. (Google Street View image)

For the rest of their 3,000-plus mile journey, the explorers were literally in Indian country. The area south of the Missouri River was Osage territory – or “Osarge” as Clark writes in his journals. While they frequently came across Indians along their route, the expedition never did make contact with the Osage.

While Clark typically stayed with the keelboat, Capt. Lewis would often go ashore and explore. It was in the Jefferson City area where they began to find species of plants and animals that were – at the time – completely new to science. For example, in addition to finding “many curious Plants & Srubs [sic],” the corps also caught several large rats in this area that had never before been described, possibly the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana).

After Lewis and Clark returned from mapping their way to the Pacific, the United States began carving states out of the Louisiana Territory. When Louisiana became the 18th state in 1812, the remaining area purchased from Napoleon became known as the Missouri Territory. Then in 1819 the Territory of Arkansaw (yes, spelled the way it sounds until a few years after its founding) split off.

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Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Biking the Rhineland

In this installment, I pedaled my way through the Rhineland, stopping short of Jefferson City. My route took me just north of Hermann, Mo., which is named after the German hero Hermann der Cherusker –  or Arminius as he was known to the Romans. In 9 A.D., Hermann commanded the coalition of Germanic tribes that annihilated three Roman legions (killing some 20,000 troops) in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – one of the most decisive victories in military history.

Looking west from the Christopher S. Bond Bridge, just north of Hermann, Mo. (Google Street View image)

1,828 years later (and a couple decades after Louis and Clark paddled through) the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia found the region similar to the wine country around the Rhine River and established the settlement of Hermann, Missouri. Hence the nickname, the Rhineland.

Much of my ride so far has looked just like this: farmland to my left (south) with hills and trees to my right. While not breathtaking, Missouri scenery makes you appreciate little things, like the road, hills, and clouds coming together here. I am definitely looking forward to some city scenery when I roll through Jefferson City. (Google Street View image)

Private Joseph Whitehouse, recruited by Lewis from Capt. Daniel Bissell’s company of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Kaskaskia, noted in his journal that the Gasconade River (which enters the Missouri River just west of Hermann) was 104 miles upriver from where the Corps of Discovery began their expedition. Over that distance, the Missouri river drops 115 feet between the Gasconade and the Mississippi Rivers – roughly a foot of drop per mile.

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Lewis and Clark Expedition packed a ton of guts

[Originally published at]

One thing to remember when you are studying history is that when we look at things that have happened, we view them from a perspective where we know not only the details, but also the end result. To the people that participated in the events, it’s a whole other story. If you really want to get the most out of history, put yourself in the shoes of the people who lived it and try to imagine what it must have been like without historic hindsight. A great example would be the Lewis and Clark Expedition: over 200 years later, we know how far they went, the route they took, and when they got back. Lewis and Clark didn’t know any of these things; only that they were headed west. They were on a journey of unknown distance, through unfriendly territory, with nothing other than what they could shoot and carry. And if they did manage to make it to the Pacific Ocean, they had to turn around and do it all over again.

With another war looming between France and Britain, Napoleon needed money to fund his army and sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, which they had recently acquired from the Spanish. For just $15 million, President Thomas Jefferson had doubled the size of our country.

But Jefferson had his eyes set even further west; he wanted to find a route across the Louisiana Territory, through the Rocky Mountains – called the Stony Mountains in Jefferson’s era – and on to the Pacific Ocean. Knowing he will need a reliable team of disciplined professionals, he turns to the U.S. Army. Jefferson picks his personal secretary, Capt. Meriwether Lewis, to lead the expedition, and sends for experts to train Lewis in navigation, field medicine, zoology, and botany to give the 29-year-old Virginia native all the knowledge he will need to prevail in the wilderness.

Click the image to watch a clip of my appearance this week on CRTV’s Experience Matters, where I discussed the Lewis and Clark expedition

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Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: The Weinstrasse

The second leg of my virtual ride across the United States continues along a stretch of Highway 94 known as the Weinstrasse (German for “wine road”). To my left is the Missouri River and the scenery shifts from rolling, scenic hills through Missouri wine country to flat river bottomland. Today, the Charette Creek flows into the Missouri River across from Washington, Mo. – which was named after George Washington, who at the time was seven years into retirement from government service when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area. Back then, a Spanish log fort named San Juan del Misuri (St. John of the Missouri) occupied the site of what would become the settlement of Washington’s Landing when a ferry set up operation in 1814.

Captivating scenery on the “Weinstrasse” (German for Wine Road) near Aurora, Mo. (Bing Maps image)

In 1804, the Charette Creek emptied into the Missouri some seven miles upstream. When Lewis and Clark set up camp in this area on May 25, 1804, this was the site of a tiny French village named La Charette – the last white settlement the Corps of Discovery would meet on their trip west. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, the weary explorers were overjoyed when they reached La Charette, knowing they were almost to the finish line.

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