Remembering 9/11

Every generation has moments seared into their memories. For me, there are three: the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin wall, and 11 September, 2001. The first two are just fuzzy recollections, but I still remember 9/11 well.

On 11 September 2001, I was working for a company that rented trade show exhibit equipment, and part of my job was to be the ‘field engineer’ (or Exhibit Support Specialist, as the formal job title read) and supervise the installation of booths at venues for the company’s customers. I don’t recall exactly how we found out about it, but we didn’t know what was going on until we found an old black and white TV to watch it on. Why a company that does A/V support for trade shows didn’t have a nice color TV to watch it on is beyond me. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, and we were all taken back by the events of the day. There was a shadow of despair and disbelief over the office for days after that.

I still have a nagging fear of flying, and back then it was a full-blown phobia. I was scheduled to fly to Houston to support a trade show that was scheduled for the weekend. I was horrified. What if there were more attacks coming? Having separated from the military a year before, and recalling an incident [1] (that turned out to be nothing) and was mentally expecting the worst. The news was so unreliable that morning, and I didn’t know if this was a coordinated attack or what it might be. I was a little paranoid and asked my boss to let me drive to Houston instead of flying. I was told that such an action would be seen as my voluntary resignation. To my relief, the trade show was cancelled, but it made me think about my future there.

Later in 2002, I was working a trade show in the Javits Center (I was still working for the same company; I try not to do anything in haste) and had a chance to talk with some of the NewYorkers about that fateful day. I was in awe of some of the first-hand accounts I was given and I had opportunity to look down into the hole that used to be the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was a deeply saddening moment to imagine the chaos and death that occurred that day.

[1] There was an incident in the late 90s when a black duffel bag mysteriously appeared against an interior wall of the drill hall for my unit. When it was noticed, the tenor of the day changed at the possibility of having a bag full of explosives waiting to detonate. I can’t recall what led to this heightened sense of apprehension, but I recall vaguely this being the first time I recall hearing the name Osama bin Laden. To make a long story short, after many anxious hours, the bomb squad ‘blew up’ the bag, and later that day its owner returned from the field to find his change of clothes utterly ruined.

Were the Hessians mercenaries?

I didn’t gain a real appreciation of the dynamics of the American Revolution until many years after my compulsory service in the American variant of the Prussian Education System. I’ve had a few epiphanies in my quest for independent thought over the years that might deviate from traditional, conservative American views.

One is an appreciation for the absolute excellence in propaganda that is the Declaration of Independence. I mean that in the most positive sense. The ascertation of natural rights , but the hyperbole directed at King George III is the stuff of legend. Modern politicians and tacticians would do well to learn from the master, President Thomas Jefferson.

(Caveat: While I appreciate both sides of a story (hindsight 20/20 and all…) the oath that the Blevinses actually alive during those events was probably the best move for the family at that time. See my previous post on William Blevins, the Long Hunter, under the heading “The Revolution” for more details.)

However, the epiphany that I want to discuss today is that Hessians who fought beside the British Army were not mercenaries.

Here is the basis for that postulation:

  • Motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain.
  • Hired for service in a foreign army.
  • The Hanoverian dynasty of British monarchs was by and large an Anglo-Germanic family.
  • The German aristocrats whose units were fighting against the Colonists had family ties to the British crown.
  • I’m sure there are much more learned individuals who have so thoroughly covered this topic as to make a rank amateur such as myself look a fool for even endeavoring to discuss it, but I will nonetheless. It helps me to better understand it to think it out in my own feeble way.
    First, to dispense of the definition. The Hessian soldiers did not enlist in the British army to enrich themselves. They served at the behest of their princes, in their units, with their flags and uniforms. If anything, it was a coalition force, similar to what we have in modern warfare.
    Second, is the fact that the House of Hanover was a German royal line that began with George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and ended (with regards to the British royal branch) with Queen Victoria. Were it not for the onset of WWI, the House of Windor might still refer to itself as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. That is an interesting story in and of itself.
    Third is the fact that the German princes and nobles sending their soldiers to America to fight for the British were in some cases, related to the British royal family. Take for instance, Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. He was the son-in-law of King George II, and thus the uncle of George III. The reason that the Germans fighting in America were known as “Hessians” was because so many of them were subjects of Frederick. There was also Charles Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, a distant cousin of George III. After the war, he and his second wife, Lady Elizabeth Craven, lived in England breeding horses.
    In all cases, the German princes were paid for the services of their military forces, but it’s too complicated to just toss around the designation “mercenary”. Again I default to believing it more accurately to be a coalition. They didn’t have NATO to oblige them to defend their allies, they had something much deeper, kinship.
    So there is my spin on the topic for your entertainment. If you know of a better, more academic analysis of the matter, shoot me an email and I’ll link to it below.

    A victory for restoring/keeping military tradition

    An interesting follow-up post on the Canadian move last year to restore the “Royal” designations to its military branches:

    Turning the military clock back to its proper time: Now that a full year has passed since the federal government boldly returned the main branches of the armed forces to their pre-1968 designations – the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force – a decision that delighted and perplexed many, and appalled some as a retrograde step, an annum of perspective would perhaps be a timely and welcome thing.
    Certainly the unexpected announcement attracted a considerable amount of media attention and debate, and even ignited a few spasms during a traditionally slow news month. Although the restoration was supported by a solid majority of Canadians across all spectra, including a majority of federalist Quebeckers, the shrieks and howls emanating from some quarters lambasting the move, did cause a disproportionate stir.

    For example, opposition defence critic Jack Harris was adamant that the royal name change should be avoided because it would be divisive to the country, a fear that fortunately never materialized. Military historian Jack Granatstein, for his part, disparaged the restoration as “abject colonialism”, which seemed an oddly irrelevant apprehension to hold in contemporary and fully independent Canada. There were a few others, but it was the exquisite irony of former defence minister Paul Hellyer’s criticism that the reinstatement would prove a “monumental blunder of historic proportions”, and one that will have “inevitably costly consequences”, that requires a little further elaboration to properly dispel.
    Mr. Hellyer – surely the most transformative defence minister in Canadian history – was understandably upset that his unification legacy had been – at least symbolically – overturned. After all, it was his single-minded audacity in the 1960s that pushed through the most revolutionary change in the armed forces of any developed country in the last century, effectively abolishing the navy, army and air force and forming a new single service, the unified Canadian Armed Forces.
    Economically the merger was a massive reorganization exercise intended to amalgamate the functions of the military, reduce triplication and create integrated efficiencies – an ostensibly worthy goal in and of itself. What occurred in 1968, however, went far beyond an economic initiative. It was also a regrettable assault on the very identities of the navy, army and air force; their ranks, uniforms, history, traditions, titles. For a country that had always moved cautiously in reforming its institutions, and that had in the previous fifty years fought two world wars and Korea, the shock of this caused enormous pain to over a million Canadian veterans as well as to most of all ranks who were serving at the time. Unification struck at the very heart of esprit-de-corps.
    The self-defeating effort to disenfranchise our sailors, soldiers and air personnel from their traditional loyalties and hard won distinctions – especially the navy, the most embattled and deeply wounded of the three – was politically motivated by a determined desire to “cleanse the forces of their Britishness”, what C.P. Champion, author of The Strange Demise of British Canada, calls “the neo-nationalist attack on [Canada’s] military tradition”. Given the ubiquity of that heritage, Mr. Hellyer was of the mind that the most efficient way to “Canadianize” the services was to scuttle them in one dramatic blow. The proud RCN and RCAF had to go; our sailors and airmen were chastened into the unification straightjacket, and ludicrously forced to don rifle green outfits and adopt army ranks. If the amorphous, brave new Canadian Armed Forces was an impossible vehicle to rally morale, the troops would have to make do with bland bureaucratic distinctions like “Maritime Command” and “Air Command” or even “Land Force Command”. The whole reinvented apparatus was, at root, an uninspiring concoction, and therein laid its eventual fate.
    Some vital traditions in fact were restored before they were even abandoned. In time, nearly all would be organically returned as the unification conformists gradually ceded to reality under successive governments. With the long overdue restoration of Canada’s battle-tried titles, our armed forces can proudly reclaim their inheritance. The reestablishment of these historic identities, as defence minister Peter MacKay announced one year ago today, “is an important way of reconnecting today’s men and women in uniform with the proud history and traditions they carry with them”, which will “once again serve as a timeless link between our veterans and serving soldiers, sailors and air personnel.”
    The Hon. Paul Hellyer can rest easy in the knowledge that the perfectly sensible parts of his legacy remain firmly intact, and that thanks to his historic efforts the rebranded Canadian Forces continue to be one of the most functionally integrated militaries in the world today. But it was a bridge too far, and the country could have done without the temporary defacement of its naval and military heritage. The natural process of “Canadianization” was, after all, inevitable.
    Indeed, the recovery of that heritage is a happy occasion, and one that Canadians rightly support and respect. The names and deeds of the RCN, RCAF and the regiments and corps of the Canadian Army are deepened in loyal and devoted service and distinctly forged in battle. They deserve all the honours that have been bestowed upon them. Glottal stops, notwithstanding.

    Who opposed the War of 1812?

    I sadly must admit that my knowledge of many of the wars the United States have engaged in is limited, but I am proud to share this article from the Oxford University Press on the War of 1812:

    Who opposed the War of 1812?:
    By Troy Bickham
    As North America begins to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, it is worth taking a brief moment to reflect on those who opposed the war altogether. Reasons for opposing the war were as diverse as justifications for it. Ideology, religious belief, opportunism, apathy, and pragmatism all played roles. Unlike Europeans caught up in the Napoleonic Wars ravaging that continent, the vast majority of free males in North America had — whether by right of law or the by the fact that military service was easy to avoid — choice of whether or not to participate. And, interestingly, most of them chose not to participate.

    Like all wars, the War of 1812 is shrouded in myths and legends. One is the myth of American perseverance and bravery celebrated in the US national anthem (based on Francis Scott Key’s poem in the wake of the British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry at Baltimore in 1814). The reality is that the Americans lost most of their battles, and far more often than not they retreated or surrendered after suffering light casualties. At the start of the war, William Hull led a US invasion force into Canada. After meeting moderate resistance, which his force outnumbered, he quickly retreated back to a well-supplied fort at Detroit and then promptly surrendered it, the Michigan Territory, and all American troops and militia in the territory in a matter of days. A furious Thomas Jefferson remarked to President James Madison that “Hull will of course be shot for cowardice and treachery.”

    Bombardment of Fort M’Henry. From An illuminated history of North America, from the earliest period to the present time by John Frost, 1856. Source: NYPL.

    Another myth is that ordinary Canadians rallied around the British standard to heroically thwart a series of invasions from the US and gave birth to Canadian nationalism in the process. While the invasions were stifled, military historians have long credited this to the poor quality of the US forces and to the superior organization of the small force of British troops defending Canada. While there are numerous recorded actions of Canadian heroism, the truth is that the vast majority of eligible men avoided their legal obligation to serve in the militia. In fact, the Francophone population rioted when the militia was called up in Quebec. The largest turnout of the militia of Upper Canada (now largely Ontario) in the war came following the US capture of what is now Toronto. But they didn’t show up to fight. Instead, they appeared after the brief battle to accept the US Army’s offer of a parole to any militiaman who surrendered. A parole was a legally recognized document by which a combatant was released on his promise not to fight in the war (effectively a pass to sit out the remainder of the war).

    The truth is that the War of 1812 was a conflict that few wanted. Not a single member of the Federalist party in Congress voted for a declaration of war. Governors and legislatures of New England states, where the Federalists were strong and anti-war sentiment even stronger, announced statewide days of fasting and prayer in mourning. In a public address sent to Congress in the response to the declaration of war, the Massachusetts House of Representatives declared that: “An offensive war against Great Britain, under the present circumstances of this country, would be in the highest degree, impolitic, unnecessary, and ruinous.” New England clergymen used their pulpits to rail against the war and discourage young men from service, with such ministers as Nathan Beman of Portland describing the army camps as “the head quarters of Satan.”

    United States army and navy uniforms in the War of 1812 by Henry Alexander Ogden, 1897. Source NYPL.

    Even amongst members of Madison’s own Republican party, sentiment regarding the war was lukewarm. Owing to the compromises which proved necessary to secure enough votes in Congress for a war declaration, Madison and the war hawks were unable to pass adequate financing bills to raise, equip, and train a decent army. The result, as historian John Latimer recently summarized, was that “defeat was practically guaranteed from the moment Madison and Congress stepped onto the warpath.” DeWitt Clinton, the popular Republican mayor of New York City and later state governor, ran against Madison in the presidential election that year on a largely anti-war platform. And while the South was predominately Republican, plenty of newspaper editors and politicians spoke out against the war.

    Few suffered more than the group that defended Alexander Contee Hanson’s right to publish the flamboyantly anti-war Federal Republican paper in Baltimore in June 1812. A heavily-armed group defended the publishing house against a riotous Baltimore crowd that boasted an artillery piece manned by none other than the editor of the rival Sun newspaper. When the affair ended, one of the defenders was dead and eleven more were physically broken following hours of physical torture. These were hardly anti-American radicals. Among the severely wounded was Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee: Revolutionary War hero, former governor of Virginia, and father to the Confederate army general, Robert E. Lee. The dead man was James Lingan, another Revolutionary War veteran and former senior officer of the Maryland State Militia. George Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, gave the funeral oration.

    While the war was less divisive amongst the political elites of the British Empire, a number of politicians spoke out against the war. In open debate in the House of Commons, one member called the war “a great evil,” while another lamented that Britain’s mean-spirited “detestation of liberty” and jealousy of post-revolutionary America’s success drove Britain into an unjust war. In Upper Canada, the provincial assembly initially refused to grant the commanding British general emergency powers for fear, at least according to the general, that resisting an American invasion would only agitate the invaders. Some Canadian legislators actually joined the US forces, and then raised and led Canadian troops on the side of the US.

    Most North Americans on either side of the Canadian border were far less vocal in their opposition to the war. They simply refused to participate. Despite adding tens of thousands of troops to its paper army each year, the US never met its pre-war recruitment goal of 30,000 men. Desertion was rife in the British Army, which ran short on supplies throughout the hard Canadian winter, just as it was in the US Army, particularly when the bankrupt US government could no longer afford to pay or feed its soldiers in the last year of the war. Often backed by their governors, state militia regularly refused to cross borders, particularly when it meant fighting the enemy on the other side. A furious Madison tried but failed to place them under federal authority. The militia in Canada was not substantially different. Most men refused calls into service and those who did typically deserted by the autumn harvest. In order to persuade the militia in his command to march on the invading Americans in the summer of 1812, the British commander of Upper Canada had to trick the men into thinking they were simply going on an exercise.

    George Cruikshank, “State Physicians Bleeding John Bull to Death!!” In one of innumerable public complaints about high taxes in Britain, this image shows John Bull, the personification of the British people, is being bled, or taxed, to death in order to support the massive military establishment that surrounds him. The British taxpayer proved to be one of the most influential opponents of the war. Fed up with decades of unprecedented levels of taxation, they demanded that Britain’s war machine be dismantled. Fearing a backlash of angry taxpayers if it continued the war, the British government signed a quick status quo antebellum treaty with the US in late 1814 — despite that the fact that Britain had tens of thousands of veteran troops massing in Canada, complete control of the seas, and the US government was bankrupt and unable to pay its dwindling army.

    So as guns fire, re-enactors march, and replica ships set sail, remember that what we are recollecting is an important but ultimately just a small slice of the story of the War of 1812. A better representation might be the inhabitants of Nantucket. After public deliberation, a delegation from the island approached the British in the summer of 1814 and signed their own separate peace agreement, whereby the islanders would no longer pay federal taxes or fight in the war and Britain would release any of the island’s men being held prisoner and no longer molest its ships.

    Troy Bickham is an Associate Professor of History and a Ray A. Rothrock Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. He is the author of The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812, Making Headlines: The American Revolution as Seen Through the British Press, and Savages within the Empire: Representations of American Indians in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

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    Shipping firms use floating armouries to deter pirates

    I’ll preface this by stating that I am not a maritime (or any other form of) law expert, nor do I play one on TV, but the topic of a private entity’s, whether human or corporate, right to defend itself on land or sea interests me.

    Shipping firms use floating armouries to deter pirates:
    Private security firms are storing their guns aboard floating armouries in international waters so ships that want armed guards for East Africa’s pirate-infested waters can cut costs and escape laws limiting the import and export of weapons.

    The Somali pirates have made this a hot topic, but for a while, armed merchant ships have been taboo. Much credence is given to international opinion on prohibiting arms on commercial vessels and depending heavily on whatever navy ship may be in the area to come to a sieged ship’s rescue.
    Given how many merchant ships already flies under flags of convenience, I can see where those nations whose flags the ships are flying under would establish their own weapons sales facilities in their ports and make it easy for mariners to gun up. I’m not sure where Liberia, Panama, et al. would pull their stockpile from, but there would definitely be the chance for them to make a steady income, given the dangerous waters that commercial vessels often find themselves in.
    But what do I know? I’m just a spectator in the realm of geopolitics.