Blowback: The Iranian Hostage Crisis

"Taken Hostage," by David Farber, courtesy of Princeton University Press
“Taken Hostage,” by David Farber, courtesy of Princeton University Press

The Iranian Hostage Crisis was the quintessential element in the decline of optimism in the Carter Presidency and America at large. Concurrently, Ayatollah Khomeini exploited the situation to cement his Revolutionary Council and Sharia law into the seams of Iranian government, uniting his varied support though hatred of the Shah and the United States. The hostage crisis was more than just fifty-two American lives at risk; it was the psyche of the American people.

America had been through a relative decline in the 1970s. Stagflation chipped away at the hope of retirement and homeownership. Industry moved to the South, with lower wages and fewer unions, creating the Sunbelt. This move also signaled further impoverishment in the North, as the region became known as the Rustbelt.[1] The inflation rate climbed to 10 percent per year, and unemployment at 6 percent.[2] America was also energy dependent on foreign oil to create its post-World War II economic boom. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) enforced an oil embargo during the Yom Kippur War. David Farber, a history professor at Temple University, claimed this action was meant to “punish the United States for providing Israel with military equipment,” resulting in an energy crisis. President Carter labeled this escalating crisis as “the moral equivalent of war.”[3] The foreign policy actors of the United States, such as the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency, were still reeling from the consequences of the Vietnam War and Watergate. The American population became disillusioned by political elites. Farber defined this as “Vietnam syndrome: defeat haunted America and made Americans across the political spectrum loathe to make strong international commitments to anyone.”[4] The White House was stuck in a Cold War mentality and tended to view conflicts through the scope of political ideology rather than the wider regional geopolitical context. Farber noted, “When Americans looked at Iran, they saw Soviet Red and not Islamic Green.” [5] America, distracted by domestic issues such as the economy, became ineffective in foreign policy issues and ripe for exploitation.

The Iranian people at large had negative views of the United States because of a disappointing foreign policy apparatus consisting of the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The militant Islamic students that took over the embassy saw their action as “a defensive act to protect the Iranian revolution from American interference,” fearing the Americans would reinstall the Shah after allowing him to enter the US on 23 October 1979 .[6] They had a strong basis for that fear. On 19 August 1953, the CIA under agent Kermit Roosevelt, spearheaded Operation AJAX – the forced removal of the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, an ardent nationalist and anti-imperialist. Later, Operation Eagle Claw – the failed American attempt to rescue the hostages – justified the fears of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While the Americans saw the hostage crisis as a foreign policy issue, the Iranians viewed the struggle as domestic to prove the sovereignty of the Revolutionary Council.

            Four actors – President Jimmy Carter, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Mohammad Reza Shah – heavily influenced the events of the Iranian Revolution. Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter arrived in the White House riding on the fact he was a political outsider; however, he was unable to cope with the entrenched interests in Congress.[7] He claimed America “faced a crisis of confidence,” and sought to solve this challenge in foreign policy by “defending human rights, exhibiting principled behavior abroad, and limiting world armaments.”[8] His relationship with the Shah was completely changed by the hostage crisis. Before 4 November 1979, he complimented the Shah, claiming, “because of the great leadership of the Shah, (Iran) is an island of stability.”[9] During the Iranian Revolution, Carter, who had personally micromanaged the release of the hostages with his reelection on the line, said in a voice of outrage, “Fuck the Shah.”[10]

Mohammad Reza Shah, later on the cover of "Time." Note the headline, "Iran: Struggle for Stability." Courtesy of Persian Carpet Guide
Mohammad Reza Shah, later on the cover of “Time.” Note the headline, “Iran: Struggle for Stability.” Courtesy of Persian Carpet Guide

The Shah had been the bedrock of the Nixon Doctrine and had spent billions of dollars on defense against the Soviets and his own domestic enemies. The Shah also led the brutal SAVAK against dissenters, and started the White Revolution for land reform.[11] This led the charismatic Ayatollah, who after his return from exile in France had been hailed as an Imam, to claim, “They have sold us, they have sold our independence.”[12] Ayatollah KhomeiniHe used the revolution to consolidate his power against competing Iranian factions and then exported Islamic fundamentalism to Lebanon. Brzezinski called for the U.S. to deepen our dialogue with the Muslim world; however, he also promoted Operation Eagle Claw and a tougher stance on communism.[13] Ultimately, the remaining 52 hostages (as 14 others had been released because of race, gender, and illness) returned back to freedom on 20 January 1981 to Ronald Reagan, as Jimmy Carter returned to Georgia after losing the presidential election.

            Taken Hostage and 444 Days to Freedom have their own strengths and weaknesses. Taken Hostage made good use of periodicals, especially The New York Times; however, the vignettes Farber used pale in comparison to Kinzer’s introduction to Operation Ajax. Farber also introduced the voice of America Held Hostage, the Iranian translator Mary, and Reagan with the possibility of the October Surprise. Farber also mentioned the attack on the embassy on 14 February 1979 – an ominous sign for the future. 444 Days to Freedom did an extraordinary job of interviewing the hostages. "444 Days To Freedom," courtsey of View Video The interviews were thorough, including the members of the Canadian Caper, the U.S.-Iran Society, and U.S. Marines. It would have been interesting to hear Jimmy Carter’s thoughts or the commentary of a member of the IRGC. Both were superb works, each giving a different viewpoint on the Iran hostage crisis. As Farber concluded, “The only obvious lesson of the Iran hostage crisis is that when a failed policy blows up spectacularly the best solution is to determine why it happened and then act with extreme prudence so long as nothing catastrophic really occurs.”[14] The Hostage Crisis had several ‘policies blow up’, such as the Carter’s faith in the Shah, the Navy helicopters at Desert One, and the faith of the American people in their president, which Farber recorded superbly in Taken Hostage.

 

Bibliography

Farber, David R. “Taken Hostage : The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam”. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

“The Iran Hostage Crisis : 444 Days to Freedom”. Dir. Les Harris. 2006. New York : V.I.E.W. Video, 1994.

“Jimmy Carter”. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jimmycarter. Created 2006.

O’Connell, Barry. “Notes on the Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.” Persian Carpet Guide: http://www.persiancarpetguide.com/sw-asia/People/shah_Iran_Mohammed_Reza_Shah_%20Pahlavi.htm

Princeton University Press. “Taken Hostage”. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7807.html. Created 2008.

View Video. “Iran Hostage Crisis.” http://www.view.com/the_iran_hostage_crisis_444_days_to_freedom_dvd.aspx. Created 2012.


[1] Farber, David R. “Taken Hostage,” p. 19.

[2] Ibid., p. 83.

[3] Ibid., pp. 23, 25.

[4] Ibid., p. 16.

[5] Farber, David R. “Taken Hostage,” p. 5.

[6] Ibid., p. 13.

[7] Ibid., p. 11.

[8] Farber, David R. “Taken Hostage,” pp. 33, 82.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] Ibid.,p. 125.

[11] Ibid., pp. 60, 63.

[12] Ibid., p. 66.

[13] Ibid., p. 107.

[14] Farber, David R. “Taken Hostage,” p. 6.

Operation TPAJAX, as Recorded in Stephen Kinzer’s “All The Shah’s Men.”

Copy of "All The Shah's Men," thewith an image of the author, Stephen Kinzer. Courtesy of The Light Millennium.
Copy of “All The Shah’s Men,” thewith an image of the author, Stephen Kinzer. Courtesy of The Light Millennium.

Stephen Kinzer, a New York Times journalist, composed a riveting account of the rapidly changing events around Iran during the 1950s in All The Shah’s Men. He argued that American involvement in Operation Ajax was viewed in its time by foreign policy elites as part of the Cold War rather than a neocolonial struggle between Britain and Iran. This mission undermined Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the developing tradition of democracy in Iran, leading to reprisals against Americans during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. America withdrew its support for the democratically elected government of Mossadegh for the despotic Shah in order to prevent a possible communist takeover of Iran, which would have given the USSR the potent oil resources to start World War III.

Mohammad Mosssadegh on the cover of "Time." Courtesy of Myspace
Mohammed Mosssadegh on the cover of “Time.” Courtesy of Myspace

The events of 1950 Iranian politics revolved around several prominent domestic politicians and agents of foreign leaders. Prime Minister Mossadegh governed by his conviction of universal legal supremacy and fervent nationalism. After a prolonged struggle, he nationalized oil facilities of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, which he viewed as an issue of national sovereignty. This act led him to being named Time Man of the Year, with the article described him as, “the Iranian George Washington.” In his Shiite martyr idealism, he refused to compromise with the British, ultimately leading to plots against his authority. Instead, the British chose to support the Shah, whose power had declined relative to the prime minister.

Mohammad Reza Shah, later on the cover of "Time." Note the headline, "Iran: Struggle for Stability." Courtesy of Persian Carpet Guide
Mohammad Reza Shah, later on the cover of “Time.” Note the headline, “Iran: Struggle for Stability.” Courtesy of Persian Carpet Guide

Mohammad Reza Shah was the Shah of Iran, who sought to preserve his own power by collaborating with foreign agents, such as the CIA and MI6, against Mossadegh. Kinzer described the Shah as “timid and indecisive.” He signed the firmans – orders – presented to him by CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, deposing Mossadegh. Roosevelt, “thought leaving Mossadegh in power would “lead only to a Communist Iran or to a second Korea.” While the British viewed the Iranian conflict as one of imperial dominance to President Harry Truman’s dismay. Americans, especially Einsenhower’s State Department and the CIA of the Dulles brothers, viewed the conflict through the lens of the Cold War. The aspirations of these leaders became present in tangible plots, political parties, and establishments.
Several non-state actors played critical roles in the overthrow of Mossadegh. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later AIOP, then BP), a multinational corporation, was largely controlled by the British government, and harmed Iran by exploiting the land of its resources and interfering in Iranian domestic affairs. This was most evident at Abadan, “a classic colonial enclave,” which was a humongous British oil refinery in Iran. Concurrently, Iranian political parties developed in the 1950s. Mossadegh led the National Front, until dissenters, such as the Ayatollah Kashani, led bribed mobs against him. Another Party, the Tudeh, was the communist party of Iran. This party provided British agent ‘Monty’ Woodhouse with an opportunity to win over the Americans for coup. Agent Woodhouse claimed, “Mossadegh was still incapable of resisting a coup by the Tudeh party, if it were backed by Soviet support.” The Mossadegh plot, now led by the CIA and Iranian dissenters, became known as Operation Ajax or official as TPAJAX.

“Mossadegh – Stephen Kinzer – Iranian Democracy “

Operation Ajax was the American effort to dispose of Mossadegh in order to install General Fazlollah Zahedi as Prime Minister. This act would weaken the Tudeh party in Iran. Operation Ajax was a psychological operation (PSYOP), with the CIA influencing up to 80 percent of Tehran’s newspapers against Mossadegh, tarnishing him as anti-Islamic and pro-communist. The overall operation had four phases: Undermine Mossadegh’s public popularity, win over the military, riot in the streets, and then replace Mossadegh with General Fazlollah Zahedi. The original effort on 15 August 1953 failed as pro-government soldiers guarded Mossadegh against the rebellious Imperial Guard under Colonel Nematollah Nasiri. After widely circulating the firmans and bribing mobs, the second attempt succeeded on 18 August 1953.
Kinzer created a fascinating account of 1950s American-Iranian relations. His writing style was enthralling and encouraged the reader to continue. Kinzer also started the novel in medias res, hooking the audience to ask why this event was occurring and how it would end. His historical overview in the chapter, “Curse this fate,” explained the unique situation of the Iranian psyche through its history. His career would allow him access to CIA leaked documents, which would help him explain the intent of the Americans. He used his research material well, such a Kermit Roosevelt’s diary, to portray a vivid scene of the subversion in Tehran. He also included conclusions of Operation Ajax drawn by historians of Iran and political scientists, such as James A. Bill and Mary Ann Heiss. He visited Iran, and interviewed ordinary Iranians for their current opinion on Mossadegh. One shortcoming was that he did not obtain critical evidence of Russian involvement in reaction to Operation Ajax. He also stretched the claim that Operation Ajax, which had direct causation to the Islamic Revolution, led to the 9/11 attacks. He could have included a timeline to assist the audience in following key dates, along with a global context. In Kinzer’s own words for summation, “(All the Shah’s Men is) more than just a remarkable adventure story, it is a sobering message from the past and an object lesson for the future.”

Bibliography

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret History CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953.” National Security Archive of The George Washington University. 29 November 2000: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/

(Note: this source has the PDFs of the official CIA after-action report –Clandestine Service History –  on Operation TPAJAX).

Kinzer, Stephen. “All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; New Jersey, 2003. Ch. 1-3.

Kinzer, Stephen. “All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; New Jersey, 2008. Ch. 4-Epilogue.

The Light Millennium. “New Book – July 2003.”: http://www.lightmillennium.org/index14.html

Mossadegh. Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/mossadegh/photos/3436638

O’Connell, Barry. “Notes on the Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.” Persian Carpet Guide: http://www.persiancarpetguide.com/sw-asia/People/shah_Iran_Mohammed_Reza_Shah_%20Pahlavi.htm

Tpajax. “Mossadegh – Stephen Kinzer – Iranian Democracy”. Youtube.com. 26 April 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYutojeC5Kk

Foreign Policy Connections with Iran

Courtesy of World's Statemen Iran and the University of Texas Library
Courtesy of World’s Statemen Iran and the University of Texas Library

Here’s a list of critical databases that provide objective views on the Iranian Crisis – great resources for research papers!

News Agencies

AP Archive – News Agency with writings and videos from the past: http://www.aparchive.com/

The Atlantic – News and opinion works: http://www.theatlantic.com/

BBC Iran Crisis – News Agency: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/iran_crisis/

CNN – News Agency: http://topics.cnn.com/topics/iran

Diplomatic Courier: http://www.diplomaticourier.com/

Forbes – Business News: http://www.forbes.com/

Foreign Policy – Academic journal: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/category/topic/iran

Iran Press Watch – Blog on the persecution of the Baha’i Community: http://www.iranpresswatch.org/post/category/memoirs

Life Photos – Images from the past: http://life.time.com/

Pars Times: Great links to Iranian Agencies: http://www.parstimes.com/gov_iran.html

Press TV – Multimedia presentations from an Iranian perspective: http://www.presstv.ir/section/3510201.html

Reuters – News Agency: http://www.reuters.com/search?blob=Iran

Russia Today – News Agency with a Eurasian perspective: http://rt.com/tags/iran/

UPI – News Agency with a great archive: http://www.upi.com/

Think Tanks

American Enterprise Institute – Think tank: http://www.irantracker.org/

Cato Institute – Think tank: http://www.cato.org/search/results/Iran

Council on Foreign Relations – Think tank on global geopolitical issues – ‘Crisis Guide – Iran’: http://www.cfr.org/interactives/CG_Iran/index.html#/iran%27s-nuclear-program/

Global Security: Information on Iranian Intelligence agencies as well as proxy organizations (e.g. Hizbullah, Qods, Hamas): http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/world/iran/index.html

International Institute on Counter – Terrorism – Israeli think tank: http://www.ict.org.il/SearchResults/tabid/37/Default.aspx?Search=Iran

International Institute for Strategic Studies – transnational think tank: http://www.iiss.org/en

The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies: Israeli think tank supported by Tel Aviv University: http://www.dayan.org/sear

Pew Report – Statistics on Iran: http://www.pewresearch.org/2013/03/26/iran-key-data-points/

RAND Corporation – Think tank: http://www.rand.org/topics/iran.html

TED: Awesome think tank, with superb videos by regional experts: http://www.ted.com/search?cat=ss_all&q=Iran

Courtesy of Fine Art America
Courtesy of Fine Art America

American Departments / Intelligence Agencies

CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) The World Factbook – American overview of Iran: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ir.html

DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) – American overview of Iran’s Military Power: http://www.dia.mil/public-affairs/testimonies/2010-04-13.html

DOD (Department of Defense)- Occasional news reports on Iran: http://www.defense.gov/

DOS (Department of State) – Diplomacy in Action – Record of American-Iranian Relations (or lack thereof?): http://www.state.gov/p/nea/ci/ir/

Courtesy of http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Iran.htm
Courtesy of http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Iran.htm

Iranian Departments / Intelligence Agencies / Very Important Persons

The Center for Preserving and Publishing the Great Works of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei – has a ‘great’ archive of his speeches:  http://english.khamenei.ir/

The Office of the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei – contains contempory news stories: http://www.leader.ir/langs/en/

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s webpage – domestic developments in Iran: http://www.president.ir/en/

Majils webpage – record of Iranian parliament: http://www.majlis.ir/

NGOs in Iran – mostly drug prevention / HIV awareness groups: http://www.unodc.org/pdf/iran/drug_crime_situation/ddr/ngo/DDR_Telephone_Directory.pdf

IRIB – Iran’s sponsored news agency: http://english.irib.ir/

World Statesman – collection of Iranian history – timeline, flags, and songs: http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Iran.htm

Courtesy of World's Statemen Iran and the University of Texas Library
Courtesy of World’s Statemen Iran and the University of Texas Library

Technology and Warfighting: The Mystique of the Norden Bombsight

Courtesy of War History Online
The Bombsight inside a World War II era bomber. Courtesy of War History Online
Book on the History of the Norden Bombsight, which claimed the weapon used as later as during the Vietnam War! Courtesy of Norden Retirees Club
Book on the History of the Norden Bombsight, which claimed the weapon was used as later as during the Vietnam War!
Courtesy of Norden Retirees Club

In the summer of 2009, My Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Commanding Officer pointed to a reprint of an old World War II photo in my textbook and claimed “This device is one of the key innovations that helped the Allies win the war”. Staring at the picture of the mechanical device in front of me, I thought the Norden bombsight looked more like an unsophisticated paperweight rather than a precursor to the modern computer. But who was this inventor Norden? But how effective was the Norden bombsight? How did it work? Did the research and development price justify the cost? I stumbled across an interesting TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell that challenged my preconceived notions from my AFJROTC curriculum and answered some of my questions of the bombing device.

The first question Malcolm Gladwell answered was who was Norden. Carl Norden was born in Switzerland around 1880. He studied to become an engineer at the Federal Polytech in Zurich. Gladwell claimed that Norden was a typical European engineer – egotistic, resilient, and hard working. Just before World War I, he immigrated to New York. Consumed with interest for the physics of bombing, Norden created the Norden Mark 15 bombsight. He claimed the device was so accurate the bombardier could, “drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at 20,000 feet.” Carl Norden was also a very religious Christian and believed that the device could limit collateral damage.

Courtesy of TED
Malcolm Gladwell at TED. Courtesy of TED

Norden’s invention, The Mark 15 bombsight, was awkward in use, yet it still attracted the Army. The unwieldy device weighed about 50 pounds. The bombardier, after getting a visual line of sight on the target would manually input: the altitude of the plane, the speed of the plane, the speed of the wind, and the coordinates of the target. Gladwell claimed the bombsights were “essentially analogue computers.” The Army was so intrigued by this device that it invested $1.5 billion in 1940 dollars to develop this technology. According to Gladwell, the Army bought 90,000 of these devices at a price of $14,000 per unit leading up to World War II. Ultimately, the U.S. Army trained over 50,000 bombardiers on how to use the Mark 15. The Army heavily embraced operational security to protect the bombsight: bombardiers had to swear never to reveal any secrets about it, it was not allowed to be photographed in public, the device itself contained a self destruction mechanism, and outside the bombers the device had to have an armed detail to guard it. The Army built up a sense of mystique over its ‘secret weapon’ to winning the Second World War.

Courtesy of PBS
The bombsight in action! Courtesy of PBS

On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell then gave an acrimonious criticism of the Norden bombsight. Just like the Navy officers that criticized Billy Mitchell’s sinking of the Ostfriesland, Gladwell claimed that the Norden was only evaluated in controlled environment training simulations. He thought the device was overly hard to program and maintain. The view of the bombardier could be obscured by clouds, which forced the plane to fly exposed or risk an inaccurate bombing run. Gladwell backed up his case with evidence, as he cited the 1944 failed bombing of the Leuna Chemical Plant, in which Allied bombers using the Norden bombsight only managed to drop 10% of their ordinance on target. He also criticized the operational security of the Norden device, as Norden had hired German engineers, who later gave a complete set of schematics to the Nazis in 1938. He then paralleled his criticism of the Norden device to the failure of the Scud hunts of the Gulf War and drones, which he viewed as escalating the Global War on Terror. His scathing critic challenged the luster of the bombsight.

Malcolm Gladwell on the Norden Bombsight

Some of the Army brass thought that the Norden device could be the make or break piece of technology to win the war. Technology can only go so far, and if untested in realistic contemporary battlefield conditions will fail at the decisive point of battle. In my ROTC land navigation experience, I was trained on using terrain association and dead reckoning with only a protractor and a compass, rather than using a GPS, which could become distorted due to atmospheric conditions. While the precision of Norden bombsight seemed to be ‘the next thing,’ carpet bombing and nuclear devices, coupled with bloody infantry assaults and occupation, won World War II. Despite massive investment and effort by the technology enamored Army, the mystique of the Norden bombsight failed to hold up in the field according to Malcolm Gladwell.

Sources:
Allison, William T., Jeffrey Grey, and Janet G. Valentine. American Military History: A Survey From Colonial Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle Rive, NJ: Pearson, 2013.

Dufrene, Dennis. Technology in World War II That Changed History. “War History Online”: http://www.warhistoryonline.com/featured-article/technology-in-world-war-ii-that-changed-history.html JAN. 2013.

Malcolm Gladwell’s TED speaker blog: http://www.ted.com/speakers/malcolm_gladwell.html
TED Talks. “Malcolm Gladwell: The strange tale of the Norden bombsight.” OCT. 2011. http://on.ted.com/Gladwell11

“The Norden Bomb Sight.” ‘Flight.’ 16 August 1945. pp. 180-181. http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1945/1945%20-%201626.htm

Pardini, Edward. “The Legendary Norden Bombsight.”: http://www.nordenretireesclub.org/level2/pardini.htm

PBS. “War Plane Gallery: Key Innovations.”: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/warplane/programfeature8.html

lThe Norden Bombsight p. 180.

The Norden Bombsight from another viewpoint p. 181.

Who’s in Grant Memoirs? – Grant!

Cover of the Personal Memoirs
Cover of the Personal Memoirs

Back in the sunny pastures of high school APUSH, or Advanced Placement U.S. History, I first heard of Ulysses S. Grant, a cigar chomping general that later became president. I had only heard that he commanded troops at the Battle of Shiloh, but was unaware of his significance and scope in U.S. history. But who was he – really? I figured one of the best places to discover the essence of Grant would be his acclaimed memoirs, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Complete, that were mentioned in class. Fortunately, the memoirs are completely free and accessible online at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4367/4367-h/4367-h.htm. My journey to find the historical Grant had begun.

My first impression was surprise due to the sheer impressive nature of the work. He wrote the memoirs in two volumes. This contradicted what I had always envisioned of him as the ‘strong-silent’ type, rather than an avid writer. It appears Grant wrote the memoirs in New York around 1885 after injuring himself and becoming financially destitute as he described his situation in the preface. The work was composed in over seventy chapters, which seemed to be comprehensive from his boyhood through major engagements of both the Mexican American War and the Civil War, until the final surrender of the South. Like a competent officer, he included several annexes such as maps, ‘fac-similies’, and illustrations to further explain his points. The prose was very clear and concise, just like his orders during the war.

In the early chapters, Grant recounted his background. He noted his ancestors had settled in American in the 1630s – truly an ‘All-American’ background. He also emphasized the military service of his ancestors in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, which set a family precedent. He recorded his initial exposure to school and remarked, “I was not studious in habit.” I found his reaction to being appointed to West Point to be almost comical. Grant’s father had been friends with Senator Thomas Morris, and had been planning to get Grant appointed to West Point, unbeknownst to him. When his father told him of the appointment in the winter of 1838-1839, he initial refused to go as he felt the possibility of failure at the academy. Ultimately, Grant was convinced by his father and his wander-lust to attend the United States Military Academy. He was personally motivated by an inspection by General Winfield Scott, one of the main heroes of The War of 1812. During the wish list of branch selection, he chose dragoons over the infantry, but got assigned as a foot soldier. However, he was mocked in Ohio because of his uniform by a scruff child and by an innkeeper. Grant’s initial reaction to military life was interesting because he had his own personal adventure with it, and did not always get the consequence he hoped for, just like any officer cadet.

BREVET SECOND LIEUTENANT U. S. GRANT AT THE AGE OF 21 YEARS, FROM AN OLD DAGUERREOTYPE TAKEN AT BETHEL, CLERMONT COUNTY, OHIO, IN 1843. ENGRAVED ON STEEL BY A. H. RITCHIE, N.A…Frontispiece in Personal Memoirs
BREVET SECOND LIEUTENANT U. S. GRANT AT THE AGE OF 21
YEARS, FROM AN OLD DAGUERREOTYPE TAKEN AT BETHEL,
CLERMONT COUNTY, OHIO, IN 1843. ENGRAVED ON STEEL
BY A. H. RITCHIE, N.A…Frontispiece in Personal Memoirs

Grant then recorded the various combat engagements he fought in. In the Mexican-American War, these included the Battles of Palo Alto, Buena Vista, and the invasion of Mexico City itself. He was promoted during these campaigns, rising to the rank of First Lieutenant. After this period of intense conflict, he moved to California, started a family, and even resigned from his commission.

However, he soon returned to the fray during the Civil War, initially in the West, fighting at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, then at Shiloh, and climaxing in the Siege of Vicksburg – ending the first volume. The second volume started with the Battle of Chattanooga. Grant, taking control of the Army in 1864, then detailed the campaigns of his subordinates William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, as well as major battles, such as Cold Harbor, Spotsylvania, and the siege of Petersburg. He concluded the memoirs with the negotiations at Appomattox and his overall remarks on the war. Slavery, which at first he had no opinion on, “was a degradation which the North would not permit any longer.” These views coincided with acclaimed historian James M. McPherson text For Cause and Comrades, especially the fact of Union troops who had no side in the slavery debate became de facto abolitionists during their occupation of the South as they were repulsed by the wretched condition of slaves. He also gave poignant prescriptions such as, “To maintain peace in the future it is necessary to be prepared for war.” Such quotes are both stirring and haunting – truly the work of a wise man and an interesting way to close his memoirs.

Map of the Siege of Vicksburg from the Personal Memoirs
Map of the Siege of Vicksburg from the Personal Memoirs

So who was Grant? He was an ordinary man from Ohio, with a compelling background, who experienced engagements during the Mexican War that he applied in the Civil War, both in the Eastern and Western theatre of operations. Despite some character flaws, he was an outstanding general, the commander the United States needed to win the Civil War in its darkest hour. His memoirs were comprehensive – more so than I realized – and thought provoking almost 150 years after they were written.

Sources:
Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Complete. New York:    Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4367/4367-h/4367-h.htm#ch2

McPherson, James M. For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Spirit of ’76… 2076: The Binding Features of the Modern American Army

Spirit of 76… 2076:
The Binding Features of the Modern American Army:

What makes the modern U.S. Army Soldier? Is it the ACU or ASU uniform the Soldier wears? Is it complaining about the MREs, especially the vegetarian ones (even if they come with the elusive Soldier Bar)? Is it the crazy story from Basic about getting smoked at 0430, doing flutter kicks because of a missing sensitive item – ear pro? Not really. What binds the Army is its unity in its purpose, as exemplified in the Army Values, the Warrior Ethos, and the Soldier’s Creed, as much as the Spirit of ’76 bound the rag-tag patriots together. These creeds and values create the universal foundation for all U.S. Army Soldiers.

The Army Values set the standard for behavior action for all U.S. Army Soldiers. There are seven, easily remembered by the acronym (LDRSHIP). Loyalty is defined as “bearing witness to your allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and its ideals, to the Army, to your unit, to your fellow Soldiers and subordinates, and to yourself as an Army professional” (Foundations of Leadership, p. 141). U.S. Army Soldiers are not mercenaries; their legitimacy is tied to the government. Duty is defined as, “fulfilling all your professional, legal, and moral obligations” (ibid.). When an Army Soldier says he’ll do something, he will do so, even if he’s not supervised. The quintessential value is respect, or, “promoting dignity, fairness, and equal opportunity for others” (Foundations of Leadership, p. 142). The Army stresses CO2, or consideration of others, stressing empathy and sympathy for one’s battle buddy. Selfless service is described as, “placing Army priorities before your own” (ibid.). A good example of this is when ROTC cadets participate in Color Guard, giving up their free time for the community at large. Honor – “the prime motivation for your actions” (ibid), following and exceeding the standards set forth by your CO. “Integrity” or wholeness means being sincere and meaning what you say (ibid). The final value is personal courage, or acting with physical or moral courage (ibid.). Sometimes you get out of your comfort zone and get raddled, but you must push through to accomplish the mission. These values unite Soldiers, by setting a definite ethical standard.

The Soldier’s Creed, especially the Warrior Ethos summarizes the commitment of the U.S. Army Soldier to his mission, comrades, and commander. The statement is;

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Sometimes Soldiers get placed in compromised, difficult situations in the contemporary operations environment. This creed and ethos allows the soldier to clearly state his priorities and act accordingly as a unit and a member of a team.

Soldiers cannot be identified by race, gender, age, or uniform. They are bound by common values and creeds. I’ve met U.S. Army Soldiers from every spectrum of society; one was adopted from Russia (often addressed affectionately as ‘comrade’), and another went to high school in Nigeria. Some Soldiers are gung-ho, talking about Ranger School, as others talk about what they will eat next (or won’t) at the DFAC. Other Soldiers excel at Land Nav, while other rock out STX lanes. But these are secondary attributes. The Continental Army was composed of New England gentry, Pennsylvanian country folk, and ‘swamp foxes’ of the South, all with different backgrounds. Yet all these factions came together for independence, a universal cause. This universal cause continues today. The Army is a reflection of Soldiers bound by common universal values and a creed, “and the Army goes rolling along”…

# HIS 201, Blog Post 1

# HIS-201
Courtesy of: http://www.usamm.com/warrior-ethos-bumper-sticker.html

# HIS 201

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