The Largest Mass Execution in American History?

On August 17, 1862, four Sioux Indians attacked and killed five white settlers while on a hunting expedition in Minnesota. A series of attacks known as the Dakota War followed until the U.S. Army quelled the unrest. In the aftermath, President Abraham Lincoln approved the largest mass execution in U.S. history, a record that still stands today. But why did the Sioux launch the Dakota War in the first place?

The Dakota War?

The origins of the Dakota War can be traced back to 1851 when the U.S. government forced the Sioux Indians to sign the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and the Treaty of Mendota. These agreements required the Sioux to give up large parcels of land and move onto an Indian reservation near the Minnesota River. In exchange, the Sioux were given $1.4 million of money and goods. This amounted to about $0.03 per acre and the U.S. government profited handsomely by selling the land to white settlers for $1.25 per acre. In fact, it profited even more than you might expect since most of the promised compensation was never paid, was stolen by the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs, or was otherwise “lost.”

As the 1850s rolled on, the U.S. government continuously violated the two treaties and failed to make payments to the Sioux. The Sioux fell into a state of permanent debt with local traders and thus, the few payments that were made often went directly to the traders. At the same time, crop failure made the Sioux increasingly dependent on the payments. Hungry and angry about the very real possibility that they were being cheated by the Bureau and the traders, the Sioux demanded that the payments be made directly to them. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs agent refused to provide food or supplies under that condition.

Two days later, a Sioux hunting party attacked and killed five white settlers while on a hunting expedition. That night, the Sioux council effectively declared the Dakota War on the settlers. A series of attacks followed. After a few setbacks to U.S. forces, President Lincoln sent General John Pope to lead the counterattack.

“It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.” ~ General John Pope

The Dakota War Ends…& Trials Begin

By December, the short-lived Dakota War was over. At least 500 U.S. soldiers and white settlers perished in the Dakota War. Sioux casualties are estimated about 70 to 100. In the aftermath, General Pope subjected hundreds of men, women, and children to five-minute military trials. 303 Indians were found guilty of rape and/or murder and sentenced to death. However, they were not given the opportunity to defend themselves and in any case, were condemned for participation in the Dakota War rather than for specific crimes.

President Lincoln Approves the Largest Mass Execution in History

General Pope and Minnesota’s representatives urged President Lincoln to approve the execution. However, Lincoln was still in the midst of the Civil War and was concerned that an execution of that size, based on no evidence and a heavily biased military tribunal, might anger European nations who would then throw their support to the Confederate States of America. So, he pared down the list to 39 names. In order to appease disgruntled settlers and Minnesota operatives, he promised to eventually kill or remove all Indians from Minnesota and offered $2 million in federal funds compensation.

On December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux Indians were hanged, marking the largest one-day execution in American history (one Sioux was granted a reprieve). Within the course of a year, Lincoln made good on his promise, driving the remaining Sioux out of Minnesota and into Nebraska and South Dakota.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Thanks to the politically-motivated Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln might just be the biggest sacred cow in all of U.S. history. Even this mass execution is viewed favorably by many Lincoln scholars, as they point out that he spared the lives of over 260 Sioux Indians. But the fact remains that he ordered the execution of 38 individuals, despite knowing that their individual guilt in the Dakota War could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unfortunately, their deaths didn’t bring an end to the violence. After the Civil War ended, General Sherman waged war against the Plains Indians, designed to bring about “the final solution of the Indian problem.” By 1890, his dream had become a reality – all of the Plains Indians had either been killed or placed on a reservation.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Wild West Coverage

The Plot to Assassinate Jefferson Davis?

On March 2, 1864, William Littlepage was searching the pockets of a dead Union officer just outside of Richmond, VA. But instead of a pocketwatch or other baubles, Littlepage discovered two mysterious documents. These papers, now known as the Dahlgren Papers, cast light on a plot designed to bring an end to the Confederate States of America. Were Union leaders planning to assassinate President Jefferson Davis?

The Dahlgren Affair?

By March 2, 1864, the Union had taken control of the Civil War and Confederate hopes of victory seemed increasingly dim. Ulysses S. Grant was just a week away from taking over the responsibilities of Commanding General of the United States Army. And President Lincoln, along with his top generals, had reached the conclusion that the only way to break the South was to wage total war.

It was with this backdrop that 13-year old Littlepage found himself searching the dead body of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who’d been killed earlier that day in a failed raid on Richmond, VA. After discovering the documents, Littlepage took them to his teacher, Edward Halbach. Halbach quickly examined the papers and realized he had a veritable bomb in front of him.

The papers described a plan to raid and torch Richmond, VA. The idea for the attack had originated from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was known as “Kill-Cavalry” due to his willingness to sacrifice his own troops as well as Confederate troops in order to achieve his goals. The plan was for Dahlgren’s cavalry to enter the city from the south. After stopping to free Union prisoners and meet up with Kilpatrick, the enlarged force would descend upon Richmond in order to “destroy and burn the hateful city.”

The Plot to Kill Jefferson Davis?

A second set of orders, which were probably intended for Captain John Mitchell (Dahlgren’s second-in-command), provided more detail on the plot.

“We will try and secure the bridge to the city, (one mile below Belle Isle,) and release the prisoners at the same time. If we do not succeed they must then dash down, and we will try and carry the bridge from each side. When necessary, the men must be filed through the woods and along the river bank. The bridges once secured, and the prisoners loose and over the river, the bridges will be secured and the city destroyed. The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.” ~ Dahlgren Papers, as published in the Richmond Sentinel (3/5/1864)

Although the Civil War was horrendous and bloody, it had been fought as a sort of “Gentleman’s Affair” up until that point. However, the Dahlgren Papers appeared to change that by targeting Jefferson Davis for assassination.

The papers were swiftly transported up the Confederacy’s chain of command. And by March 4, they’d reached President Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis agreed to release them to the press and by March 5, the Richmond Daily Dispatch was blaring the headline, “The Last Raid of the Infernals.”

Northerners were skeptical of the papers and declared them to be fraudulent. But the Confederacy was not swayed. Angered by the assassination plot, President Jefferson Davis decided to release Confederate prisoners into Northern cities. He hoped that this would create fear and chaos, thus buying valuable time for his fledgling nation.

Were the Dahlgren Papers Authentic?

On March 30, General Robert E. Lee sent a copy of the Dahlgren Papers to Northern General George Meade and expressed his desire to know if the orders had been authorized by the U.S. government. Meade asked Kilpatrick to investigate. Kilpatrick responded that he’d endorsed the Papers…or at least part of them. He claimed that the sections about burning Richmond and killing President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had been added after the fact. With that, the official investigation pretty much came to an end.

But privately, General Meade was suspicious. He thought that the Dahlgren Papers were authentic. And since Kilpatrick was Dahlgren’s superior officer, it stood to reason that Kilpatrick might’ve been the one to issue the order. Thus, as Stephen Sears said in his book Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, relying on Kilpatrick to handle the investigation was “equivalent to ordering the fox to investigate losses in the henhouse.”

What happened to the Dahlgren Papers?

In July 1864, Dahlgren’s father went public to declare the Dahlgren Papers “a bare-faced atrocious forgery.” He based this upon a photographic copy of the original orders, in which his son’s signature was misspelled as “Dalhgren.” Others pointed out that the orders had been written on both sides of thin paper. Thus, the misspelling might’ve been nothing more than ink leaking through the paper. Unfortunately, it was impossible to say for certain…

…because the Dahlgren Papers had vanished.

At the end of 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requested the Dahlgren Papers from Francis Lieber, who headed up the Confederate archives. In 1879, Lieber requested the papers back. But they had gone missing. In his article, “The Dahlgren Papers,” James Hall sums up current opinion on the fate of the papers.

“Perhaps it is an uncharitable thought, but the suspicion lingers that Stanton consigned them to the fireplace in his office.” ~ James Hall, “The Dahlgren Papers,” Civil War Times Illustrated (November 1983)

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

While the origin of the orders remains in question, there is a growing consensus, led by historians such as Sears, that they were probably authentic. And if this is the case, there is a decent chance that President Lincoln himself was aware of the assassination attempt on Jefferson Davis. Interestingly enough, this may have indadvertedly led to his own death.

The targeting of President Jefferson Davis was, in effect, a declaration of total war upon the South. The South, led by the mysterious Confederate Secret Service, responded in kind. As reported in Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, this shadowy organization set out to kidnap President Lincoln in order to sue for peace. But when that effort fell short and General Lee was forced to surrender in April 1865, the Confederate Secret Service enacted one final operation…the assassination of President Lincoln.

“Judson Kilpatrick, Ulric Dahlgren, and their probable patron Edwin Stanton set out to engineer the death of the Confederacy’s president; the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of their effort may have included the death of their own president.” ~ Stephen Sears, The Dahlgren Papers Revisited

Did Game Theory Save Mankind?

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union wielded enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons. Citizens of the world lived in fear that the conflict would someday heat up, resulting in a devastating nuclear war that would destroy the world. Into this confusion and terror stepped the RAND Corporation and a team of Game Theory experts. Did Game Theory stop Mutually Assured Destruction and save mankind?

Game Theory: The Prisoner’s Dilemma?

The chart above represents the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In this game, two men are arrested for various crimes. However, the police lack enough information to make the main crime stick. So, the police separate the men and offer them both the same deal. If one prisoner confesses while the other one doesn’t, the confessor will go free while the other prisoner will serve a full 20 year sentence. If both prisoners confess, they will each receive a ten year term. However, if both prisoners keep quiet, they will each be charged with a lesser crime and receive a one year term. This is a one-time situation and the prisoners are not told of each other’s decision. What should they do?

Game Theory: Solving the Prisoner’s Dilemma?

If Prisoner B confesses, Prisoner A’s best strategy is to confess as well since 10 years is a shorter term than 20 years. If Prisoner B doesn’t confess, Prisoner A’s best strategy is still to confess since being free is better than a year in prison. Thus, Prisoner A’s best choice is to confess. Knowing this, Prisoner B will do the same thing and they will both go to jail for 10 years. What makes this game interesting is that the prisoners would be better off if they both kept quiet. And yet, logic dictates that they both confess instead.

Game Theory & Mutually Assured Destruction?

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were in a nuclear stand-off. So, the RAND Corporation hired some of the world’s top game theorists to study the situation. At the time, both nations had the same policy: “If one side launched a first strike, the other threatened to answer with a devastating counter-strike.”

This became known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD for short. And indeed, the idea of this happening was “mad” since it could’ve brought about a nuclear winter. However, game theorists were worried about Mutually Assured Destruction. They thought the two countries had boxed themselves into a prisoner’s dilemma that could threaten mankind’s very existence. Here’s how it worked:

“Suppose the USSR launches a first strike against the USA. At that point, the American President finds his country already destroyed. He doesn’t bring it back to life by now blowing up the world, so he has no incentive to carry out his original threat to retaliate, which has now manifestly failed to achieve its point. Since the Russians can anticipate this, they should ignore the threat to retaliate and strike first. Of course, the Americans are in an exactly symmetric position, so they too should strike first. Each power will recognize this incentive on the part of the other, and so will anticipate an attack if they don’t rush to preempt it. What we should therefore expect…is a race between the two powers to be the first to attack.” ~ Don Ross

Strategies to Deter Mutually Assured Destruction

This analysis led the RAND Corporation to recommend the United States taking actions designed to show their commitment to Mutually Assured Destruction. One strategy was to ensure that “second-strike capability” existed. A second strategy was to make leaders appear irrational. The CIA portrayed President Nixon as insane and/or a drunk. The KGB, which appears to have come to the same conclusion as RAND, responded by fabricating medical records to show that General Secretary Brezhnev was senile.

Another strategy was to introduce uncertainty at stopping Stop Mutually Assured Destruction. For example, by building more nuclear missiles and storing them in numerous locations, it was less likely that the President could stop all of them from being launched in the event of a Russian attack. A third strategy was to ensure Mutually Assured Destruction. Russia went so far as to create Perimeter, or Dead Head, which was the closest thing this world’s ever seen to a doomsday machine.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, did the game theorists save the world from Mutually Assured Destruction? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know for certain. But advancements in game theory have shown that the Cold War models weren’t really accurate. Nuclear war was usually modeled as a one-time game. But as long as one preserved second strike capabilities, the “game” would’ve been played over and over again with both sides exchanging repeated waves of missiles.

The outcome of nuclear war is the same whether one initiates an attack or responds to it. And since this outcome is worse than “no nuclear war,” the optimal move is to not launch missiles. Of course, this depends on a number of assumptions. Second-strike capabilities must be available and known to the other side. Both sides must have perfection detection equipment since a false positive like the one recognized by the heroic Stanislav Petrov could lead to nuclear war. Perfectly rational leaders must be in place. And finally, both sides must be unable to defend an incoming attack.

Still, one could argue that the game theorists were on the right track. By making it clear that retaliation was more likely than not, both nations managed to discourage each other from ever launching a single missile. Then again, it was never clear that the maximum payoff for either side was to destroy its enemy while avoiding its own destruction. Indeed, maybe the games being played weren’t just between nations but rather, within them as well.

“A wise cynic might suggest that the operations researchers on both sides were playing a cunning strategy in a game over funding, one that involved them cooperating with one another in order to convince their politicians to allocate more resources to weapons.” ~ Don Ross

What was Greek Fire?

In 672 AD, Theophanes the Confessor reported that “Kallinikos, an artificer from Heliopolis…had devised a sea fire which ignited the Arab ships and burned them with all hands. Thus it was that the Romans returned with victory and discovered the sea fire.” What was this strange Greek fire?

What was Greek Fire?

Greek fire was an ancient incendiary weapon of mass destruction. In the hands of the Byzantine Empire, it was a terrifying force. Greek fire differed from other similar weapons in history in four curious ways. First, it burned continuously, even underwater. Second, it consisted of a liquid substance. Third, it was propelled through the air via pressurized siphons (see picture above). And fourth, when used in battle, it was accompanied by “thunder” and “smoke.”

The exact formula for this strange weapon was a closely guarded secret and has since been lost to time. One 11th century scholar, George Kedrenos, speculated that the family of Kallinikos kept the formula a secret for centuries, even up until his time. Regardless, modern researchers speculate that possible ingredients might’ve included sulphur, naphtha, petroleum, quicklime, or phosphorous. In his article, Greek Fire: The Best Kept Secret of the Ancient World, 1LT Richard Groller makes an interesting case for petroleum.

“It is very probable then, that the basis of the earliest Greek fire was liquid rectified petroleum or volatile petrol. Petrol itself would not be very effective in flame-projectors since the projected jet dissipates too rapidly. But thickened almost to a jelly by dissolving in it resinous substances and/or sulphur the particular admixture, coupled with the mechanical means of projecting it, together constituted a great achievement of chemical engineering.” ~ 1LT Richard Groller

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Like all weapons, Greek fire had its limitations. It exhibited limited range and enemy vessels soon learned to keep their distance from it. Also, heavy winds and other conditions limited its effectiveness while causing serious safety problems for its users. Still, for a short period of time, Greek fire was the most terrifying and devastating weapon known to man.

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

In 1967, Dial Press published a book called Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It remains one of the most controversial works of all time. Who wrote the Report from Iron Mountain? What does it say? And most importantly…is it real?

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

The Report from Iron Mountain purports to be the findings of a 15-man Special Study Group. It hints that it was commissioned in 1963 by the Department of Defense and was produced by the Hudson Institute, which is located at the base of Iron Mountain in New York. The purpose of the supposed top-secret study was “…to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of ‘permanent peace’ should arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency.”

The Report from Iron Mountain states that from a historical perspective, war has been the only reliable way for a government to perpetuate itself. Fear of an enemy will cause civilians to accept government intrusion into their lives. Also, war creates loyalty for political leaders. But during times of peace, people begin to turn against taxes and intrusion.

“The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its ‘legitimacy,’ or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements.” ~ Report from Iron Mountain

The Report from Iron Mountain sought to find a credible substitute for war and considered several ideas such as an alien invasion. However, aliens were ultimately discarded for an “environmental-pollution model.” In passages that are eerily prescient of the current global warming debate, the Report proposes that people would be willing to accept a lower standard of living, higher taxes, and increased governmental intrusion in order to “save Mother Earth.”

Was the Report from Iron Mountain Real?

As you can imagine, the Report from Iron Mountain sent giant waves rippling throughout the world back in 1967. It became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into fifteen languages. Its authenticity quickly came under question, a debate that continues to this day.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s an authentic document. In 1967, the U.S. News and World report claimed that the report was real and that it had confirmation to that effect. In 1976, John Kenneth Galbraith (under a pseudonym) wrote in the Washington Post that he had been invited to participate in the Special Study Group.

“As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so would I testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservation relates only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

On the other hand, Leonard Lewin, who wrote the original introduction to the book, came forward in 1972 and claimed to be the author. He said that it was meant to be a satire. Supposedly, he got the idea from a New York Timesarticle that discussed how a “peace scare” led to a stock-market sell-off.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, who wrote the Report? In all likelihood, Lewin was indeed the author. In 1990, Liberty Lobby published its own edition, claiming that the study was in the public domain since it was a U.S. government document. Lewin sued for copyright infringement and received an undisclosed settlement.

The bigger question regards its authenticity. Most scholars consider it a hoax. Still, numerous groups continue to believe that the Report from Iron Mountain is genuine and that Lewin only called it a hoax on orders from the United States government. Others would say that whether its authentic or not misses the point. What really matters is that the ideas presented in the document are no longer just ideas…they are rapidly becoming a reality.

Did Protestors Spit on Vietnam Veterans?

It’s a well-known story. After serving in the Vietnam War, a veteran returned home to America only to find himself viciously attacked at the airport by anti-war protestors. He was called “Baby killer” among other names. And then someone invariably stepped forward and spat directly into his face. There’s just one problem with that story. According to sociologist Jerry Lembcke, it’s nothing more than a myth…a modern stab in the back legend.

Chaos!

Before we get started here, I wanted you to know that I released my first novel, Chaos, on Monday. It’s an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy of Chaos at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Did Protestors Spit on Vietnam Veterans?

Back in 1998, Lembcke wrote The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. In it, he made the rather extraordinary claim that the shabby treatment of Vietnam veterans as they deboarded their planes was nothing more than a “stab in the back legend,” concocted to discredit the anti-war movement. He followed that up in 2005 with a widely-read opinion piece in the Boston Globe.

To make a long story short, Lembcke researched news reports from the late 1960s and early 1970s. He failed to find a single story about protestors spitting on veterans. However, he did find a substantial increase in claims during the 1980s. He examined these claims and found them largely lacking in credibility for two reasons.

  1. Lack of Means: “GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops.”
  2. Lack of Proof: “A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming. Far from spitting on veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed them into its ranks and thousands of veterans joined the opposition to the war.”

Lembcke speculates that the reason for the persisting image is that pro-war Hawks wished to blame the loss of the Vietnam War on the anti-war protestors. This would make it a variation of the “Stab in the Back legend.”

A Modern Stab in the Back Legend?

But Lembcke takes it one step further. He observed that many of the stories cast girls in the role of spitters. As such, he states his opinion that the stories were mythical projections in the Freudian sense. In other words, soldiers created these stab in the back stories as manifestations of fears that they had lost their masculinity by fighting in a losing effort.

Interestingly enough, there is some historical precedent that could back up this stab in the back theory. Apparently, many German soldiers after World War I and French soldiers after the defeat at Dien Bien Phu shared stories of being rejected by women and being ashamed of their military service.

Rebuttal to the Stab in the Back Legend Theory?

His book caused a firestorm in 2007 when Jack Shafer published an article for Slate Magazine entitled, “Newsweek Throws the Spitter.” Several conservative-oriented blogs noticed the story and began to attack Lembcke’s research on this modern Stab in the Back legend. Most notably, Jim Lindgren wrote several pieces for The Volokh Conspiracy, one of which contained numerous newspaper articles from the 1960s and 1970s that discussed veterans who’d been spat upon.

The rising debate brought to prominence a book written by Bob Greene in 1989 entitled Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam. Greene, who’d worked at the Chicago Tribune, compiled the book from letters he’d solicited from veterans. His research included 63 stories that involved a veteran being spat upon and 69 stories from veterans who believed that no veteran had ever been spat upon. Greene ended up questioning many of the accounts of spitting but ultimately decided “there were simply too many letters, going into too fine detail, to deny the fact.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, what are we to make of all this information? First, it’s impossible to prove the negative. Thus, we can never definitively proof that no Vietnam veteran was ever spat upon. Second, there is no physical evidence of a spitting attack. No pictures, no video, nothing. It’s all eyewitness accounts.

It seems probable that it must’ve happened somewhere, sometime. I find it hard to imagine that no soldier was ever spat upon by an anti-war protestor. The real question is whether it occurred with any degree of frequency. Did it happen all the time? Or was it just isolated examples?

Personally, I would guess it happened infrequently. True, Lindgren has unearthed stories of spitting from the period and thus, seemingly upended part of Lembcke’s thesis. But these are a drop in the bucket compared to the over 500,000 American soldiers that fought in some capacity during that war.

The issue of spitting during the Vietnam War may seem small, even irrelevant today. However, it’s important to remember the role that the spitting imagery has played in America’s current military conflicts. In many ways, this stab in the back legend has led to the current “Support the Troops” slogan, which is based on the idea that we don’t what to treat today’s soldiers like we treated the Vietnam Veterans. And some would argue that “Support the Troops” is really nothing more than a slogan used by pro-war Hawks to intimidate anti-war Doves and maintain support for wars that would otherwise be increasingly unpopular.

“With no more context than that, one of my students said she was undecided about the war, but as long as the troops were fighting it was really important to ‘support the troops and we have to support the mission…’ Now is not the time to be critical of the war, it was, in her mind…all mixed together.” ~ Jerry Lembcke, How the Myth of Spat on Vets Holds Back the Anti-War Movement

How did the Incas Build their Empire?

The Inca Empire was the mightiest of its kind in the history of Pre-Columbian America. But how did it get so large? Was it through peaceful trade and political alliances? Or did the Incas expand via bloody conquest?

The Rise of the Inca Empire?

The Inca Empire originated in the Andes Mountains during the early 13th century. Beginning in 1438, it spread across the western half of South America, eventually covering a vast territory which encompassed over 2,000 miles and some 6 million people.

While military force was undoubtedly a factor in this expansion, recent scholarship suggests it wasn’t as prevalent as you might think. In a recent paper published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, anthropologists Valerie Andrushko and Elva Torres state their opinion that the Incas depended on a variety of nonviolent tactics to spread their influence across the region. As reported by Bruce Bower at Science News, they based this on skeletal remains dating to 600-1532 AD, which were recovered from areas close to the heart of the former Incan Empire. More specifically, only a small percentage of 454 adult skeletons show the sort of head trauma one might expect from battle wounds.

“It appears that the Inca relied less on warfare to conquer other groups and more on political alliances, bloodless takeovers and ideological control tactics.” ~ Professor Valerie Andrushko, Southern Connecticut State University

That’s not to say that the threat of violence wasn’t a factor. According to ancient Spanish accounts, the Incas established a protection racket of sorts. They offered military protection to other groups in exchange for complete submission. Woe to any group that refused the offer. Such defiance was met by swift retribution from the nearby Inca army.

How Violent was the Inca Empire?

For many years, scholars considered the Incas to be “great civilizers responsible for ending several centuries of regional warfare by conquering all groups engaged in hostilities.” These original perceptions were shaped by members of the Inca Empire itself, which relayed the history of its people to the Spanish conquerors.

Since that time, scholars have unearthed circumstantial evidence calling that theory into question. And Valerie’s and Elva’s research would seem to add credence to the idea that the Incas relied less on war to expand their empire than is commonly believed. But that doesn’t mean the Incas eschewed warfare. In fact, the rise of the Inca Empire corresponded with an increased level of warfare.

“Before the Inca came to power, from 600 to 1000, only one of 36 individuals in the sample suffered war-related head injuries. As the Inca empire grew from 1000 to 1400, five of 199 individuals, or 2.5 percent, living near Cuzco incurred likely battle wounds. During the Inca heyday, from 1400 to 1532, war injuries affected 17 of 219 individuals — 7.8 percent of the total.” ~ Bruce Bower, Science News

It appears that Valerie and Elva consider the rise in war-like fatalities after 1400 to be relatively small, especially for a rapidly expanding empire. They might be right and there is certainly some evidence that the Incas preferred to use the threat of violence rather than violence itself to get what they wanted. Unfortunately, due to the extremely small sample size as well as its geographic isolation, it’s difficult to make a firm statement with much certainty. The Incas conquered a large area and skeletal data from other regions needs to be gathered and evaluated – especially those places that were supposedly conquered by force.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Even if future skeletal data bears out Valerie’s and Elva’s conclusions, it doesn’t tell us much about the Incas themselves. The Inca Empire appeared to depend heavily on the threat of war and appeared ready and willing to back it up if their demands weren’t met. Thus, the only thing the skeletal data can truly tell us is how defiant the other groups remained in the face of Inca Empire aggression…and how far they were willing to go to maintain their sovereignty.

Was the French Resistance a Myth?

The French Resistance is a term used to describe the loosely-connected French freedom fighters who conducted secret raids and sabotage attacks against the occupying Nazi forces during World War II. For many years, they’ve been celebrated for their heroic sacrifices and efforts to help the Allies defeat the Axis Powers. But not everyone believes this portrayal. Was the French Resistance nothing more than a myth?

Was the French Resistance just a Modern Myth?

In 1997, military historian Douglas Porch published The French Secret Services: A History of French Intelligence from the Drefus Affair to the Gulf War. His book blew a gigantic hole in the legend of the French Resistance and caused tremendous controversy in France. A review published by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996 prior to the book’s publication sums up a few of its arguments as follows:

“Those few French who helped downed airmen often did so for the money. The standard reward for getting an escapee into Spain was about $50,000 in today’s money.”

“Contrary to the myth, the French Resistance didn’t rise up after D-Day, June 6, 1944, to attack Germans behind the front lines. Sabotage of the Nazi war machine was minimal.”

“Only about 5 percent of the French were even nominally members of the underground. Of these, scarcely any ever fired a shot in anger, dynamited a train or sent a clandestine radio message.”

How Large was the French Resistance?

I first learned about the heroics of the French Resistance many years ago. So I found the revelations in Porch’s book surprising to say the least. But as I read more on the subject, I learned that his statements weren’t that unique. In fact, many historians today believe that the movement was quite small and ineffective. That’s not to say that resistance fighters didn’t exist in France nor that some of them didn’t take great risks. But still, the image of the French Resistance propagated by popular media and even many text books appears far different than what actually occurred. As “Old Werther” wrote…

“for most of the war, the 30—50 German occupation divisions took no part in anti-resistance activities…the number of actual anti-resistance security forces in France (the Feldsicherheitsdienst) probably did not exceed 6,500 at any stage of the war. That in a country of over 40 million!”

According to Porch, the myth of the French Resistance originated with Charles de Gaulle. While serving as the leader of the Free French government and the French Communists, de Gaulle worked to create a certain image of the French citizenry in order to improve his own position with the Allies. But if Porch is right, then how do we explain President Dwight Eisenhower’s opinion?

“Throughout France, the Free French had been of inestimable value in the campaign. They were particularly active in Brittany, but on every portion of the front we secured help from them in a multitude of ways. Without their great assistance the liberation of France and the defeat of the enemy in Western Europe would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves.” ~ President Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe

Porch claims that Eisenhower deliberately inflated the value of the French Resistance as a favor to de Gaulle. Apparently, he felt bad for how other wartime leaders treated de Gaulle and wanted to make amends.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The true value of the French Resistance remains a subject of some debate. However, it seems clear that its general worth has been greatly inflated over the years. As for whether the media or popular history will ever reflect that fact, well, we will have to wait and see.

U.S. Invasion Plans for…Canada?

In 1930, the United States formally approved “War Plan Red.” Although never put into action, the plan caused a major international rift when it was declassified in 1974. Did the United States really plan to go to war…with Great Britain?

War Plan Red: The Most Sensitive Document on Earth?

My how times have changed. Today Great Britain is viewed by American political leaders as its greatest ally. But back in 1930, opinions were decidedly different. Americans harbored suspicious feelings toward its former ruler. In addition, Great Britain was indebted to America to the tune of £9 billion thanks to the so-called “Great War.”

But those things paled in comparison to the brutal, long-term economic and political oil war that was being waged between wealthy interests from both countries. On one side stood the Rockerfellers and Standard Oil, which had previously held dual monopolies in international crude and export oil markets. On the other side, the Morgans and the Rothschilds stood alongside the newly-formed British Royal Dutch-Shell company. In many ways, the tensions between the two nations can be directly traced to this expanding “oil war.”

As such, the American military prepared War Plan Red – a document once considered the “most sensitive on earth.” Military officers thought that in the event of war, Great Britain would most likely stage attacks from the north. So, America proposed an invasion of British-controlled Canada.

How did War Plan Red Work?

According to the initial plan, one force would swarm the port city of Halifax, effectively cutting off British support. A second force would seize power plants near Niagara Falls. Then troops would invade Canada in a three-pronged approach while the Navy annexed the Great Lakes and blockaded Canadian ports. Massive bombing raids and chemical weapon deployment would accompany the attacks.

In February 1935, the plan was updated and “the U.S. Congress authorised $57 million to be allocated for the building of three secret airfields on the U.S. side of the Canadian border, with grassed-over landing strips to hide their real purpose.” Also, “America staged its largest-ever military maneuvers, moving troops to and installing munitions dumps at Fort Drum, half an hour away from the eastern Canadian border.”

It’s impossible to know what exactly would’ve happened in the event of war. But the world as we know it would probably look very different today.

“Using available blueprints for this war, modern-day military and naval experts now believe the most likely outcome of such a conflict would have been a massive naval battle in the North Atlantic with very few actual deaths, but ending with Britain handing Canada over to the U.S. in order to preserve our vital trade routes.” ~ David Gerrie, Daily Mail

Defense Scheme No. 1: Canada’s Version of War Plan Red?

By the way, don’t feel too bad for Canada here. It turns out Canada had its own version of War Plan Red, which it called “Defense Scheme No. 1.” Created in 1921, it detailed a preemptive invasion of America in the event of a possible war. The idea was to send “flying columns” to Seattle, Great Falls, Minneapolis, and Albany. The Canadian military hoped this would distract and delay the more powerful American military, thus providing ample time for British forces to arrive. This plan was ultimately discarded in 1928.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Interestingly enough, War Plan Red was just one of numerous contingency plans that are now known as the Rainbow Plans. For instance, War Plan Black was created before World War I to deal with a possible conflict with Germany. War Plan Orange considered how best to attack Japan. And most frightening, War Plan White was designed to suppress a domestic revolt.

As for War Plan Red, it became moot when World War II broke out and America threw its weight behind the Allies. But for a few short years, the economic ambitions and political power of the world’s largest oil industrialists nearly led to war. Such a war would’ve altered relations between the two countries…impacted the global balance of power…and changed the world forever.

The Lost Nuclear Sub?

On July 4, 1974, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a deep-sea drillship vessel, dropped anchor in the Pacific Ocean. Its stated purpose was to mine the sea floor for manganese nodules. However, that was just a cover. Its real purpose was far more ambitious…nothing less than the salvage of a lost Soviet nuclear submarine known as K-129.

Disaster Strikes the K-129

Six years earlier, on March 8, 1968, the Soviet submarine K-129 sank in deep waters 1,560 nautical miles northwest of Oahu. 98 crewmen perished in the process. The loss wasn’t realized until the K-129 missed its second consecutive radio check-in during mid-March. About a week later, the Soviet Union launched a gigantic search and rescue effort to find the lost submarine.

The effort failed. However, it was noticed by U.S. intelligence who guessed the mission’s true nature. After checking archived acoustic records, the U.S. Navy discovered an unexplained event had occurred on March 8, 1968. After triangulating the signals, the Navy generated a search grid and initiated Operation Sand Dollar to find and photograph the Soviet sub. The U.S. submarine USS Halibut was sent to the vicinity and after just three weeks of searching, managed to locate the wreck at 16,500 feet below sea level.

The K-129 represented an exciting opportunity. It was believed to contain Soviet nuclear missile technology as well as cryptographic machines and a code book. As such, the United States decided to secretly recover the wreckage. Tasked with this responsibility, the CIA formulated Project Azorian in 1970.

Project Azorian & the Hughes Glomar Explorer: Salvage of the Lost Nuclear Submarine?

The CIA hired Global Marine Development to build a deepwater drillship vessel. The famous industrialist Howard Hughes lent his name to the project and claimed that the ship’s purpose was to mine for manganese nodules. On June 20, 1974, the newly-christened Hughes Glomar Explorer set sail from Long Beach, California. It was equipped with a large mechanical claw dubbed Clementine by the crew. The plan was simple, at least on paper. The claw would deploy to the ocean floor, wrap around part of the submarine, and then lift that part into the Hughes Glomar Explorer’s hold.

The salvage effort began on July 4, 1974 and lasted for over a month. Since the whole process took place underwater, it proved impossible for the Soviets to detect. The details of Project Azorian remain classified to this day so it’s uncertain what exactly was recovered from the wreckage. Officially, the operation was a failure (you can see one of the heavily redacted files here). Supposedly, Clementine broke down during the salvage, forcing the Hughes Glomar Explorer to abandon two-thirds of the K-129. But since the CIA is known for being extra secretive, many researchers have questioned the official account. Thus, there is speculation that Project Azorian was a major intelligence coup, leading to the capture of Soviet submarine technology, nuclear torpedoes, code books, and other items.

What caused the K-129 to Sink?

But how did the K-129 sink in the first place? The Soviet Navy believed that the sub simply sank too low and failed to handle the situation due to mechanical or crew failure. Other theories include the lead-acid batteries exploding while being recharged or an accidental missile detonation. A more controversial theory (and one privately believed by many Soviet officers) is that the sub sank after an accidental collision with the USS Swordfish.

But the most controversial theory by far was put forth by Kenneth Sewell in Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. Sewell postulated that the K-129 was captured by Soviet hard-liners. They planned to launch a nuclear missile on Pearl Harbor that would appear to have been fired by a Chinese submarine. The purpose was to bring about war between the U.S. and China. However, a fail safe device caused the missile to explode instead.

Sewell’s theory was bolstered by Dr. John Crane’s The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea. According to Crane, the real purpose of Project Azorian was not to recover the submarine but to find out why it sank in a part of the sea where it shouldn’t have been in the first place.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Until the CIA releases more information, the true intent of K-129 as well as the strategic success of Project Azorian remain matters of speculation. However, from at least one vantage point, the Hughes Glomar Explorer had a tremendous impact. Prior to that time, the deepest successful salvage of a submarine was at 245 feet. At 16,500 feet, Project Azorian shattered that record and in the process set a new one that, as far as I know, continues to remain to this day.