The Long Holy War: The Mahdi, ISIS, and the West

BritishTroopsintheSudan1898Mohammed Ahmed Ibn el-Sayyid Abdullah, otherwise known as the Mahdi, led one of the largest, most-successful anti-colonial Islamist rebellions in the Long Holy War between the Muslim world and the Christian West. In the early 1880s, the Mahdi’s armed followers, who referred to themselves as the Ansars, swept across the deserts and scrub brush plains of the Sudan, driving the British, the Egyptians and Ottoman Turks from the Upper Nile Basin. Continue Reading »

It’s Time for a Progressive Party

ProtestOnCapitalHill1971This year, the American two-party system has given the American people two of the lamest, least-likable presidential candidates in living memory.  On the Right, we have a fascist, who’s nickname is “The Donald” – a name befitting a mafioso rather than a presidential contender.  On the Left (actually the Middle Right) we have Hillary – a known political operator who, along with her husband, has jigged the system for decades.  Sadly, Hillary is a 2 for 1 offer.  If we elect her, we get Bill too. Continue Reading »

The Missouri’s Annual Rises

1952FloodLookingNorthTowardDakota.048Before the closure of Fort Randall Dam in 1952, the Missouri flooded two times a year. The first flood occurred in late March and early April. Old timers called this flood the April fresh (for freshet), the April rise, or the spring rise.  The melting of the plains and prairie snowpack caused the April rise.  The size and duration of the April rise depended on the depth of the snowpack, the moisture content of the snow, and how quickly the snow melted and ran off into the Missouri and its tributaries. Predictably, the worst spring rises occurred at the end of long, snowy winters. The April rise always began with ice-out – the moment when the Missouri shattered its icy surface. Continue Reading »

Protracted War and the Vietnamese Coastal Plain

Vietnam’s coastal plain stretches 638 miles in a narrow arch from Vinh (in the former Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam)) to Phan Thiet (in the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)).  It is bordered on the east by the blue waters of the South China Sea, or what the Vietnamese refer to as the East Sea, and on the west by the imposing mountains of the Central Highlands.  In its narrowest reaches in northern Binh Dinh Province, the coastal plain is less than a mile wide. Continue Reading »

Westmoreland’s Decision to Defend Khe Sanh

TroopsAtConThienIn January 1966, General William C. Westmoreland ordered the U.S. Marines to the Khe Sanh Combat Base in western Quang Tri Province to curtail North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam along the system of trails known collectively as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But like the Green Berets stationed at the base before them, the Marines failed to halt, or even slow, the flow of Communist soldiers and supplies southward. The same variables of distance, weather, and terrain that had made it impossible for the Green Berets to stop North Vietnamese infiltration also thwarted the Marines.  In the first year of the Marine deployment to Khe Sanh, the North Vietnamese infiltrated an estimated 62,000 men into South Vietnam.  In 1967, the North Vietnamese sent 101,000 soldiers down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam.[1] Continue Reading »

Khe Sanh Before the Siege

Khe Sanh Combat BaseIn 1962, U.S. Special Forces established a camp in the far northwest corner of South Vietnam at the village of Khe Sanh. The camp stood only ten and a half miles east of the Laotian border and seventeen miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). To ensure the air delivery of supplies and reinforcements to the garrison stationed there, American engineers built a simple dirt airstrip atop the Xom Cham Plateau, a height of flat red earth bordered on the north and west by dark green forested peaks. Off the eastern end of the airstrip, the plateau abruptly fell away into a chasm that had been eroded by the waters of the Rao Quan River. Continue Reading »

South Vietnam: America’s Speed Bump on the Road to Communist Expansionism


In 1969, author Tim O’Brien witnessed firsthand the destruction wrought by American firepower in South Vietnam.  “I was in Quang Ngai Province, out in the middle of this bombed out mess.  The whole province was wasted…By the time I got there…our bombing and artillery fire had destroyed basically ninety percent of the dwellings. The villages were sometimes almost deserted…We were really hated.  It was just so patent.  You see [sic] the hostility in everybody’s eyes.” [Appy, Patriots, p.543] Continue Reading »

“A Noble Cause”: Reagan and the Vietnam War

RonaldReaganOn August 18, 1980, Republican Party presidential candidate Ronald Reagan spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Chicago, Illinois.  In a hall filled with the aging veterans of World War II and the younger veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Reagan reflected on America’s recent defeat in South Vietnam.

True to his conservative political philosophy and the advise of his hawkish foreign policy advisors, the former B-movie actor provided an interpretation of the U.S.’s war in Vietnam far removed from historical reality. Reagan did what he had spent his entire acting career doing – he engaged in make believe. The well-groomed and articulate candidate wanted his audience to forget about the war’s complexities, its ambiguities, and its brutality.  In an obvious pandering to the veterans, Reagan framed the Vietnam War as a simple struggle between the virtuous and altruistic United States and the evil and aggressive North Vietnamese. Continue Reading »

Partitioning Vietnam: Making the Division Permanent

A common myth surrounding the 1954 partition of Vietnam holds that three of the primary negotiators at the Geneva Conference, French Foreign Minister Pierre Mendes-France, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav M. Molotov, and Pham Van Dong, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), decided rather nonchalantly, and at the last moment, to establish the demarcation line at the 17th Parallel.  Apparently, just hours before the approach of the July 21st deadline for an agreement, Mendes-France proposed a partition line at the 18th Parallel.  Pham Van Dong countered with the 16th Parallel.  Molotov, hoping to quickly wrap-up the negotiations, then flippantly proposed the 17th Parallel.  The French and Vietnamese immediately recognized the reasonableness of Molotov’s compromise proposal and agreed to the 17th Parallel.

Not only is the above interpretation of events at the Geneva Conference untrue, it ignores how serious the United States, France and the DRV viewed the issue of the demarcation line.  Locating the border between the Communist zone of occupation and the French zone became the key stumbling block to an agreement at Geneva.  French and Vietminh negotiators understood that the site of the dividing line had significant political, economic and military implications. Continue Reading »

Commander Xi and the CCP

CommanderXiSince 1971, and Henry A. Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing, U.S. relations with China have been predicated on the belief that China’s economic rise, as well as its increasing integration into the global economy, would contribute to its political liberalization at home and its international cooperation abroad.  America’s ruling elites believed that trade, rising personal incomes, and the ascendency of an entrepreneurial class within China would weaken the hold of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the levers of power, enabling a more democratic polity to eventually emerge in the Middle Kingdom.  A liberalizing China, linked economically and culturally to the world, would help keep the peace in East Asia and Southeast Asia.

China’s President Xi Jinping has proven America’s long-held faith in the liberalizing effects of economic development to have been wrong.  Since becoming Chairman of the CCP in 2012, Xi has cracked down on political dissidents, strengthened the totalitarian state security apparatus, put greater restrictions on the ability of multinationals to operate in the country, ratcheted up his government’s anti-American rhetoric, and militarily intimidated China’s neighbors in the South China Sea.  Xi’s China is neither liberal nor peaceful.         Continue Reading »

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