Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gen. McChrystal’s Share of the Task

Unlike his operational handbook, Team of Teams, this book is an autobiographical review of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s tours of duty as the task force commander in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, while the technical details provide hard-won lessons in leadership that are broadly applicable to any challenge a reader might confront, they are contrasted against what he does not say. Also contrary to those teaching moments, nothing ages faster than current events. Even those who learn from the past are condemned to live among those who did not. Gen. McChrystal credits his team of teams for killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and for winning the battle of Fallujah. However, the action here ends before the rise of ISIS.

My Share of the Task: A Memoir
by Gen. Stanley McChrystal
(Portfolio/Penguin, 2013)
McChrystal writes well but the book is targeted to a military audience. For example, he uses the word “guidance” in the special sense that has nothing to do with missiles. When you receive your commander’s guidance, as the 2-star Maj. Gen. McChrystal did from his 4-star general Abizaid, you are being given expectations, limits, and measures of success. But it is all verbal, often just a chat. You are supposed to fill in the blanks and know what to do and what not to do. McChrystal never explains that. He just says that he received guidance, and the story continues from there.

The military is a small community. Captain Stanley McChrystal was deep in Georgia, Fort Stewart, 20 miles up a country road, when he met CPT Dave Petraeus. They would serve together again. In that span, like other senior staff officers McChrystal’s career took him down several different roads – airborne, Green Berets, mechanized infantry, Rangers—which he credits to giving him a broader view than he would have had if he had specialized and stayed in one command structure. In those different billets, he worked with other people he would meet again as he rose in rank.

As a major, attending the Army’s command and staff course was required. Usually, that means Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Instead, McChrystal was sent to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“Sited in scenic Narragansett Bay, the Naval War College was academically stimulating beyond anything I’d yet experienced. Unlike more structured programs with long class hours, the Navy emphasized extensive reading punctuated by limited but focused seminars. I’d always loved to read, and the instructors pushed me into the works of Clausewitz, Homer, and others that helped build a firmer foundation of knowledge.” McChrystal did not mention that at the same time he also completed a master’s degree in international relations at Salve Regina University. (He does say so in Team of Teams.) Several other generals also earned advanced degrees at Salve Regina.

Later, McChrystal has little to say about the death by friendly fire of Ranger Specialist Pat Tillman. Tillman's death grabbed media attention because of his religion, or lack of it. Tillman was openly an atheist, which is less popular than being openly gay. McChrystal was the special operations commander. He renders no final judgement, but only delivers a brief outline of the event. Even the unusual fact that Tillman reeceived a posthumous Silver Star is delivered in one sentence with no personal observation.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, on August 2, 1990, McChrystal was with the operations directorate of a joint task force at Fort Bragg. He was on maneuvers at Fort Bliss when the news came. His deployment to Kuwait to analyze SCUD missile attacks was brief. The war ended. He returned to the 82nd Airborne in 1994 and reported to Colonel John Abizaid. Six years later he returned again and Colonel McChrystal took over the post of assistant division commander from Colonel Petraeus. They met again, in the wake of 9/11, deployed to Afghanistan, where they set up their aluminum frame cots in their command offices.

The book dives deep into the creation and management of a joint force special operations directorate to retake Iraq from the insurgency. McChrystal also commands a similar force in Afghanistan. The details of the protracted, repetitive battles are less revealing of the man we have already come to know. He turns Task Force 714 from a “tribe of teams” into the “team of teams” needed to win the battle for Fallujah. Adaptable, open, intelligent, TF 714 becomes the “Entrepreneurs of Battle” needed to overcome a decentralized, information-driven, fanatically dedicated adversary. Some of the fighters fought each other, Shiite against Sunni and Sunnis in reprisal, or different Shia militia vying for control. But that merely complicated the picture without changing it.

Afghanistan was different. Slapping on his four-star Velcro insignia as his plane lands, McChrystal returns to Afghanistan to follow the thin guidance of his president. He never complains. He remains objective, operational, strategic, tactical. But our national motto conveys an ironic pun: E pluribus unum means to make one out of many, but it also means that from out of all of these many, here is yet one more. And Gen. Stanley McChrystal was just one more commander in what is not a seventeen-year war, but seventeen one-year wars.


Friday, March 16, 2018

A Numismatic History of World War II

You can find Japanese Invasion Money, Allied Occupation Currency, and American Military Payment Certificates at almost any coin store or local show. In addition to those well-known currencies, there are prisoner moneys, emergency issues, war bonds, ration coupons, and other kinds of occupation currencies from the Allies, Axis, and neutrals. This definitive work catalogs them all. While prices have changed in the past twenty years, relative pricing has not: rarities are still hard to find; common items are ubiquitous. What has changed is third party grading. Now, you can find these sealed into certified holders.
World War II Remembered:
History in Your Hands—A Numismatic Study
by C. Frederick Schwan and Joseph E. Boling
(BNR Press, 1995, 842 pages).
The real value here is the extensive narrative history, explaining the details of these numismatic artifacts of the global war of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The cover is explained in the story of the French occupation currency. The box is stenciled “Operation Tom Cat.” By closely inspecting the original photograph, the authors found that both British and French currencies were being distributed to troops ahead of the invasion of Normandy.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

President Trump to Meet Chairman Kim Jong-un

Donald Trump likely thinks of himself as a cut-throat negotiator, but Kim Jong-un has killed family members.

We often do not grasp immediately the consequences of capitalism, and peaceful coexistence is one of them. The age of reason and capitalism were causally connected. People do not kill or die for what they can sell or buy.
I am reminded of a line from The Right Stuff. I think that it was Trudy Cooper who was talking about a college reunion and how the other girls were going on about their husbands' careers "... on Wall Street and places like that. 'Dog-eat-dog competion' [she scoffs]. I wonder how they would feel knowing that there was a 25% chance their husbands would not come out of that board room." 
In Die Hard, Hans Gruber has no interest in corporate "green mail."
Million dollar negotiator Harry Ellis has no idea who he is dealing with.
We were watching The Edge starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Hopkins plays Charles Morse a multi-millionaire in the fashion industry. (Seeking to run off with Morse's wife, Bob Green [Baldwin] tries several times to kill him.) They are on a photo shoot in the Canadian Northwest when their plane goes down, killing the pilot, leaving them stranded. (Great shot of Morse with his cell phone looking at an empty horizon.) Everyone flounders. Most of them die. But Morse is up for this. He is a voracious reader. When he spoke the line, "All my life I wanted to do one unequivocal thing." I said to myself in my head, "You ought to try landing a Cessna 185."

I learned to fly in the 1990s. Since 2014, I have been in a military unit working closely with the National Guard and Air National Guard. Many of them are combat veterans. Even the guy, who when you ask him, "What are you doing?" says, "Sharpening my bayonet and praying for war." is really a teddy bear: he cares about other people. He's a good soldier, a good leader. I would follow him into hell because he has already been there--three times. But that's the point: the horror of war made him a deeper person than he expected to become. That is true of all of them. No combat veteran I have met ever treated a subordinate with the callous disrespect that President Trump displays.

Donald Trump has never done anything of mortal consequence. His whole life has been one of very vocally making everything negotiable. That is why President Trump has no emotional understanding of Marshal Kim.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Senator Thomas Hart Benton

After thirty years as Missouri’s U.S. Senator, Thomas Hart Benton’s fall from power was immediate and complete. His loyalty to his values made him a subject for John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

(An earlier edition was published by the Georgia Numismatic Association’s, GNA Journal as The Senator Who Fell From Grace with the South.)
State Historical Society of Missouri

Thomas Hart Benton was born at Harts Mill, near Hillsboro, N.C. on March 14, 1782. His father died in 1791, leaving behind claims to land in Tennessee where Thomas settled the family. Mostly self-taught, he earned admission first to Chapel Hill College and then to William and Mary College where he studied law. Returning to Tennessee, he was admitted to the bar in 1806. In 1809 he won election to the state senate, serving one term.

When the War of 1812 broke out, Andrew Jackson tapped Benton to be his aide-de-camp. Jackson mustered 2500 men marching them from Nashville to Natchez, claiming that he would seize Mobile and Pensacola. Instead, Secretary of War John Armstrong disbanded the army. Jackson hired transportation and led them back to Nashville. Benton's petitions to the War Department finally garnered a reimbursement on expenses for Jackson.

As the army ended its campaign, Thomas's younger brother, Jesse, challenged William Carroll to a duel. Carroll asked Jackson to be his second. Jackson declined. On Monday, June 14, 1813 at six o'clock in the morning, Jesse Benton suffered a bullet wound to both cheeks of his buttocks. Hardly fatal, it was painful and embarrassing; and Thomas Benton blamed Jackson. Benton felt that Jackson should have prevented the dual by persuasion. (Although punishable now under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in the 19th century duelling per se was not contrary to the Rules of War published by Congress. See A Treatise on the Military Law of the United States: Together with the Practice and Procedure of Courts-martial and Other Military Tribunals by George Breckenridge Davis, John Wiley & Sons, 1913, on Google Books here.) 

In early September 1813, the Bentons had their revenge. They ambushed Jackson, John Coffee, and Stockley Hays at the Old Nashville Inn. Thomas Hart Benton pulled a horseship on Jackson. Jesse Benton shot Jackson twice, leaving him with a ball and a slug. Jackson's return fire and the Bentons’ answering barrage all failed. Coffee, Hays, and a bystander, James Sitler, rushed in and overpowered Jesse. In the fracas, Thomas fell backwards down a flight of stairs. The battle ended. (Although the ball was removed, Jackson carried the slug for the rest of his life.) When Jackson and Benton met face to face again in 1823, their common vision and political goals made them allies. They erased the ten years of enmity with a handshake.

Benton was instrumental in developing the West. He introduced bills to distribute lands in ways that allowed true settlement by farmers while thwarting speculators. He advocated for the pony express, the telegraph, interior highways, the opening of the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, and transcontinental railroads. He even hoped that explorers of the far northwest would find a land route to India. 
Bentonian Mint Drop
Hard Times Token
Stacks Bowers at coins.com
The “Bentonian Currency Mint Drop” tokens lampooned Benton's faith in hard money. According to historian William Graham Sumner, Benton was “...the strongest bullionist in the administration circle.” Benton said that gold was the best protection for the middle class, the merchant, farmer, and tradesman. He said that none of them could expect by their honest labor to become rich overnight whereas paper money allowed eastern speculators to do just that.
"New York, Deveau Liberty Head and Mint Drop Hard Times Token.
This token typically receives the Hard Times Designation of HT-251.
The obverse text reads 'PB&S Deveau’s
156 Chatham Square N. York' "
Deveau’s was a shoe store.
From Stacks Bowers via coins.com
To bring American gold into line with the international gold-silver ratio, Benton introduced the legislation that lowered the fineness of the Half Eagle $5 gold coin to from .9167 to .8992 for the issues of 1834-1839. Working with Sen. William McKendree Gwin of California, he introduced a bill to establish branch Mint at San Francisco. Benton's power made him chair of many important committees, including Indian Affairs, Military Affairs, and Foreign Relations. He authored the resolution to expunge from the Senate Journal the resolution of censure against Andrew Jackson.

A westerner and a southerner, Benton's ultimate loyalty was to the Union. Not even his passion for the West - John Fremont was his son-in-law - would allow him to go along with the Compromise of 1850, hammered out by Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. To Benton, it was a surrender to the fire-eaters who threatened dissolution of the Union if they were not allowed to extend slavery into the West.

Yet, though personally opposed to slavery, Benton was no abolitionist. So, when he fell from grace with the South for this stand, he had no friends in the North, and no friends at home in Missouri. The first U.S. Senator to serve five consecutive terms, Thomas Hart Benton suffered a humiliating defeat in 1850. After losing his senate seat, Benton won a single term in the House of Representatives from 1853 to 1855, but his political career was over. He retired to Washington DC to write his autobiography. Benton died on April 10, 1858.

When he was on the rise and powerful, Benton's name christened towns and counties in the West and South: Fort Benton, Montana; Benton County, Iowa, Benton County, Oregon, and Benton County, Washington. After his fall, Benton County, Alabama, became Calhoun County. Benton County, Florida, reverted to Hernando County. However, after the Civil War, Brunson Harbor, Michigan, was renamed Benton Harbor in his honor. 
“During his years as a senator, Benton became concerned that the issue of slavery would divide the country. He had pushed for Missouri to be admitted as a slave state, viewing the abolition of slavery as dangerous to the union and harmful to blacks.Around 1835 Benton slowly began to change his views. While he did not view slavery as wrong or wish to abolish it completely, he did not want to see it spread into the territories.  
“In 1849 Benton traveled around Missouri delivering speeches on slavery. In Jefferson City, he declared, “My personal sentiments, then, are against the institution of slavery, and against its introduction into places in which it does not exist. If there was no slavery in Missouri today, I should oppose its coming in.”Benton spent his last session in Congress speaking against slavery. This change in position cost Benton much support, and he lost the 1851 senatorial election.”
The State Historical Society of Missouri here:  https://shsmo.org/historicmissourians/name/b/bentonsenator/

Monday, March 5, 2018


For about 200 years, from about 520 to 320 BCE, the Greek towns of Phokaia and Mytilene, both along the Ionian coast of what is today western Turkey, issued a remarkable series of coins. Each town took turns–regulated by treaty—issuing small coins of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, widely used in commerce across the Helliadic cultural complex.

(An earlier version of this article first appeared in The Classical Numismatic Review, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Vol. 20 No. 2, Summer 1995. Other facts here first appeared in “Electrum,” The Celator, Vol. 17, no. 8, August 2003, p. 25-31: ill.)

From Wildwinds.com Ancient Coins auction database.
Gorny & Mosch Giessener Münzhandlung,
Auction 253 5 March 2018, Lots 207, 208, and 209.
Numismatists firmly believe that the first coins were made of electrum, a naturally-occurring alloy mostly of gold and silver, with traces of other metals. Despite the suggestion of Demokritos of Abdera that matter is composed of the tiniest uncuttable particles, the ancients lacked an atomic theory of matter. Electrum was found naturally; and it could also be made by mixing gold and silver. It was a separate metal in its own right. Over one or two generations from about 600 to 550 BCE, the first coins evolved from nuggets of electrum, panned from the Pactolus river (Sart Çayı in modern Turkish).

Those first coins were eclipsed by coins of gold and coins of silver first issued by Kroisos (Croesus) of Lydia. Silver became the metal of everyday commerce. Gold usually served state purposes. However, electrum still circulated, easily for another 300 years, perhaps for 1000, and maybe even into our own time.

Numismatists identify the electrum coins of Phokaia and Mytilene as one-sixth staters, or hektai in Greek. The one-sixth staters of Phokaia and Mytilene weigh about 2.5 grams, about the same as a U.S. dime, though they are of smaller diameter and greater thickness.

In America of the 1800s, you could exchange a silver dollar coin for a gold dollar coin. In ancient Athens, no such exchange was possible because there was no abstract unit of account. Also, the relative values of gold, electrum, and silver fluctuated over time and across geographies. An electrum one-sixth stater from Phokaia and Mytilene was worth about 10 Athenian drachma. When the Persians were first defeated in 480, in Athens a silver drachmon was a day’s wages for a citizen at assembly, a soldier in the field, or a rower in a galley. By 400, that was two drachma. So, a sixth-stater from Phokaia and Mytilene represented about a week’s wages for a common laborer.

We know from the treaty that the magistrate’s job changed every year and moved between the two cities. The German Archaeological Institute at Istabul has identified 25 Phokaian die engravers by their styles. This series of Phokaian hektai begins at 535 BC. From 509 to 491, the “Master of the Natural Lion” (Der natüralistischer Löwen-Meister) was also cutting dies for Mytilene. From 535 to 327, at least eight die engravers worked for both cities. Also, study of the minting techniques and artistic styles indicates that at Mytilene at about 450 and again about 430, at least two different engravers were working at the same time. These facts underscore the assertion that one motivation for the joint coinage was to pool the resources of production.

The treaty was discovered in 1852 by Charles T. Newton, while serving as vice consul in Mytilene. Newton found the treaty in a home on the site of the ancient Mytilene acropolis. He published his transcription of the stone in the Transactions of the Royal Literary Society, VIII in 1866. The stone was left at a school and then was lost until it was rediscovered in 1939. Authorities such as Friedrich Bodenstedt place the date of the treaty at BCE 400 and perhaps at 394, following the naval encounter off Knidos. It is possible, however, that this treaty merely formalized a tradition of co-equal coinages going back all the way to the fall of the tyrant Polykrates of Samos in 521. Considered in this light, the coinage is unparalleled, running from 521 until 326, a feat not attained again until Roman times and rare in the modern world. That the treaty allows for additions and erasures supports numismatic evidence that Phokaia and Mytilene had long before agreed at least ad hoc on a common coinage.
From “Electrum Sixths and the Treaty of Mytilene”
The Classical Numismatic Review, Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
Vol. 20 No. 2, Summer 1995.
One reason for the consistency of composition is that the treaty provided death as the penalty for anyone who debased the metal of the coins. However, the exact nuance here is important. John Wickersham and Gerald Verbrugghe give this translation for the opening lines:

... whatever both cities ... write on the stele or erase, it shall be valid. Anyone who debases the gold shall be subject to prosecution in both cities. However, a closer consideration indicates that the prohibition against “debasement” occurs later in the treaty and not in the place indicated by that translation.

I believe that the word kernan means only “to make” or “to mix” and not “to dilute” or “to debase.”  First of all, the root word kern* appears twice more in the stone. The second time, it refers to the make-up of the juries. The third time, it refers to “making the gold diluted.” We might believe that gold would be debased by silver, but we cannot expect that the courts of Mytilene would be debased by the presence of native jurors.

The third occurrence is the phrase “chrysion kernan hydaresteron.” Mixing the gold to “hydration” or “dilution” brings the death penalty.

Note that the treaty allows for the changing of office. Suit could be brought for up to six months, because the job changed each year. However, to avoid the obvious temptation to pin the blame on the other fellow, each city tried its own moneyer. It is most likely that any wrong-doing on the part of the moneyer would be discovered indirectly: if he and the gold disappeared, for instance; or, if he gave evidence of new wealth, perhaps. Until Archimedes watched the bath overflow about 250 BC, there was no scientific method for assaying an alloy. If assaying were possible, the hektai would have been made to even closer tolerances.

Just what purpose did these sixth-staters serve? We can accept that they were payment for mercenaries, the most common use for high-denomination coinages, though we have no epigraphic evidence to support that. We can only let the coins speak for themselves.


Friday, March 2, 2018

The Somers Mutiny

On December 1, 1842, aboard the U.S. Brig-of-War Somers, as captain of the ship, Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie ordered the execution by hanging of an officer and two sailors on the charge of mutiny. He had held no court-martial. The leader of the mutiny was Philip Spencer, the son of the Secretary of the Navy. When the Somers docked in New York, Mackenzie faced a court-martial on five charges: murder on board a United States vessel on the high seas; oppression; illegal punishment; conduct unbecoming an officer; cruelty and oppression. He was found not guilty but he was also relieved of command.

It was complicated. And every aspect reflected the character of America at that time.

The Somers was created to be an interceptor to fight piracy and slave trade. She was sleek and fast, and heavily armed for her small size. She was also a training ship. There was no Naval Academy. (Founded without funding in 1845, the Academy’s own history points to the Somers affair: https://www.usna.edu/USNAHistory/) Built for a crew of 90, she carried 120, of whom 100 were apprentices 12 to 18 years of age. Mackenzie was working with Matthew C. Perry to establish a system of training ships, in order to provide the U.S. Navy with a cadre of professional officers.

Mackenzie was born Alexander Slidell. He added his uncle’s surname to his own. Unlike many other Americans, it was not to distance himself from disgrace but to attach himself to success. Slidell’s family was prominent in both New York and Washington politics. His brother, John Slidell, became a senator from Louisiana. (Sen. Slidell was loyal to the Confederacy. See, also, the Trent Affair and the USS San Jacinto.) Among the officers on board the Somers who decided the fate of the mutineers were Matthew C. Perry, Junior, and Oliver Hazzard Perry II. Another midshipman was Henry Rodgers, son of John Rodgers, hero of the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and eventually Secretary of the Navy. Young Rodgers and the Perrys were cousins by marriage; and the Perrys were nephews-in-law to Mackenzie.
Alexander Slidell Mackenzie
Sea Dangers: The Affair of the Somers
by Philip McFarland,
Schoken Books, 1985
The court-martial trial was sensational. It was the first mutiny aboard a US Navy ship—arguably the only one ever, the Port Chicago Mutiny having been on land. The actors were all public figures. Among the reporters and commentators for the press were Herman Melville and James Fenimore Cooper. 

According to historian Buckner F. Melton, Jr., (A Hanging Offense: The Strange Affair of the Warship Somers, Free Press, 2003), Naval officers of the time called their regulations “the rocks and shoals.” In addition to the Articles of War, Congress had published a Black Book of naval regulations. The Navy had a Blue Book of its own, and a Red Book, and hundreds of ad hoc rules from Secretary of the Navy (1838-1841) James Kirke Paulding. An amendment to the Blue Book canceled all regulations therein which contradicted the Black Book. The uncharted dangers of sea law being whatever they were, the Articles of War always took precedence. According to them, the captain of a ship had no legal authority to convene a court-martial in response to a mutiny.
Philip Spencer
Sea Dangers: The Affair of the Somers
by Philip McFarland,
Schoken Books, 1985
Commander Mackenzie’s defense was that he acted in extremis. The close quarters and over-crowded billeting did not permit any secure location for holding prisoners until a port of jurisdiction could be reached. Moreover, the mutineers, or at least their leader, Midshipman Philip Spencer, intended not only to slay the officers, but to throw “the small fry” overboard as well because they ate much and were of no use. Furthermore, Spencer’s goal was to turn the Somers to piracy. For that, she was superbly well-designed. No merchant ship could out-gun her and no navy could catch her. Spencer spoke to his co-conspirators of murdering the crews of other ships and having their way with any women they found aboard before tossing them over.

When confronted by Mackenzie, Spencer said several times in response that it was all a joke. In the face of that weak excuse, it came out that Spencer had spoken of mutiny and piracy on his two previous postings, one of them aboard the U.S. flag ship John Adams. Moreover, he actively ingratiated himself to certain seamen by giving them tobacco and (against all rules) rum, both of which were stolen for him by another crewman. For that, when found out, the sailor had received twelve lashes. In fact, twelve lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails was the worst punishment available to the captain, hopelessly insufficient in the face of a mutiny by perhaps as many as 20 of his adult crew. 
Steven Culp (left) as CIA Agent Clayton Webb
as Counsel for the Defense George Griffen and
Trevor Goddard (right) as Cdr Mic Brumby as
Cdr Alexander Slidell Mackenzie
(from steven-culp.com)
A minor point worth noting: Commander Mackenzie absented himself from his officers' deliberations. They came to their verdict without his immediate influence. Closer to our own time, after the Bay of Pigs disaster, when faced with the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John Kennedy also left the room while his advisors debated their available options. 

In response to a classroom mutiny over a controversial point of law, one of my criminal justice professors said, “You do what you have to do and you live with the consequences.” And so it was for Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie.

I learned about the Somers incident from the television show “Mutiny” Episode 23 Season 6 of JAG. Col. Sarah Mackenzie is preparing a review of Cdr. Mackenzie’s court-martial as a mock trial for the U.S. Naval Academy. That gave the writers the opportunity to put the cast in a dress-up play in her imagination, which they (as other writers for other shows) did before and since.  We found the series because Season 8 Episodes 20 and 21, “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown” premiered the NCIS cast ahead of their spin-off, which we back-filled to complete our NCIS collection. We picked up NCIS because we liked Mark Harmon’s portrayal of Secret Service agent Simon Donovan in The West Wing; and researching NCIS, I learned that producer Donald P. Bellasario served in the Marine Corps.