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Americans should Always “Choose a President Wise, Well Read in History and Exceedingly Slow to Draw the Sword” Wise Words from the Late General Hal Moore in the Trump Era

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LTG Hal Moore as a Colonel in Vietnam

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Even since I was a child I was an avid reader of history, especially military history and biography. I idolized the military men that I read about and many of the things that they said and did, and almost always skewed them into an almost perverse form of patriotism. After the attacks of 9-11-2001 and during the run up to the invasion of Iraq I got into a internet argument with a man who later became the Presiding Bishop of my former denomination. He was and still is a very honorable man. He opposed the war on good historical, social, and moral grounds.

While he was very conservative theologically he had a strong sense of social justice and having come to adulthood during Vietnam war era he had a certain sense of distrust about military adventurism that I, an officer who at that time had some twenty years of military service did not fully appreciate. I responded to one of his comments with a quote from one of my favorite American Naval heroes, Captain Stephen Decatur who once remarked:

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

decatur 2 sqaure

There is some truth in what Decatur said, but his words should not be used to justify imperialistic nationalism, racism, or militarism. Sadly back then that was exactly how I used it to attempt to shut down the arguments of an honorable man. If he ever reads this I hope that Bishop Craig Bates accepts my heartfelt apology for how I treated him back then.

It took me two combat tours, one at sea where I was a member of a boarding team, and the other in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, and a lot more military and historical education that I realized how wrong that I was in doing this. Using patriotic quotes to buttress immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and un-Christian policies is damnable. G. K. Chesterton noted: “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”

But, I am afraid that my former understanding of patriotism is exactly what many Americans follow today, regardless of their political affiliation or ideology seem to automatically defer to the decisions of the President, no matter what his party in launching military strikes. This has been largely true since the end of Second World War until now with the exception of the latter stages of the Vietnam War when the bankruptcy of American policy became evident.

No one wants to be “against the troops” and I am still one of those troops, but opposing nationalism, imperialism, and militarism is not the same as “supporting the troops.” The late Army Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who led his battalion into the Battle of the Ia Drang in 1965 and was memorialized in the film We Were Soldiers told West Point Cadets in 2005:

“The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

I remember reading General Moore’s back words then and despite my respect for him I didn’t see their truth, I still believed the lies of Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, and the Right wing media. I was wrong, and within two and a half years I would discover just how right that he was.

Today, some eleven years after I returned from Iraq I find that we now have a President whose historical, ethical, and policy blindness is subjected to his narcissistic and paranoid personality. He is a man who dodged the draft, avoided military service, condemned men and women wounded. killed, or captured in combat as losers while bragging that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1980s was his Vietnam. Even now he is rushing a Carrier Strike Group and heavy bombers to challenge Iran for as of yet undisclosed threats to American interests in the Middle East, as well as suggesting military options to deal with the failing and flailing government of Venezuelan President Maduro.

War is a great way to distract from other real concerns, especially if it gives the President, any President, a chance to divert attention from his own malfeasance and criminality. Our Republic is in danger and I do not think that the danger will soon pass. I only wish that it would. Sadly, Hal Moore passed away in February of 2017. If he were alive today I am sure that he would be sounding the alarm.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Country Right or Wrong?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Even since I was a child I was an avid reader of history, especially military history and biography. I idolized the men that I read about and many of the things that they said and did, and almost always skewed them into an almost perverse form of patriotism. After the attacks of 9-11-2001 and during the run up to the invasion of Iraq I got into a internet argument with a man who later became the Presiding Bishop of my former denomination. He was and still is a very honorable man.

While very conservative theologically he had a strong sense of social justice and having come to adulthood during Vietnam war era he had a certain sense of distrust about military adventurism that I, an officer who at that time had some twenty years of military service did not fully appreciate. I responded to one of his comments with a quote from one of my favorite American Naval heroes, Captain Stephen Decatur who once remarked:

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

decatur 2 sqaure

There is some truth in what Decatur said, but his words should not be used to justify imperialistic nationalism, racism, or militarism. Sadly back then that was exactly how I used it to attempt to shut down the arguments of an honorable man. If he ever reads this I hope that Bishop Craig Bates accepts my heartfelt apology for how I treated him back then.

It took me two combat tours, one at sea where I was a member of a boarding team, and the other in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, and a lot more military and historical education that I realized how wrong that I was in doing this. Using patriotic quotes to buttress immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and un-Christian policies is damnable. G. K. Chesterton noted: “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”

But, I am afraid that my former understanding of patriotism is exactly what many Americans follow today, regardless of their political affiliation or ideology seem to automatically defer to the decisions of the President in launching military strikes. This has been largely true since the end of Second World War until now with the exception of Vietnam. No one wants to be “against the troops” and I am still one of those troops, but opposing nationalism, imperialism, and militarism is not the same as “supporting the troops.” The late Army Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who led his battalion into the Battle of the Ia Drang in 1965 and was memorialized in the film We Were Soldiers told West Point Cadets in 2005:

“The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

I remember reading General Moore’s back words then and despite my respect for him I didn’t see their truth, I still believed the lies of Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, and the Right wing media. I was wrong, and within two and a half years I would discover just how right that he was.

Today, some ten years after I returned from Iraq I find that we now have a President whose historical, ethical, and policy blindness is subjected to his narcissistic and paranoid personality. He is a man who dodged the draft, avoided military service, condemned men and women wounded. killed, or captured in combat as losers while bragging that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1980s was his Vietnam.

War is a great way to distract from other real concerns, especially if it gives the President, any President, a chance to divert attention from his own malfeasance and criminality. Our Republic is in danger and I do not think that the danger will soon pass. I only wish that it would.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq, leadership, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, vietnam

“The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age” Stephen Decatur and the Defeat of the Barbary Pirates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who has followed my writings on this site knows that I love Naval history, especially that of the United States Navy. It was one of those subjects that I began reading about in grade school. Since I grew up as a Navy brat it is unsurprising that even after a detour of seventeen and a half years in the Army that I ended up in the Navy.

In 1803 the still very young United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  The Navy, which had been disestablished after the Revolution was reestablished by Congress to protect American merchant sailors who were constantly being accosted by British, French, and Barbary ships, on March 27th 1793.

For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of the Rulers of the Barbary states for free passage of its ships in the Mediterranean, as well as hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions as he had when the French demanded similar tribute in 1797.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him.

These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused to pay tribute, Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a Naval small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more without Congressional approval. Despite the fact that Tripoli had declared war on the United States, Congress did not issue a declaration of war, but instead authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships and commanded by officers that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the Brig USS Argus, the Frigates USS Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, EnterprisePhiladelphia, Schooner Enterprise and Brig Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolitan ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such a transfer would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber; but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge was lured into shoal water and ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner an imprisoned while the ship was floated off the reef by the Tripolitans. The ship was partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor. For the moment the powerful frigate was out of action until her foremast which had been cut down by Bainbridge in his unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal could be replaced.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble ordered Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers and make a plan to destroy the Philadelphia while the ship was at anchor and unable to put to sea.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well. The Intrepid was re-rigged with the

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolitan ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  The ship was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using an Arabic speaking Sicilian sailor to request permission to enter the harbor under the ruse that she was a merchant ship that had lost her anchors in a storm.

The request was granted the and Decatur sailed the Intrepid to bring her alongside the Philadelphia without Securing permission from the Tripitolan watch standers aboard Philadelphia to tie up alongside the frigate. When he drew alongside the massive ship Decatur ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control, and after ensuring that the ship was unseaworthy, he and his sailors set the frigate ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of Tripolitan shore batteries and gunboats.

The mission complete Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring, said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War.

In that final Barbary war, Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron, Rais Hamidu.

Following the defeat of the Algerian fleet, the  Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  More than any one man Stephen Decatur was responsible for the end their reign of piracy and terror in the Mediterranean.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Tragedy in Kunduz: Mistake, Accident or War Crime?

kunduz-hospital-bombing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been troubled by the disaster at the Doctor’s Without Borders in Kunduz Afghanistan, a disaster that appears to be linked to the actions of U.S. and or NATO, Coalition, and Afghan forces as well as the Taliban who had taken control of that city a few days before the attack.

There are so many things about this incident that trouble me, but truthfully I, like almost everyone, know very little about it, other than the fact that too many innocent people died as a result of what appears to be a prolonged air strike against what should have been a known hospital. Now, truthfully, none of us knows enough about the incident to declare it a justified act, a tragic mistake, or a war crime, and there are people who without full knowledge of the facts are arguing for each of these positions. However, that has not stopped the speculation about the circumstances concerning the incident. Today the American command released a statement saying that Afghan forces requested the air strikes.

The fact is that the circumstances are unclear, and in the fog of war we may never know the truth about what happened. I do not pretend to think that the Taliban are entirely without blame, nor is the incredibly corrupt Afghan government and military; and most importantly are American, NATO and other non-Afghan coalition forces.

I do caution anyone who attempts to place the blame for what happened on any one group in this conflict, and I think that it was irresponsible for people in the United Nations to declare that this could be a war crime without knowing all the facts.

That being said I believe, as a career military officer, that we as Americans need to hold ourselves, and our military to a higher standard than our enemies and even our coalition partners. Sadly, we have not always done this and sometimes we have not only committed war crimes, but also we often hold ourselves above international sanction and law when our forces are suspected of committing war crimes. Even more importantly we ignore the words of a man who acting as an agent of the United States, and the United Nations set the standard for prosecuting war criminals. I am talking about Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Jackson, who organized the trials of the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremburg.

When the trials were being organized Justice Jackson set down a rule of conduct for his American, and allied colleagues from Britain, the Soviet Union and France. Sadly, we Americans have failed to heed his words on many occasions. Jackson noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

Now personally I hope that this is a tragic accident brought about by a confused tactical situation that was worsened by the fog of war. Truthful that does not lessen the pain and tragedy of what happened in Kunduz, but it is far better than the alternative; that American forces ignored warnings and intelligence that this was a hospital and kept attacking even after being told that it was a hospital. If the latter is the case the charge that this could be a war crime cannot be ignored.

As a veteran of Iraq and a career officer who knows the terrible horrors of war first hand, as well as being a historian and theologian I am especially sensitive to the nuances of such events and know that many times that what happens is difficult to fully understand or comprehend. I can only hope that Secretary of Defense Carter and President Obama will ensure that an investigation, coordinated with the U.N. and our coalition partners fully explores what happened, and if American forces acted improperly, or even in a criminal manner take the moral high ground and assume responsibility.

We cannot ignore the precedent that we ourselves set when we tried the surviving leaders of the Nazi regime at Nuremburg. War crimes are war crimes no matter what people commit them, and we must hold ourselves to this higher standard. But then we must also realize as Hannah Arendt noted “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Likewise there are people, like a younger me, who agree with Commodore Stephen Decatur who declare “my country right or wrong” and then ignore any possible evils committed by the United States. I love and serve my country, but if we are complicit in war crimes then what have we become? Are we willing to throw away our ideals, our ethics, our humanity to ensure our survival?

Personally, even if the worst outcome is true, I cannot imagine that those involved meant to commit a war crime, but that being said there is a rationalization that even good people make during war, that their actions, or the actions of their nation are excused by necessity. I am reminded of the words of Spencer Tracy in the movie Judgment at Nuremburg when he said:

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

At Kunduz over twenty medical personnel at the Doctors Without Borders died, another three dozen were wounded when American, or other coalition aircraft responded to the call of Afghan ground forces for air support against the Taliban. Regardless of if the Taliban were taking advantage of the hospital to engage the Afghan troops, the location of the hospital was known to coalition forces, it had been there and in operation for four years.

Please do not get me wrong, I want my country to always be in the right. For over 30 years I have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and followed what I believe is a call to uphold the best that our country has to offer. I do not support the Taliban or any other group that would seek to impose a theocracy on their people, but at the same time how can I countenance the support of a discredited, unethical and corrupt regime that has squandered the lives and trust of its own people while at the same time taking advantage of American and NATO forces, our military and intelligence support as well our massive economic support without which they could not remain in power?

When I see what the U.S. backed governments in Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq have done to their people with our support I feel much like T.E. Lawrence who wrote of the British administration in 1920 Iraq:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Like about everyone I do not pretend to know everything that happened in this incident. But that being said; of we as Americans cannot uphold and subject ourselves to the same standards that we have imposed on others, then what does that say about us? I wonder what our response will be and I am troubled, because I think that we will not hold ourselves to the standards that we ourselves claim to uphold. I say this because we have not done so since Nuremberg.

If we fail in this task, the task to embody the truth of what is in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, to embody the spirit of the city set upon a hill that inspired so many before we were ever a military power to come here, to believe that the principles that we stood for were better than their own countries;  it will not matter how many Taliban we kill for we will have lost thawed and in the process our collective soul. As Lawrence wrote in 1920 “We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

Praying for Peace and Justice,

Padre Steve+

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“The most bold and daring act of the age” Stephen Decatur and the Burning of the USS Philadelphia at Tripoli

 

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Stephen Decatur

This is the latest of a series of articles that I am writing this month in celebration of the brave men and proud ships of the United States Navy on its 236th Anniversary. Thursday October 13th is that day and I ask my readers to wish any United States Navy Sailor that you know a “Happy Birthday” and thank them for their service in this time of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

In 1803 the United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of these states for free passage of its ships and hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him. These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused the demand and put his beliefs into practice Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more. Congress did not issue a declaration of war but authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia and Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolian ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such an event would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron under the command of Captain William Bainbridge ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner and the ship floated off by the Tripolians partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor until her foremast could be remounted having be cut away by Bainbridge in his  unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble order Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers to destroy the Philadelphia at anchor.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well.

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolian ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  Posing as a Tripolian ship he was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using a Sicilian sailor who spoke Arabic to request permission. This was granted and Intrepid approached Philadelphia and when close enough ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control of the vessel and set it ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of the shore batteries and gunboats.

Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War. Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron Rais Hamidu.  The Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  Stephen Decatur more than any one man ended their reign of terror against Christian Europe.

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1812: The Year of the Frigates

USS Constitution

This is the second of a series of articles I will write commemorating the 236th anniversary of the founding of the United States Navy. This article discusses the actions of the USS Constitution and USS United States at the outbreak of hostilities in which they defeated three British Frigates in battles that are legend in the annals of Naval History. I grew up reading the stories of naval actions during the War of 1812 with rapt fascination.  I could describe the battles, the ships and the brave Captains in detail even at a young age.  I can close my eyes and see the paintings, drawings and the diagrams of the ships, their sailors and the battles that they fought. I guess that I was destined to end up in the Navy. But then how could I not? My birthday falls on March 27th, the anniversary of the founding of the current United States Navy.  

On March 27th 1794 the Congress of the United States appropriated funds to establish a Navy built around six powerful Frigates, the 44 Gun USS Constitution, USS President and USS United States and the 38 Gun USS Congress, USS Constellation and USS Chesapeake.  The 44 gun ships were larger and had a heavier armament than the majority of their British, French or Spanish counterparts.  Although rated as 44 Guns they mounted 56 guns, 30 of which were the heavy 24 pound cannons and 22 were the short range but powerful 32 pound carronades. They were built of oaken timbers that were of the size used to build Ships of the Line in other navies.  In comparison the standard Royal Navy Frigate of the day was the 38 gun ship mounting 18 pound cannons.  The ships would serve during the Quasi-War withFrance from 1798-1800 and the First Barbary War from 1801-1805.

Chase of the Constitution

When the United Stateswent to war with Britainin 1812 neither side was well prepared. The British were deeply engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and the bulk of the Royal Navy was engaged in blockade operations against Franceand its allies on Europe’s Atlanticand Mediterranean coasts.  Deployed the Western Atlantic was a 64 Gun Ship of the Line HMS Africa 9 Frigates and assorted and about 75 smaller vessels.  The United States Navy was minuscule even compared with the forces deployed by the Royal Navy to the Western Atlantic.

Captain Isaac Hull

When the Federalist administration of John Adams left office the Navy was on the ascendant.  Built around a nucleus of 13 Frigates with six 74 gun Ships of the Line under construction the Navy was reduced to just 8 Frigates, most of which were laid up in dry dock at any given time.  There was an anti-Navy sentiment in the Republican administrations of  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  The building program was ended and replaced with a program of gunboat construction.  About 174 of these were built between 1805 and 1812 but only 62 were in service at the time of the war.   They were particularly unsuited to engaging any substantial British ship as they were too lightly built and were poor sea boats with a light armament and it would take 40 gunboats to match the firepower of a single British Frigate.  Likewise instead of being cheap to build and maintain the cost per gunboat came out to $10,000 each instead of the budgeted cost of $5000 and their cost to maintain one gunboat per year was more than that of a Frigate.

Captain Stephen Decatur

The reduction of the “blue water” Navy was a move of political ideology. Despite the obvious need to protect commerce as was displayed during the Quasi-War and the First Barbary War the Jefferson administrations was intent on a coastal defense strategy to which the gunboats were key.  However it was poor naval policy because there was no way to determine where any actual British strike would take place and the dispersion of the gunboats meant that there would never be enough at any port to repel the Royal Navy.

Captain William Bainbridge

When war was declared the United States Navy comprised of just 8 Frigates and 14 smaller Sloops and Brigs and the worthless gunboats.  Since the build program was stopped the Navy had no Ships of the Line.   The Secretary of the Navy was an incompetent named Paul Hamilton and the Jeffersonian strategy of coastal defense was embraced by Albert Gallatin who recommended that all the Navy’s large ships be turned into floating batteries for harbor defense.

USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerrière

The Navy was fortunate to have bold officers with the combat experience of the Quasi-War and the Barbary War under their belt.  The ships had fine crews of well trained professional sailors who excelled at seamanship and gunnery.  Taking advantage of the thinly stretched Royal Navy a squadron under Commodore John Rodgers was already at sea when the administration decided on the coastal defense strategy and forced the Royal Navy to divert many ships that could have decimated the merchant marine of the time allowing many American flagged ships to safely reach port with their cargo.

The USS Constitution under the command of Captain Isaac Hull sailed from Boston at the outbreak of hostilities and nearly met disaster when it ran into a Royal Navy squadron comprised of the HMS Africa and 5 Frigates.  Becalmed Hull and his crew used every device known to escape in an epic 57 hour close quarter chase.  He returned to Boston, replenished his stores and set sail again.  On August 19th some 600 miles out of Boston Constitution came across the 38 Gun Frigate HMS Guerrière. The Captain of Guerrière was James Dacres who had a low opinion of the United States Navy. Hull directed the fire of his powerful 24 pounders into Guerrière shredding her rigging and smashing her hull. Two hours after the fight began Dacres struck Guerrière’s colors.  Guerrière was so badly damaged that she was burned and sunk with her crew taken back to Boston as prisoners.  During the action a sailor aboard Constitution noted that Guerrière’s shot was bouncing harmlessly off of the thick oaken sides of the ship. He is quoted as shouting “Huzza, her sides are made of iron,” which provided the ship her nickname Old Ironsides. Constitution lost 7 men killed and 7 wounded in the battle while Guerrière lost 15 killed and 78 wounded of her 272 member crew.

USS United States vs. HMS Macedonian

The USS United States under the command of Captain Stephen Decatur found the 38 Gun HMS Macedonian under the command of Captain John S. Carden 600 miles west of the Canary Islands.  The battle commenced at 0920 and firing from long range Decatur’s gunners partially dismasted Macedonian leaving her hard to maneuver. Decatur then positioned United States on the quarter of Macedonian and pounded the helpless British ship into submission.  Macedonian surrendered about 1200.  Damage to the United States was light and 7 sailors were killed and 5 wounded.  Macedonian lost over one-third of her 301 man crew killed or wounded.  The Americans took over the British vessel and after temporary repairs at sea the United States and the newly christened USS Macedonian sailed for New York arriving on December 4th 1812.  The ship would serve in the U.S. Navy until 1828 when she was broken up at Norfolk.

USS Constitution vs HMS Java

In late October 1812 the Constitution now under the command of Captain William Bainbridge sailed from Boston.  This time she encountered the 38 Gun Frigate HMS Java under the command of Captain Richard Lambert off the coast of Brazil on December 29th 1812.  Java was a fine ship with a well drilled crew and brave Captain and she was faster than Constitution.  Though she was rated as 38 Guns she had 49 mounted making her a far tougher opponent than Guerrière or Macedonian. In addition to her own crew she had on board 100 additional sailors to reinforce ships inIndia. She was carrying Lieutenant General Thomas Hislop who was to command British forces inIndia, officers from his staff and several other high ranking Royal Navy officers enroot to commands inIndia.

The action commenced about 1410 and Lambert was able to maneuver across Constitution’s stern 3 times shooting away her helm at 1430 and wounding Bainbridge. Constitution was able to close with Java and the ships became fouled which took away the advantage Java had temporarily acquired.  Java had her bowsprit and jib boom shot away at 1500 and in the next 55 minutes Constitution dismasted Java with the exception of part of her mainmast which went over the side at 1620.  The gallant Captain Lambert was mortally wounded at 1530 and command was assumed by Lieutenant Henry D. Chads.  At 1725 Constitution took up a raking position and Lieutenant Chads after consulting with his surviving officers struck the colors.  The battered Java was not salvageable and was burned and sunk the next day but not before Java’s helm was salvaged and installed on Constitution.  In an ironic twist Commodore Henry Chads in command of a British squadron at Singapore in 1845 provided medical assistance to Constitution when her crew suffered an outbreak of Dysentery and fevers during her around the world cruise.

Within the space of four months the Royal Navy lost three Frigates and forbade their Frigate Captains not to engage the American “Super-Frigates” one on one.  Only Ships of the Line or squadrons would be allowed to engage the American ships.

Over the next two years the British tightened their blockade of American ports bottling up most of the Navy.  The Navy lost two of the Super-Frigates to the British during the war, the 36 gun USS Chesapeake which was captured by HMS Shannon on June 1st 1813 and the USS President on January 15th 1815.

Neither was a fair fight, Chesapeake’s Captain James Lawrence was new to the ship which had a new and poorly trained crew and Shannon was one of the most combat effective ships in the Royal Navy whose Captain was Philip Broke had been her skipper for 7 years and trained the crew into a well drilled machine.  Lawrencewas mortally wounded but uttered the cry which immortalized him “Don’t give up the ship, fight her until she sinks.” Lawrence’s friend Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry would name his flagship on Lake Erie the USS Lawrence and fly a flag that read “Don’t give up the Ship.”  The USS President under the command of Stephen Decatur was lost after she was badly damaged in a winter gale and snowstorm when pilots navigated her onto a sand bar.  Although Decatur was able to move the ship off the bar she was badly damaged and caught by a superior British squadron and captured.

The exploits of the small force of Frigates and smaller ships on the high seas and Perry’s squadron onLake Erie proved to be the only real military successes of the war.  But even more it was the three engagements in the closing months of 1812 that defined the spirit of the United States Navy for generations.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Weird Day, a Great Team and Some Fractured History

Today was one of those weird days for me, very busy, pretty good work and good intellectual stimulation n an ethics committee meeting.  I’m also still pretty tired from the past few weeks, not feeling bad but I know that I need to pace myself while we are short staffed in our department this summer.  It is a good thing that I have the boss that I have as he is making sure that I am okay on a pretty regular basis.  He knows that I will push myself hard until I hit the wall, which I did about a week and a half ago.  The thing is it is not just me that is feeling the strain. All of us on our staff have been pushed hard caring for folks during the recent deaths of two military staff members, regular work on our wards, administrative tasks as well as the extra load imposed by being short staffed.  But this is what we do as chaplains.  The good thing is that we are doing our best not just to look after our flock, but to look after each other.  We have a great team which I am proud to be a part.

Thus today my mind was a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.  In fact it was awash in so much that I should have written them down.  The mind is like a sieve sometimes.  Since it is late I am going to stick with a few observations from this day in history which seems to still have significance today June 17th.

On this day in 1579 Sir Francis Drake sailed his ship the Golden Hind into San Francisco Bay.  Immediately he was picketed by anti-imperialist and environmentalist protesters who had come down from Haight Ashbury in their Birkenstocks.  Ignoring them Drake’s crew hit on women and some men in Golden Gate Park, had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and took in a Giants game.  At least that’s what they wanted to do, but they were 400 years or so too early.  Instead they sat around wondering why it was so cold in the middle of summer as they repaired their ships, had the chaplain celebrate Eucharist and then claimed everything in sight for England calling it New Albion.  The Spanish realtors in the area took umbrage to this and never recognized the claim.

On this day in 1775 was fought the battle of Bunker Hill or more appropriately Breed’s Hill.  The American soldiers defending the hill gave a good account of themselves against the British who were trying to drive them off of the hill.  An American commander on the front line uttered the cry which did not become in military history “Don’t fire until you can smell the Redcoat bastards.”  The insensitivity of the comment regarding the Colonial’s British Cousins body odor, which wafted over the battlefield, offended some of in the snior commanders who had a hard time smelling the gunpowder over their own body odor.  When the Pentagon heard about it the offending officer was sent to Ft Polk Louisiana and the utterance was officially changed to “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  After the clash the surviving unwounded opponents gathered at Sam Adams pub where they consumed vast amounts of his original Boston Lager beer as they played darts and argued the merits of English versus American Football.  Some went to the Yankees Red Sox game at Fenway later in the evening.

On this day in 1815 Commodore Stephen Decatur commanding a Task force from the 6th Feet conquered the Algerian frigate Mashouda in an action that finally helped bring an end to the Barbary Wars and drove the Barbary Pirates from the Mediterranean.  Within 48 hours of defeating the Mashouda he was in Algiers harbor exacting peace on the Dey of Algiers.  This ended the period of where  Barabry Pirates excercised domain over the Mediterranean. Getting with British sailors on liberty in town with which they had recently been at war, the Americans and Brits spent the evenings at Murphy’s Irish pub drinking Guinness and Kilkenney with Irish and other expats while watching Arsenal play Bayern München on pay per view.

On this day in 1856 Republican Party opened its 1st national convention in Philadelphia.  Immediately Randall Terry demanded equal time to speakers demanding the end of slavery while Ron Paul was ignored.  Others lobbied for the Flat Tax until they discovered that there was not yet an income tax.  Up and coming Illinois legislator Abraham Lincoln gave the keynote address recommending a bigger Federal role in solving disputes between states while Newt Gingrich presented a “Contract with the Union” to deal with the various tensions.  Fox News covered the event

On this day in 1916 US troops under General John Pershing marched into Mexico to bring Pancho Villa and others into custody.  The expedition was not successful as many troops were inflicted with Montazuma’s revenge while KBR failed to get the porta-poties in place in a timely manner.  The Easern European sub-contractor walked out and KBR replaced them with men from the Indian Subcontinent area who had each paid $4000 to an agent for the job and recived $300 a month working 16 hour days 6 days a week.  However the campaign  did give US troops experience operating in harsh climates which would serve them well when stationed in Texas over the next century.  General Phil Sheridan had once said of Texas that “If I owned Hell and Texas I would live in Hell and rent out Texas.”

On this day in 1938 after conducting military operations against the Chinese for over 5 years the Japanese declared war on China.  Chinese leaders Chaing Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung issued a joint statement agreeing to work together and declaring “It’s about damned time they admitted that they are at war with us.”

On this day in 1940 the French after having their asses handed to them by the Germans yet again asked for surrender terms.  General Charles DeGaulle immediately departed for England to continue the war against both the Germans and his fellow Frenchmen.   Upon his arrival DeGaulle immediately complained about the bad food, plain women and miserable weather.  He was embraced by Winston Churchill who got him drunk, left him passed out in a brothel and blamed the Vichy government for it. Churchill wrote afterward, “that man is a pain in the ass.”  DeGaulle always doubted Churchill’s version of events every time he looked at the tatoo of a German tank on his ass.

On this day in 1944 Iceland declared independence from Denmark.  No one noticed until 1953.

Most importantly on this day in 1960 Ted Williams hit his 500th home run. and today the Nationals beat the Yankees and the Orioles beat the Mets.

Peace, Steve+

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