The Raid on Entebbe
On 27 June 1976, two terrorists from the German Bader-Meinhof Gang and two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked Air France 139 from Athens to Paris. They flew to Benghazi, Libya to refuel but Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qaddaffi, told them they had to move on. They went on to Entebbe airport in Uganda, where dictator Idi Amin welcomed them and put the Ugandan military at their disposal. There they met six more PFLP terrorists. They demanded the release of 54 imprisoned comrades and $5 million dollars. On 29 June, the terrorists separated the Jewish passengers and released the rest. The crew of the plane bravely stayed with the Jewish passengers.
The Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, immediately interviewed the released hostages and based on their information, and information from a few agents in Kenya and on the ground, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered an operation. But Entebbe was 2500 miles away and Uganda’s relatively professional military occupied the airport. Initially, the operation was a combined invasion to overthrow Amin and hostage rescue to secure the passengers, but Rabin didn’t want to further destabilize East Africa.
The Israelis devised a daring plan of flying four C-130 cargo planes 12 hours to Entebbe and assault the base under the noses of the Ugandan military. The first plane would fly right on the tail of a scheduled British airways flight to mask the radar signature. They were loaded with 100 paratroopers, two land rovers and an expensive Mercedes Benz that most corrupt African bureaucrats favored. The assault team would use the vehicles to surprise and overwhelm the Ugandan security, and get close enough to storm the old terminal building where the hostages were held, without getting them all killed. The rest of the paratroopers would destroy the Ugandan air force planes on the base and block any counterattack from a nearby army post while the C130s refueled. It worked almost perfectly.
After two days of rehearsals, Operation Thunderbolt launched from Israel on 3 July 1976. In the early morning hours of 4 July, the Israelis landed, killed the terrorists, secured the hostages, and crippled the Ugandan military in the area. Only the assault team commander, LtCol Yonatan Netanyahu (older brother of the current Israeli prime minister) was killed, and one hostage, Dora Bloch. The elderly Mrs Bloch was taken to a nearby hospital after becoming ill on 2 July. She was murdered by Ugandan army officers after the raid, along with her doctor, several nurses, and an orderly who tried to intervene.
Based on the operation, most countries organized dedicated Counterterrorism units to perform similar missions.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial
On 6 May 1981, the Commission of Fine Arts unanimously chose Maya Yang Lin’s simple and elegant design for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in the Constitution Gardens in Washington D.C. Lin’s post minimalist design was of two black walls of granite that descend into a gravelike depression and meet at an angle. It was chosen from over 1100 submissions in an open call to artists by the Department of the Interior. The walls would be engraved with the names of those who were killed in the line of duty during the war in chronological order, starting with Air Force T-Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. who was murdered on 8 June 1956 by another airman as he was handing out candy to orphans in Saigon.
The choice, like the war, was controversial. Veteran’s groups hated it and wanted something more akin to the Marine Corps War Memorial. Several compromises were proposed, but President Ronald Reagan called the Commission and told them to ignore the critics. One of the compromises, adding the “Three Servicemembers” to the Memorial, was eventually approved but only when it was placed far enough away that it wouldn’t disrupt the integrity of Lin’s creation.
Names are still being added as remains of those listed as “missing in action” are found, or those who died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the war. The last six names were added in 2010.
At the end of World War II, Germany was broken up into four occupied zones. The American, British and French zones eventually formed the Federal Republic of Germany i.e. West Germany, and the Soviet Zone formed the German Democratic Republic aka East Germany, during the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl immediately moved to lay the ground work for the unification of the two countries as soon as possible.
The move was supported by US President George Bush, and several of the smaller NATO members, but was opposed by French President François Mitterand, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and most vehemently, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She once said, “We’ve defeated them twice! Now they’re back!” To be fair the leaders of Germany’s historic adversaries were for the democratization of East Germany just not for a unified German nation-state in the heart of Central Europe. Their worst fear was a unified neutral Germany no longer aligned with NATO. This was a very real fear in 1989 – Only 20% of Germans wanted to remain in NATO post-unification. That they did so was almost entirely due to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher and the presence of 250,000 NATO, mostly American, soldiers garrisoned on German soil.
Nonetheless, Kohl unilaterally unified the two countries’ economies in the summer of 1990, and in August both German parliaments approved the Unification Treaty. However there was still the matter of the Red Army on German soil. At the NATO-Warsaw Pact conference on 23 September 1990, Kohl offered 55 Billion Deutchmarks to the Soviet Union to remove the troops. The German offer Gorbachev, whose Soviet Union was in the midst of a society-destroying economic depression caused by 40 years of crippling socialist policies, was all too happy to take. At midnight on 3 October 1990, the German Unification Treaty came into effect, and the unified Federal Republic of Germany became a reality.
The honeymoon didn’t last long though. As India, the United Kingdom, and Israel had learned over the preceding decades, switching from a socialist economic model back to a capitalist model was painful. And German unification was the first time the two combined. The West Germans took over the “Treuhand”, or “Trust Agency” in East Germany, a corrupt and mostly failed Gorbachev reform that attempted to privatize even more corrupt and unproductive state businesses. The new Treuhand, comprised of Bundesbank and Frankfurt financial district executives and their staffs after the unification, became the de facto government in the former East Germany as they were given nearly unlimited power to determine who could buy the businesses and who would be permitted to rescue the failed East German economy. The Treuhand’s problems with privatization were exacerbated by six decades of totalitarian socialist expropriation of private property, first by the Nazi’s, then the Soviets, then finally by the GDR. Most foreign investors couldn’t navigate the complexities of the East German property rights situation, nor were they encouraged to by the Treuhand. Consequently, the Treuhand awarded nearly 14,000 former East German companies or former GDR state entities to almost exclusively West German firms.
Cutting economic ties with former Soviet satellites to the south and east was easy, as almost everything in the West was available in superior qualities and quantities, so much so that East Germans overcompensated toward the West, at their own expense. “Brain drain” was particularly devastating as hundreds of thousands of skilled and educated former East Germans migrated West to find jobs, and enjoy the ridiculously high living standards compared to their previous lives in the socialist GDR. Even the East Germans who didn’t leave spent their money in the former West Germany because the quality of goods was so much higher. As just one example, East German housewives crossed the border to buy eggs from West German farmers, because they were larger and tastier. Hundreds of thousands of East German workers who didn’t migrate chose to commute. The brain drain was alleviated somewhat by Berlin, partitioned after the Second World War by the Soviets and Western Allies. Berlin was an island of capitalist opportunity in a sea of socialist despair, and served as an economic anchor for millions of Germans that other cities in East Germany, such as Leipsig, Dresden, and Erfurt, couldn’t. Furthermore, in June 1991, the seat of the government moved to Berlin, providing government jobs in the bureaucracy, employment with which East Germans were familiar. Nonetheless, production in the newly acquired eastern parts of Germany was halved compared to even the sluggish and anemic standards of the GDR, and over a third of the remaining East German working age population was unemployed.
East Germany, and by extension the newly unified Germany as a whole, fell into a deep recession, a recession that required high interest rates on loans to combat inflation caused by assuming the East German debt and massive government subsidies. Despite the population of Germany increasing by nearly 25% with the incorporation of the GDR, the German GDP rose only 8%. Nonetheless, the Germans persisted and after a few years of economic hardship, Germany returned to its pre-unification growth. By 1995, the German government dumped almost 850 billion (with a “b”) Deutschmarks into the former East Germany. Almost all of the money went to keeping East German workers in East Germany through subsidies and unemployment, or to infrastructure projects to bring the thoroughly neglected East German infrastructure up to Western standards. Though the standard of living for East Germans remained much lower (and still is) than their western counterparts, the economic and political unification of Germany was complete when the Treuhand disbanded at the end of 1995.
In 1974, the Soviet backed Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, more commonly known as “The Derg”, overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist Communist state on the Horn of Africa. The coup and subsequent heavy handed socialist policies expanded the Ethiopian Civil War from just Eritean separatists to include groups of separatists from across the country, including Tigrayan, Amhara and Oromo peoples, among many others. In 1983, the constant warfare, Ethiopian Red Terror (exactly what it sounds like), land redistribution, forced migration, corruption, deliberate starvation, and a drought led to a widespread famine across Ethiopia. Between 1983 and 1985, the famine and human rights abuses killed 1.2 million Ethiopians, nearly 500,000 refugees fled the country, and 2.5 million people were internally displaced.
In November 1984, a BBC news documentary on the Ethiopian famine shocked the world. The international community leapt to respond, but none so much as the British and American music industries. Irish musician Robert Geldof formed the super group “Band-Aid” who raised funds for the victims. Band-Aid’s single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised nearly $10 million, despite being culturally inappropriate for the predominantly Christian country of Ethiopia. In March 1985, American super group “USA for Africa” released “We Are the World” raising further funds for Ethiopia.
The funds by the charity singles were still well below what international organizations thought was needed to combat the famine. Along with Geldof, Scottish musician Midge Ure organized a day of worldwide benefit concerts, billed a “global jukebox”, that would raise awareness and funds for Ethiopia. On 13 July 1985 simultaneous concerts were held in Austria, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, West Germany, and Yugoslavia. The two largest benefit concerts, dubbed “Live Aid”, were simultaneous showings at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK stadium in Philadelphia on 13 July 1985.
Both concerts were seen at each stadium on huge screens via near real time satellite transmission. According to the organizers, Live Aid showed that “humanitarian concern is now at the center of foreign policy”, and a new era of humanitarian cooperation would replace the Cold War. The line ups for both Live Aid concerts consisted of the “Who’s who” of Rock and Roll Aristocracy. At Wembley stadium, U2, David Bowie, Queen, the Who, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, George Michael, and Dire Straits headlined. In America, the JFK Live Aid concert was dubbed, “This Generation’s Woodstock”. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, the Beach Boys, Phil Collins, Brian Adams, Judas Priest, Simple Minds, Eric Clapton, and Duran Duran, among others, played twenty minutes sets. The JFK Live Aid concert even included the first on stage performance by Led Zeppelin since the death of their drummer, John Bonham in 1980 (Phil Collins drummed in his stead at the Live Aid concert). 160,000 people attended the concerts live. The combined Live Aid televised broadcast had an estimated 1.9 billion (with a “b”) viewers. 40% of the world’s population tuned in.
The Live Aid concerts are mostly remembered today for their technical difficulties, both on and off stage. Led Zeppelin’s songs sounded terrible. The group hadn’t rehearsed, Robert Plant sounded like shit, Jimmy Page’s guitar was not tuned, and Phil Collins didn’t know the songs. Tina Turner had wardrobe malfunction which almost got the plug pulled on the whole thing by the FCC. Bryan Adams couldn’t be heard in London due to a buzzing sound. And Paul McCartney’s version of Let It Be was silent for the first two minutes. Donations to Live Aid for the first seven hours amounted to a paltry $1.7 million, considering the star power assembled in support. The numbers went up considerably after Geldof got on the BBC radio and shouted, “Give us your focking money!.” Despite the problems, Live Aid raised at least $127,000,000 for the victims of the Ethiopian famine.
That $127,000,000 brought nothing but greater levels of death and destruction to Ethiopia.
The victims of the Ethiopian famine saw little if any of that money, and even the money raised previously by the charity singles, “Do they Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World”. Geldof ignored warnings from the NGO (non governmental organization) Doctors Without Borders, that the aid money was being funneled by the Ethiopian government for nefarious purposes. Geldof worked with Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam personally, and most of the Live Aid money went to fund arms and military equipment purchases from the Soviet Union. Geldof was instrumental in getting Doctors Without Borders expelled from Ethiopia, removing medical care for countless Ethiopians. As a response, future funds from sales of the Live Aid recordings went to several NGOs instead of the Ethiopian government. The NGOs turned out to be front organizations for the various rebel movements in the country. After the allegations of Live Aid mismanagement and corruption proved true, many artists admitted they were shamed and browbeaten by Geldoff to perform at the charity concerts.
Live Aid made a lot of rich people feel good about themselves, but Live Aid did little if anything good for the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia would have been much better off without Live Aid. Live Aid can accurately be described as having funded all sides of the Ethiopian Civil War. Live Aid funds directly resulted in escalations to the Ethiopian Civil War, and its donations tied directly to human rights abuses and war crimes. The Live Aid funded Ethiopian Civil War spilled over into neighboring Somalia and further destabilized that country, resulting in United Nations’ intervention in 1992. The Ethiopian Civil War continued until 1991 when Soviet backing for the Derg regime and its successor, The People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, ended. That year, Eritea won its independence, and Ethiopia transitioned to a US backed ethnic federation.
There is no question about the damage Live Aid’s funds did to the people and stability of the Horn of Africa. The only question is whether the Live Aid organizers were deliberately funding the Derg regime, or were willfully ignorant to the realities of the Ethiopian Civil War.
In either case, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Cool concerts though, I guess.
The USS Stark
During the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988, a low level parallel naval conflict in the Persian Gulf, known as the Tanker War, was waged where each side tried to sink as many of their adversary’s oil tankers as possible. Iran relied exclusively on tankers to export its oil which was its sole source of funding for the war. Iranian mines, and Revolutionary Guard small boat attacks and airstrikes forced Iraq to export most of its oil via pipelines to friendly Saudi Arabia. However, Iran expanded its attacks to neutral flagged ships of those countries friendly to Iraq, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, to intercept Iraq’s oil. Along with the British and French, the US deployed a Mid-East Task Force to the Persian Gulf to protect neutral flagged ships from both Iranian and Iraqi attacks.
On 17 May 1987, a US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, USS Stark FFG-31, sailed on a routine patrol in the Persian Gulf just outside of Iraq’s declared war zone, as part of the Mid-East Task Force. About 1900 that night (7 pm) a joint US-Saudi Arabian E-3C Sentry aircraft acquired what it thought was a French made Iraqi F-1 Mirage but it was actually a militarized business jet converted into a long range reconnaissance plane and armed with several air to surface missiles. The Sentry passed the contact off to the USS Stark at 2055. The plane was more than 200 miles out.
The Stark knew about the incoming aircraft for fifty minutes at that point, flipped on her air search radar, and belatedly acquired the aircraft after wrestling with several false reports of a surface contact nearby. (Turning on a powerful radar like the SPS-49 makes the ship a big target for surface to surface missiles.) Just before that, the electronic warfare officer (EWO) went to get a cup of coffee. The Stark’s tactical action officer (TAO) in the combat information center (CIC) ordered the comms duty officer (the acronym for that is insane) to wait on hailing the approaching aircraft as it looked as if the plane would pass benignly by. As the unidentified aircraft continued to approach, the TAO ordered the weapons control officer (WCS) to go find the EWO because his console controlled the chaff (“chaff” are small metal strips launched into the air to confuse incoming radar lock missiles) and was one of the only two stations in the CIC where an incoming threat could be tracked and a weapon assigned (guess where the other one was…). This action left both the EWO and WCS stations vacant, though the ship’s executive officer did enter the CIC on administrative business, and occupied the WCS’ station to observe the TAO while he waited.
At 2104, the TAO gave permission to the comms duty officer to hail the aircraft, presumably because the XO was watching. The aircraft did not respond, and turned slightly toward the Stark to further close the distance, though this was missed by the air tracker watching the radar. At 2108, the Stark tried communicating with the aircraft again, which was 32 nautical miles out and well within range of known Iraqi and Iranian air to surface missiles, and again received no response.
As the Stark was futilely trying to contact the aircraft a second time, the Iraqi pilot launched his first French made Exocet missile. After another minute inputting data into the fire control and locking on a second missile, he launched another Exocet. He was less than twelve miles out.
The Exocet (French for “Flying Fish”) flew across the Persian Gulf three meters above the water at nearly Mach one. As “sea-skimming” missiles, they were never picked up by the air-search radar, and the only stations with the capability to detect the incoming threat were vacant with one’s operator getting coffee, and the other looking for him.
At 2109, the TAO ordered a young ensign to occupy the WCS’s console to activate the weapon systems and the fire control radar. This included a young sailor running topside to manually turn on the chaff launcher, which was completed and probably saved the sailor’s life. As the young ensign jockeyed with the intimidating executive officer at the WCS station, a lookout topside using a pair of binoculars and Mark 1 Eyeballs spotted a white glow on the horizon and spoke into his mic “Missile Inbound Missile Inbound”. The first Exocet struck the USS Stark four seconds later.
It penetrated the hull just below the CIC but didn’t explode. Its remaining fuel spread fires throughout its path into the ship, particularly in the petty officers quarters, where it came to lie. The Stark’s luck however would not repeat: 30 seconds later, the same lookout said, “inbound missile, port side… all hands brace for shock!”; the second missile struck eight feet forward from the initial hit, and exploded. 29 sailors were killed instantly, many in their sleep or burned to death shortly thereafter. Eight died later of their wounds or were lost at sea. Twenty more were wounded.
From aircraft acquisition to detonation was just 14 minutes. From the first hail to detonation was less than four minutes.
The Stark never fired any of her weapons. The Perry class frigates are primarily surface combatants or escorts conducting anti-submarine warfare, activities for which they are admirably equipped. They rely on other ships, or preferably planes, for wide area anti-aircraft coverage. They possess point air defense weapons i.e. self-protection only, in the form of the 20mm Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapons System, a giant Gatling gun) for just such incoming threats. However, the system was down with parts on order, and the crew mistakenly believed they couldn’t calibrate the auxiliary targeting system except in an approved gunnery area. The CIWS was never activated and remained on “stand-by mode”, even though it was operational. Furthermore, there was confusion as per the rules of engagement/readiness condition – The CIC crew believed they could not fire unless fired upon, which was not the case. They could have defended themselves any time after the plane didn’t respond to queries and continued to approach. (Condition III Yellow vs Condition III White, or for US Army folks, roughly the difference between Yellow Tight and White Hold).
If the first missile would have exploded, the USS Stark would have been a catastrophic loss. As it was, “only” a 10’ by 13’ flaming hole was bored into the ship. The fires created by the missiles destroyed the storesroom, the berths, the small postal room, and eventually the CIC. The damage created a severe list which was counteracted by reverse flooding to keep the hole above the waterline. However, the essentially Second World War damage control techniques barely kept the 3000 degree fires and list from sinking the ship. The fires were twice as hot as needed to melt the bulkheads. One third of the crew was incapacitated, and there were simply too many tasks needed to be done. Furthermore, the water used to fight the fires threatened to capsize the ship despite the counter flooding. This fate was avoided by the time consuming and difficult process of sledgehammering holes in the aluminum bulkheads to redistribute the water. The Stark had no modern rescue equipment such as cutting torches or Jaws-of-Life. Only the timely arrival of the destroyer USS Waddel several hours later prevented the exhausted and wounded crew from succumbing to the list and flames. The Stark was further aided by the USS Conyngham who departed Bahrain with only a third of her crew: the rest were on shore leave and couldn’t be found. The fires raged for 24 hours. It was only the combined effort, ingenuity, and perseverance of the three crews that saved the Stark. The next day they managed to escort the stricken ship back to port.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government initially blamed the US for violating the declared war zone, but when confronted by conclusive evidence to the contrary, apologized for mistaking the Stark for an Iranian tanker. The attack on the USS Stark was the first incident in the increasingly larger American involvement in the Tanker War.
Germany Surrenders to the Allies
Before Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, he appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz his successor as National Socialist Germany’s head of state. On 2 May, Dönitz sent Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg to Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters to negotiate the surrender of the three German armies still fighting the Soviets in northern Germany. Montgomery, unwilling to offend the Russians, said the Germans had to surrender to the Soviets. The only other option was if all German forces in Northern Germany and Denmark surrendered to him. If that happened, the capitulation would look like a tactical surrender to Monty’s 21st Army, which shouldn’t upset the Soviets. Friedeburg said he didn’t have the authority to surrender everyone Monty demanded, but he’d ask. He returned the next day and acquiesced. 1,000,000 German troops surrendered to Monty. After the details were worked out, Friedeburg asked for passage to negotiate directly with Eisenhower for the surrender of all German forces facing the Western Allies.
Bad weather kept Freideburg from flying directly to SHAEF headquarters at Reims, France, but he eventually arrived on 5 May. Eisenhower told Friedeburg to pound sand. There would be no conditions on the German surrender. There would be no partial surrenders, either he negotiates the surrender of all German forces, including those facing the Soviets to the Soviets, or none at all. Eisenhower’s chief of staff LtGen Bedell “Beetle” Smith showed Friedeburg the situation maps confirming Germany’s hopeless position, including a fake one with arrows continuing the Allied drive east, deep into Czechoslovakia and the Balkans. With tears in his eyes, Friedeburg again professed that he didn’t have the authority. He cabled Dönitz for additional instructions.
The next day, the SHAEF staff wrestled with itself trying to create the surrender documents. There were several competing versions. The first was by the European Advisory Commission, signed in the summer of 1944 and approved by all of the Allies and the Soviets. But there was also a Yalta Conference version that wasn’t officially approved by all parties, specifically France. And everyone knew how touchy DeGaulle was. He could ruin the whole thing, maybe even restart the war just out of pride. Smith compromised – he created a new one.
The Stars and Stripes newspaper recently published the Italian surrender document in its entirety. Smith used the wording of the Italian document, which the French had approved, and inserted “Germany” where “Italy” had been. One of his staff officers updated it. At the hysterical urging of the US Embassy in London, he inserted an “enabling” clause at the last second, stating that the Allies can add conditions in the future as needed. The final version was still being translated when a new German negotiator finally arrived that evening.
General Alfred Jodl was the OKW operations chief, and only departed for Reims after his own awards ceremony in which Dönitz awarded him a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. After Friedeberg’s message, Dönitz felt that Jodl, a member of Wehrmacht, might convince Eisenhower to accept the surrender of just the German forces facing the Western Allies. Or maybe even convince Eisenhower to join the Germans in fighting the Soviets, for the sake of the German population. The Soviets were raping and looting their way across Germany, and “You’ll have to fight them eventually”, as Jodl stated matter-of-factly.
Eisenhower angrily reiterated unconditional surrender. Jodl, now fully aware that it was all or nothing, began to stall. Eisenhower told him he had 48 hours to sign the freshly produced surrender documents, or he was going to close his lines to any Germans, military or civilian, and force them to surrender to the Soviets. Jodl, aghast, said he didn’t have the authority. Eisenhower just looked at him and said the clock was ticking. Jodl quickly cabled Dönitz, and just after midnight, received permission to sign the documents.
At 2:40 am on 7 May 1945, General Alfred Jodl signed the capitulation of Nazi Germany. The surrender ceremony took just ten minutes. No one said a word, and Eisenhower didn’t even attend. When Jodl finished signing, he asked that the victors treat Germany with generosity. Smith took Jodl to Eisenhower’s office. Ike asked if he understood what he did and that he was personally responsible. Jodl nodded, saluted, and left.
Ike and Smith broke out a bottle of champagne. Ike told the staff to quickly compose a suitable message to send to London, Paris, Moscow, and Washington DC informing them of Germany’s surrender. Every staff officer in the building wanted a piece of the message, and each version was longer and more grandiose than the last. Ike took out a piece a paper, wrote a single line and told Smith to have it sent. It said,
“The mission of this Allied force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945, Eisenhower.”
Operations K and R: The Extermination of the Czechoslovak Religious Orders
By 1950, the Iron Curtain had fallen across Europe and Soviet control of its satellite states in Eastern Europe was nearing completion. In Czechoslovakia, Communist control of the Czech Parliament was won in the relatively free elections of 1946. Following Socialism’s historical playbook of never giving up power once taken, the Communists seized complete control of the country in a coup in 1948. Power was consolidated, and by 1949, only one institution stood in opposition to the Czech Communists: the Czechoslovak Catholic Church.
Czechoslovakian StB (state security) agents and troops, trained and controlled by the Soviet Ministry of State Security (MGB, predecessor of the infamous KGB, the Committee of State Security), closed down churches and schools, outlawed all religious printed materials, and arrested priest and laity. The Stb engineered show trials to discredit Czechoslovak Catholics and parade them as agents of the Vatican, the Americans, and the British. The most famous show trial was that of the Číhošť Miracle, where 19 parishioners swore that a cross on the main alter moved on its own. The StB brutally tortured the priest to confess that he mechanically linked the alter and pulpit, from where he could control the cross. The show trial failed when Father Josef Toufar died from the torture before testifying that he staged the miracle.
The Číhošť Miracle show trial inflamed Czechoslovak passions, particularly the only remnants of the Catholic Church left in the country: its monasteries and nunneries. The Czechoslovak religious orders had emerged from the state sponsored violence relatively unscathed. They were socially isolated and physically distant from population at large and initially deemed no threat to the state power. However after the death of Father Toufar, the Church was no longer “an opiate of the masses” but a potential source of insurgent political power.
On the night of 13 April, 1950, StB plainclothes agents and troops, “People’s Militia”, and their Soviet handlers launched Operation K (for kláštery, Czech for monastery) to eliminate the monastic system in the country. In one coordinated operation, 75 Czech and 62 Slovak monasteries, belonging to the Salesian, Jesuit, Redemptorist and Benedictine orders, were raided that night. 13 more monasteries were raided later in the week. The monks were loaded onto trucks and sent to concentration camps, if not outright shot. Most of the older monks were not seen again, while the younger ones were worked to death in slave labor battalions. Prominent abbots were found guilty of treason in public show trials. The buildings were looted and the land confiscated for state use. In the most notorious example, the oldest monastery in the country, the Břevnov Monastery in Prague was converted into the Interior Ministry’s Central State Archive. About 2500 monks were killed or imprisoned during Operation K.
Several months later the Communists launched Operation R against Czechoslovak Catholic nunneries. Little evidence (in English, that I can find anyway) exists regarding Operation R, other than it happened and the Catholic nunneries in Czechoslovakia ceased to exist afterwards. The lucky nuns were sent into exile to live in the village of Bílá Voda. The vast majority were never heard from again. One can only speculate as to the nuns’ fate, but the Soviet proclivity of sexual violence toward female “enemies of the state” during and after the Second World War probably provides a clue.
The Cambodian Civil War and The Killing Fields
After being replaced in power by a soft coup in 1967, the Soviet faction inside North Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp was forced to watch impotently as the Chinese faction prepared to engage in large scale battles against the US, Allied, and South Vietnamese units. Led by Le Duan, the Chinese faction believed that the Americans could be beaten by large scale pitched battles, just as the French had been defeated the decade before, not through guerilla warfare as Giap proposed. Though a political victory in the United States for the Communists, the General Offensive/General Uprising, aka the Tet Offensive of 1968, was a complete disaster for the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive thoroughly discredited the Chinese faction. Giap returned to power.
Throughout the late 60s, Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia believed in inevitable Chinese Communist domination of the Indochinese peninsula and was firmly allied with the Chinese faction in North Vietnam. Cambodia was all but a formal North Vietnamese and Chinese ally. Eastern Cambodia was essentially a North Vietnamese colony with the Ho Chi Minh trail and large areas along the border of South Vietnam under PAVN’s (People’s Army of North Vietnam) control. Soviet and Eastern Bloc ships routinely used Cambodian ports, and most of Cambodia’s rice harvest went to PAVN troops. The Cambodian Communists, the Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer) were a small indigenous guerilla auxiliary of the PAVN.
By 1969, Sihanouk was caught up in complicated plots while attempting placate all sides in the conflict. Cambodia’s support for the Vietnamese communists was one sided and destroying Cambodia’s economy. Sihanouk thoroughly supported the Chinese faction and had purged most urban i.e. Soviet supporting communists from the country. In 1970, Cambodian nationalists overthrew Sihanouk when they felt he wasn’t going far enough to restore Cambodian autonomy from Vietnam. The coup created an unholy alliance between the Sihanouk monarchists, the discredited Chinese faction of the PAVN, intellectuals outside the capital of Phnom Penh, and the agrarian peasants of the Khmer Rouge led by the unassuming and nondescript Pol Pot, to oppose the pro US Khmer Republic.
As Giap reconsolidated his hold on the PAVN in the wake of the Tet Offensive, the PAVN and the Khmer Rouge launched an offensive into north eastern Cambodian to continue the Maoist struggle against the Khmer Republic. In 1972, when Giap and the Soviet faction finally regained control of North Vietnamese leadership, the Khmer Rouge, like a petulant teenager who ran away from his parents, broke with their Vietnamese socialist brothers, and sought direct support from the Chinese Communist Party. By the end of 1973, all Sihanouk loyalists were purged. The agrarian-intellectual Khmer Rouge was greatly expanded by support from Mao Zedong’s CCP. The Khmer Rouge became the dominant force in the war against the Khmer Republic and Pol Pot the most powerful man in Cambodia.
Pol Pot was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), the official name of the Khmer Rouge, since 1963. Known “First Brother” to his socialist allies, Pol Pot was born in French Cambodia and an early French Communist. Pol Pot patterned the Khmer Rouge on the secretive French Maquis in the Second World War and Maoist agrarian socialism, combined with a Cambodian cultural distinctiveness. Pol Pot exploited the Khmer cultural divides between urban and rural, Heaven and Hell, civilization and the wild to create an indisputable boundary between the Khmer Rouge and its enemies, whomever they may be. Sihanouk’s purge of Soviet communists i.e the proletariat, in Phnom Penh left no place in the Khmer Rouge for industrial workers, just an ideal of happy and ignorant peasants lorded over by their supposedly intellectual superiors. Pol Pot’s ideology was especially effective on teenagers and younger children. Hundreds of thousands of Khmer children were indoctrinated and desensitized to violence. They were given power of life and death which their developing minds were incapable of handling. The CPK controlled areas were “Lord of the Flies” on an exponential scale. Pol Pot’s volatile political concoction led to an ideological violence seen only in the darkest depths of socialist and pseudo religious identity politics.
With declining support from America, the Khmer Republic declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Khmer Rouge when the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge saw no reason to abide by the terms. Throughout 1973 and 1974, they launched continuous offensives that eventually took them to the gates of Phnom Penh, the “Pearl of Asia”. After a yearlong siege, Phnom Penh fell to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975, just a few days before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.
The Khmer Rouge’s popular slogan at the time was “The Rotten Must Be Purged”. They killed anyone that did not fit their ideal. These included:
-Anyone associated with the former Cambodian government, their extended families and neighbors.
-Anyone with foreign connections or even knew the basics of a foreign language.
-Intellectuals. The Khmer definition “intellectual” included students who did not drop out of school to fight for them, anyone who could read, anyone who owned a book, or even anyone who wore glasses.
-The sick and infirm, and any caretakers.
-Anyone who owned a business or employed people.
-Anyone who displayed any signs whatsoever of individualism.
-Anyone who resisted, did not support the party, or offended a member of the party.
The punishment for being an enemy of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge was swift, brutal, and agonizing.
The Khmer Rouge forcefully evacuated all three million residents of the city. Phnom Penh went from bustling metropolis to ghost town in less than a month. What was left of the population of the city went on a weeks long Death March into the Cambodian countryside. Anyone who stopped moving or fell out of the march was killed. Way stops became torture centers. The Khmer Rouge played god with people’s lives just because they could. Once there they were used as slave labor on the collective farms.
20,000 mass grave sites were later identified, results of Khmer Rouge’s capture of Phnom Penh in 1975, the subsequent Death March, and the atrocities born from forced collectivization. At least 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered during Pol Pot’s and the Khmer Rouge’s Chinese sponsored reign in Cambodia.
Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term “Killing Fields” to describe the clusters of skeletons and corpses he encountered on his forty mile journey during his escape from Cambodia in 1978.
The Ho Chi Minh Campaign: The 1975 North Vietnamese Spring Offensive
Almost ten years to the day after the first US combat troops entered South Vietnam, Communist North Vietnam launched their war winning conventional offensive against South Vietnam.
In 1964, the South Vietnamese Army was almost completely combat ineffective and had to be rebuilt. To buy the time to do so, General William Westmoreland, the commander of the US and SEATO Military Assistance Command- Vietnam (MAC-V), brought in US airpower and US combat troops. Between 1965 and 1968, Westmoreland used US and Allied troops to search for and destroy VC and NVA main force units, while relying on special forces, indigenous militias and the ARVN for counter insurgency and security. These tactics proved effective to a point, but didn’t play well on TV and certainly weren’t quantifiable, though Westmoreland tried with “body counts”. When Westmoreland was denied the authority to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail and seize communist base camps in the Laotian panhandle and the Fishhook in Cambodia, the war was militarily unwinnable for the US and South Vietnam. North Vietnamese Minister of Defense and commander of the North Vietnamese Army, General Võ Nguyên Giáp, took advantage of this reality and advocated for a slower insurgency campaign that avoided costly big unit engagements. This approach would empower the VC, increase US casualties, embolden the US anti-war movement, and allow time for the Soviet propaganda machine to work over America.
This slower, but inevitably successful, course of action was backed by the Soviet faction inside the North Vietnamese Communist Party, led by Giap and Ho Chi Minh. In 1967, when Ho was ill and Giap at a conference in Moscow, the Chinese faction in the government and armed forces staged a soft coup. The Chinese faction, led by COSVN commander Tran Van Tra and North Vietnamese politician Le Duan, came to power and demanded big unit battle with the Americans, because that was how the French were defeated previously. Returning to Vietnam, Giap was forced to accept the new strategy.
In January 1968, the NVA and VC launched the “General Offensive/General Uprising” i.e. the Tet Offensive, which shocked the Americans and South Vietnamese. However, though the General Offensive portion of the plan was executed, the General Uprising of South Vietnamese was nonexistent. The South Vietnamese populace on the whole refused to support the communists. The NVA and VC were defeated in a few weeks, the VC decisively so. Although the communists suffered extremely heavy casualties, the Tet Offensive turned the US public opinion against the war. The scale of the offensive gave lie to the official Johnson and Westmoreland position that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Gen Westmoreland was replaced that spring by General Creighton Abrams.
The Tet Offensive destroyed the Viet Cong as a viable military entity, and forced Giap to move NVA regular units into South Vietnam to take their place, setting the insurgency back years. This gave Abrams the opportunity to implement new tactics in Vietnam dubbed the “Inkblot Strategy”. American and ARVN troops secured the cities, town, hamlets, and then the countryside of S. Vietnam through counterinsurgency tactics the way ink blots spread on a piece of paper. Combined with targeted strikes on high value targets and partnering and training of South Vietnamese troops and irregulars, the “inkblot strategy” proved effective. Dubbed “Vietnamization” the strategy was successful, and the ARVN took over security of the country with most American combat troops out of Vietnam by 1972.
Though Abrams’ strategy was successful, the four years of lost time under Westmoreland meant that the South Vietnamese still needed American advisors, air support, supplies, and financial assistance to deal with the increasingly conventional NVA attacks. With American assistance, the ARVN held its own against the NVA coming out of Cambodia and Laos. On New Year’s Eve 1972, Giap conceded that “We have lost the war” (his words) after Operation Linebacker II and the disastrous Easter Offensive, both of which prompted the North Vietnamese to accept the Paris Peace Accords in early 1973. South Vietnam repelled North Vietnam’s 1972, 1973, and 1974 spring offensives, without American combat troops.
As usual for modern American peace deals, the United States kept its part of the bargain and its adversaries did not. In February 1975, the US public was tired of the war. The newly elected Democratic congress cut off all funding to South Vietnam, while North Vietnam was awash in funds and supplies from various Communist bloc countries. On 10 March 1975, Giap launched the spring offensive, named after the deceased former leader of North Vietnam Ho Chi Minh, with hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces. “The Ho Chi Minh Campaign” was the fourth massive conventional spring offensive in as many years against South Vietnam. Giap had reached the bottom of his manpower pool, but unfortunately South Vietnam had neither the resources nor the will to properly defend. The NVA broke through within days and Saigon fell on 30 April.
Contrary to popular historical opinion, South Vietnam did not fall to a popular insurgency, but a conventional attack that would not have been out of place in the Second World War.
130,000 South Vietnamese fled the country and 200,000 more were be murdered by the North Vietnamese over the next month. Hundreds of thousands more were forced into re-education camps. Following their victory in Vietnam, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, and Laos fell to the Pathet Lao. A further 1.6 million men, women, and children were murdered by the Communists.
Operation Rolling Thunder and the Ground War in Vietnam
In early 1965, there were 22,000 US Special Forces advisers, pilots, and support personnel in South Vietnam assisting the Republic of South Vietnam in the war against the communist National Liberation Front insurgents aka Viet Cong (VC), and their backers in North Vietnam. The situation in South Vietnam steadily deteriorated over the previous two years and the chaos reached a crescendo in February 1965. The Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) was recently defeated in two conventional battles against the VC and regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Also the civilian government of South Vietnam endured a successful coup by the ARVN Army Chief of Staff, Gen Nguyen Khanh and his Buddhist supporters, only to be immediately followed by another failed coup by communist sympathizers on the Armed Forces Council (The Vietnamese version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Furthermore, the South Vietnamese village pacification program was recognized as a complete failure in February. Additionally, Viet Cong terror bombings became increasing common in South Vietnam’s major cities. But the final straw was the attack on Pleiku Air Base which killed eight Americans, wounded 128 others and destroyed 20 aircraft in the first large scale attack directed solely at Americans.
In response to the chaos, on 2 March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained bombing campaign against the Viet Cong’s supply routes aka the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, and military and industrial targets inside North Vietnam. Rolling Thunder was a major escalation to the war. The operation was scheduled to last eight weeks; it would go on for three years.
In order to protect the Rolling Thunder airbases from further Pleiku style attacks, the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam commander, Gen. William Westmoreland, requested American ground combat troops. The first of these arrived on 8 March 1965 when two battalions of US Marines landed on the beach at Danang, where they assumed security of the US airbase there. They could have flown directly to the airbase, but Westmoreland thought it more dramatic for the cameras if they landed on the beach like their fathers did in the Pacific War.
95,000 more American troops followed over the course of 1965.
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