Tag Archives: History

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 1)

Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

This April marks the 100th anniversary of one of the strangest episodes in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the mostly forgotten 1914 occupation of Veracruz.

A relatively minor event during the lengthy and violent Mexican Revolution, it is also overshadowed by another American armed intervention in Mexico, the 1916 “Punitive Expedition” led by General John Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa.  The Veracruz occupation is remembered, if at all, for the embarrassingly large quantity of medals awarded to its participants, and as one of the numerous “small wars” conducted by the Marine Corps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The roots for the 1914 occupation of Veracruz started a few years earlier, in the chaos caused by the Mexican Revolution.  Porfirio Díaz had ruled Mexico as a dictator since the 1870s (re-elected as President through periodic sham elections), but was finally forced from office in 1911 in the face of an opposition coalition that represented the whole spectrum from liberals to warlords and bandits.  His successor, the aristocratic but principled liberal Francisco Madero, was soon overthrown and murdered during a 1913 coup led by General Victoriano Huerta, who proceeded to declare himself President.

The U.S. first began creeping towards possible military intervention in Mexico in 1911, with President Taft instructing the Army to create a “Maneuver Division” for use in potential contingencies south of the border.  Madero’s death during the Ten Tragic Days (La Decena Trágica) of February 1913, weeks before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration following his defeat of both Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election, resulted in the deployment of U.S. Navy ships to ports on both the east and west coasts of Mexico to observe the situation and protect American citizens and interests.

A month later, in March 2013, Venustiano Carranza established the “Constitutionalist” opposition to Huerta’s government by bringing together another coalition of liberals, regional leaders, and warlords/bandits.  By the next spring, Constitutionalist forces had made their way to the vicinity of Tampico, where there was a substantial American presence (mostly due to Tampico’s central role in the Mexican oil industry).  Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo commanded the U.S. Navy forces offshore Tampico.

A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)
A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)

The direct cause of the U.S. seizure of Veracruz was enabled by the convergence of the U.S. Navy and Constitutionalist army on Tampico.  On 9 April 1914, personnel from USS Dolphin were mistakenly and briefly detained by Mexican soldiers (Federales loyal to Huerta) while buying fuel from a warehouse along the river near the front line between the two opposing Mexican armies.  Although the Mexican General in command of Huerta’s forces quickly released the American sailors and apologized, Mayo would only be appeased by the Mexicans giving a 21-gun salute to the U.S. flag after it was raised ashore in Tampico; a stipulation that would be unacceptable to any Mexican patriot.

In the following days, tensions were also raised by additional minor insults to U.S. honor, including the arrest of a “mail orderly” from USS Minnesota ashore in Veracruz, and the detention of a courier working for the embassy in Mexico City.  In response, on 14 April, President Wilson, whose personal and political distaste for Huerta and his manner of assuming power in Mexico was well known, ordered that the entire Atlantic Fleet immediately proceed from Norfolk to Mexico’s Gulf coast.

By 20 April the stakes had been raised even higher, as the President secretly informed a small group of Congressional leaders that he had been informed by the U.S. consul in Veracruz that a shipment of arms for Huerta’s army was on its way to Veracruz onboard a German cargo ship, Ypiranga.  Although Wilson wished to ask for congressional authorization for the use of force against Mexico, he did not wish to publicly disclose his knowledge of the Ypiranga shipment.

Later that night, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (most historically notorious for outlawing drinking onboard Navy ships) sent a warning order to Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the ships off Veracruz, to “be prepared on short notice to seize customs house at Vera Cruz.  If offered resistance, use all force necessary to seize and hold city and vicinity”   The following morning, Fletcher received the order from Daniels to “Seize customs house.  Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or any other party.”

This is the first of a three part series on the 1914 invasion and occupation on Veracruz.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

These Dead Ends Go To Eleven

The following is part of Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we pick apart past experiments and initiatives in the hopes of learning something from those that just didn’t quite pan out. See the rest of the posts here

Dead ends aren’t always failures of the innovation. Sometimes good ideas are drowned by bureaucracies. In the 1994 paper “The Politics of Naval Innovation” released through the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, contributor Jeffery Sands states that military organizations are large, conservative, and hierarchical. Resistance exists because: 1) the free flow of information is restricted in hierarchical organizations; 2) leaders have no interest in encouraging their own obsolescence by introducing innovations; and 3) organizations such as the Navy, which are infrastructure-intensive and where changes to that infrastructure are both expensive and lengthy, need some modicum of stability.

The failure of leadership to innovate can be found through two nameless British dockyard models from the Henry Huddleston Rogers Collection at the United States Naval Academy Museum, which has the second largest collection of dockyard models outside of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

Waiting for an outboard motor...
Waiting for an outboard motor…

The model pictured at right is a Royal Navy Board hull model of a three-masted, 24-gun Sixth Rate with a pinched (or “pink”) stern, a design not seen in any other known age-of-sail model. The sterns of most English rated warships of the 17th and 18th centuries were burdened by heavy, overhanging square sterns and quarter galleries attached to the hull only at the ends and supported by a series of horizontal transoms. This made the ship difficult to maneuver, particularly in following seas, much like a small car towing a U-Haul in windy conditions. The stern was, of course, where the cabins were located for the captain and, in larger ships of the line, an admiral.

The pinched stern arrangement transferred the weight of the stern on vertical timbers that were taken down to the keel.  That made the stern much sturdier. The designer proposed this innovative ship to improve the ship’s maneuverability, survivability, and speed advantages in a fight. The design would, however, have eliminated the precious cabin space for the senior officers. Although two pink stern hulls were eventually built, the Admiralty demonstrated its resistance to this innovative design simply because of the loss of their comfort and cabin space.

“But there’s no room for the pool table!”
“But there’s no room for the pool table!”

HRR Model No. 14

In the 1984 mock rockumenatory “This is Spinal Tap,” lead guitarist (portrayed by Christopher Guest) explains to the interviewer that his amps “go to eleven” because they’re “one louder.” The interviewer asks him why he doesn’t just adjust the amps so that “ten” is louder. The perplexed Tufnel pauses for a moment and then simply reiterates: “These go to eleven.” The similar befuddled intransigence to a naval modification is exhibited in HRR Model No. 14, an English Fifth Rate 32-Gun ship.

The ship was proposed in 1689 or 1690. British ships of that period fell into one of three classes: ships-of-the-line generally with three decks of guns, frigates with two gun decks, and smaller ships with one gun deck. Model No. 14 is the grandfather of what became the true British frigates in the late 18th century.

Lurking in there somewhere is a second gundeck…
Lurking in there somewhere is a second gundeck…

Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington (incidentally the first person to use the term “fleet in being”), was a battle-scarred veteran of the Dutch Wars and realized that the Royal Navy needed large numbers of a new kind of robust and maneuverable cruiser capable of remaining at sea for long periods of time. To be truly effective, they should be able to employ their main battery of guns even in regions of rougher weather since heavy guns on the lower deck were normally too near the waterline to be used in battle except in optimal weather conditions. The original concept was that the lower deck was to be left completely unarmed without any gunports. The Admiralty board balked.  The debate likely went something like this:

Torrington: “We’ve improved the design by having the guns on the upper deck.”

Admiralty: “But a frigate has two gundecks.”

Torrington: “Yes, but by having all the guns on the upperdeck she has better seakeeping.”

Admiralty: “But a frigate has two gundecks.”

(Fast forward as Torrington modifies the dockyard model to add one small gunport on each side of the stern pictured below.)

Torrington: “Here’s your second gundeck.”

Admiralty: “Ah, a frigate has two gundecks!  Well done!”

Yep, there it is.
Yep, there it is.

This evolution became symptomatic of the British for the next century to build light originally but then modify the ships with more guns than for which they were originally designed. Ultimately it would be another century before the Admiralty adopted a frigate that had a seven-foot freeboard as the standard.

Claude Berube is the Director of the Naval Academy Museum and instructor in the Department of History. He is the author of several books and more than forty articles. The author notes the extensive research on the dockyard models done by specialist Grant Walker at the Naval Academy Museum.

Circular Hulls: Dead Ends that Sound Awesome

The following is part of Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we pick apart past experiments and initiatives in the hopes of learning something from those that just didn’t quite pan out. See the rest of the posts here.

By Mark Hay

Where have we seen a similar map lately?
Where have we seen a similar map lately?

Throughout the 1860s, the Russian navy felt lost and more than a smidgen inadequate. The recent Peace of Paris in 1856, after their trouncing in the Crimean War, had banished Russian warships from the Black Sea, making much of the nation’s naval strategy obsolete and leaving Russia open to bellicosity from its southern neighbors in the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, the rise of monitors, first in America but then closer to home in Sweden, gave a shape to the fear that Russian technology was falling too far behind the curve to handle any future naval engagements. The Russian navy needed raw firepower, something so innovative in its brutality and strength that it could sit at the mouths of Russia’s rivers and utterly destroy any foreign notions of picking away at Russia via internal waterways.

The man with the plan.
The man with the plan

Fortunately, the Czar had a man with a plan. Andrei Alexandrovich Popov, the newly minted rear admiral in charge of dry docks and ship design, had served in the Crimean War and knew well the existential fear his nation faced. In his search for answers, he became obsessed with a design being floated by the Glaswegian shipbuilder John Elder: circles. Circles would solve everything. Circular hulls, that is. In a fit of simple, geometric brilliance, Elder had pointed out—and Popov had readily internalized the fact—that a shallow, circular ship design would offer the greatest level of displacement on the water, allowing for the highest ratio of gun weight to ship area. As a bonus, the ship’s rounded edges would expose only slivers of the hull to direct fire at any point, deflecting the brunt of a shell’s impact and requiring minimal armor. Sitting low in the water, not much would be exposed anyway, so the small target’s large guns could rotate with ease in any direction and launch intimidating salvos from the Kerch Strait of the Dnieper River, mutilating any Turkish incursion into Russian waters. Popov ordered the construction of ten perfectly round ships, plated in metal armor and based on Swedish monitor designs, to create a solid blockade. In the end the ailing Russian treasury was only able to fund two: the Novgorod and the eponymous Admiral Popov. Commissioned in 1871 and launched in 1873, the two ships bore some subtle differences, but for the most part they shared the same design: 2,491 tons when empty, 30.8 meters in diameter, a 3.7 meter draught and 7-knot best speed, and a ring of armor 12 to 16 centimeters thick. Each sported two 26-ton 11-inch guns on revolving turntables, capable of moving independently or in unison, using wood wedges and hydraulic frictional compression devices to stabilize their fire. Aside from the big guns, each ship carried two 4-pound and sixteen 37 mm guns. Each ship ran on the power of six engines, each connected to its own propeller shaft—the engines and boiler took up half of the hull of the ships. They were truly imposing monstrosities.

We’d be remiss if we failed to make a UFO joke – Unidentified Floating Object
We’d be remiss if we failed to make a UFO joke – Unidentified Floating Object

Unfortunately they were green-lit with almost no testing. Popov offered a 24-foot model for inspection in the placid Neva River in 1870, but did not test the propulsion or gunnery on the toy ship. His sole intention was, single-mindedly, to demonstrate the visual allure, displacement potential, and novelty of the round hull.

The problem with a circle, though, is when one fires a shot with a massive gun, there’s something called centrifugal rotation. With no keel to cut and hold water, the lore goes, the first shots fired by the ships—nicknamed popovas after their inventor—sent them careening off wildly down the river. This dim view is overstated. While the first gunnery test revealed what should be deemed—at minimum—severe problems, coordination with the rudder and contra-rotation of the propellers helped to stop the ships from spinning off like tops in the field. However, the underlying problems of mobility could not be overcome. The rudder and propeller were undersized compared to the task of handling the unmoored disc, which rolled and pitched about in the waves of any river choppier than the Neva.

The result was poor aim, a 12-minute reload time, and a top speed less than half of that predicted by Popov and his acolytes. Not to mention that the designers had thought little of the crew, boiling in the poorly ventilated hull in the midst of brutal Ukrainian summers. Not even the compensations for the spin of the guns could salvage the round ship design.

The monitor Novgorod, in happier days
The monitor Novgorod, in happier days

Eventually the Peace of Paris lapsed and the Russian fleet moved back into the Black Sea, taking the fight on the offensive. In the next confrontation with the Turks, the popovas were taken to shore and anchored taut to prevent their spinning off. With too little endurance to make the trip across the waters to plot and fire at Turkey, they became defensive batteries never used in the conflict. After their failed service in the Danube Flotilla during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, they were put into storage in 1893 and finally scrapped in 1912.

None of this was inevitable, nor was it the fault of the round ship design inherently. Even with news of the follies and failures of the popovas, British shipwrights continued to extoll the virtues of the round ship in naval conferences well into the 1870s, drawing lessons from Russia on how to overcome the mobility and stability issues of the shape. Popov and John Elder’s company (he died in 1869) even collaborated in 1879 to build the Czar’s new yacht, the Livadia, on the round ship design, elongating the stern and bow to help break the rotation of the ship, elegantly eliminating almost every flaw of the popovas.

The problem of the popovas was Popov and his obsession with a magic bullet solution to every problem of the Russian navy. His incessant belief in the power of fluid geometry (even after his brainchildren’s spectacular failure, he suggested building a larger ship with 16-inch guns that could reach 14 knots, but scrapped the idea when he realized he’d need five times normal horsepower to make it move) led him to ignore basic physics and easily intuited complications. And perhaps the design would have worked, if the money for ten had existed and the strategic importance of the Kerch Strait remained a constant for several decades. But the world is not ideal, strategic factors change, and while a circular peg may fit a circular hole, there are almost no such simple geometric equations to be filled in peace or war. 

Mark Hay is a freelance writer and University of Oxford graduate student who works on political, material and strategic history.

The Diplomat and the DeLorean

“The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”  – William Faulkner. 

The crisis in Ukraine highlights a shortcoming in materialist theories, and a derivative shortcoming in our foreign policy process: the rhetorical battle between Russia and Ukraine is presently jumping across eleven hundred years of history, invoking symbols and identities from at least five different eras simultaneously into the present.  Our policy-making ‘now’ is the last election, while the Russians and Ukrainians are all drawing on a millennium-long ‘now’ in their argument with each other.  We are missing most of what is being said with our myopic lens, and much of what ‘power’ means hinges on these identity questions. 

First, two ideas from academic literature help explain what’s happening. 

      ‘Master Cleavage’ – Stathis Kalyvas describes how local leaders invoke larger narratives to address local issues during civil wars.  What is presently happening is a dynamic, inside-out version of that process.  There are any of a number of potential historical cleavages, depending on which pieces of the past are more present at any given time.  For instance, to energize Ukrainian nationalists, the Red-and-Black flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) speaks of fierce resistance to both Soviets and Fascists during the Second World War.  However, the UPA treated Poles brutally between Ukraine and Poland, so the Ukrainians would greatly prefer to decouple the UPA from their framing with Poland, and instead situate that relationship within the era of Soviet Occupation.  What era is present, and with whom, is a key aspect of the current struggle.  Whoever builds a better pastiche of history gets to choose the identity frame.

      ‘Polychronic’ Cultures – The ability to navigate this space hinges on a culture’s mode of interacting with the past.  Hall, in his work on culture, describes two broad views of time – monochronic, where a culture experiences the flow of time as a linear progression of events, and polychronic, where a culture experiences multiple timeframes in parallel.  In a monochronic culture, the past is ‘how we got here,’ but it’s not ‘here.’   In a polychronic culture, the past is ‘here’ in different ways for different things.  The United States foreign policy process is explicitly monochronic.  While many of those who inhabit that process are polychronic, ideas from these frames rarely last long in institutions to whom they are foreign.  This is a problem when trying to understand polychronic identity struggles. 

Second, since history is a battlefield of this present crisis, here’s a quick and semi-humorous video crash course on Russian history.  There are at least five eras currently in play – these are horribly over-simplified, and I highly recommend reading a proper history on them.

First, the Kievan Rus’is the most fundamental identity dispute between Russia and Ukraine. The Rus’ was first identifiable state of the Eastern Slavs (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus,) the Kievan Rus’ was founded by Vikings in the 9th Century AD, and lasted until the 13th Century, when it was destroyed by the Mongols.  During this time, the Rus’ converted to Christianity and aligned themselves with Constantinople.  This was a golden age of sorts, at least in memory, and both Russia and Ukraine claim the mantle of the Kievan Rus’. Russia’s claim derives from being the strongest successor state to the Rus’, and from an influx of immigration following the Mongol conquest. In this version, Moscow leads the eventual resistance to the Mongols, and evolves as a Eurasian state.  In the course of this evolution, strength and autocracy become necessary defenses; the consolidation of power under the Czars and the concomitant management of rebels is the natural state of play.

Ukraine’s claim derives from geography – Kiev was the leading city of the Rus.’ In this, the Rus’ provided a source for deep Ukrainian national identity – in the 1990s, the Ukrainian state shifted toward the hrivna currency, the same name as that of the Rus’, and the Trident symbol was a royal seal of the leaders of the Rus’.  Soviet historiography declared the Kievan Rus as a feudal state, in order to fit a dialectical materialist model of history, while Ukrainian historians generally see the Rus’ as a proto-republic, proto-capitalist confederation. From this retelling, Moscow served as tax collectors to the Mongols, and the increasingly powerful city-state drifted toward autocracy.  Therefore, the corruption of Yanukovych hearkens to the Mongol yoke, and the natural orientation of the Rus’ is toward Europe.

A second frame is the 16th to 18th Century Cossacks, and their conflicts with both the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and the Russian Czars.  This was a tremendously tumultuous period for all parties involved, and too complicated to meaningful recount here.   In present memory, the Cossack culture of freedom and their Hetman leaders provide identity markers for Ukraine, and a basis for the rejection of autocracy.  Conversely, this was a ‘time of troubles’ for Moscow, and the Russians the Cossacks more as raiders and bandits.  What this period means for modern interpretations of Ukrainian identity vis-à-vis their neighbors depends greatly on the interpretation of this time – the Cossacks alternatively supported and fought almost all of their neighbors during this period.

The Second World War provides the third frame for this argument.  As described before, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s (UPA) red-and-black banner was a common sight in EuroMaidan – this is a direct challenge to the Russian leadership, who transpose onto the Soviet Union in this frame.  The Soviets were deeply invested in framing the UPA as Fascist collaborators; while it is difficult to capture the entirety of a guerilla movement, the UPA described themselves as at war with both Soviets and Nazis.  In the current struggle, Putin continues using the Soviet frame, with Russia Today describing the Ukrainians as neo-Nazis.  (This echoes a refrain from Yugoslavia – the preferred anti-Croatian slur referred to a WWII collaborationist government.)  The general Ukrainian framing takes the UPA at its word and sees it as a nationalist movement.  Interestingly, in present memory, the UPA’s symbols have become more inclusive than the UPA itself likely was.  The UPA’s hallmark phrase, ‘Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava,’ (Glory to Ukraine, Glory to her heroes,) is now being applied to the protestors killed in Kyiv’s Independence Square during the recent protests – East and West Ukrainian alike.

The Communist domination of Eastern Europe, in particular the Soviet interventions into Prague and Budapest, provides the most useful frame for the Ukrainian to reach out to their immediate Western neighbors.  Framing the Soviet invasion of the Crimea in these terms invokes these memories amongst the Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians.  For obvious reasons, the Russian government has little to gain from invoking this era, and their narratives steer clear of it.

Finally, the most recent memory frame is the chronological present and the contrast between the European Union and the Russian-led Eurasian Union.  This is the frame best understood by our policy process, but it is misleading to view the previous eras as prologue rather than present.  Note that the flags from these eras fly alongside each other – these symbols are all invoked in parallel.  To some extent, all nations use parallel symbols, but what is particularly fascinating here is that the Ukrainians are making multiple identity bids to different eras all at once. 

How does all of this matter?  First, in this case, materialist approaches actually turn on identity.  Russia obviously overmatches Ukraine in any sort of a tank-count.  But it is a quite different overmatch if the Russians pin the Ukranians in the 17th Century as the rebellious Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting the Tsar than if Kiev traps the Putin in the 10th Century by claiming the mantle of the Kyivskaya Rus’ against the Mongol thralls of Muscovy.  If this is the story of the Ukrainian language against the dominion of Greater Russia, then East Ukraine is properly on the Russian side of the struggle; in this story, the Ukrainians would be fighting on Russian turf until they reached Kyiv, and defections of Russophone units should be common.  Conversely, if this is about the idea that the greater Rus’ is by its nature both European and free, then command and control becomes far easier for Kyiv, and Russian supply lines in Donetsk or Khar’kov would find themselves under partisan attack.  The realist tank-count turns on the remarkably fluid identity contest.

Second, we cannot interpret many of the actions of either side without access to these texts and without the understanding that they run in parallel.  Most dramatically, the battle over the mantle of the Kievan Rus’ has profound implications over the significance of the outcome of this crisis.  If the Ukrainians can sustain the argument that descendants of the Rus’ aren’t inherently predisposed to autocracy, this immediately links to Belarus and even Russia itself.  If the Ukrainians can do so in a way that fully incorporates East Ukraine in the project, then Putin’s irredentist strategies turn back on him, and Russophone Ukrainians become a visible threat to the narrative he is advancing.

To this point, the hub of Ukrainian nationalism, Lviv, spontaneously chose to speak Russian for a day a few days ago in a show of solidarity with East Ukraine.  Donetsk, the easternmost major city in Ukraine, reciprocated by speaking Ukrainian for a day.   The now-famous Colonel Mamchur of the Ukrainian Air Force, who marched his unit back onto their base, similarly demurred from ethnic chauvinism:

“It makes no sense. I can’t even say whether I am Ukrainian or Russian – it’s not a choice any of us can really make. My wife’s Belarusian, her mother is Russian. We’ve all got relatives on both sides,” said Col Mamchur. “When all this started we got calls from friends in Moscow who were simply in shock.” “Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine are really one Slavic people,” said the Colonel. “The divisions are only formalities. Whoever gave the order for this operation set brother against brother. It’s a crazy situation.”

This is potentially far more important than naval bases and the Black Sea fleet.

Note that in the Euromaidan protests, the previous Belarusian flag flew alongside the Ukrainian flag and the EU flag, and the Ukrainians are using a Belarusian protest rock song from as an anthem.  (The lyrics are hardly ‘Winds of Change’ – the chorus goes, roughly, “Warriors of the Light.”  The band actually played for EuroMaidan last December.)  Moreover, the phrase ‘Slava Ukraina, Zhivye Belarus’ pops up fairly often in the comments section of viral videos from EuroMaidan supporters – “Glory to Ukraine, Long Live Belarus’.”  These phrases and symbols are attempting to harmonize these different eras, all in the present – a spray painted trizub symbol [photo] speaks to this idea.  At least in part, the identity challenge is intertwined with the strategic challenge; ‘who are we’ is as much a battleground as ‘what do we want.’ 

Our monochronic, rationalist, materialist foreign policy process deals well with answering the latter question.  We have a deep problem, especially when dealing with peoples adept at harmonizing polychronic time rather than sequencing monochronic moves, in dealing with the former question.  Recalling the painful market transitions of the 1990s, along with the technical economic issues, nations that synthesized liberal reforms into their national identity found the social capital to continue through difficult times.  Poland was ideologically committed to reform, and was able to persist in part because of this.  These reforms were generally presented as ‘Western,’ in contrast to a ‘traditional’ model in Russia.  Mining the past would have perhaps provided deeper national connections to these projects – it is always easier to rediscover your golden age (even if you have to update it a bit) than to accept someone else’s vision of who you should be.  Doing so requires skill and knowledge, but not a tremendous amount of cost.

Similarly, in the counter-terror world, we generally took al-Qaeda’s word for what the Caliphate looked like.  Bin Laden was no Salah ad-Din, and Zawahiri is laughably distant from an Averroes or an Avicenna.  The Caliphate was, in many ways, a customs union and an empire of trade; through this lens, Dubai is a more legitimate successor to the Caliphate than anything that al-Qaeda built in the mountains of Afghanistan.  We should have contested the past rather than agreeing to our adversary’s framing by presenting the future in its stead.  

While mastering the mechanics of polychronic time requires far more than a simple transpose, we cannot afford to be blind to the present memory of history nor deaf to the symbols through which that history is contested.  We certainly cannot afford to do so in this conflict, where history is so present in the present.  At least amongst the Rus’, the past is hardly past.

Dave Blair is an active duty officer in the United States Air Force and a PhD student at Georgetown University. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Air Force, the DoD or the U.S. government.