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The Last Indian War-The Nez Perce Story_book review

“War” said Yellow Wolf of the Nez Perce,” is made to take something not your own.”

That simple statement summed up what is now referred to by author Elliot West as The Last Indian War. West is referring to the war against the Nez Perce of what is now Idaho in 1877. The statement could be equally applied to any Indian tribe in North or South America.

What makes the Nez Perce story unique is the remarkable journey that about 800 Nez Perce made in their flight from Idaho to within 50 miles of the Canadian border in 1877 fighting against the US Army (and usually winning) all the way! To give some perspective their journey took them over 1500 miles all the while being pursued by the US Army. The word “epic” is over used today by their journey was truly epic.

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The map illustrates the epic journey of the Nez Perce. Although I was familiar with the Nez Perce War I was reminded in August of this year as my wife and I visited Yellowstone National Park. The Nez Perce trail is right outside of the park and as you can see from the map the Nez Perce traveled through the park itself.

West tells the Nez Perce remarkable story with great detail which never bogs down the narrative but rather enlivens the narrative to give greater insight to the Nez Perce culture and the events leading up to the war. From the time of Lewis and Clark to the out break of the war in 1877 the Nez Perce had always sought peace with the whites even when the whites changed the rules and cheated them. (West gets into the clash of civilizations and the prevailing white attitudes that the Indians had to change their traditional way(and become Christians) or they would become extinct.

West also takes apart some myths especially in regards to Chief Joseph the fascinating leader of the band of Nez Perce that fought their way nearly to Canada.

For example, in Joseph’s lifetime he was referred to as another “Napoleon” given the incredible victories the greatly outnumbered Nez Perce were able to pull off against the pursuing US Army. (The Nez Perce probably never fielded more than 150 warriors.)

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Peo Peo Tholekt (Bird Alighting), a Nez Perce warrior who helped capture the mountain howitzer at the Battle of the Big Hole

While Joseph was certainly a brave warrior and at one point saves the vital pony herd he was not the military genius he still is thought of today.

West points out (with detailed documentation) that the Nez Perce like other Indians were led moment by moment (especially in battle) by men of influence and war experience. This meant depending on the circumstances that one leader could lead one day only to be replaced the next day by another leader if the first leader failed in some way or circumstances changed to favor the second leader.

Indian warriors were highly individualistic in combat and would usually gather around an experienced warrior and pretty much do what they wanted. This was in contrast to the pursuing US Army whose soldiers were under orders, army discipline and authority within a defined command structure. No such structure existed among the Nez Perce or other Plains Indians.

Warriors like Yellow Wolf, Ollokut ( Joseph’s brother) and Looking Glass (and many others) seem to have had intrinsic tactical sense as they fought amazing rear guard actions that protected their young, wives and infirm as well as a vast pony herd that they needed to escape. The point is these actions were not controlled by a “Napoleon” like figure but rather by remarkable warriors doing remarkable things without a Napoleon like figure to tell them what to do!

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Ollikut

The fact is the Nez Perce embarrassed the US Army time and time again. After the disaster on the Little Big Horn in June 1876 the army needed to find a Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse like figure with Napoleonic qualities of extraordinary skill to explain their losses and frustration with an enemy that always seemed one step ahead even when surprised.

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Oliver Howard the unlucky and sometimes incompetent pursuer of the Nez Perce. Howard lost an arm in the American Civil War and was the unlucky general at Chancellorsville when General “Stonewall” Jackson outflanked the Union Army in a stunning victory. Howard also commanded the 11th Corps at Gettysburg and was (unfairly) blamed for the rout of his Corps. 

Chief Joseph was more the diplomat than military genius. While Joseph and his band wanted to be left alone on their own land he and they resisted the idea of war even as whites continued to steal their land and change the rules. Joseph only joined the war when some young men of his tribe reacted to the murder of one of their friends and in turn murdered some whites.

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Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Joseph was admired even during the war as many whites recognized the injustice(s) done to the Nez Perce

The fact is the Nez Perce had been lied to repeatedly and government promises were never met. The frustration among the young men grew and grew until they lashed out at those exploiting them. All that and more is documented in The Last Indian War.

Another area of some debate is what Joseph actually said to Colonel Nelson Miles when the band eventually surrendered after being hopelessly surrounded and losing their pony herd just short of the Canadian border.

Joseph is widely noted for saying, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever” and he probably did say that or something close to it.

However, Joseph did not speak English and the surrender was negotiated with two Nez Perce interpreters (who did not go to war) and one white interpreter. Whatever he said had to go through three interpreters and that’s problematic. The surrender was witnessed by a number of Army officers, one of whom became a well-known writer/poet as well as an admirer of the American Indians and of the Nez Perce in particular. This writer may have embellished the “fight no more forever” speech reproduced below.

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are dead; He who led the young men my brother, Alikut is dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

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Book cover are from the The Last Indian War by Elliot West

To some extent it doesn’t matter whether Joseph actually said all that at the surrender or not for it certainly must have summed up exactly how he felt.

The book is divided into three main parts.

Part I deals with the prewar situation starting with the Lewis and Clark expedition that first made contact with the Nez Perce in 1805 and ending just before the start of the war in 1877.

Part II deals with the war itself.

Part III deals with the surrender, the Nez Perce removal to Indian Territory in Oklahoma (an ordeal in an of itself) and their partial return to Idaho (although not to their original land).

The book was hard to put down and for this reason I give it 5 stars.

 

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Army Nurses Captured in the Philippines_1942

My mother-in-law joined the Woman’s Army Corp (WACs) late in World War 2. After training in Georgia as a nurse’s aide she would be stationed in Seattle, Washington at an army hospital that received casualties from the War in the Pacific. She always spoke in such way as to reveal the great compassion she had for the mangled service men she helped take care of.

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Different does not mean lesser.

All that came to my mind while reading an article in the American Legion Magazine titled Courage to Live.

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I encourage my readers to follow the link for the full story but by way of summation the article deals with the 44 army nurses who were in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor-the event that drew the US into World War Two.

The Japanese conquered the Philippines by May, 1942 and while a few of the nurses did escape to Australia most were captured by the Japanese.

Their ordeal in captivity was no less severe than what was experienced by any allied service person who was captured by the Japanese.

By the time they were liberated in early 1945 they were starving and extremely ill although none had died. Many if not most never fully recovered after the war and sadly they were forgotten by the government.

Throughout their ordeal they stayed true to their mission and exemplified great courage in a horrible experience. The article cited seeks to make their forgotten sacrifices remembered.

 

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The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

If ever there was a sub-title to grab your attention then certainly, The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson is it!

The full title with cover notes is as follows:

Crow Killer-The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson-new edition, by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker, new introduction by Nathan E. Bender [in 1983]

Recently, my wife and I traveled out west. Part of our journey included Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. It was in Cody at the Old Trail Town attraction that I purchased Crow Killer-The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson. I read it when my wife drove on our long journey home. We put on 3000 miles over an 11 day period and drove about 1/3 of those miles.

The movie Jeremiah Johnson starring Robert Redford as Johnson is roughly based on the adventures of the real John Johnson or Johnstone. Jeremiah Johnson is a great movie in my opinion so it was fun to read the book and see how much of the movie lined up with the book by Thorp and Bunker.

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The real Crow Killer in 1876

 

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The movie Crow Killer-Robert Redford as Jeremiah Johnson

Since the movie only had so much time to tell a story it focused on the real Johnson’s reputation as the “Crow Killer.” In the 1840s the Native American Tribe known as the Crow lived in what is now Montana, Wyoming and even into North\South Dakota where the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne were their traditional enemies. If you think the Native American tribes didn’t fight among themselves guess again.)

In the book, Crow Killer takes a Flathead wife named Swan. Flatheads received the unusual name because traditionally a flat stone was strapped to the back of a baby’s head to make it flat. Swan for one reason or the other escaped that treatment and yet was the daughter of a Flathead chief. Swan was a Flathead without the flat head.

As the story in the book goes Crow Killer Johnson leaves the cabin to do what mountain men did-trap and hunt. While he is away the cabin is attacked and Swan is brutally killed and scalped by young, impetous and unwise Crow warriors. When Crow Killer returns he finds his dead wife eaten by scavengers and reduced to a pile of bones. Swan’s killers had scalped her. Johnson notices a smaller pile of delicate bones and concludes that Swan was well along in her pregnancy when she was murdered. When Johnson had left he did not know Swan was pregnant which says something about the length of time he was away from the cabin.

Crow Killer gathers up the remains of wife and child and places them in a pot which he then places in a crevice in a rock formation. It would become a type of shrine for Crow Killer. Crow Killer then leaves the cabin to inform his Flathead father-in-law who is chief of a band of Flatheads.

As it goes in the book about 50 Crow happen to be traveling to the very Flathead encampment where the Crow Killer’s father-in-law is chief to trade for horses. The father-in-land declares war on the Crow and plots an ambush from which only 13 Crow escape.

Prior to the ambush Crow Killer tracks and kills a huge Crow warrior who just happens to have Swan’s scalp as a trophy. How Johnson knows the scalp is his dead wife’s is a mystery but throughout the book Johnson is noted for being able to “read sign” better than any other mountain man. The incident begins Johnstone’s vendetta against the Crow. The Crow retaliate with a vendetta against Johnson and send 20 warriors one-at-time  to kill Johnson. Johnson kills all twenty over the period of many years and supposedly eats their livers to mock the Crow-hence the nickname Liver-Eating Johnson, the nickname fellow mountain men gave to him.

The movie Jeremiah Johnson has a different take on the personal war with the Crow and while it’s been a while since I’ve seen it I do not recall any reference to the Redford character eating Crow livers after he kills them.

In the movie Redford as Jeremiah does reluctantly take a Flathead wife and grows to love her. A short time later a woman known only as “Crazy Woman” gives Johnson her son-a boy who appears to be 8-10 years old in the film. Jeremiah now has a family going that he never planned for.

Before I get back to the personal war with the Crow something must be said about the crazy woman since there does seem to be some facts associated with her story. In Wyoming for example, there are ample places named for the crazy woman such as Crazy Woman Creek.

The “true” story goes something like this:

Crazy Woman’s last name was Morgan and her husband got into some kind of argument with the wagon train’s leader that they were traveling with. Crazy Woman’s husband decides to separate from the wagon train (bad plan) and camps alone at would become Crazy Woman Creek. While camped the husband goes to the creek for some reason and fails to return (oh-oh). Crazy Woman sends her two young sons to get him (oh-oh) and they fail to return. She then sends their 18-year-old daughter to fetch them all (oh-oh) and she does not return. Crazy Woman then decides to go herself and arms herself with a camp axe. She comes upon a horrifying scene. Her husband has been scalped but is not dead and is bound to a tree apparently being tortured by 12 Arapahoe warriors. Crazy Woman’s two young sons lay near by dead and scalped as does her daughter who had been raped, then killed and scalped as well. Crazy Woman goes crazy with the axe and manages to kill four of the Arapahoes while the rest flee in terror with the not quite dead husband.

In the book Johnson discovers the scene shortly after it occurs and helps Crazy Woman bury her loved ones in three graves along with a fourth grave to hold her husband’s scalp which was left behind by the fleeing Arapahoe. Crazy Woman decapitates the four Arapahoe and places their skulls on the four graves. The area around Crazy Woman Creek becomes a no-go taboo area for all the tribes but especially the Arapahoe because the Native Americans tended to leave crazy people alone for spiritual reasons.

In the book there isn’t a small boy that survives as in the movie.

Now back to the personal war with the Crow as in the movie.

In the movie Redford\Jeremiah Johnson is talked into guiding a wagon train that has to get through the mountains before the dead of winter sets in. He reluctantly guides it through a Crow burial ground to save time knowing full well this will annoy the Crow if they discover their burial ground has been violated. After he gets the train through the burial ground he points the train in the direction they must go and he hastens to return to the cabin only to find his Flathead wife and Crazy Woman’s son dead, killed by the vengeful Crow.

The deaths of his wife and Crazy Woman’s son were recent because Jeremiah is able to track the Crow that did the deed in the snow. He surprises them and kills about 4-5 of them and his reputation as the Crow Killer is established. The Crow as a tribe seek revenge on Jeremiah. Much of the rest of the movie deals with Jeremiah’s adventures as the Crow come at him one-at-a-time. As in the book Jeremiah manages to kill all his would be killers.

And that is a not so brief summation of the differences between the book and the movie.

Here’s the book review if you are still with me:

When I purchased the book I knew vaguely that the Redford movie was associated with the book. What I didn’t know is that the book, rather than be a fact-truth kind of book is really folklore where it is difficult to determine fact from myth\fiction.

The new introduction to the book wades through all of that and in retrospect helped me enjoy the book “as folklore” without trying to hard to determine fact from myth.

The introduction by Bender points out the many issues with the original authors and what were the supposed “facts” when the book was first published in 1958. The book has a sensational aspect to it and was published at a time when we were far less politically correct (nor fair to Native Americans) than we are now. In the book racial prejudice is much in evidence although paradoxcically “Liver-Eater” comes across as  respecting Native Americans but yet uses racial epithets to characterize them. The real or mythic Johnston comes across as the product of his times something we would do well to remember when judging people of the past with contemporary standards.

Oral tradition among the Crow states that it was not the Crow who had the personal war with Johnson. It was after all Johnson’s fellow mountain men who gave Johnson the nickname. It seems that Johnson accepted the nicknames and if the tribe was not the Crow then Johnson had plenty of time to correct the error. He never did.

As to the liver-eating business it appears in the book that Johnson never denied it either but it was only witnessed twice and both times it could have been Johnson “showboating.” One time it was a Sioux liver he took a bite out of to impress the Crow scouts with the US Army during the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. By that time, according to the book, Johnson had made peace with the Crow and they were with him as scouts serving together in the Great Sioux War. (George Custer had Crow scouts with the 7th Cavalry and some were killed.)

(The Crow sided with the Army in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77 because the Sioux and Cheyenne were Crow enemies. The Crow must have been sympathetic to the Sioux who were losing their land but on the other hand the Sioux were their long-standing enemies and perhaps they realized that fighting the army would end badly for all Native Americans and they wanted to be on the winning side. Now both tribes are on reserves and there is much poverty and other problems.)

I rate the book at 5 stars because it was a “fun” read and because I read it as folklore rather than a straight history. I would encourage anyone who purchases the book to be sure to read Bender’s new introduction to gain the folklore perspective.

The last things I can say about the book is the interesting period dialogue that comes out of Johnson’s mouth and the other mountain men. You can certainly imagine that’s how the hardy breed of mountain men actually spoke. The authors mention quite a few mountain men, some of whom I’ve heard of and others not. In that way the book represents a by-gone time as mountain men were the first to live and trap in the west long before the first wagon trains began the trek to California and Oregon. The mountain men and the Native Americans they lived among are long gone but the folklore lives on if you read the book with that in mind.

Wiki article on Crow Killer

Amazon link to the book I’m referring to

 

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Battlefield Action!

In our storage unit I have a small collection of Classic’s Illustrated that somehow survived after 50 years. What has not survived was my collection of war comics from the 60’s.

Back in the day every time dad went to a drugstore or some other outlet that had comic books I got one. I remember 12c for a copy just as shown below on the cover.  Favorites would have been Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, The Haunted Tank and Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes. I suspect that as I got older dad directed me to the Classic’s Illustrated rather than the pseudo history in the war comics. Frankly, I’m glad that he did because dad gave me a love for history that have to this day. (We also went to the public library frequently where I’d pick up various books on history. I distinctly remember reading books on the Battle of Britain, the Alamo, and Hernando Cortez.)

My war comics disappeared so when I have an opportunity to get some of them back at flea markets, rummage sales or antique shops I’ll buy a few if the price is right. As it is I now have a small collection of Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury and some odds and ends that I do not recall owning as a child.

One comic that I just picked up at a flea market for $2.00 is Battlefield Action by Charlton Comics Group. Charlton was big in the comic book industry in the comic book “silver age” as illustrated by this quote from WikiPedia:

“During the Silver Age, Charlton, like Marvel and DC, published war comics. Notable titles included the “Fightin'” line of Fightin’ Air Force, Fightin’ Army, Fightin’ Marines, and Fightin’ Navy; the “Attack” line of Army Attack and Submarine Attack; Battlefield Action; D-Day, U.S. Air Force Comics, and War Heroes. Though primarily anthologies of stories about 20th-century warfare, they included a small number of recurring characters and features, including “The American Eagle”,[7]Shotgun Harker and the Chicken“, “The Devil’s Brigade“, “The Iron Corporal” and “The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz“. Army War Heroes and Marine War Heroesdepicted stories based on actual Medal of Honor recipients.”  Charlton Comics WikiPedia

The issue I found is from the Battlefield Action line, Volume Two, Number 56, January 1965. It sold for 12 cents and a year subscription of 6 issues was 70 cents

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Charlton headed each page wit the words, “Charlton Comics Give You More.” In those days competition with the other comic book producers was fierce so Charlton tried to have more features than their competitiors and judging from my issue of Battlefield Action I’d say they suceeded.

The main feature was always the cover story-in this issue Tushari’s Gun. Here’s the first page of the story.

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The story line is a Marine patrol comes upon a lone Japanese marching gunner. In 60’s comics the Japanese are often referred to you as “Nips” or “Japs” illustrating the still racially charged jargon from WW2. The enemy whether German or Japanese were usually portrayed as sinister or sneaky.

The date on this particular issue is January, 1965 and I would have been 12 years-old. In addition to the long feature there is a story set in the Korean War and another against the Germans.

Charlton advertised on every page that “Charlton Comics Give You More” and they did. Included in every issue was a number of historical pages including at least one with no art work and just text. In this case the main historical article was titled “Cheesebox on a Raft” a description of the USS Monitor as it encountered the CSA Merrimac (Virginia) off Hampton Roads, March 9th, 1862.  It was the first encounter between armored warships and it made wooden warships obsolete. The author refers to a lithograph of the Monitor and I’m guessing this is it below:

By the mid-seventies and aftermath of Vietnam war comics began to disappear and I suppose it was inevitable given the anti-war sentiment of the times. My neighborhood chums and I didn’t have video games but we did have comic books and I fondly remember reading them on hot summer days when we took a break from sandlot baseball or bike riding.

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How red poppies came to be given out on Memorial Day

The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae

In Flanders Fields, among the most iconic war poems even penned, was written in May 1915 by Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae after he witnessed the death of his 22-year-old friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, at the Second Battle of…

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Winston Churchill and Islam

It gets tiresome to hear the rationalizations and political correctness that gushes forth every time a radical Islamist terrorist blows people up; most recently tween girls in Manchester, Great Britain.

The authorities knew immediately “who done it” and yet it was only minutes before other authorities voiced their disapproval lest anyone connect the terror with Moslems who we all know, “are not all that way.”

The west is under a vast cloud of delusion as it asks every time a terror attack happens, who would do such a thing or how can this happen as if it is some great mystery as to what motivates radical Islam. Newsflash: Radical Islam is self-motivating and these people believe what they say and do. Call them a minority if you wish but this minority will not stop until they are all dead.

The parsing  between radical Islam and moderate Islam has to stop. Anyone with any degree of common sense knows that not all Moslems approve of terror but even if 10% of the whole do we have a significant problem on our hands.

One commentator noted that radical Islam is what it always has been and he is absolutely historically correct. Consider what Winston Churchill wrote in The River War (first edition) which dealt with the reconquest of the Sudan in 1898 by British, Egyptian and Sudanese forces:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities thousands have become brave and loyal soldiers of the queen: all know how to die: but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.[2]

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Winston Churchill was attached to the 21st Lancers at The Battle of Omdurman in 1898. Churchill was a prolific writer and in my opinion a keen observer.

The blog (link below) from which I took the quote points out that Churchill did not mean to indict all of Islam but only the Mahdist Dervishes of the period. This can be seen from the quote itself that many Moslems were “soldiers of the Queen.” Indeed, the bulk of the forces that did reconquer the Sudan were Egyptian and Sudanese Moslems rather than British.

The Sudan in 1881 was part of an Egyptian administration who in turn were technically part of the Turkish (also Moslem) Ottoman Empire. When the Mahdi (who called himself a Prophet) declared war on Egypt he was in fact declaring war on fellow Moslems who he believed were sell outs to the west or worse in his mind slaves to the hated Ottoman Turks. The same kind of attitude can be seen in ISIS who reject any version of Islam that does not line up with their own radical version.

For almost 20 years the Mahdists controlled the Sudan and set up a kind of caliphate that endured until 1898 and The Battle of Omdurman. As we all know ISIS desires a caliphate which is what the war in Iraq and Syria is all about. (I do understand that the situation in Syria is more complicated than that but ISIS is the common denominator that has brought a coalition there to fight it.)

The author of the blog to which I referred above is right to point out it is dangerous to take a quote out of context and make too much of it.

On the other hand Churchill’s comments seem to have a high degree of accuracy if they refer to Islam in general as well as the most radical elements of it. One has only to look at the status of women in every Moslem country (the so-called moderates) to see that Islam in general is a strong retrograde force as Churchill put it. Islam sees the west as decadent and has no concept of the liberties we take for granted and at times do lead to decadence. Such is the price of liberty versus the slavery of Sharia.

Churchill also noted that Islam in general is a militant and proselytizing faith something that seems rather obvious in radical Islam’s war on the west (as well as on those they believe are less pure Moslems).

In my opinion Churchill was not so much a prophet as he was a realist based on his observations. What continues to amaze me is that many in the west today continue to rationalize or make excuses for the terror and seem to be saying we have to put up with it no matter how many little girls are blown to pieces.

We seem paralyzed by political correctness and a basic inability to see clearly that radical Islam is what it always has been and that it springs from Islam in general-an Islam that in general speaks out against the radicals very little.

Warren Dockter Blog (I took Churchill’s quote from this blog which Professor Dockter wrote in 2014.)

The Battle of Omdurman: The Last Cavalry Charge (The charge was actually a blunder as the British commander did not realize that hundreds of tribesmen were hidden in a gully.)

The War on Terror is a War of Ideas (Something I wrote years back.)

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Life Magazine ANZAC Cover, Feb. 1941

The oldest wartime Life Magazine I have in my small collection is from February, 1941. That’s at least 10 months before the US entered WW2 and so the articles in Life that deal with the war do not have the American focus they would a year later.

In this particular issue (February, 24, 1941) the feature article is titled, The Shadow of Adolf Hitler and His Armies Falls Across the Balkans. After the Nazi’s conquered Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway (and failed to invade England) Hitler made ready for the invasion of Soviet Russia which eventually would take place in June 1941.

Hitler’s ally, Benito Mussolini had conquest ideas of his own and Axis Italian armies had been fighting the British (and Commonwealth forces) in North Africa for some time. Mussolini had also invaded Greece and had been defeated by the tough Greeks.

The Italians were in trouble in North Africa where British and Commonwealth troops inflicted a horrendous defeat on them in Libya.

Before the Nazi’s could invade Soviet Russia they had to secure their Balkan flank to prevent the British from totally defeating the Italians and establishing another viable front agains them.

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The map takes some getting used to because to our eyes it’s upside down. Life Magazine wanted to give the perspective of how it would look from the point of view of Adolf Hitler and his generals. The emphasis on the strategic resource of oil is obvious. Axis ambitions in North Africa were crushed at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and at Stalingrad late in 1942 but in February 1941 issues were still very much in doubt.

The British were quite aware of the possibilities and wanted to do what little they could to help the Greeks. The resources of Britain and the Commonwealth countries were already stretched thin by multiple commitments around the world. Not only that they were for the most part under equipped  having lost much in the Battle for France in May, 1940.  Nevertheless, Britain  sent an expeditionary force to Greece that was made up of British, Australian and New Zealand troops. The Australians and New Zealanders were known as Anzacs. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian-New Zealand-Army Corps.

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The New Zealanders and Australians wore a similar slouch type hat. The Aussies tended to turn one side up while the New Zealanders tended to wear theirs as shown.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was a First World War army corps of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. It was formed in Egypt in December 1914, and operated during the Battle of Gallipoli. General William Birdwood commanded the corps, which comprised troops from the First Australian Imperial Force and 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The corps disbanded in 1916, following the Allied evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula and the formation of I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps. The Corps was reestablished, briefly, in the Second World War during the Battle of Greece in 1942. Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Note: The Battle for Greece was in 1941.)

The cover of the February 24th, 1941 edition features a photograph of New Zealand soldiers in North Africa after they participated in the victory over the Italians. Life’s explanation of the cover is interesting:

The big, easy-moving men on the cover are from the islands of New Zealand, 10,000 miles from where they are now fighting in the deserts of Libya. The Australians’ and the New Zealanders’ initials supply the first three letters of the famed name Anzac. These insubordinate, hard-fighting, independent men bear a marked resemblance to Texans and have a reputation as soldiers fully as brilliant. The Anzacs, though they are not at the peak of training, have been the shock troops of the British advance into Libya which beclouds Adolf Hitler’s outlook to the south. (Life, Feb.24, 1941, p. 21)

I’m speculating a little here but perhaps the comparison with Texans has some thing to do with the reputation of the Texas Brigade that fought in Lee’s Army (ANV) during the American Civil War and Texas Rangers law enforcement agency as well as American fascination (at the time) with Old West history.  The slouch hats worn by the Australians and New Zealanders perhaps sparked an old west connection to the editor. Whatever the case the Anzacs certainly had a reputation as insubordinate (by British standards) and for hard-fighting.

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I said I’m guessing about the connection but the slouch hats are clear enough in this picture of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers in 1880.

The Greece Campaign would prove to be a disaster for the British and Commonwealth troops sent there and after hard fighting in Greece and Crete the troops that were not forced into surrender were sent back to North Africa to regroup and re-deploy. The Corps was disbanded although the New Zealanders (2nd NZ ID) and the Australians (7th and 9th AU IDs) would continue to fight on in the desert war as part of the famed Eighth Army or Desert Rats as they eventually became known.

Eventually, the Australian Divisions would be withdrawn to defend Australia against the Japanese. They would fight in the brutal New Guinea Campaign (with American units) and in Borneo as well as other Pacific locations. Wherever they fought their reputation for being tough fighters remained intact.

The New Zealand Division, no less tough, stayed on in the desert until the Axis surrender there in May, 1943. It was then reorganized and rebuilt after suffering many casualties into sort of a hybrid division that contained strong infantry and armored components. The New Zealander Division became part of the Allied effort in Italy. There it fought in numerous battles including Monte Cassino. It ended the war in Northern Italy in May, 1945.