Saturday, September 27, 2014

Captain John Paul Jones – Conflicted

by Bill Doughty

When Thomas Jefferson's letter to Captain John Paul Jones arrived asking him to lead an expedition against Islamic Barbary Pirates in North Africa it was too late. Jones had died days before the letter arrived.

No doubt John Paul Jones would have jumped at the chance to deploy and fight again. After all, he had earlier taken Jefferson's advice to become an admiral in the Russian Navy and serve under Tsarina Catherine in the Black Sea. Two decades earlier he had served under George Washington and other Founders in missions attempting to rescue prisoners of war, even deploying forward into the littorals of England, Ireland and his native Scotland.
Mutinous crews, weather, political circumstances and Jones's own ego often hampered the ship captain's success, however, according to biographer Evan Thomas in "John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy."

David McCullough, author of "John Adams" and "1776," endorses Thomas's book, and that's high praise. "Evan Thomas captures all the incongruities, vanities, blazing ambition, and phenomenal courage of his subject. And, importantly, he writes with vigor and a sailor's knowledge of the sea. The accounts of Jones's historic triumphs in battle and of one terrible storm are brilliant, unforgettable."

Thomas describes life in the age of sail – the stink, disease, rum allowances, cruelty of the lash and close combat. 
Two hundred and thirty-five years ago this week (Sept. 23, 1779) aboard the merchantman Bonhomme Richard, Jones achieved immortality in his seemingly hopeless battle against the larger Royal Navy HMS Serapis, cannons muzzle-to-muzzle, a "battle of the tops" – snipers on the sails, cutlasses in hand on deck, Jones standing in the face of fire, fearless, unwavering, victorious.

Born from a fleet of privateers the new American navy was a handful of sailing ships whose mission was to intercept British ships. Jones was a gifted seaman, navigator and commander. His patron in the Continental Congress, Robert Morris, saw in Jones "a quality that was utterly missing from the minds of most men of the new Navy." Jones was a "strategic seer."
Jones was effective despite veins of bad luck and occasional bad behavior running through his life. Among the author's descriptions of the great captain/commodore: "thin skinned," "far-sighted but with resentments," "lover of poetry," "whose highs and lows bordered on the manic," "futurist," "shrewd and prescient," "self-centered," "resilient," "articulate," "fastidious," "demanding and brooding," "always keen to burnish his reputation," and "tactless, vain and selfish."
"All through his life, Jones struggled to put forth his more virtuous ... self, his capacity for self-sacrifice and noble-mindedness. But his anger and insecurity eventually showed through. He would have had faster and better ships to sail in harm's way if he had followed Franklin's advice and shared credit more generously and if he had been less prickly and pushy with his superiors. Jones was sufficiently self-aware to know what to do, but tragically incapable of doing it. His ambition rendered him both gullible and self-absorbed. His sarcastic asides and demanding perfectionalism often defeated his efforts to show 'cheerful ardor' and reach out to colleagues. And, yet, his pride masked sensitivity and a longing to be loved and forgiven ... If only Jones had been able to take his own advice and hid his contempt for others, they might have forgiven him. But he could not, and they did not."
Roosevelt speaks at a Jones commemoration at the Naval Academy, 1906.
Jones had busts of himself made in the later years of his life (the ultimate 3D selfie) and sent them to Washington, Adams, Jefferson and other statesmen. He "rarely conceded error," according to Thomas, and "His sense of grandeur, his belief that he strode on a great stage, allowed him to appreciate the larger stakes."

Jones's self-awareness helped him sense change and purpose in the world in the wake of the Enlightenment. He was a true patriot fighting for freedom and against despotism. A contemporary of Thomas Paine, Jones said, "I have drawn my sword in the present generous struggle for the Rights of Men."

Reading about Jones's ego makes a quote that opens the Thomas book all the more poignant. It's from 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, a man who had a similar driving personality and, as revealed in the recent Ken Burns series on PBS, "The Roosevelts," plenty of personal demons to outrun. Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, said, "Every officer in our navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones."

Another book about the deeds and the man – not the myths – was written by the great naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison. He received the 1959 Pulitzer prize for biography for "John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography." Like Thomas, Morison looked behind the curtain of fabrication and fiction to reveal the complicated character of the naval hero.
In 1792 Thomas Jefferson, who dealt with his own character inconsistencies as a slaveowner, wrote to ask John Paul Jones to deal with Islamic states and Barbary pirates in North Africa who had captured American sailors and held them for ransom. Thomas writes:
"For years, Jones had been corresponding with Thomas Jefferson about the fate of 'our poor countrymen' imprisoned by the Dey of Algiers. Jones had been all for raising a fleet to put down the Barbary Coast pirates (hearing of Jones's agitation and employment with the Russian infidels, the Dey had put a price on Jones's head). Lacking the will or funds, Congress had dawdled. But now some thirteen American prisoners, sailors seized from merchantmen and thrown in grim cells of Algiers, were writing pleading letters, saying they would have to covert to Islam if help did not come soon. In the late spring of 1792 Congress was at last moved to create a delegation to negotiate with the Dey. Remembering Jones and his deep concern for the fate of prisoners, Jefferson, the first American Secretary of State, appointed Jones to lead the American delegation. But Jones was dead by the time his commission and instructions reached Paris at the end of July."
Jones died at the age of 45. Congress authorized payment of "tributes" as ransom to Barbary Coast Pirates. But, when more tributes were demanded, Jefferson called for a strong naval response, which led to the First Barbary War in 1801.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thomas Jefferson Calls for Submarines

by Bill Doughty
The third president of the United States was the first to expand into the American West, combat religious fundamentalism and terrorists abroad, and think about the future of naval warfare: using submarines and surface ships to provide defense of the States and forward-deploying forces for maritime security. He foresaw peace through global commerce between nations – globalization.

In "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" Jon Meacham explores the complicated way Jefferson combined pure reason with muddy politics as Governor of Virginia, congressman, Secretary of State, President, diplomat in France, and as statesman and philosopher, always trying to achieve "the Founders' dream of a nation beyond partisanship."
Battle of Tripoli Harbor, Aug. 3, 1804
Facing bitter opposition, Jefferson called for naval power against a Muslim caliphate in the Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli). Barbary pirates had harassed and kidnapped merchants and captured an American ship. Rather than paying ransom, Jefferson, in a letter to James Monroe, suggested a reasoned approach with hard consequences.

Jefferson wrote, "Would it not be better to offer them an equal treaty? If they refuse, why not go to war with them? ... We ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry on our own commerce. Can we begin it on a more honorable occasion or with a weaker foe?"
According to Meacham:
"On Saturday, August 1, 1801, Andrew Sterett of the Enterprize (Enterprise), who was serving under [Commodore Richard] Dale, defeated the Tripolitan vessel Tripoli near Malta. 'Too long ... have those barbarians been suffered to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights and laws of human nature,' Jefferson told Sterett. 'You have shown your countrymen that that enemy cannot meet bravery and skill united.'"
Meacham judges Jefferson as "more of a chess player than a traditional warrior."

"The Art of Power" is carefully researched and backed up with good source material on both sides of the Atlantic, including unpublished papers. Unfortunately there's not much more discussion about Jefferson's complicated views about developing a Navy. Meacham piques our interest in other writings by Jefferson. 
In a letter published in a collection by the Library of America, "Writings: Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters," and written in 1807, President Jefferson communicates his views about naval strategy with Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine. Jefferson discusses use and limitations of torpedoes (mines), which would be used extensively a few years later in the War of 1812, and half a century later in the Civil War by Cmdre. David Farragut in the Battle of New Orleans.

In his letter to Fulton, Jefferson calls for more commitment to developing and employing submarines. And he floats the idea of creating a corps of submariners.
"I consider your torpedoes as very valuable means of defence of harbors, & have no doubt that we should adopt them to a considerable degree. Not that I go the whole length (as I believe you do) of considering them as solely to be relied on ... But I have ever looked to the submarine boat as most to be depended on for attaching them [torpedoes], & tho' I see no mention of it in your letter, or your publications, I am in hopes it is not abandoned as impracticable. I should wish to see a corps of young men trained to this service. It would belong to the engineers if at land, but being nautical, I suppose we must have a corps of naval engineers, to practise & use them. I do not know whether we have authority to put any part of our existing naval establishment in a course of training, but it shall be the subject of a consultation with the Secretary of the Navy. Genl Dearborne has informed you of the urgency of our want of you at N Orleans for the locks there. I salute you with great respect & esteem."
Jefferson's views of the Navy seem to have evolved over time. Earlier writings in the 1780s questioned the need for a naval force to compete with European powers. (Eventually, though, especially in response to the Barbary threats, Jefferson understood the need for a strong means to back up peaceful intentions.)

In Query XXII of his "Notes on the State of Virginia" written in 1781-1782, Jefferson offers predictions that have been realized centuries later after wars against Britain, Japan and Germany – cooperative interaction with other nations:
"It should be our endeavour to cultivate the peace and friendship of every nation, even of that which has injured us most, when we shall have carried our point against her. Our interest will be to throw open the doors of commerce, and to knock off all its shackles, giving perfect freedom to all persons for the vent of whatever they may chuse to bring into our ports, and asking the same in theirs."
Jefferson's own words, found in separate collections, help expand revelations in Meacham's biography, which in words and impressive artwork shows many of the key people in Jefferson's life.
Jon Meacham
Meacham's work is personalizing. It focuses on many of Jefferson's relationships, including  with John Adams, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Sarah "Sally" Hemings, Thomas Paine and Patsy Jefferson Randolph. Meacham writes about Jefferson's friendships, loves and rivalries. Unlike other Founders, Thomas Jefferson did not succumb to bitterness. He took on a recalcitrant Congress and achieved his strategic goals.

The dustcover of Meacham's book proclaims:
"The father of the ideal of individual liberty, of the Louisiana Purchase, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the settling of the West, Jefferson recognized that the genius of humanity – and the genius of the new nation – lay in the possibility of progress, of discovering the undiscovered and seeking the unknown. From the Declaration of Independence to elegant dinners in Paris; from politics in Philadelphia and New York to the capital on the Potomac; from his complicated life at Monticello, his breathtaking house and plantation in Virginia, to the creation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was central to the age."
Jefferson's passion and courage gave us the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Some could say Jefferson's foresight and commitment to progressive development gave us the birth of maritime strategy. And one could even say his expansion of the American West – eventually through Colorado to Washington State – led directly to this weekend's NFL rematch between Peyton Manning of Denver and Russell Wilson of Seattle.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A 'Fatwa' Against Islamic Fundamentalism

Review by Bill Doughty

As the United States and other nations begin targeting the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS), why aren't others in the region – other Muslims – up in arms against religious fundamentalism and extremism?

A refreshing perspective by Karima Bennoune shows us many people of Muslim heritage are, in fact, renouncing intolerance and terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. Many yearn for freedom, love and peace over tyranny, hate and civil war. Bennoune, a professor of international law at the University of California-Davis School of Law, who is of Algerian descent, makes the case in 2013's "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism."
Woman in a camp for displaced Iraqis who fled militants, Aug. 6, 2014. AP photo, State Dept. blog.

She describes in heart-rending detail the fear and courage of people in countries and regions as diverse as Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Chechnya and Dagestan. She describes murder, maiming, stoning, rape and imprisonment in the name of the Qur'an and the fundamentalists' version of their religion. "Islam and Islamism are not the same thing ... The vast majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists, though of course too many are."

Much of Bennoune's perspective, understandably, comes from Algeria, where she grew up before emigrating to the United States. She balances her views with equal condemnation for those on the far left and extremists on the far right who fail to properly deal with the threats to equality, human rights and freedom. But most of this book shows the backlash against fundamentalists' interpretation of Sharia (so-called "God's law") and the danger of religion entering secular society and laws. About Muslim fundamentalism, Bennoune writes:
"At its very core it is a basic question of human rights for hundreds of millions of people who live in Muslim majority countries and populations around the world. In Algiers, Cherifa Bouatta tells me that Muslim fundamentalism 'is a deadly ideology which stands against choice, hope, change and humanity. It represents the breaking of our countries.' Franco-Algerian community organizer Mimouma Hadjam wants to remind Westerners, 'Islamism is a danger for the Muslim population. It is a danger for us.'"
Bennoune describes Islamist rejection of art, science, education and freedom of choice under a "cloak of divine legitimacy" by groups including the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, the ex-Islamic Salvation Front, Salafi groups, Jamaat-e-Islami, Taliban, Al Qaeda and Wahhabism, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Ennahda Party, among others.

A visit to Kabul's Ghazi Stadium with the author's guide Alem is recounted. It's a place for sports but was recently used for torture and amputation in the name of Sharia law:
"In addition to amputation of hands and feet while the Qur'an was recited nearby, people were lashed here for adultery in Taliban times, and women were stoned to death. Alem says the Talibs would go out into the city with loudspeakers and announce the punishments. People who had no TV, no radio, no entertainment, would come and watch. There are many different Muslim laws applied in many different ways, but from now on, whenever people talk about the 'application of the Sharia,' it is hard for me not to think about this place."
"Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here" was published before the rise of would-be caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, yet Bennoune remembers Danny Pearl and devotes a chapter, "To Speak Out and Die," to the murder of international journalists by Islamists. Just yesterday, IS issued a video of the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. The beginnings of the IS group can be traced back to 1999; it's the same group under a different name responsible for the beheading of Nick Berg in 2004.

"Your Fatwa" includes the poignant story of the throat-cutting murder of 22-year-old Algerian law student Amel Zenoune-Zouani by Islamist militants and the murder attempt against then 15-year-old student Malala Yousafzai by Pakistani Taliban. (Yousafzai's autobiography, "I am Malala," – also on CD with narration by Archie Panjabi – is another recommended read that shows how one can respect moderate Islam and condemn the violence of the fundamentalists. Despite being shot in the head and experiencing ongoing death threats, Malala continues her crusade for education, equality and tolerance.) 
Karima Bennoune
Bennoune writes: "Women's rights must be the nonnegotiable centerpiece of the struggle against fundamentalism." It's an idea shared by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also mentioned in "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here."

This weekend Secretary of State John Kerry said in Egypt that radical jihadists claim to be fighting on behalf of Islam but their actions are counter to the religion's teachings. Regarding the Islamic State, Kerry said, "its message of hate is rejected" by the majority of Muslims around the world.

The aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) is now operating in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations and launching air sorties against IS/ISIL.

Bennoune shows how that rejection of hate is personalized in her interviews with parents who have lost children, individuals who have lost homes and families, and women who have lost the freedom of expression and choice. Despite setbacks of fundamentalist election victories after the "great spring of 2011," the author finds hope:
"... It is no win for democracy when its processes are used to defeat its values. The actual political and social power of fundamentalists across the region means that the waters of social change have to be navigated with great care. This, however, is no excuse for a failure to respond to the entirely legitimate demands for democratization and justice, which remain imperative. Instead, those on the ground who champion human rights and substantive equality must fight on all fronts. There is still hope for the democratic struggle in Arab and Muslim majority countries unleashed in the spring of 2011, but the struggle against fundamentalism must be at its core."
Bennoune concludes with a call to combat the ideology of fundamentalism. She wants to replace the Islamist war on education with a war on their ignorance and superstition. Education will bring democracy and equality. Her book is deeply personal – from her own and her father's perspective. She hears the cough of an imam as "a very human reminder of the temporal" and with humility she applies that to her own search for the truth. And she presents poetic reflection of visiting cemeteries, literally and figuratively.

A "found (unintentional) haiku" in Bennoune's introduction to her book calls for tolerance even within the paradigm of Islam:
As the Qur'an says, 
"Unto you your religion 
and unto me mine"
I first heard Karima Bennoune speak about her book in a TED Talks podcast, which at the time I'm posting this just hit one million views. 

Her perspective is important to anyone in or out of the military who may wonder if there is international support for another mission to deal with rising Islamic fundamentalism that presents a real threat to freedom-loving people and freethinkers everywhere.