Friday, April 27, 2012


I don't much like John Stanly. Sure, he suffered from abandonment issues, when both his parents died in the yellow fever epidemic in 1789, leaving him an orphan at just 15. But any sympathy for him quickly evaporates under the bright hot glare of his grudges- inventing them and carrying them were his specialty. It is not a skill usually associated with politicians, who are traditionally blessed with short memories and a laissez faire morality. But John was a skilled marketer of hate. He had no foes or opponents, only enemies. A contemporary described him as “Small in stature, neat in dress, graceful in manner, with a voice well modulated, and a mind intrepid, disciplined and rich in knowledge, he became the most accomplished orator of the State.” And at 25 he acquired his most famous enemy – three time North Carolina Governor and two term congressman, Richard Spraight.
In John's envious eyes, the elder politician (Richard was almost twice John's age) had committed one fundamental sin above all others - in 1798 the Congressman had switch from the Federalist party of President John Adams, to Thomas Jefferson's insurgent Democratic-Republican party. John Stanly had made the same switch, but earlier, and been planing on running against Richard in the upcoming election of 1800. It seemed to John that Richard had switched especially to block his career. And there may have been some truth in that. But where most politicians would have marked it down to the rough-and-tumble rules of politics, John took it as a personal affront. Besides, John decided to run against him anyway.
It was a nasty campaign, during which John accused Richard of pursuing “the crooked policy of being occasionally on both sides” of an issue - in other words, he said Richard was a flip-flopper. The charge stuck and John won the election. But winning was not enough for the ambitious young lawyer. In 1802, when Richard Spraight was standing for election to the North Carolina state Senate, Representative Stanly felt the need to insert himself into that fight, too. On the Sunday afternoon of August 8, 1802, John arose on a street corner in their mutual hometown of New Bern, North Carolina ( the “Athens of the South”) to denounce his ex- Federalist opponent to the town's 3,000 residents. During his rousing speech he also found time to again question Richard Spraight’s loyalty to the Democratic-Republican Party, saying the Federalists knew they “could always get Mr. Straight’s vote”. It was pure meanness, and it burned.
Richard was infuriated when "friends" told him of this attack from a fellow Democratic-Republican. He immediately wrote John, telling him the allegations were “a direct attack on my character, and one that I will not suffer any man to make with impunity.” Richard demanded “that satisfaction which one Gentleman has a right to demand from another. ” In other words he was challenging John to a duel. Then, rather than send the note directly to John, he sent it to Edward Graham, a friend of John's, and ask him to forward it.
Edward did so immediately, and John, who was in the midst of his own tight re-election fight, decided it would be better to not appear to have precipitated this crises - which he had just done. So, in his reply he disingenuously reminded Richard, “you are a candidate, while I am a voter” and suggested, “I presume you will acknowledge my right to converse” on the positions of candidates for public office. But, per the code of dueling, John sent his response not directly to Richard but to Richard's friend, Dr. Edward Pasteur (a distant relation to the French scientist).
When he received John's missive, Richard decided to accept the younger man's unstated apology, writing back that he would like to publish their letters, as remarks made by supporters on both sides “may have made an improper impression on the public mind”. John agreed, and in the next week's edition of the New Bern Gazette the exchange of letters appeared, along with a few remarks on the affair by Richard.
John was out of town when the notes were published, 30 miles up the winding Trent River, attending to family business in the little brick courthouse in Trenton. It appears the business was unpleasant, because when he returned and saw Richard's comments and their notes in cold print, John was enraged. He believed he had made “humiliating concessions”, and sought to correct them in the next edition of the Gazette. His letter prompted Richard's correction of John's correction, which John then counter-counter-corrected, which Richard then corrected yet again. It all did wonders for sales of the Gazette, but the newspaper refused John's next reply, in part because the editor was John Pasteur, brother to Dr. Edward Pasteur, friend of Richard's, and because the language had begun to invite lawsuits for slander and liable.
But John was so determined to have the last word in this argument, that he paid for a handbill to be published and distributed around New Bern on Saturday, September 4th, 1802, in which he accused Richard of showing a “malicious, low and unmanly spirit”.  Richard immediately responded with his own flier (printed up that very afternoon) calling John “both a liar and a scoundrel.” The three time Governor than added, “I shall always hold myself in readiness to give him satisfaction”. And that finally did it, for John. He could now justify challenging the revered politician to a duel, “as soon as may be convenient”. The older man said tomorrow would be fine, after church of course.
At 5:30 on Sunday Afternoon, September 5, 1802, they met on the field of honor - in this case, in the vacant lot where people tethered their horses, behind the still unfinished Masonic temple and theatre. The location was just outside the cities' jurisdiction, but convenient enough that 300 spectators showed up (today, the corner of Hancock and Johnson streets). Richard was accompanied by Dr. Pasteur, and John's second was Edward Graham. Both flintlock pistols were loaded and locked, and the two combatants stepped out 20 paces apart. And at the dropping of a handkerchief, both men fired, and both men missed.
This was not unexpected. Accuracy with a flintlock pistol was so bad that one American cavalry officer noted during the revolution that his strategy was to ride “full tilt” toward the enemy and “heave” his weapon at them. Besides, this gave the aggrieved gentlemen a chance to come to their senses, call it even and go home. But neither John nor Richard were willing to let go of their pride. Their weapons were re-loaded, and they returned to their firing positions. Again the scarf floated to earth, and again they fired, and again they both missed.
A few observers suggested that the 'code duello' had been satisfied, but neither man was willing to admit it just yet. For the third time the two stood facing each other, and for the third time they both fired. This time a lead ball cut through John Stanly's shirt collar. But it drew no blood, and appeals to reason and common sense fell on the deaf ears of the proud southern gentlemen. For a fourth time the pistols were loaded and primed. For a fourth time the two adversaries took their positions, and for the fourth time the cloth floated to the ground, and both men fired. This time Richard was hit in the side by a ball, and immediately dropped to the ground, blood rushing from his wound. Honor had been satisfied. The duel was over. Once again, John had won
Richard died the next day. Two months later the North Carolina legislature voted “An Act to Prevent the Vile Practice of Dueling Within This State”. The law forbid anyone who had participated in a duel from holding elective office and it was aimed specifically at punishing John Stanly. John was forced to resign from congress, but he appealed to Governor Williams, claiming it was not possible for him to have “bowed myself to the opprobrious epithets of ‘liar & scoundrel’” Governor Williams, a gentleman and a Democratic Republican, agreed, and pardoned Stanly. After that the law was largely ignored. Gentlemen simply crossed into either Virginia or South Carolina to engage in the vile practice, and over the next 58 years Tar Heel politicians fought at least another 27 duels. And because of duels,  John Stanly would bury two of his own brothers, victims of their exaggerated sense of honor. Apparently the meek would inherit the earth, but not in North Carolina.
John Stanly was elected to another term in Congress, and had a distinguished career in the North Carolina house, elected Speaker three times. And he seemed to have made it his personal mission to taunt the son of his victim. When Richard Spraight Jr.was elected to the North Carolina House, an observer wrote, John “seemed to delight in torturing the son by look and gesture, and intonations of his voice, when other methods were not devised. Mr. Spaight, however, avoided an issue.” In 1820 the two ran against each other for the state senate seat, and Richard Spraight Jr. finally won - in 1835 he was even elected Governor.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, January 16, 1827, while leading a heated debate in the North Carolina House, John Stanly had suffered a stroke. He never held public office again. He was 43 years old, a year younger than Richard Spraight senior had been when John had shot and killed him. But John Stanly lived as an invalid for another 6 long years. He rarely left his home, and fell deeply in debt. He became a bitter and angry man, abandoned by many who had once trembled at his voice and threats. But given his argumentative character, that was inevitable.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I shall begin illustrating my newly developed theory of the “Rule of the Retroactively-Inevitable” by stating an odd element of chemistry, which is that burning oil releases over twice as much energy as an equal weight of burning coal. Because of this, every admiral knew it was inevitable that eventually every battleship in the world must be powered by oil. But first you had to have oil to burn .And in the mid-19th century the only known large oil fields were in the United States, under Pennsylvania, and on the Pacific island of Borneo, in the far off Dutch East Indies. So, for half a century every war ship built for every navy in the world was powered by bulky, dirty inefficient coal. Then in 1901 a German professor named Kissling discovered a virtually unlimited “lake of petroleum” south of the Ottoman Turkish city of Kirkuk, and around Basra , at the head of the Gulf of Arabia. The professor had been searching in this god-forsaken dessert on orders from his boss, George von Siemens, managing director of Deutsche Bank.
Before he earned his “von”, George Siemens was just a promising Prussian civil servant. His skills in negotiating telegraph treaties had brought him the attention of Otto von Bismark (above), the man who in 1871 had  made Wilhelm Ludwig the first Kaiser of Germany. Otto helped set up the Deutsche Bank and made George it's first director, because to him it seemed inevitable that Germany would be surrounded by enemies; France to the east, Russia to the West, and everywhere the British Navy. But it also was inevitable that money could wiggle through this British blockade.
George von Siemens (above) knew very little about banking, but he was convinced it was inevitable that railroads were going to build a new world order. So,  much of the money that built the second and third American transcontinental railroads in the 1870's came from his Deutsche Bank, and George had a close up view of American capitalism in action. Americans, he wrote, “...are ruthless robbers...but they know how to think big.” So Director Siemens started looking for someplace to invest where the robbers thought smaller.
To Abdul Hamid II (above), 34th Sultan, it was inevitable that the natural resources in the Ottoman Empire ought to make it one of the strongest powers in Europe. But successful rebellions in Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania, and graft and waste in his government, had reduced Turkey to “The Sick man of Europe" - so deeply in debt that Abdul was forced by his creditors in London and Paris to turn over collection of the Empire's taxes (and its post office) to the “Ottoman Public Debt Administration”, run from Paris and London. So when Deutsche Bank offered Abdul a hundred million dollars to build a Railroad from Berlin to Bagdhad, Abdul eagerly accepted, even if George Siemens insisted it be built with “only German materials”, and gave Deutsche Bank mineral rights for 20 miles on either side of the railroad tracks. And that's why Professor Kissling was tapping rocks in the god-forsaken dessert outside of Kirkurk and in the marshes around Basra – to find some way of paying for the railroad. And it was Kissling's report, made public in 1905 to reasssure British investors in Deutsche Bank, which started a barrel- chested big-thinker ego-maniac named Winston Churchill to thinking about the inevitable triumph of the British Empire.
Modern history remembers him as the British archetypal bulldog, but that came later. In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Britain he was a more of a Newt Gingrich – a bombastic clown extravagant in his language and his life style, which he financed by writing only slightly embellished books and newspaper accounts of his adventures. Then he went into politics, and in 1913 Winston (above) was named First Lord of the Admiralty, civilian head of the British navy. While everybody else was worried about the German Grand fleet sailing up the Thames, and German armies sweeping across France,Winston was convinced it was inevitable that the Berlin to Baghdad railroad would be the greatest threat to the British Empire.
His Admirals told Churchill the British Navy would need a speed of 25 knots to out maneuver a larger German fleet. Such a speed was possible only with oil powered warships. But in 1913, the British Empire controlled less than 2% of the world's oil reserves. Churchill wrote to his government masters, “We must become the owners or at any rate the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the oil which we require.” The decision was made that the Foreign Office and the Bank of England were to acquire all the oil reserves that they could.
By now George von Seimens was no longer manager of Deutsche Bank, having passed away in October of 1901. And Abdul Hamid was no longer Sultan, having been deposed by the Young Turks under Enver Pasha in 1909. But so gentle was Abdul's captivity that he was allowed to keep all the land he had donated to himself, including that atop the oil fields around Kirkurk and Basra. And in 1913 there was incorporated a most unusual bank in Constantinople. It was called the National Bank of Turkey, but its money and board of directors were almost exclusively British, with the exception of a duel Ottoman Armenian-slash-British citizen, named Calouste Gulbenkian.
Half of the capital for the new bank was supplied by Deutsche Bank, now with out the guiding hand of George Seimens. The other half was put up by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which spurred by Professor Kissling's report, had stumbled upon oil reserves in present day Iran. But what the folks at Deutsche Bank did not know, was that the British government had secretly bought out the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, meaning the German bankers were now unwitting junior partners with the British Government.
The National Bank of Turkey help incorporate the Turkish Petroleum Company. Abdul Hamid put up his property rights, and Deutshe Bank put up their mineral rights, and the Bank of Turkey put up the money for the exploitation of the oil underneath Basra and Kirkurk. And the guy who drew up the paperwork was none other than Calouste Gulbenkian (above), who paid himself for his work by giving himself a 5% share in the new company. For a few brief moments it seemed inevitable that they all were going to get very, very rich. And then World War One broke out. The Berlin to Baghdad railroad had yet to reach Baghdad. Nobody had yet pumped a drop of oil out of the ground. And for the next four years artillery replaced lawyers as the big guns in oil negotiations, and the inevitable was put on hold
In 1915 the British army captured Basra, and in 1917 they captured Bagdhad, in 1918 they captured Kirkurk. And in 1919, at the peace conference in Paris, they sliced all of that off from Turkey, and labeled it a brand new country, which they named Iraq. Deutsche Bank was bankrupt. Abdul Hamid was dead. Turkish Petroleum Company became Iraq Petroleum Company, and was eventually divided up by various oil corporations, including Anglo-Persian. British corporations now controlled most of the world's oil supply outside of the United States. Until...who should suddenly show up but the Armenian/British lawyer, Calouste Gulbenkian. He now had a third citizenship, Portuguese – they had been neutral during the War - but he was still alive and he still had his 1914 contracts, and he insisted it was inevitable that he was going to be paid his 5%.
After ten years of haggling, in July of 1928, the world's oil companies finally caved in. They let Calouste Gulbenkian take a big red marker and draw a circle around all the oil fields he laid claim to. The “Red Line Agreemant” gave him, personally, 5% of the value of any oil pumped out from within that circle - forever. He was now “Mr. Five Percent”, one of the richest men in the world. When he died in 1955, his personal fortune was estimated at $840 million ($39 billion in today's money).
Over time Anglo-Persian Oil became Anglo-Iranian Oil, and then finally, British Petroleum, and then just “B.P.”, the largest oil company and the fourth largest and most profitable corporation in the world..
And as the Petroleum Century drew to a close, at about a quarter to ten on the morning of April 20, 2010, an oil rig leased by B.P., 48 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded. Eleven workers were killed. Before the well was capped almost 5 million barrels of toxic petroleum gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything which ingested it. B.P. has estimated its total cost for the clean up will be about $6 billion. And from the moment the admirals decided battleships should be powered by oil, this spill was inevitable.
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Sunday, April 22, 2012


I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan, for themselves? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny western Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Within the delegation suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage. Quietly, all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two aircraft,  for safety.
Late in the afternoon the single Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe (above), and seven other members of the group, lifted off from the le Shima airstrip.
They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone. It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. They had been, and remained, in constant fear of being shot down – by fanatics from both sides. And then there had been the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy, along with the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabe and the other passengers fell asleep.
And then, just after midnight, August 21, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss...and they were losing altitude and were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on.  The half of the surrender documents on board were given to Foreign Ministry representative, Katsuo Okazaki, because he had been a swimmer in the Olympics (in 1924!).
Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin as the plane bounced, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly it stopped, and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit, and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot jumped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passengers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last, half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedule.
The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents.
And on September 2nd , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, another emotionally exhausting day.
What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area; another compromise.  But when the Americans (or British or Australians) arrived, the arms were then turned over to them; another compromise.
It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender.
The Russians had not agreed with the terms of the American/Japanese ceasefire. They were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the occupation had begun. Their occupation of the Northern Japanese islands was the event, not the atomic bombs, that shook both the U.S.'s and Japan's narrow view of the conflict. and the compromise by the two enemies stopped the Soviets before they could grab a share of the main home Japanese islands. Both partners in the Pacific bloodbath came to the realization that the issue was not just victory and defeat, but what sort of victory, and what sort of defeat.
So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was now the allied interest of both winner and loser. The entrance of a third party - The Soviet Union - had broken off the blinders. On the American side the hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to end to the killing and stabilize Japan as quickly as possible.
And at 9AM, on August 28, an advance party of 150 communications engineers had landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese soldiers and sailors. Three hours later 38 C-54 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on August 30th, the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of that day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty was signed aboard the battleship. It would continue, peacefully, until 1951.

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