Napoleonic-Era Book Explains Evolving Dark Art of War

A title lobby card for the 1927 silent French epic film Napoléon sold for $10,157 at a July 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It is generally accepted dogma that the French Revolution devoured not only its own children. Many of those who fought against it were literally children. Carl von Clausewitz was only 12 when he first saw action against the French.

A true warrior-scholar, Clausewitz (1780-1831) survived the shattering defeat at Jena-Auerstedt (today’s Germany) in 1806, refused to fight with the French against the Russians in 1812 and saw action at Ligny in 1815. As noted in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest, British historian Niall Ferguson says it was Clausewitz who, better than anyone (including Napoleon himself), understood the way the Revolution transformed the dark art of war.

The Prussian general’s posthumously published masterpiece On War (1832) remains the single most important work on the subject produced by a Western author. Though in many ways timeless, Ferguson points out On War is also the indispensable commentary on the Napoleonic era. It explains why war had changed in its scale and the implications for those who chose to wage it.

Clausewitz declared that war is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will … (it is) not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.” These are considered his most famous words, and also the most misunderstood and mistranslated (at least from what I have read … which is extensive).

But they were not his most important.

Clausewitz’s brilliant insight was that in the wake of the French Revolution, a new passion had arrived on the field of battle. “Even the most civilized of peoples [ostensibly referring to the French] can be fired with passionate hatred for each other…” After 1793, “war again became the business of the people,” as opposed to the hobby of kings, Ferguson writes. It became a juggernaut, driven by the temper of a nation.

This was new.

Clausewitz did acknowledge Bonaparte’s genius as the driver of this new military juggernaut, yet his exceptional generalship was less significant than the new “popular” spirit that propelled his army. Clausewitz called it a paradoxical trinity of primordial violence, hatred and enmity. If that was true, then it helps explain the many people-wars of the 19th century, but is a perplexer (at least to me) when applied to events a century later.

The Battle of the Somme, started on July 1, 1916, is infamous primarily because of 58,000 British troop casualties (one-third of them killed) – to this day a one-day record. It was the main Allied attack on the Western front in 1916 and lasted until Nov. 18 when terrible weather brought it to a halt. The attack resulted in over 620,000 British and French casualties. German casualties were estimated at 500,000. It is one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The Allies gained a grand total of 12 kilometers of (non-strategic) ground!

It is hard to fit Clausewitz’s thesis into this form of military stupidity. I prefer the rationale offered by the greatest mind of the 20th century: “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die,” said Albert Einstein.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Stephen R. Mallory Played Key Role in Developing Submarines, Torpedoes

An original oil painting by Rudy Simons depicting the 1862 battle between the CSS Virginia and USS Cumberland went to auction in June 2017.

By Jim O’Neal

Stephen R. Mallory was born in Trinidad, British West Indies. In 1850, the Florida legislature elected Mallory (1812-1873) to be a U.S. Senator and he was re-elected in 1856. He was appointed to the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs and was unsuccessful in appropriating funds for the development of an ironclad floating battery, a forerunner of armor-clad ships.

In 1858, President Buchanan offered to appoint him Minister to Spain, but he declined. Although a strong supporter of the South, he opposed secession. Nevertheless, he resigned on Jan. 21, 1861, after Florida left the Union.

Stephen Mallory

Jefferson Davis quickly named Mallory head of the Confederate Naval Department on Feb. 25, 1861. He had not sought the office and was not even aware of the nomination. One reason for his appointment was that he came from Florida, which had been given a prominent Cabinet post as a reward for its early date of secession. However, the Florida delegation opposed his nomination over a misunderstanding about his actions involving Fort Pickens, but he was finally confirmed as Confederate States Secretary of the Navy on March 4.

Mallory’s department at the start of the war consisted of 12 smallish ships and 300 officers who had left the Union Navy. In May 1863, Mallory was able to persuade the Confederate Congress to create a Provisional Navy and this gave him the opportunity to recruit and train more sailors. Many of these men eagerly transferred from the Army, despite significant opposition from a series of Secretaries of War.

When the Civil War got under way, Union anchorages were crammed with wooden warships mostly obsolete. Unable to compete with the U.S. Navy on numerical terms, the South saw an opportunity to seize a technological edge to negate the advantage in timber and guns. Since Mallory had to purchase ships built abroad, he emphasized the building of several powerful ironclads, along with gunboats and other vessels.

Mallory also played an active role in the development and use of torpedoes (mines). These devices became one of the most successful aspects of the navy throughout the war. Confederate minefields helped keep the Union Navy from entering Charleston Harbor and delayed the attack on Mobile Bay. By the end of the war, torpedoes had sunk or damaged 43 enemy vessels, including four monitors. These devices destroyed more Federal warships than the entire fleet of Confederate gunboats.

Mallory also championed the development and employment of torpedo boats and submarines. One of the first submarines was Pioneer, which was built at New Orleans, but scuttled when the city fell, never having an opportunity to attack the enemy. The H.L. Hunley became the first submarine in history to attack and sink an enemy, the ocean steam sloop USS Housatonic.

But it was the showdown on March 8-9, 1862, between the CSS Virginia (a rebuilt frigate that never shook her original name, Merrimack) and the USS Monitor that generated the most news on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Battle of Hampton Roads was the most important naval battle of the Civil War and was an effort of the Confederacy to break a Union blockade that had cut off international trade from Virginia’s largest cities of Norfolk and Richmond.

It was the first combat meeting of the famous ironclad ships and they dueled for four hours with neither inflicting damage on the other. Despite this strategic draw, The New York Times ran 17 articles on the battle. Harper’s Weekly thrilled its readers with an action-packed cover story, while Currier & Ives issued three different lithograph versions titled “Terrific Combat.”

Franklin Buchanan

Of interest was that the commander of the CSS Virginia, Franklin Buchanan, an officer in the U.S. Navy, became the only full Admiral in the Confederate Navy. Earlier in 1845, at the request of the Navy, he submitted plans for a naval school that became the United States Naval Academy and Buchanan became the first superintendent.

He resigned his commission in 1861 in anticipation of Maryland seceding. When that didn’t happen, he tried to recall his resignation but Gideon Welles – President Lincoln’s Secretary of Navy – refused, citing “half-hearted patriots.”

Stephen Mallory spent several years in prison and then returned to Pensacola and his law practice. He and Confederate States Postmaster General John Reagan were the only two men who remained in their Cabinet positions throughout the entire war.

Complicated times.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Winfield Scott Arguably the Most Astonishing Military Officer in U.S. History

A Winfield Scott “For President” daguerreotype from his unsuccessful 1852 bid for the presidency sold for $25,000 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some historians have labeled him as remarkable, perhaps the most remarkable in American history. For more than 50 years, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army, wearing the stars of a general from 1814 until his death in 1866 at age 80. Following Andrew Jackson’s retirement from the Army in 1821, he served as the country’s most prominent general, stepping down in late 1861, six months after the start of the Civil War.

Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, hero of the War of 1812, conqueror of Mexico in a hazardous campaign, and Abraham Lincoln’s top soldier at the beginning of the Civil War, was born in Virginia in 1786. It was a time of “an innumerable crowd of those striving to escape from their original social condition,” as described by French observer of America, Alexis de Tocqueville.

Success rested on the possession of land, driving both ambitious Americans and their government west.

Winfield’s father died when he was 5, and his mother died in 1803 when he was 17 and on his own. By 1807, he had tired of schooling and joined a prominent law firm in Richmond, “riding the circuits” where he helped provide legal assistance to litigants. It was here that the governor of Virginia made an appeal for volunteers to the state militia after a British frigate intercepted an American ship to search for four deserters from His Majesty’s Navy … the famous Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.

The people of the United States reacted with surprising violence, almost lynching British officers and attacking a nearby squadron. “For the first time in their history,” wrote American historian Henry Adams, “the people of the United States learned in June 1807 the feeling of a true national emotion.”

Public opinion forced President Thomas Jefferson to issue a proclamation requiring all armed British vessels to depart American waters. Then he called on all governors to furnish forces of 100 militia each. Winfield Scott felt an overwhelming urge to play a part and eagerly joined his fellow Virginians.

Thus began a long, storied military career, both during the consolidation of the nation and its expansion.

As a general, he was not the architect. It was President James Madison who attempted to unsuccessfully annex Canada in 1812. It was President Jackson who decided that American Indians east of the Mississippi must be moved to western lands following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (the infamous “Trail of Tears”). President John Tyler eventually settled the boundary dispute with Britain over the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. James K. Polk manipulated the War with Mexico that expanded the nation into the southwest. And President James Buchanan used General Scott to secure the San Juan Islands, between Vancouver Island and the mainland, during the Pig War between the United States and Great Britain.

For each of these presidents, the agent and builder, in contrast to the architect, was General Scott. In this role, Scott served under 14 presidents, 13 of them as a general officer. Winfield “Old Fuss and Feathers” Scott lost his own bid for the presidency as the unsuccessful candidate for the Whigs in 1852. However, he certainly had the longest and most astonishing military career in U.S. history. And that includes all the other great men: Washington, Jackson, Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, etc.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Julius Caesar Still Influencing Culture 2,000 Years Later

Many Romans in 44 B.C. must have been stunned to see the image of Julius Caesar stamped on newly issued silver denarii. This example sold for $57,500 at a September 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Rome, “The Eternal City,” began as a cluster of small villages on seven hills by the River Tiber and grew into a city-state. According to legend, it was first ruled by kings, who were overthrown, before becoming a republic. A new constitution allowed the election of two senators to run the state. Their terms were limited to one year, as the office of king was prohibited.

It became remarkably successful between 500 and 300 B.C., extending its power through conquest and diplomacy until it encompassed the whole of Italy. By 120 B.C., Rome dominated parts of North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Greece and Southern France. The conquered territories were organized into provinces ruled by short-term governors who maintained order and ensured the collection of taxes.

By the 1st century B.C., Rome was a Mediterranean superpower, yet its long tradition of collective government, in which no individual could gain much control, was challenged by the personal ambitions of a few immensely powerful military men. A series of civil wars and unrest culminated in the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, a brilliant general and statesman.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in Rome in 100 B.C. to a family of distinguished ancestry. From an early age, he grasped that money was the key to power in a political system that had become hopelessly corrupt. He also learned that forging a network of alliances and patronage would be crucial to his success.

After serving in the war to crush the slave revolt led by Spartacus, he returned to Rome in 60 B.C. and spent vast sums of money buying influence and positions. Eventually, he teamed up with two other powerful Romans, Crassus and Pompey, to form the First Triumvirate. Then Caesar was first consul and two years later, governor of Gaul, which gave him a springboard to true military glory.

Over the next eight years, he conquered Gaul, bringing the whole of France, parts of Germany, and Belgium under his personal rule. Buoyed by his achievements, he then tried to dictate the terms for returning to Rome. Roman laws required military leaders to relinquish control of their armies before returning to Rome, a prerequisite for running for public office.

When Caesar refused, the Roman Senate declared him hostis (public enemy) and then came the unthinkable: He decided to march his army on Rome! En route, he paused at the border between the Gallic provinces and Italy proper … a small river called the Rubicon. Acutely aware that crossing that river would constitute a declaration of war, he announced “alea iacta est” (the die is cast) and led his army forward, telling them, “Even yet we may draw back, but once across that little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”

“Crossing the Rubicon” is still in vogue today and represents making a difficult decision that cannot be reversed once taken.

Obviously, Caesar won the ensuing civil war, but soon a conspiracy developed with 60 senators planning to assassinate him on March 15, 44 B.C. (the infamous “Ides of March”). What is curious is that even after more than 2,000 years, we find Caesar references so often. The latest is the flap over a play in NYC’s Central Park, Julius Caesar, in which the title character bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to President Trump, with The New York Times questioning whether he can survive living in Caesar’s Palace.

Et tu, Brute?

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Confederate Torpedoes Wreaked Havoc on Union Vessels

This carte de visite of Lt. Frank Cushing, who led a mission that destroyed the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in 1864, went to auction in November 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

“Torpedo” is a generic name for a variety of naval and land mines employed by the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The word derived from a Latin name for an electric ray fish whose sting numbs its prey. It was first used to describe a weapon in 1776. It was disapproved on moral grounds because targets were struck without warning. The torpedo satisfied the Confederacy’s urgent need to compensate for its inferior strength of arms.

Torpedoes destroyed more Union vessels than all other actions, with 43 sunk or damaged, per best estimates. The psychological effect was obviously incalculable, but it was an important factor. Curiously, only one Confederate vessel fell victim to a Union torpedo … the ironclad CSS Albemarle in Lt. William Cushing’s famous commando raid.

Torpedo manufacturing proliferated with a major factory in Richmond, at Augusta Powder Works, and at many small facilities in various Southern cities. In Atlanta, even wives of naval personnel at the Naval Arsenal pitched in to help (an early version of Rosie the Riveter in World War II). Designs were configured to solve the three major issues: how to deliver the torpedo, how to keep the powder dry, and how to detonate the charge.

Some torpedoes were simply set adrift in a river to strike a ship’s hull in random collisions. Others were anchored and held in “plantations” set at a 45-degree angle downstream. This allowed Confederate vessels unobstructed passage over the frame, but Union ships travelling upstream would trigger explosions on contact.

Another clever variation was the “coal torpedo,” a bomb disguised as a lump of coal and hidden in coal bunkers. Later shoveled into a Union ship’s boiler, it had a devastating effect on the ship, the crew and others near the explosion. A “clock torpedo” smuggled aboard a ship at City Point on the James River created one of the most spectacular and costly explosions of the war.

It is amazing what desperate people will do, even to their fellow citizens, during war. The American Civil War is a tragic example of the horrors that can occur.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Winning a War is Difficult, Even with Vastly Superior Forces

The original movie poster art for Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam war drama Platoon, by artist Mike Bryan, sold for $21,510 at a March 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The decision to mount a sustained bombing campaign was not made until Feb. 13, 1965 – two days after the Viet Cong had launched yet another attack on the U.S. barracks at Qui Nhon. The significance was that this decision, which had taken so long, had been kept completely separate from the decision on combat troops. It was to be an activity unto itself. But in their hearts, the military knew better and this was a crucial lapse in judgment. It differed sharply from the decision-making in 1954, when the Army staff cast serious reservations about U.S. aerial intervention in Indochina.

In 1954, Army Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway had made one thing crystal clear: Air power and ground power could not be separated. If air power was used and failed, ground power would almost certainly be necessary. In 1965, no one made the comparable case as the pressure for bombing escalated too fast.

The bombing campaign was going ahead under the name of Rolling Thunder, designed to force the other side to start negotiating, thus avoiding the use of ground troops. In the intelligence community, the ones most knowledgeable about Vietnam knew with certainty that Hanoi would never negotiate or capitulate. However, the principals were convinced that bombings would preclude the use of any ground forces.

On Feb. 22, nine days after the decision to go ahead with the bombing, General William Childs Westmoreland – commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam – sent in a request for two battalions of Marine Corps, strictly to provide security for the U.S. air base in Danang. It was a modest request, just the two groups, and the mission was minor, as well. Just provide security.

This was the first time American combat units would arrive as units. There was a nagging fear among many in Washington and Saigon that this was not the end. However, it was a small request and it had to be done.

After all, slipping in the first troops was just an adjustment, an asterisk really, to the firm decision they had made to avoid sending in troops. Of course, there had to be protection for the airplanes and if there was bombing, then you needed airfields. And if there were airfields, then troops were needed for security. No one pointed out that a regiment is small and can’t really protect itself. Even as they were bombing, they were preparing for a new rationale: the protection of men and material. The expanding rationale would provide its own rhythm of escalation. The whole basis of the escalation and of providing ground troops hung on a slender hope; it would be brief.

Four short years later, in 1969, United States troops in Vietnam peaked at 549,500, with 16,592 KIA (killed in action).

It is hard to win a war, even with vastly superior forces, if the other side is determined to never quit. You can even leave the country, as we did in Iraq, but chances are you will be back. Especially in wars on “terrorism,” even if you choose to quit, who do you surrender to?

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Eisenhower’s Wisdom was Crucial to Ending Korean Conflict

Korean War tales were popular in American comic books. This copy of Frontline Combat #1, 1951, a William Gaines file pedigree, sold for $6,612.50 at a March 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On the last weekend of June 1950, the United States was sweltering in that summer’s first heat wave. Those who could, left their small-screen TVs for air-conditioned movie theaters (that was the month my family acquired our first TV). Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver, was Walt Disney’s first completely live-action movie and The Maverick Queen, Zane Grey’s 51st novel, was published posthumously. I missed both of them.

Half a world away, heavy rains from the first monsoon were falling on the rice paddies when the North Korean artillery – 40 miles of big guns, side-by-side – opened fire. The shelling was sporadic at first, but soon all artillery was erupting as officers corrected their range. Overhead, Yaks and Sturmoviks were headed toward Seoul, less than 50 miles away. North Korean People’s Army generals put 90,000 troops into South Korea smoothly with no congestion as junks/saipans were unloading amphibious troops behind Republic of Korea lines to the south.

It was early afternoon in New York, noon in Independence, where President Harry S. Truman was, and 4 a.m. on the faraway 38th parallel when, as General Douglas MacArthur later put it, “North Korea struck like a cobra.”

In a larger sense, it represented the inevitable collision of the Sino-Soviet push to extend communism and the U.S policy of containment. Truman secured a mandate from the United Nations to expel North Korea from the south, euphemistically called a “police action.” A U.N. force comprised of 90 percent Americans and South Koreans under MacArthur launched a counteroffensive with a daring amphibious landing in September 1950. By seizing the initiative, they drove the communists north, back across the 38th parallel. For the first time in history, an international organization had met aggression with force and when it was announced, Congress rose in a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune congratulated the president, noting the approval of the action was unanimous.

However, as MacArthur was busy planning the next steps of the campaign, he tragically misread the intentions of Communist China. As U.N. forces approached the Yalu River, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops poured across the border in January 1951 and drove MacArthur back south. These setbacks prompted him to consider using nuclear weapons against China or North Korea. When Truman refused to extend the conflict and a possible nuclear exchange, MacArthur criticized public policy. Unwilling to accept this insubordination, on April 11, 1951, Commander-in-Chief Truman relieved the popular general and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway.

Although peace negotiations dragged on for months, as soon as Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president, he made a special point to conclude all discussions. As the only general to serve as president in the 20th century, he was acutely aware of the ravages of war and was not about to let diplomats or the United Nations muddle along.

We miss him and his wisdom as we face an even more dangerous, nuclear-armed North Korea that grows more aggressive each day with solutions that are more limited and risky.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Hitler’s Seduction of German People was Sudden, Complete

Adolf Hitler is among the figures featured in Gum Inc.’s 1938 “Horrors of War” trading card series. A complete set (288 cards) sold for $2,390 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The same winter President Roosevelt came to power in the United States, another leader in Europe assumed his country’s highest office. Over the next 12 years, until their deaths just two weeks apart in 1945, the lives of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler would grow increasingly intertwined … drawn together as archenemies in a conflict that was the 20th century’s most grotesque and widespread event.

Even all these years later, the rise of Hitler still baffles. His seduction of the German people was so sudden and complete, his assumption of power so total, that he defies comparison with history’s other evil conquerors. One German philosopher called him an “error” in history, as if the Fates had been distracted while a deadly mutant virus took hold.

Both FDR and Hitler’s journey to power was propelled by a world economic collapse.

Along with America and most of Europe, Germany suffered a Great Depression, with unemployment reaching 25 percent. If it had been hunger alone, the people may have followed a very different kind of leader. But Hitler’s enormous popularity was also a product of Germany’s lingering desire for revenge.

Despite Germany’s surrender in 1918 (an armistice arranged by the Reichstag, not the Army), few accepted the fact that they had been defeated in World War I. Hitler was from Bavaria, a haven for right-wing nationalists, and he railed against the forces of Judaism and Bolshevism, while mocking the fragile Weimar government as “November Criminals” for acceptance of the armistice.

After the complete breakdown of the economy in 1930, the passion of resentment and revenge gained momentum to include students, professors and businessmen. Hitler’s anti-Semitic message resonated with a deep suspicion of money cartels and the perceived unjust punishment from the Versailles agreement. The campaign moved with the speed of a plague.

The Nazi bible was Mein Kampf, a two-volume treatise started by Hitler while in prison for the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, a bungled attempt to control Bavaria. As the movement gained in favor, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) became a best-seller and provided Hitler with a cloak of legitimacy. Still, it was Hitler’s voice, not his pen, that fueled the emotional appeal of the Nazi movement. In a brilliant insight, he grasped that the pain of the German people could be harnessed in a unique way. They had been victimized by the depression, humiliated by Versailles, robbed by chronic inflation and their spirit had devolved into despair, fear and resentment.

Hitler’s extraordinary oratory provided a powerful reassurance that they were a great people, their suffering unjust and he promised an improved life while those who were responsible for their pain would be punished. His two-hour speeches could hold a crowd of half-a-million people spellbound. It mattered not what he said, but how he said it. They were thrilled by the pageantry, the sense of historical inevitability and blind faith that Germany would rise again. It was only a short journey from here to another war of conflagration with even greater magnitude than the last.

The people were eager to get it started and so it came.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Concerns Over Harry Truman Vanished as New President Exerted His Leadership

A 1945 White House press release signed by Harry S. Truman as president announcing the bombing of Hiroshima realized $77,675 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in southeastern Russia to discuss plans for peace with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He reported to Congress that plans had been arranged for an organization meeting of the United Nations on April 25, 1945. He said, “There, we all hope, and confidently expect, to execute a definite charter of organization under which the peace of the world will be preserved and the forces of aggression permanently outlawed.”

Upon his return, he looked tired and older than his 63 years. Late in March, he went to Warm Springs, Ga., for an overdue rest. On April 12, 1945, he was working at his desk as an artist painted his portrait when he suddenly complained of “a terrible headache.” A few hours later, at 4:45 p.m., he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The last words he had written were “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”


His successor, the first president to take office in the midst of a war, Harry S. Truman, said he felt “like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” The nation and world wondered if he was capable of taking Roosevelt’s place. His background and even his appearance added to the nervous uncertainty. He was the first president in 50 years without a college education. He spoke the language of a Missouri dirt farmer and World War I artilleryman – both of which he had been. Instead of talking like a statesman, he looked like a bank clerk or haberdasher – both of which he had been. And worst of all, everyone knew that for more than 20 years he had been a lieutenant of Tom Pendergast, one of the most corrupt political bosses in the country.

What most people didn’t know was that he was scrupulously honest, knew his own mind and was one of the most knowledgeable students of history ever to enter the White House. Importantly, he understood the powers of the president, and knew why some men had been strong chief executives and others had been weak leaders.

When he learned about the atomic bomb, there was no soul-searching or handwringing debates. He ordered it dropped on Japan because he was sure it would save American lives and quickly end World War II. It did not bother him in the least that years later, intellectuals would question whether one man should have made such an awesome decision alone. He knew in his heart that he was right … period.

Two of his well-known sayings capture the essence of Give’m Hell Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here (a sign on his desk) and my favorite … If you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen!

Leaders get paid to make tough decisions.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Battle of Stalingrad Defined Struggle Between Fascism and Bolshevism

The Boy from Stalingrad was a 1943 Columbia Pictures movie about Russian youths fighting the German assault on Stalingrad. The propaganda film was officially approved by the U.S. government, which briefly worked to maintain its wartime alliance with the Soviets.

By Jim O’Neal

While the siege of Leningrad was under way, a ferocious battle was beginning over Stalingrad, a sprawling provincial city of half a million, outlining the banks of the Volga River.

If there was one battle that defined the struggle between fascism and Bolshevism – the essential confrontation that Adolf Hitler had long dreamed of winning – it was this one. From a strategic standpoint, it would allow Germany to cut off the supply route to the Russian Army up north and open the way for the Wehrmacht to control the oil fields surrounding the Caucasus Mountains.

But Hitler wanted Stalingrad for a personal reason, too. Joseph Stalin had named this city in 1925 to honor the battle he had led there during the Russian Civil War. Its capture would be a symbolic victory and erode Russia’s willpower. However, Stalingrad would prove important to both sides and together they would expend the lives of 1 million people in just five months.

The drama began with the Germans attacking the city’s northern edge and discovering Russian civilians, many of them women in dresses, firing the guns. It was a harbinger of the legendary Russian resistance. That night, an enormous roar deafened Stalingrad, the sound of 600 German planes descending at once. They dropped bombs carrying incendiary devices and when they ignited, the city was so bright from flames that soldiers 40 miles away claimed they could read a newspaper. In all, 40,000 civilians died that night and the worst was yet to come.

Since the city was home to several prized armament plants, tanks rolled off the assembly line directly into battle. Yet it was hand-to-hand combat that came to dominate the fighting – building by building, block by block, rooftop to rooftop – until giant piles of rubble remained. Snipers worked from every garret, booby traps appeared at every turn, and hand grenades came flying from every angle. The insanity of the fighting was obvious even to impotent commanders, but the two leaders in Moscow and occupied Ukraine insisted their armies fight on.

Ignoring the pleas of his advisors, Hitler failed to protect his flanks and fresh Russian troops encircled the city, trapping the entire German army inside. Now they were the ones under siege, starving and freezing while they waited for the promised reinforcements that never came.

By January 1943, the battle was over and 80,000 German troops were marched off to Soviet camps, where all but a handful would eventually die. Things would only go downhill from here as the German people lost faith and the Allies started their offense directly against the Fatherland.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].