Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'How Hard Is My Fate': The Arnold-André Affair, 3


The curtain now opens on the third and final act in our drama of the treason that nearly succeeded. Traitorous American Major General Benedict Arnold has reached the British after his precipitous escape. British Major John André and American attorney Joshua Hett Smith have been transported to the Continental Army's encampment at Tappan, N.Y., and are being held there for separate trials.

Friday, September 29, 1780, morning. The board convened by General Washington meets in the Old Dutch Church in Tappan. It includes six major generals and eight brigadier generals, with Nathanael Greene as its head. This is in sharp contrast to the British treatment of American patriot Nathan Hale, who was arrested as a spy on the night of September 21, 1776, and hanged the next morning without a trial. Taking no part in the proceedings, Washington remains in his headquarters at the DeWint house in Tappan (now a museum).

André describes in detail the circumstances of his coming ashore, his inadvertent penetration into American-held territory and his capture at Tarrytown on his way to the British lines. He is asked whether his impression was that he had come ashore under the protection of a flag of truce. André virtually seals his doom by testifying that he does not believe that he did. He adds that if he came ashore under such protection he certainly would have returned under it.

André is excused following his testimony. Letters from Beverley Robinson, Benedict Arnold and Sir Henry Clinton are read. All three insist that André had come ashore under the protection of a flag of truce. Under the etiquette of war, however, no flag of truce can cover an act of treason. Anyway, André's own testimony belies their claim.

After deliberating, the board concludes that André had come ashore (1) "in a private and secret manner"; (2) "he changed his dress within our lines and under a feigned name and in a disguised habit" crossed at King's Ferry and traveled to the place where he was captured, "being then on his way to New York" with "several papers which contained intelligence to the enemy."

The unanimous verdict: "Major André, Adjutant General to the British Army, ought to be considered as a spy from the enemy; and, agreeable to the law and usage of nations, he ought to suffer death."

Saturday, September 30, morning. Washington approves the sentence and orders the execution to take place the next day at five in the afternoon. Now aware of his fate, André sends a gracious letter to Sir Henry Clinton. In it, he absolves his superior of "any suspicion that I was bound by your Excellency's orders to expose myself to what has happened."

"I am perfectly tranquil in mind, and prepared for any fate to which an honest zeal for my King's service may have devoted me," he tells him, ending with assurances of his good treatment in captivity. "I receive the greatest attention from his Excellency General Washington, and from every person under whose charge I happen to be placed." André's meals have been sent to him from Washington's own table. Since his capture, Washington has not seen him.

Saturday, September 30, afternoon. Sympathetic to André, Washington arranges for a message to be passed to Clinton. It suggests that if the exchange of Arnold for André were to be proposed, the Americans would agree to it. The same trial balloon has been floated within Clinton's staff, but he is not about to accede to the suggestion. To him, Arnold's desertion is not a crime but an act deserving of high praise; his crime had been his service in the rebel cause. Having promised to reward and protect Arnold, Clinton cannot give him up to be hanged, whatever André's predicament.

Clinton writes a letter to Washington telling him that three royal officials will be at Dobbs Ferry (across from Tappan) the next day. They are British Lt. Gen. James Robertson, governor of New York, Andrew Elliott, lieutenant-governor, and William Smith, the colony's chief justice. They desire a meeting to present "a true state of the facts." Washington postpones the execution to Monday "at twelve o'clock precisely."

Sunday, October 1, morning. André sends a note to Washington asking for a soldier's death before a firing squad instead of being hanged like a felon. Washington does not answer André's appeal. His feeling is that it is more considerate to keep the truth about his fate from him for as long as possible.

Sunday, October 1, afternoon. The British ship Greyhound anchors off Dobbs Ferry. Only General Robertson is allowed to come ashore to meet with General Nathanael Greene. (Greene would emerge from the Revolution with a military reputation second only to Washington's.) Robertson offers to produce Beverley Robinson and the officers of the Vulture to attest that André had gone ashore under Arnold's flag of truce. He shows Greene a copy of Arnold's letter to Washington claiming responsibility for André's use of an assumed name--although André has used the name John Anderson in secret correspondence for sixteen months.

Greene points out that André has already taken responsibility for wearing a disguise and has testified that he did not have the protection of a flag. Greene promises to report to General Washington the substance of their meeting. Washington takes no action to change the method of execution or to stay it.

Monday, October 2, morning. This will be André's last day of life. His personal servant has been allowed to bring him clean clothing, and André dons his full dress uniform--scarlet tunic, buff vest and knee breeches, and high boots. Five hundred Continental soldiers line the road to the execution site on a hill outside of Tappan (today known as "André Hill"). Fifes and drums play as André is conducted from his cell in the Mabie Tavern (now a restaurant named the '76 House) for the march to the execution site. He still hopes he will die a soldier's death by firing squad.

Ever polite, André compliments the officers escorting him, "I am very much surprised to find your troops under such good discipline, and your music is excellent," he tells them. André hesitates when he catches sight of the gallows silhouetted against the sky.

"I have borne everything with fortitude," André protests, "but this is too degrading." Major Tallmadge, the American escorting officer assures him, "It is unavoidable, sir," explaining that the manner of his death had been fixed at the trial and could not be changed..

"How hard is my fate," André says with uncharacteristic self-pity, then consoles himself with, "It will soon be over." Major Tallmadge, who has been impressed with the prisoner's composure and personal conduct throughout his ordeal, shakes hands with André under the gallows.

Built of two forked trees with a horizontal crosspiece, the gallows is high. The wagon bearing André's coffin is positioned under it. Without being prompted, André leaps up into the wagon and stands on his coffin, surveying the assembled troops and spectators.

The order for his execution is read. André is asked if he has any final words. In a clear voice he says, "I have nothing more to say, gentlemen, than this: I pray you to bear witness that I meet my fate like a brave man."

The hangman is a captive Tory named Strickland, recruited for the task in return for his freedom. He has tried to conceal his identity by blackening his face, but only succeeds in achieving a ridiculous effect. Repelled by the hangman's blackened hands, a proud André passes the noose over his own head and tightens it around his neck. He offers the hangman two handkerchiefs; one is to cover his eyes and the other is used to bind his hands behind his back. At a signal, the wagon moves forward. The body drops and stops abruptly, swinging like a giant pendulum in a wide arc.

As defined by Aristotle, a tragedy is a dramatic series of events culminating in the fall of someone, often of high degree. It captures the tragic sense of life because the protagonist is doomed--through frailties, or errors, or fate--to fail, suffer and die. The André story is a classic tragedy in every sense of the word. Not only is John André the victim, but the villain, Benedict Arnold, goes unpunished.

André's fate--and that of Arnold and the American cause--was determined by a series of random events: André's inability to return to the Vulture after his first meeting with Arnold; the cannonading from Croton Point that drove the Vulture away; André's indifference to Clinton's orders not to carry any papers, not to go in disguise or to enter American-held territory; his willingness to return by a roundabout overland route; his failure to present Arnold's pass on first being stopped in Tarrytown; Major Tallmadge's appearance at headquarters after André was brought in; Colonel Jameson's insistence on notifying Arnold of John Anderson's capture; Washington's decision to detour to Fishkill, thus delaying his receipt of the incriminating documents.

In American hands, West Point immobilized and neutralized British forces on the lower Hudson. With its fortifications on high cliffs, it was almost impregnable from the landside and beyond the reach of guns on ships in the river below. Besides the loss of its garrison and a large store of ordinance, capture of this strong point would have made King's Ferry, a crucial link between the colonies, no longer tenable. Loss of control of the Hudson would have driven a giant wedge between the colonies. With the river opened to British warships and supply vessels, the consequences for the patriots would have been catastrophic.

The Aftermath
John André was buried at the spot where he died. His capture and tragic fate became the subject of folk ballads, engravings and lithograps. In 1821, a request was made by the British for the return of his body to his homeland. After locating the gravesite, the coffin was taken to the British frigate Phaeton and brought to Portsmouth. André was buried in Westminster Abbey with full military honors. In 1879, Cyrus W. Field, of Irvington, N.Y., the industrialist who planned and oversaw the laying of the first transatlantic cable, erected a monument at the execution site. It was attacked by vandals within a few years but was restored.

The British welcomed Benedict Arnold, but his defection caused violent reactions among patriots. Philadelphia, Boston and Providence all held public demonstrations against Arnold. Some suggested that September 25th be made a holiday to remind future generations of "the eternal disgrace of the traitor." Even Benedict fell into disfavor as a name for male children.

Arnold never enjoyed the full trust of the British. Because of his penchant for telling any who would listen how they had mishandled the war, he made few new friends among them. He led a force of loyalist troops by sea to Virginia in December of 1780. During this campaign, he asked a subordinate what he thought he might expect if patriots should capture him. He was shaken by the response. "They will cut off that leg of yours wounded at Quebec and at Saratoga, and bury it with all the honors of war, and then they will hang the rest of you on a gibbet."

In the summer of 1781, Arnold attacked the Connecticut seaport of New London, a center for privateers. One objective was Fort Griswold, where rebel defenders were brutally bayoneted to death after they had surrendered. New London was put to the torch.

After Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781, Arnold sailed for England aboard a British man-of-war; he did not dare risk a crossing in a vessel likely to be taken by the enemy. His wife and children followed separately in a merchant ship. By the time he reached London, he found to his dismay that peace sentiment was rife, and negotiations were already under way.

Arnold became obsessed with a desire to make a large fortune quickly. He fought a duel in 1792 with the Earl of Lauderdale, who had impugned his character. After several unsuccessful attempts to start mercantile ventures in Canada and the West Indies, he died in London in 1801. His wife was to follow him in death three years later. Some of their children became officers in the British Army. One son rose to the rank of lieutenant general, and a grandson was a major general in the First World War.

The lone monument to Arnold in America has stood since 1887 at the site of the Saratoga battlefield. On one side it shows in high relief a boot, such as the one he wore when he received his crippling leg wound. The inscription on the back of the stone reads, "in memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot." Arnold's name discreetly does not appear.

In the Old Cadet Chapel adjoining the West Point Cemetery, incised shield-shaped black marble plaques on the walls show the ranks, names, and birth and death dates of all Continental Army generals. One reads only "Major General," and the notation, "Born 1740." The general's name has been chiseled from the stone, leaving a deep rectangular indentation. Legend has it that the missing name is that of Benedict Arnold. Readers interested in seeing this curious and little-known artifact can easily find it. Climb the stairs to the organ loft, where it can be found on the east wall.

Joshua Hett Smith was tried by a court martial and acquitted, only to be arrested by local authorities and held in the Goshen, N.Y., jail as a suspected Tory sympathizer. In May of 1781 he escaped and made his way to Manhattan. When the British evacuated the city in 1783, he went to England. He left there for South Carolina eighteen years later and died in obscurity in New York in 1817.

Col. Beverley Robinson, whose confiscated home in Garrison had been Arnold's headquarters, retired to England devoutly believing he had done his duty for his king and country, and died near Bath in 1792.

Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, who had immediately perceived the treason of Benedict Arnold, was in charge of André as a prisoner and developed a deep respect for him, as did others who guarded him. He served in Congress from 1801 to 1817 and died in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1835.

Lt. Col. John Jameson, whose actions were responsible for Arnold's escape, returned to his home in Virginia and died there in 1810. Washington later said about Jameson's conduct in the André case that because of "his egregious folly or bewildered conception, he seemed lost in astonishment, and not to know what he was doing."

The three militiamen who had participated in André's capture were each rewarded with a silver medal and a pension for life. John Paulding died in 1818; his grave is in St. Peter's Cemetery in Van Cortlandtville, near Peekskill, N.Y. Isaac Van Wart died in 1828 and is buried in the cemetery adjoining the Elmsford Reformed Church on Route 9A just south of Route 119. David Williams died in Schoharie County in 1830 and is buried in the Old Stone Fort Cemetery in Schoharie, N.Y.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Treason of the Blackest Dye': The Arnold-André Affair, 2


The drama of Benedict Arnold and John André continues. Three new players will soon make their appearance:

George Washington, 48, towering, cool-headed commander in chief of the Continental Army, one of America's wealthiest men. His unfailing dignity, courtesy and composure endear him to all who serve under him.

Lt. Col. John Jameson, 29, from Culpeper County in Virginia. A wounded veteran of the Pennsylvania Campaign, he is temporarily in command of Col. Elisha Sheldon's Connecticut regiment of dragoons patrolling the enemy lines.

Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, 26, in charge of Washington's secret service. After graduation from Yale in 1773, he became a teacher in Connecticut. Two years later, he joined the Continental Army and distinguished himself in several battles. He is Washington's trusted confidant in espionage matters.

Readers familiar with today's military will be struck by the comparative youthfulness of the officers participating in the André affair. The new republic that was in the process of being born was indeed a "young" country.

For readers interested in following André's route in Westchester and Putnam counties after his capture, it is given here in detail.

Saturday morning, September 23, 1780. Near a short bridge on the Albany Post Road north of Tarrytown, three patriot militiamen--John Paulding, Isaac Van Wert and David Williams--are holding an unarmed rider. He claims to be John Anderson, and he carries a pass signed by Major General Benedict Arnold, commander at West Point. But he also carries, hidden on his person, detailed descriptions of the defenses of that stronghold.

Paulding fires his musket, a signal for the five other members of the scouting party to join them. "We have taken a prisoner, searched him and found papers in his stockings," Paulding tells the others. "We don't know what to do with him." After a brief discussion, the militiamen decide to take him to the nearest American outpost. On the way, the dejected prisoner tells his captors, "I would to God you had blown my brains out when you stopped me."

Saturday, September 23, late afternoon. The prisoner is turned over to Lt. Col. John Jameson at Wright's Mills in North Castle. (A monument at High Street and Greenway Road in Armonk marks the site). Jameson finds himself in a dilemma. A week earlier, American military outposts had been alerted by Arnold to be on the lookout for a John Anderson coming from New York City. They are to escort him to Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson house in Garrison. Arnold had taken this step in case André decided to travel overland rather than by ship.

Jameson is puzzled. This John Anderson came from the wrong direction and had been brought to him from behind the lines. He is also carrying documents that Jameson considers "of a dangerous tendency." Despite the evidence--but in keeping with the order to deliver John Anderson to Arnold's headquarters--he decides to have Lt. Solomon Allen and a squad of dragoons bring the prisoner to Benedict Arnold, his commanding general.

André has still not revealed his true identity. For him, the prospect of being delivered to Arnold is almost too good to be true. Jameson also dispatches a rider carrying the captured documents to General Washington, who is believed to be somewhere on his way to Peekskill from Danbury, Connecticut.

That evening, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge returns to Wright's Mills from a patrol near White Plains. Jameson fills him in on what has happened. Tallmadge immediately deduces the truth: If Arnold was anxious for a meeting with Anderson and Anderson has been found to be carrying military secrets in Arnold's handwriting, it means that Anderson has already met with Arnold. Arnold must be engaged in a treasonous conspiracy. Tallmadge argues heatedly with Jameson, who outranks him, and persuades him to have Anderson brought back to Wright's Mills.

Sunday, September 24, morning. In the nick of time, the dragoons bringing Anderson to Arnold are intercepted in Van Cortlandtville, only an hour away from the Robinson house, and return with him to Wright's Mills. Jameson, however, stubbornly insists on notifying Arnold of Anderson's capture. Lt. Solomon Allen is dispatched to the Robinson house carrying a letter describing the detention of John Anderson.

Unable to locate Washington, the rider carrying the incriminating documents returns. The American general has unexpectedly made a detour to Fishkill to inspect its defenses. Washington's eventual destination is known to be Arnold's headquarters at the confiscated Robinson house in Garrison. The rider is now sent there with the papers. Ironically, Arnold's fate will be decided in a dramatic race of messengers worthy of a D.W. Griffith movie. Major Tallmadge interviews John Anderson. From his soldierly bearing, it is obvious he is "an officer and a gentleman," and probably of some importance. For safety, Tallmadge convinces Jameson to move the prisoner to South Salem, farther away from the British lines.

With an escort of twenty heavily armed dragoons, Tallmadge and Anderson ride north through the Coman Hills and Bedford Village to the unit's headquarters in the South Salem house of Squire John Gilbert (marked by a plaque on Main Street near Bouton Road).

Sunday, September 24, 3:00 p.m. So long as there has been a chance he might be turned over to Arnold, André has kept mum about his identity. But when Tallmadge purposely tells him the documents he carried have been sent to the American commander in chief, he decides to reveal his identity. From South Salem, André writes a letter to Washington: "The person in your possession is Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army," he tells him. Careful not to name Arnold, however, he admits he had "agreed to meet, on ground not within the posts of either army, a person who was to give me intelligence." He adds he "was betrayed into the vile condition of an enemy in disguise within your posts" and asks that he be "branded with nothing dishonourable, as no motive could be mine but the service of my king, and I was involuntarily an impostor."

Monday, September 25, morning. The messenger carrying Jameson's fateful letter arrives at the Robinson house as Arnold and his staff are sitting down to breakfast. His face a blank, Arnold scans the letter quickly and orders the messenger to say nothing of Anderson's capture. He rushes upstairs to kiss his young wife and baby goodbye. Because his plan has collapsed, he tells her she must fend for herself.

Arnold orders a horse to be saddled. Leaving word that he has been called to West Point, he rides down a path to the dock at the river. His eight oarsmen and coxswain are waiting with his officer's barge. He orders them to row not to West Point, but down river--he must reach the Vulture at once.

Once aboard the British ship, Arnold tries to induce his boatmen to switch sides, promising them advancement in rank. He is unsuccessful. His coxswain, Corporal James Lurvey, says scornfully, "No, sir, one coat is enough for me to wear at a time." A vindictive Arnold insists that the nine men who saved his neck be made British prisoners of war.

From the Vulture, Arnold sends a letter to George Washington. In it he tries to justify his defection, assuring Washington of his wife's innocence and enclosing a letter for her. He adds a postscript affirming that his two military aides. Lt. Col. Richard Varick and Maj. David Solebury Franks, and Joshua Hett Smith "are totally ignorant of any transactions of mine." Both Varick and Franks had been uneasy about Arnold's activities as the new commander of West Point, but concluded that he was engaged in nothing more dishonorable than profiteering. Varick would later serve as Mayor of the city of New York from 1789 to 1801.

Monday, September 25, noon. Washington arrives at the Robinson House at about 10:30 a.m. with a party that included Lafayette, Henry Knox and Alexander Hmilton, and is told that Arnold has left for West Point. After breakfast, Washington crosses the river, only to discover that Arnold has not been seen there. In the meantime, the second messenger has arrived at the Robinson house with the incriminating documents. Washington returns about four in the afternoon. His aide, Alexander Hamilton, greets him with the stunning details of Arnold's treachery.

Among the papers that had been carried by Anderson are a summary of the Continental army's strength, a report of the troops at West Point and vicinity, an estimate of the forces needed to garrison the defenses properly, a report on the ordnance on hand, the plan of artilley deployment in the event of an attack, a copy of the minutes Washington had sent to Arnold on the council of war held on Sept. 6, and a report by Arnold on the defects of the West Point defenses. Washington is then handed the letter identifying John Anderson as André. When he learns that Arnold received a message at the breakfast table just before his sudden departure, Washington knows the worst.

"Whom can we trust now?" Wasington asks. He quickly overcomes his momentary despair. Taking command of the situation in characteristic fashion, he orders two officers to ride the sixteen miles to Verplanck's Point to intercept Arnold. They are unsuccessful; Arnold's barge has already passed.

The entire Continental Army is put in a state of readiness in expectation of a British attack. Washington orders Gen. Nathanael Greene, commanding the main body of troops at Tappan, to send troops to bolster the King's Ferry defenses. To forestall rumors, Greene later informs the army what has happened in a general order that opens with, "Treason of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered."

Washington summons Col. James Livingston, commander of the posts at Verplanck's Point and Stony Point, replacing him with Col. John Lamb, commander of artillery at West Point. An officer untainted by involvement with Arnold must hold the pivotal King’s Ferry. Livingston arrives and convinces Washington of his loyalty. It was Livingston who sent the cannon to Croton Point that drove off the Vulture days earlier.
Joshua Hett Smith, André's escort through northern Westchester, immediately comes under suspicion. Smith has gone to Fishkill to join his wife and family. Lt. Col. Jean Baptiste Gouvion, a French military engineer and designer of West Point's defenses, rides to Fishkill to arrest him. At midnight, as his men surround the house, Gouvion bursts into Smith's bedroom. He marches the hapless prisoner on foot to the Robinson house, eighteen miles away.

Mindful of the danger of an escape or an attempt by the British to free André, Washington orders Jameson to send him under a heavy guard to the Robinson house . "He had better be conducted to this place by some upper road rather than the route through Crompond," he tells him. "I would not wish Mr. André to be treated with insult, but he does not appear to stand upon the footing of a common prisoner of war and therefore he is not entitled to the usual indulgencies they receive, and is to be most closely and narrowly watched."

Tallmadge, three other officers and a formidable force of a hundred dragoons leave South Salem with André on an all-night ride through a drenching rain. Just before reaching North Salem, however, they are intercepted by a courier carrying new orders. To avoid loyalist marauders believed to be in the vicinity, their route takes them through Purdy's, Croton Falls, Mahopac and the Red Mills (now Mahopac Falls).

After a brief stop at James Taylor's tavern in Van Cortlandtville (later called the Dusenberry Tavern abd the Gardner Hollman House) they head north over Bald Hill , or Drake's Hill (now Gallows Hill), past Continental Village on the King's Highway orPostRoad, then over the Old West Point Road to the present Route 9, south for a half mile to Cat Rock Road (Route 403), and down this road to the river road (Route 9D). From here a short ride south brings them to the Robinson house in Garrison. (The house burned in 1892; a historical marker identifies the site.)

Tuesday, September 26. André and Smith arrive separately at the Robinson house. Washington declines to see André, but he does get the details of his capture and of the disagreement between Jameson and Tallmade over how this should be reported. Washington now writes to Congress to tell them of the momentous events of the previous five days.

André and Smith are brought to West Point. Tallmadge, a skilled intelligence officer, refuses to allow the prisoners to talk to one another. André is placed in a casemate in Fort Putnam; Smith is housed in the military police hut.

Wednesday, September 27. Lt. Col. John Jameson, whose letter about André's capture enabled Benedict Arnold to escape, writes an apologetic and self-serving letter to Washington. "I am very sorry I wrote to General Arnold. I did not think of a British ship being up the river, and expected that, if he was the man he has since turned out to be, he would have come down to the [British] troops in this quarter, in which case I should have secured him."

Thursday, September 28, morning. André and Smith are brought in separate boats from West Point to Stony Point. On the way, André asks Tallmadge what he thinks will happen to him. Tallmadge has gotten to like his prisoner but cannot avoid the memory of the 1776 execution of Nathan Hale, his Yale classmate, by the British.

"Surely, you do not consider his case and mine alike?" André asks.

"Yes, precisely similar, and similar will be your fate," Tallmadge tells him, prophetically. They arrive at the King's Ferry dock, the same spot from which André had started his journey only six days before. Here an impressive escort of American dragoons meets them. The two prisoners reach Tappan in the afternoon. Smith is held in the Dutch Reformed Church, and André is kept in a room in the Mabie Tavern (now known as the 1776 House). André will be tried first.

Washington arrives in Tappan and orders a board of general officers to take testimony. Their task is to decide whether André should be considered a prisoner of war or a spy. The verdict will determine whether he lives or dies. The curtain now comes down on the second act in the drama of Benedict Arnold and John André.

(To be continued and concluded in Part 3)

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Mr. President: ‘We Don't Have a Dog in This Fight.’


Note: The title is taken from a favorite saying of former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

Dear Mr. President:

Shortly before Christmas of 1945, I was discharged from the Army at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. I decided that I would make a point of studying the waging of war, a profession that had appropriated four years of my youth. Sixty-four years later, now with a large store of knowledge about war, military science and tactics, and military history, I find myself no closer to fathoming why this country continues to wage wars, particularly wars in which we have no national interest and, lately, no particular skill in fighting. Or why we insist on invading countries about whose cultures and religions we know little or nothing. I write as an ordinary citizen. I mention my war service only to discourage superpatriots from attacking me on that score.

Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention on August 17, you defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, saying, “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

That's a favorite argument of the hawkish elements in our society who always see war as the only solution. Coming from you, Mr. President, these words were a great surprise. In effect, you acknowledged that the only justification for an increased commitment of American troops and materiel in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al-Qaida to re-establish itself there. This would enable al-Qaida to mount another attack on the United States--a pretty tenuous reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan.

I respectfully beg to differ. History shows otherwise. Afghanistan had little or no role in 9-11. Nothing we do in Afghanistan is likely to prevent another 9-11 from occurring again. As a result of ignorance or bad advice, your words are an attempt to refute the history of the planning for 9-11, as detailed in the report of the 9-11 Commission.

First, the 9-11 attack was planned and hatched not in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, but in Karachi, Pakistan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Hamburg, Germany. Yet no one is suggesting that we invade those other places, including Germany, to prevent it from happening again.

Second, the absolutely essential training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in flight schools in the U.S., right under our very noses. For that, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Third, the Afghanistan camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance. Whatever incidental training they provided for 9-11 was minimal and could easily have been performed elsewhere. Pilot training was the key to the operation.

These are not suppositions. I repeat: These are all facts detailed in the 9-11 Commission’s Report. Chapter 10 of the Report describes how only three days after 9-11, the State and Defense departments, working swiftly, produced a joint memorandum outlining a course of action: The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: "Produce Bin Laden and his deputies and shut down al-Qaida camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure." The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Thereafter, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

Both departments proposed to consult with NATO and other allies and ask for intelligence, bases, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan proposed that America use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture.

The memorandum was entitled, “Gameplan for a Political-Military Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” and dated 14 Sept 2001. How different history would be if a belligerent cowboy president with token “playboy” military service and little concept of the world had not ignored this memorandum and decided that the U.S. would not only go it alone in Afghanistan, but, in response to prodding by Paul Wolfowitz, would also attack Iraq.

The United States unilaterally invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy the al-Qaida safe haven there—an action that was clearly justified by the 9/11 attacks. But al-Qaida is no longer based in Afghanistan, nor has it been based there since early 2002. According to current intelligence, bin Laden, the movement’s spiritual father, is now headquartered across the border in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Taliban movement in Afghanistan is clearly linked with al-Qaida and sympathetic to it, but there is little evidence of al-Qaida infrastructure within Afghanistan today that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. Besides, the risk of a successful reestablishment of al-Qaida in Afghanistan isn’t really any higher than the chances of al-Qaida growing more powerful in any number of weak states where it is active: Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti or Eritrea on the margins of the Indian Ocean. The Philippines. Uzbekistan. Even parts of Latin America or southern Africa.

In the spring of 2003 we invaded Iraq with about 130,000 troops. Here it is, more than six years later, and we still have about 130,000 troops in Iraq. We have about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan. We expect to have 68,000 troops there by the end of the year. How many troops would you guess, Mr. President, will we have in Afghanistan another six years from now?

We have lost 772 service members in Afghanistan thus far in eight years, and the monthly casualty numbers are rising. Add that number to the more than 4,200 dead in Iraq and 30,000 wounded. I implore you, Mr. President, do not waste any more of the flower of American youth in another war in which we have no national interest. There is much to be done at home if we are to make the American dream a reality again.

Robert Scott
Editor of Postscripts

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