January 2017 Readers’ Letters | HistoryNet MENU
An unidentified Marine mourns the fallen in the days following the Oct. 23, 1983, terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Investigators later traced the bombings to a Hezbollah terrorist who planned the attack with material assistance from Iran.

January 2017 Readers’ Letters

By HistoryNet Staff
10/27/2016 • Military History, MH Letters

Terrorism—or War?
I read with interest your November article “The BLT Building Is Gone,” by Richard Ernsberger Jr., about the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Why does the author refer to this action as terrorism? As he acknowledges, the United States was not neutral; it was providing military help to the enemies of the Shiite militias. This made the Marines enemies of the militias. Attacking enemy soldiers in uniform is not terrorism—it is just an act of war.

Rick Kirkham
Bellevue, Wash.

Editor responds: Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Under that definition, the attacks on the U.S. and French compounds in Beirut certainly qualify. The attacks could also be defined as fourth-generation warfare, conflict in which participants carrying out such violent acts do not represent a nation-state. The victims in Beirut were uniformed soldiers, but the suicide bombers were not, making them unlawful combatants in violation of the laws of war—i.e., terrorists.

Japanese I-Boats
There are two conspicuous omissions from Liesl Bradner’s November article “The Battle That Never Was.”

Missing from the accompanying graphic, “West Coast Attacks,” is the June 21, 1942, shelling by the Japanese sub I-25 of Fort Stevens, Ore. What makes this attack ironically important is that Fort Stevens, the base of the U.S. Army’s 18th Coast Artillery Regiment, was equipped with both 10- and 12-inch guns, which considerably outranged I-25’s single 5.5-inch deck gun. Although I-25 fired 17 rounds at the fort, Major Robert Huston [senior duty officer at Fire Control Hill, of which Fort Stevens’ Battery Russell was a part] did not order fire returned. Debate continues over whether Battery Russell had erroneously calculated the sub was out of range or Huston held fire lest the sub’s gunners use the coast artillery muzzle flashes as aiming points. The June 21 attack was the first against a military installation in the contiguous United States since the War of 1812. No coast artillery battery in the contiguous United States fired a shot in anger in World War II. Fort Stevens had a chance but let it pass.

The second omission is a press release by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson following the furious February 24–25, 1942, anti-aircraft incident around Los Angeles. Stimson was quoted as believing that one to five aircraft actually had been over Los Angeles, and that they had taken off from secret airfields in Mexico or California or may have been launched from Japanese submarines. This opinion probably added to Californians’ fears of imminent invasion.

I provide further details of the World War II service of the U.S. Coast Artillery in my book Delaware’s Ghost Towers: The Coast Artillery’s Forgotten Last Stand During the Darkest Days of World War II.

William C. Grayson
Bowie, Md.

Thanks for the Hardware profile [November 2016, by Jon Guttman] of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Type B1 submarine and for “The Battle That Never Was,” outlining the role the I-boats played in attacks off and on the U.S. and Canadian West Coast in early World War II.

Most scholars have dismissed the role of the I-boats in the war, but in fact they had a far superior shooting year to the U.S. Navy’s “Silent Service” in 1942, before the IJN largely turned its sub service into a submersible supply fleet for Japanese garrisons on bypassed islands. That year alone IJN submarines sank two U.S. fleet carriers—Wasp and Yorktown, one-third of our available carrier force at that time—as well as the light cruiser Juneau and several destroyers. They damaged the carrier Saratoga twice, knocking it out of the war for extended periods, as well as damaging the battleship North Carolina, knocking her out of the war at a crucial period.

In 1942 IJN submarine service commander Vice Adm. Mitsumi Shimizu pressed Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to allow him to use aircraft from a number of B1s to destroy locks on the Panama Canal, following the anticipated Japanese victory at Midway. The operation was not pursued following the Japanese defeat. Had the attack been undertaken, and the Western approaches of the canal blockaded by I-boats and IJN air units operating from island bases west of South America, we would have seen a vastly different war, possibly with a follow-on submarine campaign on our West Coast to match the German “Happy Times” U-boat campaign on our East Coast. As it was, the Japanese did not contemplate such an operation again until late 1944, and the bulk of U.S. combat power had already passed through the canal to the Pacific—thus too little too late.

Wayne Long
Chester, Md.

I enjoyed “The Battle That Never Was,” by Liesl Bradner. But the description of Commander Kozo Nishino, captain of the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-17, as a tanker skipper who had previously visited Ellwood, Calif., is wrong. Nishino was a 1920 graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima. Three years after his graduation he was admitted to the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine school and remained in the submarine service throughout his career. In December 1931 he assumed his first of nine submarine commands. I-17 was his eighth ship, which he commanded from Jan. 24, 1941, to July 15, 1942. As in the U.S. Navy, major warship captains were career naval officers, not retrained tanker skippers.

Samuel W. Fordyce
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Editor responds: In her article Liesl Bradner respectfully describes Nishino as “a skilled and experienced captain…[and] career naval officer” and mentions his graduation from the IJN submarine school. The author’s source for Nishino’s prewar visit to Ellwood as a tanker captain was The Military History of California, by Justin M. Ruhge. Similar and supporting anecdotes appear in other sources, one speculating Nishino may have captained tankers to the West Coast in an intelligence capacity—as had other Japanese submarine officers, such as I-26’s Minoru Yokota. However, we can find no official record of Nishino in connection with such service, and the account related by Jones certainly sounds like a bit of wartime propaganda.

Papal Bull?
Your November 2016 issue includes a very good article [Valor] by David T. Zabecki about Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The article is well researched, very well written and interesting. There is, however, one glaring error: Pope Benedict XVI is not and never was a Jesuit. That honor belongs to his successor, Pope Francis. He is not only the first Jesuit pope but also the first from the Americas. Given their widely divergent personalities and religious worldviews, to say nothing of their ideas of faith and the apostolate, I hasten to point out the error.

Carl E. Quesnell
Vero Beach, Fla.

Tarawa Star
[Re. “Stars Who Served,” by Roger Di Silvestro, September 2016:] In this interesting article you failed to mention Eddie Albert, who received the Bronze Star with combat “V” for his extremely heroic actions at Tarawa. He piloted his landing craft on multiple trips through heavy gunfire and rescued many wounded Marines stranded offshore.

I enjoy reading your magazine and pass it on to others with similar interests. I am an Army veteran (no combat duty) and have three sons who served—two as Navy flight surgeons and one in the Marines.

Lloyd Johnson
Sleepy Hollow, Ill.

Medal of Honor
I really enjoyed the Valor article [“Scaling the Wall,” by John Bertrand] in the July 2016 issue of Military History. The bit about cadet Douglas MacArthur examining the Medal of Honor worn by cadet Calvin Titus was interesting. I’m sure MacArthur was familiar with the medal, since his father, Arthur MacArthur Jr., had previously received an MOH. Douglas, too, later received one, making them the first father/son pair to have received the medal. Another father-son pair received the MOH: Theodore Roosevelt and his son Theodore Jr. And President Roosevelt personally pinned the MOH on Titus’ uniform. The incident seems like something right out of The Twilight Zone.

Karl T. Weber Jr.
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Hixson, Tenn.

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