Recalling San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition

The Strawfoot

This calendar year marks the anniversary of one of the lesser known events of the World War One-era: the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The purpose of this World’s Fair was to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, which had become a reality in August 1914. The fair was in the works going all the way back to the Taft Administration. Who could have known that the Great War would begin at the same time? Needless to say, the ongoing war in Europe changed the tone of the fair. President Woodrow Wilson ceremonially turned on the lights from far off Washington D.C. at midnight on New Years 1915. (A competing fair opened in San Fransisco in February.) There were a number of military exercises over the next several months, including a cavalry review on Lincoln’s Birthday, a troop review of the First Cavalry by dignitaries that included Assistant Secretary…

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Ball Bearings Innovation: The Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the Increments of Transformational Change

Amateurs think tactics, professionals think logistics.


This is the fourth of several posts running on Defence-in-Depth over the next few weeks arising out of the Military Learning and Innovation Roundtable held at the Joint Services Command and Staff College on Wednesday 17 June 2015. The roundtable explored the various ways in which armed forces have learned, adapted, and innovated in times of war and peace, austerity, and pressure from the eighteenth century to the present day. You can read more about the aims and objectives, research outputs, and future events of the Military Innovation and Learning Research Group at Podcasts from the roundtable are available to download here.


Military innovation conjures in people’s minds the advent of iconic capabilities. The arrival of firearms, the shift from sail to steam at sea, and the conquest of the skies are the stuff of the common conception of the phenomenon. Mirroring the…

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Richmond WWI Diary 28 July 1915

No one would have predicted that the war would last a season, let alone a year…or four.

1914-1918 Richmond at Home and at War

Image of poppy

Anniversary of the start of the war

Following the assassination of the Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist a month earlier, on 28 July 1914 Austria had declared war on Serbia. This set into motion a chain of alliances and reciprocal declarations of war. Two sides emerged; the Central Powers, led by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey (The Ottoman Empire), and the Allied powers led by France, Russia, and Great Britain. The fact that these nations also each ruled over large global empires dragged nations all over the world into the war.

By the end of the first year of the war, the conflict had settled into a war of attrition: Little territorial advance was being made by either side and it was now a waiting game to see which side could last the longest and bear the greatest losses.

In many ways, the first year of…

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Battling for Lincoln

Another piece of the LCM creation puzzle.

The Strawfoot

JJohn Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for President Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his image and defend the Unionist perspective of the war. John Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for Abraham Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his legacy and defend the Unionist perspective of the war.

Last night I finished Joshua Zeitz’s Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image and gained a lot from reading it. Zeitz traces the relationship between the 16th president and his two assistants from the time they met prior the Civil War all the way through the early years of the twentieth century when Nicolay (1901) and Hay (1905) died. I have always known the general outline of the story of how the two wrote their mammoth ten-volume Lincoln biography in the 1880s. Zeitz does a good job of capturing the two competing and contradictory impulses at work in the decades immediately after the war. On one hand there was a tendency to deify…

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Defeating the Senussi (December 1915-March 1916): The appliance of science?


by Ewan Lawson

The campaigns in the Western Desert in the Second World War are well known with locations like Sollum and Bir El Hakim having secured their place in history. What is less well known is that this area had previously been fought over some 25 years before during the Great War. Part of the effort by Germany and Turkey to raise Islamic communities against the Entente powers, it was ultimately unsuccessful and demonstrated the sort of imaginative approach coupled with the importance of logistics that were to become features of the later campaign.

From the signing of its secret treaty with the Sublime Porte, the German government had encouraged the Ottomans to, in the words of the Kaiser, ‘inflame the whole Mohammedan world’. At the heart of this so called Jihad strategy announced in November 1914 was a desire to distract France and Britain with uprisings in their…

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“A public place”

The Strawfoot

This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked and the boulders placed in preparation for the landscaping that would come later. This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked, the boulders placed, and the stone walls laid in preparation for the landscaping that would come later.

This week, in between hacking from the cough I seemingly cannot shake, I have been making progress on the Theodore Roosevelt Senior book. I have been focusing my energies at the moment on the 1850s, when the sectional crisis was intensifying. Many New Yorker had strong Southern sympathies and were ambivalent at best about slavery one way or the other. New York was also a notoriously cramped and squalid place, with its own concerns and provinciality. Ultimately all politics is local and New Yorkers were most concerned about their own increasingly dangerous and crowded streets. Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853 to combat at least some of the city’s social ills. He and…

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Militias, Weak States and Contemporary Warfare



Last month, I was invited to a workshop at the University of Glasgow on ‘Proxy Actors, Psyops, and Irregular Warfare’. This proved to be a valuable experience, giving me the opportunity to share and debate ideas with fellow academics, and also to develop a strand of research that started with an article I co-authored with Christian Tripodi six years ago.

Just under a century ago the German sociologist Max Weber observed that one of the essential attributes of a modern state was that it possessed ‘a monopoly of violence’, and that it alone had both the authority and the means to raise and use military and police forces both for external defence and internal security. Yet throughout history governments have raised militias consisting of irregular volunteers to fight internal foes, and the US-led coalitions engaged in campaigns in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and Iraq (2003-2011) likewise raised local…

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