Some of History’s Needless Blunders

At the risk of engaging in “Presentism,” let’s revisit a few of History’s unnecessary blunders. that shifted public opinion.

By 1814, British zeal to “chastise” their former colony was sagging. But when the British discovered their August 24 destruction of the U.S. Capitol included the burning of the Library of Congress, many leading Britons were appalled. That, plus their defeat at Baltimore (Recall, the “Star Spangled Banner”) combined with worries that Napoleon might escape from imprisonment on Elba, caused Great Britain to sign the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. Mostly, we won.

In August 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium on its way into France, American public opinion was indifferent. In part, because almost ten percent of Americans were first- or second-generation Germans. But, when German troops needlessly burned down the library at the University of Louvain, American public opinion began to turn against Germany. Moral: Book burnings, as Hitler would also learn, are not good for public relations.

When the Deep State realized President Richard Nixon was serious about his dream of “regionalizing” the federal bureaucracy by shipping some agencies out of D.C. to be closer to the farmers and ranchers they were supposed to serve, Nixon’s presidency was doomed. The investigation into a needless burglary, aided by the Deep State’s Deputy FBI Director Mark Felt and two cub reporters panicked Nixon into a foolish cover-up. If Nixon had not acted on his dream of “regionalization,” the Watergate break-in might be a long-forgotten news item.

Wait. More blunders: In the spring of 2011, the FBI, down at the field office level, knew that an unusual number of men from the Middle East were enrolled in flight schools across America, paying cash for their flight simulator sessions that focused on flying large airliners.

On July 10, 2001, two months before the September 11th attacks, Phoenix-based FBI Special Agent Kenneth Williams, sent a memo up his chain of command expressing his concerns that some of the flight school students he was monitoring might have terrorist links. The Phoenix Memo went up into the FBI’s Automatic Case Management System and never reached the office charged with acting on possible terrorist acts.

At almost the same time as the Phoenix Memo, FBI agents in the Minneapolis Field Office sent a memo up their chain of command expressing their concerns about flight student Zacarias Moussaoui who paid $8,500 cash to receive flight training in a Boeing 747 simulator. The Minneapolis Memo, like the Phoenix Memo, disappeared into the black hole of the FBI’s Automatic Case Management System.

Although Robert S. Mueller III (yes, that Robert Mueller) took over the FBI a few days before 9/11, the blame goes all the way to J. Edgar Hoover and all the FBI directors who “stove-piped” agent reports. Given access to the two memos, even Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson could have seen a crime was afoot.

Post-9/11, the panic-conceived Patriot Act was supposed to improve inter-agency communications. But, nine months after 9/11, the FBI was still using its “stove-pipe” Automatic Case Management System. Some say the FBI isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps, it never was. And that was before the FBI became the politically weaponized FBI of today.

Suggested reading: Where Do Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, 2020. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, 1962. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, July 22, 2004.

©2023. William Hamilton. All rights reserved.

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