Monday, January 6, 2020

The Henry Letters: A Case for Impeachment?

Founding Father James Madison is sometimes called the "Father of the Constitution," and rightfully so. He authored 29 of the 85 articles that comprise the Federalist Papers, written to argue the case for a constitutional form of government. After nearly four months of strenuous debate, deliberation, and compromise, Madison sat down and drafted the U. S. Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation which many considered inadequate and a confederacy to be a weak structure for the newly independent United States.

His words live on today as his name was mentioned 17 times during the testimony of three Constitutional experts before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment of President Trump on December 4, 2019.

One of those experts reminded us of a speech that Madison delivered at the Constitutional Convention on July 20, 1787 when he said that impeachment was "indispensable" “for defending … ag[ain]st the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the Chief Magistrate.” Madison told the assembled delegates to the Convention that an American president might "pervert his administration into a scheme ... or ... betray his trust to foreign powers," warranting consideration for impeachment.

As Madison contemplated the impeachment of a future president while he drafted the Constitution, maybe he imagined a scenario where a president might find himself in a desperate struggle in a domestic and foreign crisis and then might resort to dramatic means to achieve his objectives on behalf of the nation. Maybe he foresaw a scenario involving the offensive trade practices of a powerful nation or a foreign nation's arousal of unrest and even treasonous impulses in the  American countryside.

In that scenario, Madison might have envisioned that events could develop where American ships, cargo, and crew would be seized, as was entirely realistic in those days, and that in response, the United States might unsuccessfully attempt political solutions and embargoes to stop it. But then, let's say that the embargoes hurt American businesses more than they damaged the nations they targeted which deepened the divisions among Americans and made an easy solution even more challenging for the president. Let's assume that Madison contemplated that eventually, the president might decide that war would be the only effective solution but that gaining approval from Congress to go to war would be a difficult sell among partisans who believed that the president had ulterior motives.

Then, let's say that Madison imagined a situation where a president in his political frustration might eventually come to rely on a former foreign spy at the encouragement of an official of yet another nation to provide him evidence of treason among his political opponents that included a dramatic plan for several states to secede and align with the enemy.

But what if the president failed to confirm the motives and the validity of the evidence that the spy provided him? What if the president took that evidence and used it to go to Congress to solidify his allies and stir up anxiety to help make the case for going to war and undermine his political opponents? What if the evidence that the spy provided him turned out to be fraudulent? What if only a few months after providing Congress that evidence, he succeeded in getting Congressional approval for a declaration of war?

Then, what if that war made its way to American soil as it did during the War of 1812, a mere 25 years after Madison delivered his Constitutional Convention speech and, as in the War of 1812, what if enemy forces attacked American settlements throughout the countryside and then burned Washington - the White House, the Capitol building, and other government buildings - to the ground? In Madison's time, that was certainly a possibility. How would Americans and the Congress view a president's drive to go to war in light of that disaster?

Is that the kind of scenario that Madison would have anticipated would rise to the level of an impeachable offense committed by a president? At what point would a president's reliance on the unvetted documents from a former foreign spy that alleged a broad conspiracy designed to tip the scales toward war amount to "negligence or perfidy" (untrustworthiness) or a "scheme" to "betray his trust to foreign powers" as Madison described it in his speech to the Constitutional Convention?

Madison might not have actually anticipated a scenario such as that when he was drafting the Constitution and while he was making the case for congressional impeachment powers because if he had, he might have foreseen those very events occurring during his own presidency 25 years later.

As the calendar turned to the year 1812, President Madison and his party generally came to lean toward declaring war against the British because political solutions and embargoes designed to halt their practice of capturing American ships and cargo and pressing American sailors into service weren't working. The President's political opponents, the Federalists, had opposed the Embargo of 1807 during Jefferson's administration and wanted no part of the growing interest in going to war with Britain, even as the British were alleged to have been stirring up Indian unrest on the frontier.

The embargoes lacked bipartisan support and were losing steam among the American people, in large part because they hurt American commerce more than they damaged the British. The embargoes were devastating domestically at a time when the New England states were establishing themselves as ports and centers of trade and while American pioneers settling in the Ohio Valley relied on that commerce for survival. War seemed to President Madison and his political allies to be the only answer, but his opponents believed that war would damage the fragile American economy even worse than British aggression toward American shipping and the American embargoes had.

Meanwhile, a man by the name of John Henry had completed service as an American military officer and had begun writing articles as a propagandist for the Federalist Party that were critical of the American republican form of government. We remember that in first quarter of the 19th century, the debate over the adoption of the Constitution was still fresh and there was still a belief among fiercely independent Americans that the United States should have remained a confederation rather than a constitutional republic. They feared and distrusted a strong federal government.

In time, Henry's writing came to the attention of Sir James Craig who was a British military officer and the Canadian Governor-General. The British and their representatives in Canada were concerned about Jefferson's and Madison's ambitions with regard to Canada at that time. Seeing an opportunity amid rising tensions, Sir Craig hired Henry as a spy to determine the extent to which other Americans shared his dissatisfaction with the American government. Henry reported to Craig frequently and at one point wrote that if there was war between the United States and Britain, the New England states, in alignment with Federalist sympathies, would break away and join the fight against the Union. As a reward for his work on Britain's behalf, Craig promised Henry that he would be named to an office in Canada once his work was finished. Henry continued to gather and provide information, but then Craig died before he could deliver on his promise to Henry.

Undeterred, John Henry traveled to Britain to petition the crown for his reward, but he was unsuccessful so he left for home feeling deceived and abandoned by the British government. On his return trip to the United States from London, he happened to meet a French count, Edouard, Comte de Crillon, to whom he told the whole story. Crillon was apparently moved and suggested that Henry sell his documents to the American government. Henry agreed so Crillon approached the American Secretary of State James Monroe on Henry's behalf with a proposition to sell the documents to the Madison administration. 

The documents included the secret instructions that Henry had received from Sir Craig and copies of the letters that Henry wrote in the performance of his spying mission. However, Henry had doctored the documents to omit names of his Federalist friends and he deleted other entries. He also added material that indicated that Henry had become aware of plots for states to secede from the Union.

President Madison agreed to purchase Henry's documents - "The Henry Letters" - for $50,000, the entire budget that Congress had approved to fund the secret service. Crillon agreed to compensate Henry further by granting him his ancestral estate in France. Then after the sale, Henry secured transportation on an American warship out of the country to France so he could claim his newly acquired estate.

On March 9, 1812, President Madison took Henry's papers which made the scandalous allegations against the Federalists and Great Britain and delivered them in a special message to Congress. He claimed that while the United States was negotiating in good faith with the British, they were secretly using a spy to destroy the Union.

Many believed that the allegations were false while others became quite agitated and concerned over them. Ultimately, the Henry Letters were found to be fraudulent and Madison's strategy failed. Nonetheless, three months later the United States was at war with Britain in a war declaration that was and remains the most narrowly decided in American history.

President Madison was later heavily criticized for not vetting the fraudulent documents that Henry sold him before using them to steer the Congress and the American people toward war.

John Henry came out on the short end of things as well. It turns out that the French count who encouraged him to sell his documents to the President and from whom he acquired the estate in France was a fraud. He wasn't a French count and there was no estate. It was suspected but not proven that the "count" worked for Napolean who used the scheme to distract the British with involvement in a war with the United States while Napolean invaded Russia. Crillon had not only duped Henry but also President Madison and Secretary of State Monroe.

We often look to the words of historical figures to provide us insights relevant to current events, but we frequently fail to recognize that history is much more than snippets and quotations. It's a story that involves real people who make real and imperfect decisions and choices. Those imperfections should inform us that the snippets and quotations are meaningful guideposts and aspirations, but they can also imprison us in destructively narrow thinking when we mischaracterize them or fail to consider their context and design.

I wonder how Madison himself would have fared as president today.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Officer Commissioning Speech - University of Missouri

In September 2019, my wife and I visited the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri where I received my undergraduate degree in 1983. While there, I stopped by Crowder Hall where the Navy ROTC program is administered. During the visit, I met the Marine Officer Instructor and his assistant and after a while, he asked if I would be willing to return to the University in December as the guest speaker for the December Navy and Marine Corps officer commissioning ceremony. I told him that I'd be honored to. This is the speech I delivered during the commissioning ceremony at the Memorial Union.


by Major Robert Doss, USMC (Retired)
Saturday, December 14, 2019


Again, I want to thank Captain Dry for the introduction, and I want to thank Captain LaLonde for inviting me to be here today. I also want to thank all of the family members and friends of our new officers here today for being here and sharing this important day.

I also want to recognize the staff members of the Mizzou NROTC unit – military and civilian – whove poured their knowledge and energy into ensuring our new officers are ready for this day and the days that lay ahead. You will soon see that their labor has put you in a great position to meet the rigors of service to your country.

Let me also thank the remarkable men and women who we’re here to honor today for joining a long line of citizens who’ve raised their right hand and have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, these men and women are here today, young and full of life, vigor, and opportunity ahead of them, and today they’ll take an oath to defend this nation against all enemies while not knowing exactly what their country will ask of them. They’ve decided to serve in a very complex and dynamic world as part of the most powerful military force the world has ever known. Theyll soon be part of the reason it’s that way.  

Let that sink in for a moment. These young officers aren’t merely serving in the military, they haven’t merely joined the military; they will each soon be part of the reason the United States military is the most potent military force on earth, a force that keeps our Nation – and many other nations around the world – safe and free of tyranny.

Now let me address our new officers. When you report for your next assignment, you’ll be thrust into an environment where sailors and Marines who are younger and less experienced than you and sailors and Marines who are much older and more experienced than you need your leadership.

With that in mind, let me leave you with three points – certainly not the only important points on the subject – about what will be your most important responsibility as a commissioned officer, whether in war or at peace: leading our sailors and Marines.

FIRST, recognize that the entirety of your work as a commissioned officer exists for one purposepreparing yourself and those whom you lead for war.

As you consider that preparation, also recognize that war is inherently fluid and uncertain and that because of that, the Naval service requires competent leaders at all levels who will exercise the boldness and initiative necessary to accomplish the mission under those rapidly changing conditions.

At any moment, a 19-year old seaman might need to rise to the occasion with little or no guidance during a shipboard catastrophe as we saw a few years ago aboard the USS Cole where many senior enlisted leaders were incapacitated in a terrorist attack, or a young lance corporal might need to act decisively during an ambush in the streets of some village far from here as we’ve seen many times in recent years.

It’s vital, then, that you ensure that as you supervise your sailors and Marines, you don’t let them become accustomed to being over-supervised because micromanagement absolutely destroys the boldness, initiative, and creativity that are essential to battlefield decision-making.

Also, it’s important that you develop the confidence to force decision-making and idea formulation down to the lowest practical level, and not reserve it all at the top. Your goal should be to condition your subordinate leaders to thrive on acting and leading spontaneously.

SECOND, and in conjunction with the point we just discussed, remember that your credibility and success as a leader will lean heavily on your professional competence and the competence and skill of those whom you lead. You have to know what you’re doing – and know what you’re doing at an extraordinarily high level – and the people you lead have to as well.

As part of that, it’s important to set an example of teachability by being willing to listen and learn yourself, especially when it comes to your petty officers, NCOs, chief petty officers, and staff NCOs.  Remember, however, that as you’re being teachable, when it’s time to make a decision, make it confidently and decisively.

AND FINALLY, as you know, every great organization relies on guiding principles, vision, and values for their success. The underlying principles that shape our ethos – qualities like courage, integrity, selflessness, reliability, endurance, fairness and equity, faithfulness, and again, boldness and initiative – are indispensable when great challenges rise up to test us. Those principles and that ethos must abide in every person in the unit from the most senior officer to the most junior enlisted man or woman.

You might remember that on October 23, 1983, a terrorist in a bomb-laden truck destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 Marines. It was the worst one-day loss of Marines since World War II.

Some weeks later, the Marine Corps Commandant at the time, General P. X. Kelley, told of visiting a severely wounded young Marine in a military hospital who he described as having “more tubes going in and out of his body” than hed ever seen in a human being. The young man was in bad condition, probably fighting for his life.

General Kelley described the visit this way. He said, “He couldn’t see very well. He reached up and grabbed my four stars, just to make sure I was who I said I was. He held my hand with a firm grip. He was making signals, and we realized that he wanted to tell me something. We put a pad of paper in his hand – and he wrote two words, Semper Fi, short for Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps motto, and it means “always faithful.”

So, in that moment, as that young Marine fought for his life, he embraced what his service and sacrifice were all about: being unswervingly faithful to his country and his commitment, even when things were at their worst. With the odds so heavily stacked against him, he returned to his foundation, his principles, his ethos.

Recognize that we can’t turn that ethos on and off. It’s not a thing we have only on duty. It’s a part of who we are and it shapes our professional and cultural core. Our principles and ethos can’t be merely event-driven; they have to be systemic – they have to be with us all the time.

We wake up with them in the morning and we go to bed with them at night. Something suddenly happens in the middle of the night that draws us into action, there they are. Something happens in the middle of the night and the next thing you know you’re in the hospital holding the hand of someone who claims to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps, there they are.

Why? Because we don’t succeed as leaders in combat without those principles and that ethos, and neither do our sailors and Marines.

Our ethos is what inspires and enables us to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time. It’s what triggers two things that leaders MUST have in order to earn their rank and be worthy of respect: trust and confidence.

General George Washington used the words, “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Integrity, Diligence, and Good Conduct” in the first military officer commissions during the Revolutionary War. Your commission contains nearly identical wording: “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Patriotism, Valor, Fidelity and Abilities…”

I want to ask you new officers to take the time in the next day or two to study and take to heart the words thatre written on your commission: “Reposing special trust and confidence…” As you celebrate and enjoy this day, reflect on the fact that the words “trust” and “confidence” in your commission don’t refer to the past, they’re words that refer to the future.

As we all acknowledge the accomplishments that place you here at this ceremony, we also realize that this moment arrives with a tremendous and important expectation that marks the beginning of your living up to the special trust and confidence that the President and the Congress – and your sailors and Marines – have in you.

Your challenge is to become the leader that our sailors and Marines need and deserve. If you do that, you’ll realize that although your experiences as a Naval officer won’t always be perfect and pleasant, you’ll forever cherish the memories of your service, the kinship that you develop, and the difference that you’ve made in the world and in the lives of others. More than the medals and promotions that you’ll earn along the way, the memories, the kinship, and the difference that youll make as a leader will be your most enduring and important reward.

So as you go about earning the special trust and confidence that will yield that reward, remember: Train and empower your subordinate leaders at all levels. Make yourself and your unit professionally competent and knowledgeable. Set an example of “teachability and decisiveness.  Be principled and reinforce our underlying ethos in everything that you do. And do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time, especially when it’s difficult or inconvenient to do that.

Congratulations and best wishes to you, and thank you again for serving our great country. And thank you all very much for having me here today.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


I attended a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola yesterday where the Pensacola Chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association laid an engraved walkway brick paver in memory of my father-in-law, Si Kittler, and several other deceased alumni. Before the event, one of Si's friends told my wife - Si's daughter - and me a story about him. Although I already knew some of the story from the medal citations of those who were involved, I didn't know some of the back stories and just how the individual stories intersected.

Si's friend began by telling us the story of Marine infantry Sergeant Frank Reasoner. Sergeant Reasoner attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School with Si's friend in 1957, but he couldn't get into the Naval Academy as a midshipman so he walked up to Capitol Hill to the office of Senator Henry Dvorshak of Idaho and told him that he needed an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. The Senator must have been impressed with Sergeant Reasoner because he awarded him the appointment he wanted.

After Reasoner graduated and was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant in 1962, he returned to the infantry for service as a reconnaissance officer. By July 1965, Reasoner was a First Lieutenant in command of A Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Major Si Kittler, a 1953 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was flying UH-34D helicopters out of Danang, South Vietnam as a member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (HMM-365). His squadron had been in Vietnam since October 1964, not long after the squadron was formed.

Then on July 12, 1965, First Lieutenant Reasoner led a recon patrol deep in Viet Cong territory when the patrol was suddenly engaged by machineguns and other automatic weapons from an estimated 50 to 100 enemy soldiers. The patrol's point man, Corporal B. C. Collins immediately returned fire, killing three enemy soldiers before withdrawing to the advance party where Lieutenant Reasoner and three other Marines were.

Lieutenant Reasoner, Corporal Collins, and the other three Marines were practically isolated from the main body of the patrol due to the intensity of automatic weapons fire which prevented the main body from moving forward.  Lieutenant Reasoner repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire and provided covering fire for his team while he attempted to rescue a wounded Marine. As casualties mounted, Lieutenant Reasoner attended to his radio operator who was among the wounded. Then, when the radio operator attempted to move to a covered position, he was hit a second time so Lieutenant Reasoner ran to his aid. However, as Lieutenant Reasoner maneuvered toward him, Reasoner was struck and killed by machinegun fire.

With his commander dead, Corporal Collins took charge of the situation and silenced the enemy machinegun with an M79 grenade launcher while exposing himself to heavy fire. He bandaged one wounded Marine then laid down covering fire so the wounded Marine could crawl out of the range of enemy fire. Then, Collins carried the remaining wounded Marine to cover before personally carrying Lieutenant Reasoner's body 100 yards back to the main body, again exposing himself to enemy fire from the flanks.

When the call came in to HMM-365 that night that Lieutenant Reasoner's patrol had been ambushed, was surrounded, and needed an emergency medical evacuation and extraction, Major Kittler flew his helicopter out to get them. "The landing zone, surrounded by Viet Cong, was under a crossfire from three automatic weapons, which made it virtually untenable. In spite of heavy enemy ground fire, unknown landing zone conditions and a lack of visibility due to darkness, (he) ... landed and assisted in the evacuation of the patrol," saving eighteen lives in the process. In addition to the eighteen members of the patrol, he successfully evacuated Lieutenant Reasoner's body as well.

For their actions that day, First Lieutenant Reasoner was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, Corporal Collins was awarded the Navy Cross Medal, our nation's second highest award for valor, and my father-in-law was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal for valor.

Thirteen years after his patrol was ambushed in Vietnam, Staff Sergeant B. C. Collins reported to G Company, 8th Marine Regiment (2/8) at Camp Geiger, North Carolina to be my platoon sergeant (which is a series of stories in itself). Then, five years after I served with Staff Sergeant Collins, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at the University of Missouri where Colonel Si Kittler was the Professor of Naval Science. After I was commissioned, I was transferred to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia where I attended classes in Reasoner Hall named in Lieutenant Reasoner's honor, and two years later - almost exactly 20 years after the ambush of Reasoner's patrol - I was a helicopter pilot in HMM-365, the same squadron that Si Kittler served with in Vietnam.

Each man's story is extraordinary, made even more so by the fact that they are woven together forever in history. It's an honor to have served with and known two of these three great Marines.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Fable of the Ill-Informed Walrus

I’ve used this several times over the years to illustrate the importance of keeping the boss informed and having the courage to act on the fact that what the boss wants to hear isn’t necessarily what he or she needs to hear.


The Fable of the Ill-Informed Walrus
Author Unknown

“How’s it going down there?” barked the Big Walrus from his high rock. He waited for good news. Down below the smaller walruses conferred hastily among themselves. Things weren’t going well, but no one wanted to risk his ferocious bark. For several weeks the water level in the nearby Arctic Bay had been falling and it had become necessary to travel much farther to catch the dwindling supply of herring. Someone had to tell the Big Walrus; he would know what to do.  But who? And how?

Basil, the second-ranking walrus, well remembered how the Big Walrus had ranted and raved the last time the herd caught less than its quota of herring, and he had no desire to go through that experience again. (He had even been tempted to fudge the figures or breach the beach code to avoid the awful fallout.)

Finally Basil spoke up. “Things are going pretty well, Chief,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the beach seems to be getting larger.” The Big Walrus grunted. “Fine, fine,” he said. “That will give us more elbow room.”
The next day brought more trouble with a new herd arriving. No one wanted to tell the Big Walrus about it, but only he would know what to do in the face of this new competition.
Reluctantly, Basil approached the Big Walrus and after some small talk he said… “Oh by the way, Chief, a new herd of walruses seems to have moved into our territory.”  The Old Man’s eyes snapped open wider and he filled his great lungs in preparation for an mighty bellow. But Basil added quickly, “Of course, we don’t anticipate any trouble. They don’t look like herring eaters to me.” Crisis averted.
Things didn’t get any better in the weeks that followed as more and more of the herd left to join the new herd. One day, peering down from the large rock, the Big Walrus noticed that a large part of his herd seemed to be missing. Summoning Basil, he grunted peevishly, “What’s going on Basil? Where is everyone?”
Poor Basil didn’t know how to explain this, but he explained it away as the herd getting rid of some of the “deadwood.”
“Run a tight ship I always say," the Big Walrus grunted. “Glad to hear that everything’s going so well.”
Before long, everyone except Basil had left. Terrified but determined, he flopped up on to the large rock. “Chief,” he said, “I have bad news. Everyone has left you.”
The Big Walrus was so astonished he couldn’t even work up a good bellow. “Left me?” he cried. “All of them? How could this happen? And just when everything was going so well!”