In the Scribe’s Satchel

Scribe's Satchel

Because the initial idea behind this blog was to share and engage others about travel experiences (along with highlighting Slawter family milestones), I debated with myself whether I ought to inject this page into the mix, which features some of my previously published writings, manuscripts, and notes that have made the rounds over the years.  Upon reflection, I suppose that my work abroad and travel during family vacations has indeed informed my views on various subjects — and vice versa.  Therefore, I have wagered to risk incurring your disfavor by dumping this heap of scribblings onto this blog page — at least for now.

While you will find much of this eclectic collection to be a bit dated — particularly the extended essays on national security and U.S. policy toward Russia — several pieces, now and then, are referenced by the occasional graduate student or researcher in international affairs.  By making these relics more accessible via the internet, I hope that some of the observations — often presented while real-world events were unfolding — might offer some future historian a bit of insight into the issues that U.S. policy makers were struggling with at the time, and in many cases, still are.

One thing will become apparent as you scan down this page:  the contents of this satchel represent a mixed bag of subject matter — ranging from analyses that would put a dedicated policy wonk like myself to sleep — to a couple of yarns for youngsters, such as a tale about a horse during the American Civil War, that I hope will someday kindle the interest of my own grandchildren in the larger world around them.

National Security/Russian Affairs

  • Geopolitics:  A Framework for Analyzing Soviet Regional Behavior” (Global Affairs, Winter 89) chronicles the last gasp of Moscow’s overly extended military machine on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  In this piece, I interjected into the discussion of Russian military strategy the controversial position among academics that it was based, in no small measure, upon early 20th Century Mackinderan notions of geopolitics — a term often employed today when speaking of foreign affairs, although it is sometimes misused.  The article also discusses why the Russians invaded Afghanistan several decades ago; and of course, the mess they left behind led directly to our own current involvement in that troubled corner of the world.
  • Revolutions in Russian Military Thought:  Implications for U.S-Russian Defense Cooperation (Center for Advance Research, Naval War College, June 1993) was an award-winning monograph examining in some detail what Russian military officers were being taught in their war colleges, and how a more precise understanding of their military mindset might help break down barriers and lead to opportunities for defense cooperation.  Following in the footsteps of giants in this fairly narrow field of Russian military thought — such as John Erickson, Chris Donnelly, and Bill and Harriet Scott — I have developed over the years a great appreciation for both the breadth and sophistication of Russian military theory.  This knowledge was useful to me, when I later served on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, lived in Moscow as Air Attaché, and worked with the Russian military as an Energy Department official to help secure nuclear warheads left over from the Cold War.
  • The Crisis in the Baltics and the Kremlin’s Drift Toward Autocracy” (Strategic Review, Spring 91).  Every graduate student, every U.S. diplomat who has ever served abroad, has dreamed of replicating the success of noted Sovietologist George F. Kennan by writing a pivotal report that changes U.S. foreign policy in a significant way.  (Kennan’s “Mr. X” article, The Sources of Soviet Conduct, is often credited with having created the blueprint for U.S. containment strategy during the Cold War.)  Well, this was going to be my “Mr. X” piece.  Based upon a classified analysis that I first circulated among the senior Air Force leadership in early 1991, I eventually received Pentagon authorization to publish an unclassified version.  While the article suggested various “futures” for the Soviet Union, it did contain several items of note:  First, it provided an alert that a major political crisis was about to come to a head in Moscow, and that this precipitous event would have significant implications with respect to U.S. interests.  Second, it posited that, after several years of turmoil, a popular leader would emerge as the “man-on-a-horse” savior for a post-Soviet Russia and rule the country as a non-communist Peronista-style nationalist.  Several years later, that leader became revealed to us as none other than Vladimir Putin.  (I just wished he had kept his shirt on when he was photographed riding his horse.)  In any event, all eyes happened to be fixed on military operations during the first Gulf War in early 1991, and nobody paid any attention to piece.  Several months later, I happened to be in Moscow during discussions with Russian defense officials when the Soviet Union started to break apart during the August 1991 Coup (I swear I had nothing to do with it).  The telling of that story, however, will be saved for another day.
  • It’s the Nukes, Stupid!” (Johnson’s Russia List, June 2000) is a piece strongly suggesting that the presidential candidates ought to be focusing on the greatest existential threat to the United States:  nuclear proliferation.
  • Pay to Play:  How U.S. Nonproliferation Policy Is Linked to Civilian Nuclear Power” (The American Interest, September/October 2009).  Despite the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 — which places even greater responsibility than before on the international nuclear industry to convince skeptics that new generation reactors are safe — the developing world (e.g., India, China, Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf States) are still pursuing the goal of expanding or acquiring nuclear infrastructure.  Unfortunately, the decline of U.S. expertise in the field of nuclear energy places us in a diminished role with respect to influencing these dangerous trends.
  • The Tenets of Marxism-Leninism (Regional Studies:  The USSR & Europe, Air University, 1989) is a primer for students seeking to understand the basics of Communist theory.  While these beliefs have been discredited as a result of the collapse of the Eastern Block several decades ago, nations such as North Korea and China and a number of political groups throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas still pay lip service to the ideology.
  • The Organization of the Soviet Regime” (Regional Studies:  The USSR & Europe, Air University, 1989) is strictly a relic for students of the late Cold War period, describing how the USSR’s political system was organized under its very last President, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Civil War Battlefield Preservation

  • Towers Will Destroy Historic Viewsheds” (Op-Ed, Fauquier Times-Democrat,  January 26, 2011).  Perhaps my only real activism in local affairs concerns the preservation of Civil War battlefields here in northern Virginia.  Having made a number of presentations on the conflict for audiences in Prince William and Fauquier Counties in Virginia, I continue to lead walking tours of the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap for the good people of Chapman’s Mill, which is nestled in the Bull Run mountains near Broad Run, Virginia.  One of the issues that I and my fellow local historians are closely monitoring is an ambitious proposal by several telecommunication firms to string line of cell-phone towers along routes traveled by campaigning armies 150 years ago — including right through the core area of the Thoroughfare Gap battlefield.  The original submission for this Op-Ed piece was a little long for publication; so the editor graciously suggested that we split the commentary into two parts — an Op-Ed with my name on the “by line,” and a supporting editorial adopted by his newspaper and its affiliates.  The twin pieces helped our “cabal” of like-minded citizen-militia blunt the initial advance of the telecommunication firms.  However, semaphore signals intercepted by our ever vigilant cavalry indicate that the enemy is regrouping and may be launching another assault after the current sesquicentennial commemorations for the Civil War in our area have passed.  Steel yourselves.
  • Taking a Pass” (Fauquier Times-Democrat, January 26, 2011) was the editorial position adopted by the Warrenton-based paper and its affiliates that county planners should “send them packing” (e.g., telecommunication firms planning to construct cell phone towers on the region’s historic sites).

Family History & Related Travel

  • Notes on the Village of Upper Slaughter” (March 2006).  My surname Slawter was always spelled “Slaughter” — until my grandfather changed it to its current form (probably to escape a jail sentence or something close to that). The first Slaughter to arrive in North America made the journey to Virginia Colony in 1617.  As was the case with many English settlers of that era, John Slaughter was a second (and thus penniless) son of a relatively minor country squire, due to the practice of primogeniture. In this case, the family had been the principal land owners of a small manor in the scenic English Cotswolds, called “Upper Slaughter.” Over the years, I have made several visits to this charming “Brigadoon”-like hamlet; and I have been fortunate to have gotten to know several of its residents, including the current lord of the manor, whose family succeeded the Slaughters several centuries before. (Regrettably, the last Slaughter left the village around 1800). The observations in this unpublished manuscript were based upon one such fact-finding visit to the U.K.  I was flattered to have learned that copies of the report are provided by local residents to anyone who happens to drop by enquiring about the history of the village and the Slaughter family that lived there so very long ago.
  • Bernice Slawter:  Brief Memories of a Long Life” (December 2010) is based upon the eulogy that I gave at my mother’s memorial service.  It contains some interesting information about her family, the values she lived by and passed on to the rest of us, and I suppose a few deeply personal insights about myself as well.
  • The Saga of Miss Tacoma” (June 2010).  During WWII, while my father was serving in the Pacific, my mother was a riveter at a Boeing plant in Washington state making B-17 bombers.  She always wanted to know what happened to “her plane” — Miss Tacoma — the first bomber produced at the plant where she worked — and which she had been chosen to christen in 1944.  With leads from the Boeing’s historian in Seattle, the Air Force Office of History, and an aircraft archaeology firm in California, the story of the bomber’s fate finally came to light; and I presented this narrated photo album about Miss Tacoma’s brief service in the European theater to my mom several months before she passed on.

Children’s Stories

  • The Horse That Saved the Union (2014).  NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM.     In the fall of 1864, it looked like President Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected; and if that happened, the South knew that the North would pursue the Civil War until its bitter end.  In a bold move to upset the elections in the North, Southern General Robert E. Lee sent a portion of his army commanded by Jubal Early up along the Shenandoah Valley to capture Washington, DC (the North’s capital city).  One morning, General Early and his men launched a surprise attack near Cedar Creek, and they almost succeeded with their plan.  However, the Southern soldiers hadn’t reckoned that, on their way to Washington, they would be running right smack into a small but courageous Northern general — and his valiant steed.
  • Bapa in the Back Yard (2010) — a silly little story written for my sometimes silly little grandson, reminding us that, while we should respect all God’s creatures and sometimes keep our distance from them, we should never be fearful of them.

Additional Information on the Norway Trip

Musical Credits

Of Trolls, Frogs, and Mr. McGregor’s Garden

More on the Telemark Nuclear Sabotage Efforts

A Timeline of Norwegian History

1 Comment

One thought on “In the Scribe’s Satchel

  1. Joseph McMillan

    I was very impressed by your piece on Upper Slaughter. I’m writing a book on heraldry in Virginia and wonder whether you’ve learned anything since the piece was written substantiating the link back to Gloucestershire.

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