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From Our Home Page Archive

     Home Page as originally published in December 2014

— This Month —

The First Signal Cipher

This is where it all started...


Not Every War Worth Fighting Is Worth Fighting
The Battle For Novorossiya Is Not Yet Our Battle


The Words Behind the Phrase "Unconditional Surrender"

- - - - -


Our Association is a not-for-profit fraternal organization. It's purpose is a) to foster camaraderie among the graduates of Signal Corps Officer Candidate School classes of the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War eras, b) to organize and offer scholarships and other assistance for the families of Officer and Enlisted OCS cadre who are in need, and c) to archive for posterity the stories and history of all of the Signal Corps OCS Officers who served this great country. We are open to ALL former Army Signal Corps OCS graduates, their families and friends, as well as other officers, enlisted men, those interested in military history, and the general public. Please, come join us. For more information about our Association, to see a list of our Officers and Directors, or for contact details, click on the OCS Association link at left.

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The First Signal Cipher

This is where it all started...



Back on our October Home Page we challenged your knowledge of how the telegraph developed. Why? Because most of our readers are ex-Signal Corps Officers, and what kind of Signal Corps Officer would you be if you didn’t know what telegraphs were, how they worked, or where they came from?

To challenge you we presented an article entitled So You Think You Know Everything About The Development Of The Telegraph? A trivia trove, the article told you things few men know about how the telegraph came into existence. As to its value, other than to make you seem like the geek you are, especially if you are still buying beers at the bar at the O Club and telling stories of the signal sites you ran in Vietnam, it was useless. Still, it was Signal Corps trivia, and for us men who bleed Signal blood, that’s enough.

This month we will try to top that. This time we’ll take you back to a time before the telegraph existed… even before signal flags were used to send messages. In the process we will focus on a process known as cipher… a new concept, at the time.

What’s cipher you ask?

OMG… if you don’t know the answer to that, then maybe you never should have worn those crossed flags on your collar! So pay attention.... you may learn something.

Webster’s Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (some 2078+ pages long) defines cipher 12 different ways. The first two ways we have no problem with. They read:

1. An arithmetic symbol (0) which denotes naught, or no quantity of magnitude; zero.

2. Any of the Arabic numerals or figures.

As far as we are concerned, those two definitions are o.k. It’s the 6th definition that we have a problem with. It reads:

6. A secure method of writing.

We disagree with this definition, as this type of sloppy defining of words is what leads to people misusing the English language.

While we might quibble that definitions 1 and 2 above should be reversed in priority, it's definition 6—and others like it—that we have a real problem with because these kinds of definitions imply that the purpose of ciphering is to encode information. It is not. The purpose of ciphering is to change the form of information or data from one substantive type to another.

Cipher = TransformationNo matter what you have heard or been led to believe, ciphering involves nothing more, nor anything less than this simple goal: to transform a piece of data or information from one form to another. Why bother doing this? Typically, the purpose is to allow the data or information to be more easily or successfully transmitted, as opposed to encoded so that it's value can be hidden from an observer (to either the data itself or the transmission process).

Why all this fuss about the definition of cipher? Because we are specifically trying to make the case that the purpose of a cipher is not to encode (i.e. encrypt) information (and/or data) in a form so that it cannot be understood or read by another, but to merely represent (in a different form) the information being ciphered. Again, the purpose of ciphering then is to change the form of a piece of information or data from its original form into some new form… perhaps so it can be more easily communicated than would otherwise be possible if the information were left in its original form.

Ciphering and encryption are two different beasts, each used for a different purpose… albeit there is no doubt that to the untrained a ciphered message is the same as an encoded or encrypted message.

With this as a foundation for our discussion, we can now begin to look at the first signal cipher ever devised.

The Great American Cipher

As we all know, armies through the ages have used ciphers to communicate. For armies, getting the message through is critical, and since shouting  from one place to another on a battlefield leaves something to be desired in terms of effectiveness in getting the message through, ciphering messages was developed to improve the reliability of transmission. But who were the first to cipher messages, and how and why did they find the need to develop this mode of communication?

America's first SignaleerLeaving aside ancient Roman or earlier times, in more modern times... such as America in its very earliest days... the communication experts of the day were the  American Indians... and they were the first to develop and perfect ciphering. They did so by converting their messages from spoken words into sequences of staccato beats that could be sent by drum; more specifically, a drum made from a hollow log.

In terms of whether this fits our definition of ciphering or not, it clearly does. There is no doubt that when you convert a normally spoken sentence into the disjointed sound of a hollow log being beaten with a stick you are en-ciphering the message involved. The same is true if, instead of beating on the side of a hollow log, you turn it on its end, cover the open end of with a stretched piece of deer skin, and beat on that area instead. In America the Mohawk Indians perfected this routine, and so for our purposes we give them pride of place in holding the position of being the first people to practice ciphering.

How do we know this is true? Have you never heard of Drums Along The Mohawk?

Mohawk Indian TribesAs to how the Mohawk's need for ciphering came about, the book is named for an actual trail that the Mohawk Indians travelled in the pre-revolutionary period... back during the days of the French & Indian Wars. The trail winds its way through the center of the state of Massachusetts (technically the Commonwealth of Massachusetts… Massachusetts is not a state per se), from east to west, through endless, dense New England forests… from the Cape Cod seashore to the far west border with New York state and the Hudson River, near a town called Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Originally a simple path cut in the woods that the Indians would jog along to traverse the state, over time colonial settlers used this same Indian path to move by horseback along its length. With every passing the path became wider and wider, until horse drawn wagons could be pulled along it. When automobiles were invented, the path was turned into a dirt road, getting wider and wider still until eventually what was once a simple Indian path through the New England woods became the modern Route 2 highway that one can drive today. One of the more scenic roads of America’s northeast, it is also the original route used by the Mohecan and Mohawk Indian tribes to support the French in their bid to toss the British out of the new world. And it was that goal that caused the Mohawks to turn to ciphering to perfect their signaling technique. 




Not Every War Worth Fighting is Worth Fighting

Crimean Peninsula

The Battle For Novorossiya Is Not Yet Our Battle

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula (technically, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) in August, every red blooded American hawk began screaming that Russia’s actions had to be stopped, even if that meant going to war. When three months later Putin followed up his taking of the Crimea with overt encouragement, backing, collaboration, support, assistance and arms deliveries to the rebel separatist trying to hive off the eastern part of the Ukraine… so that it could be made part of Russia, the hawk’s crying and gnashing of teeth got even louder.


Part of the answer is that from a hawk’s standpoint the principles that underwrite any nation’s independence, when brought under attack as in the Ukraine’s case, must be defended. And even if a case could be made that the Ukraine didn’t deserve such protection, most egalitarian self-governing adherents would ask who Putin thought he was marching around Eastern Europe grabbing diminutive sized countries and sticking them in Mother Russia’s pocket? On that basis alone they would say, America should come to the rescue of the Ukraine and, if needed, stand up to him militarily.

To some extent this kind of thinking is good for the world; what they say is true. But what if the countries and regions Putin was targeting—and still is—were among the more corrupt in the world, failed over the past 50 years to do anything of consequence to raise the standard of living of their people, and exist for no greater purpose than to serve the needs of the corrupt oligarchs that run them? Is that kind of “national independence” worth fighting for? What too if a large percentage of the people in those countries—the Ukraine in particular—want to be part of Russia to begin with? Does that count? In cases like this, should America—or any other country for that matter—be going to the rescue of what might be considered corrupt, aberrant little countries… like the Ukraine?

At the time of Russia’s seizing of Crimea it certainly seemed logical to think that America should step forward and act to save this “bulwark of democracy” from dismemberment by the great dictatorial power monger Russia. And it seemed more so when Russia loosed separatists to attack eastern Ukraine. And even more so when Malaysian flight MH17 got shot down. Today though, it is beginning to look more and more like America dodged a bullet when it didn’t rush to initiate a military confrontation over these events. In this article we will try to understand why it may be that this time it was in America’s interest not to use its militarily strength to go to the rescue of the Ukraine. To make sure we get the answer right, we’ll do that by asking two questions.

Continued at top of page, COLUMN AT RIGHT


Ah, the problems of rank...


Vietnam Campaign Ribbons

This page last updated 1 December 2014. New content is constantly being added. Please check back frequently.

Update 1 December 2014 Surely you know by now: Chuck Hagel resigned. Be sure to join us next month when we look at the problems Obama having appointed 4 Secretaries of Defense in 6 years is having on the military. With no road map, rotating leadership and constantly changing goals, what does the future hold for our beloved military? Join us next month and find out.

Update 3 November 2014 The association needs a couple (maybe three) class coordinators who intend to attend the reunion in San Antonio next year... to verify addresses... to encourage others to join them there... etc. So the question is, who is going against all training to volunteer for the "job"... Don't let the "silence" be deafening!! Contact MAJ (R) Richard Green TODAY! Army Signal OCS Class 09-67 - Sterling & Bradley

Update 11 November 2014 A new Class Photo for OCS Class 66-04 has been sent in and posted. This one has the names of all of the candidates shown on it. Be sure to check it out! Army Signal OCS Class 09-67 - Sterling & Bradley

Update 1 October 2014 COL (R) Earl Tingle, Class 09-67, sent along a picture of our fellow classmate Kent Sterling, who passed away in April of this year. In it Pete Bradley is also shown. Pete died in 2009. How young our fellow classmates are, to die so soon! Such good men all. Honesty, integrity, intellect, kindness, compassion, true friends never to be forgotten, true American heroes. The kind of men we all long to be, even in these advanced years of ours. Honorable beyond measure. See their picture here Army Signal OCS Class 09-67 - Sterling & Bradley




Continued from left column... 

First, the most basic one:

Should America have gone to the rescue of the Ukraine, sending soldiers or military advisors if needed, to fight alongside the Ukrainian army to stop Russian sponsored rebel aggression?

And then the more complex one:

If not sending soldiers, should America have at a minimum acted to arm the Ukrainian military… by sending military hardware to what all presume must have been a poorly constituted army… so that, at a minimum, they would have a fighting chance against both Russia and its sponsored and fully armed rebels?

To answer these questions we need to spend a little time understanding what the Ukraine is and what it is not… especially from a military standpoint. Before looking at the military though, let’s take a moment to reflect on how the Ukraine gained its independence in the first place. This is important, because it goes to the heart of what Russia was doing when it took control of the Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine and Crimea Come Of Age

Stalin's Labor Camp System (Gulags)Strange though it may seem, the Ukraine was not always an independent country. In fact, from the time of Stalin’s rule it was caught up with and very much a part of Soviet Russia. Things began to change for the Ukraine only after Khrushchev came to power. While Stalin harbored prejudices against Ukrainians and persecuted them in his Gulags at every chance, Khrushchev saw them as having loyally served the Soviet state for decades. Further, as first secretary of the CP(B)U, Khrushchev gained intimate knowledge of the Ukraine, staffed party and government posts with his own trusted appointees and become familiar with the Ukrainian cultural elite. With Khrushchev, Stalin’s anti-Ukrainian paranoia disappeared, and the state came into its own as a trusted friend of Nikita Khrushchev. Along with this blossoming, of course, came corruption; fully constituted, organized, high-level government corruption of the kind that only a communist regime can create.

Who benefited from this corruption? To some extent the leaders of the Ukraine; but to a greater degree Nikita Khrushchev… who the Ukraine’s leaders owed a massive debt of gratitude and pay offs to for having reversed the policy of persecution that Stalin had mounted against this country and its leaders. Either way, over the ensuing years Ukrainian leaders learned at the feet of the best how to squeeze every last dime out of their country... and pocket the money themselves. To a large extent, they continue to do so today.

300 year reunification Ukraine with RussiaNotwithstanding the booty and the spoils that flowed amongst this group, Khrushchev’s feelings of kindness towards the Ukraine were real, and so the relationship grew beyond the money side of the equation. In fact, so well did the relationship between the leaders of the Ukraine and Khrushchev develop that a celebration was held in 1954 for the 300th anniversary of the “reunification” of Ukraine with Russia. During that celebration, with Khrushchev’s blessing, the Crimean Peninsula was transferred from the Russian S.F.S.R. to Ukraine.

Until that moment, for over 300 years, both the Russians and the Ukrainian people saw the Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula as two separate things… with the Ukraine being viewed as a semi-autonomous state within the U.S.S.R, and the Crimean Peninsula being seen as a fundamental part of Russian, i.e. it was Russian owned territory. The act of transferring Crimea from Russia to the Ukraine in 1954 then was unprecedented. An act of pure kindness on Khrushchev’s part, towards the people of the Ukraine who he held great fondness for. From that point forward the Crimean Peninsula would be considered a part of Ukrainian territory

To gauge the kind of situation this created and therein begin to understand why Khrushchev’s actions in 1954 may well give pause today to someone like Putin, the reader might think in terms of our own relationship with the Panama Canal Zone. While the U.S. never claimed sovereignty over the country of Panama, there is no doubt that for the years we held it we considered the Canal Zone as ours. To see the analogy, think of things this way: in the Ukraine’s case, the Crimea is the Canal Zone, Ukraine is Panama, and Russia is the U.S.

For America and the Canal Zone, while some think that President Jimmy Carter did well in giving the canal back to the Panamanians, others think he made a huge mistake. This is especially so today, now that China has a contract to run the Canal Zone for the next 50 years.[1] Those who decry what Carter did say that not only is China making billions off of a facility that should rightfully belong to us (i.e. it never should have been given away to begin with, and even if it was, we should be running it and pocketing the money, not China), but also the Chinese presence augers badly from a military perspective, as it puts the U.S. at risk of not being able to use the Panama Canal in a time of war.

  Read more... 



Still Celebrating Pearl Harbor Day? Consider This...

The words behind the phrase "unconditional surrender"

This being December, in addition to celebrating Christmas a fair number of Americans also pause to commemorate those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor. Even today, this perfidy goes down in history as a despicable action on Japan's part... so much so that as America went to war against the Empire of the sun it determined to annihilate it's very existence... by forcing onto it an unconditional surrender. Yet while everyone knows that America's terms for surrender of the Japanese government in WWII were "unconditional", few if any know how those terms got that way.

Strangely, the requirement of an unconditional surrender came about somewhat by accident. President Truman, in a speech shortly after taking office, made the comment that America once had a General whose nickname was Unconditional Surrender Grant. Truman said he fully intended to apply General Grant's view on war to the war with Japan, and that the only acceptable outcome of that war would be Japan's total and unconditional surrender.

Once said, his comments became law. From that point on the phrase unconditional surrendered appeared in nearly every statement Truman made about how the Japanese could end the war. As an example, on 16 April, 1945, he delivered his first congressional address to a nation still traumatized by his predecessor's death, only 4 days earlier. In that speech he pledged "We must carry on..." saying that "both Germany and Japan can be certain , beyond any shadow of a doubt , that America will continue the fight for freedom until no vestige of resistance remains! ... America will never become party to any plan of partial victory! To settle for merely another temporary respite would surely jeopardize the future security of all the world. Our demand has been and it remains: Unconditional Surrender!" To make his point, he chopped at the podium with his hand, raising his voice as he stated that both Japan and Germany had "violated... the laws of God and man."

After that occasion President Truman's use of the term Unconditional Surrender appeared in a further 28 formal speeches, and, while some disagreed with the severity of the terms, the requirement was echoed by his cabinet. Yet while the phrase rang through America's hallowed halls of government, and received fulsome press, one wonders how the world could be sure that the Japanese were listening... and getting the message? Back during World War II, what exactly was the mechanism for a warring nation to signal to its enemy its terms for ending the war?

In the case of Japan the answer lies in the Potsdam Declaration.

As all remember, the allies met at Potsdam from July 17 to August 2 1945. Known as the Potsdam Conference, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany. While its ostensible purpose was to allow the victorious allies to reach agreement as to how to administer punishment to the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier, it is more famous today for the agreement they reached regarding how to partition Europe. In that agreement, of course, Stalin walked away with nearly all of Eastern Europe, including Poland.

USSR WWII Claim to JapanOf lesser importance at the time the end of the conference also saw the U.S., England and China issue a joint statement as to what terms they would accept from Japan, if it wanted to sue for peace. Stalin, who was not invited to sign the statement, was furious when he heard it was issued without the Soviet Union being a signatory to it. His anger stemmed from his obvious intention of joining in on the spoils of war, once Japan succumbed. From his perspective, he felt that the Soviet Union should be given all of Hokkaido Island and the northern half of Honshu. Considering that the Soviets hadn't at that time engaged in even one battle against the Japanese, this was the height of chutzpah on his part. Can one imagine what the world would be like today if Truman had allowed Stalin to take half of Japan?

Either way, Truman was not about to allow the Soviets to do to Japan what it was already in the process of doing in Eastern Europe. To preclude this, his advisors drafted what became known as the Potsdam Declaration, a document that set out in no uncertain terms what Japan had to do if it wanted to end the war. In the Potsdam Declaration appeared for the first time the words unconditional surrender as an official and prescribed statement from the United States to the Empire of Japan, as to what terms it must accept before the fighting would end.

Considering its impact on the world we live in, few people have actually read this declaration to the Japanese. Also, considering the number of small wars the world is filled with today, and how the governments that fight them have shied away from issuing statements of demand to their enemy as to what they must do to end the war, it is intriguing to read what America sent to the Emperor of Japan.

At a page and a half the Potsdam Declaration is short. We encourage you to read it, and as you do remember each of the 111,606 who lost their life in fighting the Japanese during World War II, the additional 253,142 who were wounded in action, and the 21,580 that were subjected to inhumane treatment as prisoners of war of the Japanese.

The Potsdam Declaration

e f

Churchill on trusting the Russians 

December Crossword Puzzle

Army Signal CorpsTheme: Vietnam War TriviaArmy Signal Corps

Hint: Join 2, 3 and 4 word answers together
as one complete word.

 For answer key to this month's puzzle,
see icon at bottom of page


[1] Hutchison Whampoa, the nominal authority of the Chinese government that has the contract to control the Canal Zone, controls not only the ports at both ends of the canal, but also the surrounding areas the United States used to control, including the former U.S. Rodman Naval Station and the former U.S. Albrook Air Force Base. - To return to your place in the text click here: Return to text


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