Sunday, August 21, 2016

Honor, Courage, Commitment: Grit Wins the Gold

Review by Bill Doughty

Like having Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky as anchors, the last few chapters of Dr. Angela Duckworth's milestone, "Grit" (2016, Scribner, Simon & Schuster), completes an extended relay of a book–filled with life advice and examples of achievement and success.

In fact, Duckworth talks about Phelps, Ledecky, Kevin Durant and other Olympics heroes–along with dozens of other public and private individuals in this powerful book subtitled "The Power of Passion and Perseverance."

Readers will want to race through this book to pick up valuable tips about potential, resilience, character, training and achievement. From diverse fields or endeavors such as sports, zookeeping, NASA, cartooning, spelling bees and more, Duckworth delivers examples from her own life as well the lives of people including Jeff Bezos, Steve Young, Tom Seaver, Julia Child, John Irving, Aristotle, Ta Nehishi Coates, Benjamin Franklin, Will Shortz, Warren Buffet, and the nation of Finland.

A Navy SEAL monitors youth training camp. (Photo by MC3 Geneva G. Brier.)
Duckworth explores West Point's "The Beast" (barracks boot camp) as she and other scientists attempt to predict who will succeed and who will drop out. The same evalution is done, no doubt, in all military branches especially in hyper-competitive areas such as Navy BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training.

Natural talent, initial physical strength, and inherent skills are not most important. Mental toughness–grit–is.

Winners like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Usain Bolt want to go head-to-head with other people, are willing to train continuously and with passion, and can accept failure as motivation for the next challenge. They understand "there are no shortcuts to excellence."

It helps, Duckworth notes, to have "purpose-driven grit"–a vision and calling, whether it's the Olympics, service in the military or as part of an NBA or NFL team. Each has its culture of teamwork,service and, some more than others, a concept of a greater good.

After seeing Duckworth's TED talk on grit, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, author of "Win Forever," contacted her and invited her to the Seahawks camp. Carroll's philosophy is, "Do things better than they have ever been done before."

The day after Carroll's team beat the Denver Broncos to win Superbowl XLVIII in 2014, he said this in an interview:

"We're looking for great competitors. That's really where it starts. And that's the guys that really have grit. The mindset that they're always going to succeed, that they've got something to prove. They're resilient, they're not going to let setbacks hold them back. They're not going to be deterred, you know, by challenges and hurdles and things ... It's that attitude–we really refer to it as grit."

Carroll had this to say about Duckworth after he shared a town hall with her in Seattle last year: “She has such a big personality and attitude, she’s really fun to work with. She goes really fast with her thoughts and ideas, which is just fine with me, so we’ll cover a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. She’s got a real sense of urgency about discovery as well, so we see things in a similar fashion in that regard as well.”

Duckworth examines Carroll's reaction to the next year's Superbowl XLIX and the Coach's decision to pass rather than run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, resulting in a historic loss. Failure became another opportunity for resilience.

Carroll's idol-mentor was Coach John Wooden, a World War II Navy veteran and epic winning coach of UCLA Bruins basketball team. Wooden's advice comes across in this found (unintentional) haiku from the great coach:

success is never
final; failure is never
fatal; ... courage ... counts

Duckworth is impressed by this Japanese saying: "Fall seven, rise eight." People with grit don't give up. They rise to the challenge. They learn that it takes at least 10 years and 10,000 repetitions to become an expert or master. They have purpose and passion.

Duckworth offers great words of wisdom, including her own found haiku:

our potential is
one thing; what we do with it
is quite another

As a neurobiologist and psychologist, Dr. Duckworth can explain the neuroplasticity of a "remarkably adaptive" brain that allows people to achieve their vision.
"Like a muscle that gets stronger with use, the brain changes itself when you struggle to master a new challenge. In fact, there's never a time in life when the brain is completely 'fixed.' Instead, all our lives, our neurons retain the potential to grow new connections with one another and to strengthen the ones we already have. What's more, throughout adulthood, we maintain the ability to grow myelin, a sort of insulating sheath that protects neurons and speeds signals traveling between them."
This book is packed with advice for individuals, leaders and parents. It includes a self-test and practical how-to advice, along with personal and public examples of people and situations where grit wins "the gold."

It's a perfect Navy read in the context of preserving a resilient workforce and fostering core values: Honor, Courage, Commitment."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Pearl Harbor's Neosho Fuels Fog of War

Review by Bill Doughty
With USS California in the background, Neosho maneuvers across Pearl Harbor to Merry Point.

In the middle of the harbor during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 the oiler USS Neosho (AO-23) made its way–dodging enemy attack–from Battleship Row to a safer area at Merry Point.

Across the harbor, in West Loch for degaussing, USS Helm (DD-388) responded to the attack by returning fire and making its way out into the Pacific to sink an Imperial Japanese Navy two-man submarine.

Today, historians consider the attack on Oahu by the IJN a failure. The vulnerable fuel reserves at Pearl Harbor were not hit. Many of the U.S. fleet's "Tin Can" destroyers were not hit and would be bristling for revenge.

Although American battleships were destroyed, they were already becoming obsolete with the rise of aircraft carriers in the 1940s. And the Pacific Fleet's carriers, including USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Yorktown (CV-5), were not at Pearl Harbor at the time.

Five months later the fates of the above-named U.S. Navy ships would intersect in the Battle of the Coral Sea, with USS Neosho playing an unexpected key role.

Through evocative storytelling and documented reports, historian Dan Keith gives us an interesting slice of history from the perspective of the fuel replenishment ship USS Neosho, an unintentional decoy during the Battle of the Coral Sea. That role of "unwitting decoy" helped Rear Adm. Frank Fletcher achieve a measure of success despite the tragedy that struck the tanker and its escort USS Sims.

"The Ship That Wouldn't Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho–a World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea" (2016, Penguin Random House) shows us how important fuel was (and is) to the fleet.
"If an army traveled on its stomach, a modern navy required fuel oil if it was to carry out its mission. Wind and coal no longer provided propulsion for most seagoing fighting vessels. And with aircraft carriers rising in importance, that meant aviation fuel had to be delivered for those airborne war machines, too. Whatever components made up a fleet, they all demanded fuel wherever they might be located–a fact that assured that there would be oilers in the mix, filled with the quencher for the incessant thirst of the warships and carrier-based aircraft."
USS Neosho skipper Capt. John Phillips
Fletcher ordered the CO of Neosho, Capt. John Spinning Phillips, to take his oiler to what was thought to be a safer area of the Coral Sea, far from the impending battle with IJN ships and planes. But the tanker was spotted and mistakenly identified by a Japanese pilot as an aircraft carrier; the escort destroyer USS Sims was misidentified as a cruiser. This error caused Adm. Chuichi Hara to deploy his dive bombers to attack Neosho and Sims, leaving his forces vulnerable to the U.S. Navy. Ultimately, the error may have saved the USS Yorktown, which would go on to fight and win at the Battle of Midway.

Such are the fates and mistakes in the fog of war.

Keith explores how an order "prepare to abandon ship" was miscommunicated and misinterpreted, causing sailors to prematurely leave the badly damaged Neosho, in some cases following officers who were part of a breakdown in leadership.

Dozens of IJN planes attacked and sank USS Sims and crippled USS Neosho.

In the aftermath, some survivors suffered on rafts and boats that drifted toward Australia. Meanwhile, aboard the oil tanker, in the hours and days after the attack, after fires were extinguished but while the ship continued to take in seawater:
USS Neosho (AO-23) burns after dive bomber attacks by Imperial Japan.
"Some brave members of the Neosho crew made quick, dangerous trips below, gleaning food, water, blankets, cots, mattresses, medicine, lights, batteries, life belts, and anything else they might need to make the night more bearable or to survive in the sea should the ship go down. Some of the scavengers said quick prayers before disappearing down the ladders. From the way the ship was leaning, with seawater rushing in and waves rocking the helpless vessel, they judged she could capsize or sink at any minute. Anyone belowdecks risked being taken down with her into the deep before he could climb out. What's more, fires still burned below, filling the lower compartments with dense, deadly smoke and fumes. With limited electrical power, there was no way to vent the noxious and explosive vapors outside the ship."
Keith's work is a tribute to the men who fought and suffered in the Pacific War and brought an end to totalitarianism in Japan.

He carefully documents what happened to the men and ships connected to the loss of Neosho during and after the war. The story also illuminates how fuel is considered in the calculus of warfighting, logistics planning, and command-and-control.

The dangerous volatility of fuel–which in a larger sense brought about the Pacific War when Imperial Japan invaded other countries for fossil fuels and other resources–is shown on a deckplate scale here, impacting sailors.

Documentation about the Neosho and the other ships comes from oral histories and other reports, including comprehensive U.S. Navy records.
"The 'Nimitz Graybook' was a tremendous aid in understanding and documenting all that was going on at the higher levels of the Navy in the spring of 1942, especially as it affected the Battle of the Coral Sea. This 4,000-page collection consists of volumes of accumulated documents, briefing papers, and other material that show an amazingly complete wartime 'diary' of Admiral Chester Nimitz, running from December 7, 1941, through August 31, 1945. The materials, gathered during the war by the CINCPAC staff at Pearl Harbor, are now part of the Papers of Chester W. Nimitz at the Archives Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, DC, and in 2012 were digitized and made available to the public via the Internet as a cooperative effort of the Naval War College and the NHHC."
Some repetition by Keith–along with several regrettable ethnic epithets to describe Japanese people–detract from an otherwise valuable and entertaining saga.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

'Killing Game'–ISIS & Augmented Reality

Review by Bill Doughty

Radical jihadist movements like ISIS, al Qaeda and Boko Haram attract young people with mental problems–men and women who are subject to addictions and delusions, drawn to hatred, with access to guns, bombs and other weapons, according to author Mark Bourrie, "The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder and the Lure of ISIS" (2016, HarperCollins). 

Canada's Bourrie helps us get not only an international perspective but also the historical and scientific context of homegrown terrorism while dissecting the family dynamics of turncoat terrorists.

The international perspective is timely in the wake of recent rampages in Nice, Orlando, Brussels, Baghdad, Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Afghanistan by ISIS-inspired killers.

Today at least 80 people are dead in Kabul after a jihadist suicide bomb attack, and ISIS claimed responsibility.

Recruitment of terrorists has deep roots in history.

Great Britain helped the Confederacy recruit Canadians to fight in the U.S. Civil War. During the Spanish-American War young men from Canada fought in the Spanish Republican Army because they looked "to fascism for solutions to their personal problems and economic messes..."

Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler on 28 November 1941
Similarly, foreign fighters were attracted to Nazi Germany, according to Bourrie, especially in the last years of World War II. "Hitler and his murderous henchman Heinrich Himmler had a strange fascination with Islam. It was, and still is, reciprocated."

Today, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and related extremists use sophisticated ways to reach, teach and recruit young people worldwide. They employ new media, promote video games and develop apps, pushing their message of hate and violence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms. When it comes to ISIS, or ISIL, "No other organization ... set out to find brutal ways to kill and novel ways to publicize atrocities."
"So much of ISIS's war-porn propaganda is directed at ... bored young people who aren't engaged by the consumer ethos of their own society and who feel that adventure is passing them by. They want to step into the video games that have become so important to them and be the heroes that they play on the small screen. As Abu Sumayyah al-Britani, a British fighter with ISIS, posted on Twitter, war is the ultimate in virtual reality."
According to Bourrie, young people grow up playing violent games so routinely that they are "desensitized to the sight of killing."

This affects–and effects–parts of the brain.

Bourrie notes that researchers in China studying the impact of Internet addiction have found that excessive online gaming leads to depression, irritability and impulsiveness and can affect the structure of the brain.

"Anyone who can tap into the minds of young people and connect with their desires and insecurities can exploit them," Bourrie writes. "ISIS's brand of religion, with its simple answers to complex and disturbing modern questions, appeals to people in shattered societies."

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Fear leads to an attraction to authoritarianism. After World War I, "Mussolini offered a return to the Roman Empire. Hitler offered Germany domination of Europe. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS's leader and self-styled caliph offers the return of the glory days of Islam, when armies ravaged what was left of the eastern Roman Empire."

Bourrie reminds us that millions of Americans struggled to give meaning to the attacks of September 11, 2001, "just as they struggled to turn Pearl Harbor into a crusade against fascism and militarism" in 1941.

How can Western nations prevent ISIS recruitment of mentally unstable, deluded or sociopathic young people in their societies?

Can young would-be terrorists be deprogrammed and reeducated? One of the most important keys lies in the Muslim community, Bourrie writes:
"Radical Islam is vulnerable to several counterattacks. The most potent comes from persuasive, learned Muslims who can argue back against ISIS's simplistic and violent interpretation of Islam. This is already happening, but more Muslims need to get involved, and they need the media skills to be able to face ISIS on the Internet. Moderate Muslims also need to ensure that their mosques and social groups aren't dominated or hijacked by radicals. At the same time, authorities in Canada and other Western countries should back these people up and do more than just arrest terror suspects. They need to look at the way European states work with the families of extremists and develop a ... system that provides effective intervention and support for the relatives of people drawn to extremism. Right now, some Muslims feel intimidated by the extremists. They need protection so they can speak out."
Canada's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Brian Dickson
He says, "There needs to be even more international cooperation to share information and fight jihadi recruitment." And he says marginalization of Muslim communities is not the answer; hatred is not the answer. He includes a quote from Supreme Court of Canada's Chief Justice Brian Dickson about the dangers of hate speech:
"Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation."
Hate begets hate. People who fear and hate, for different reasons, cause death and destruction every day. Only a small percentage of violent deaths in the United States are caused by violent Islamist extremists. 

Remembering victims in Nice, France.
Bourrie reminds us of mass murders by white supremacists in Charleston, South Carolina (9 African Americans gunned down); Oslo, Norway in 2011 (77 people, mostly children, murdered); and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2001 (when Timothy McVeigh assassinated 168 men, women and children). An attack in Munich, Germany yesterday killed 9 people and occurred five years, to the day, of the Norway massacre.

But it's sobering to consider the scale of hatred and killing in the name of Islam worldwide in recent decades, especially in the last few years. Wikipedia publishes a list, which as this gets posted hasn't been updated with the most recent attacks–including today's horrific suicide bombings in Kabul, reportedly part of ongoing Sunni-Shiite hatred.

Bourrie concludes:
"It's my view that we're seeing the beginning of a general war in the Islamic world. It may be fought simultaneously, or the fighting may move from one country to another. Internal forces will tear apart Saudi Arabia and continue to threaten the regime in Iran. Shiites, backed by Tehran, push against Sunnis backed by the Saudis. The regime in Egypt, the most populous country in the region, survives because the army still has the ability to suppress Islamism, but time may be running out for Egypt's generals."
Meanwhile the radical jihadists and other extremists continue their spew of propaganda, trying to entice young people with promises of sex, glory, kittens and personalized iPhone covers. "One fact ISIS propaganda never mentions is that–if the fates of known Western fighters are any indication–ISIS fighters don't usually live long." 

Kudos to Patrick Crean Editions and HarperCollins for the disconcerting cover with blazing blue eyes, remarkably similar to the face of a great folk singer who is the antithesis of hatred and is instead dedicated to understanding, hope and love–James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend" and "Fire and Rain")–which makes the impact of the cover that more powerful.

Here's to "understanding, hope and love" in the real world and in augmented reality now and in the future.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The U.S. Constitution's Amazing 'Visionary'

Review by Bill Doughty

"John Quincy Adams: American Visionary" (2014, HarperCollins)

This book was recommended recently by John Kirby, spokesman for Secretary of State John Kerry and former Chief of Navy Information.

Like his father, John Quincy Adams was a complicated hero of a young nation. A voracious reader, world-traveler and deep-thinking moralist, JQA recognized the sin of slavery and saw the need for a strong navy and army.

In "American Visionary" we get an international perspective at a time when "The United States still had no army or navy of consequence."

John Quincy Adams – and books – in 1843.
JQA had a front-row seat to French and British confiscation of American ships, British impressment of American sailors (which brought about the War of 1812), the return of Napoleon in France, and the effects of a trade embargo. He was intimately involved in the nation's response of the British warship Leopold agains USS Chesapeake, and he was intensely interested in the inventions of Robert Fulton, including the steamboat and torpedo.

Adams was an early proponent of strength through national inclusion, innovation and infrastructure-building. He "strongly believed that the roads, canals and harbors were essential to the future prosperity of the country and the promotion of national unity."

Two hundred years ago, just after the War of 1812, John Quincy Adams served as a diplomatic envoy in London. A lover of poetry and literature, he immersed himself in the evenings in reading, reciting and studying William Shakespeare and attending theatrical performances of Shakespeare's work.

During the day he worked to represent the interests of the United States in Europe, including negotiating trade agreements, and  helped the needs of American citizens abroad. Here's a very early look at veteran homelessness from Kaplan's and Adams's description:
"And there was constant applications from American sailors, often reduced to begging, who had been impressed (forced) into the British Navy, and from American prisoners of war released from the infamous Dartmouth prison ... British poverty was palpably visible. Hungry wanderers begged for food at the door of Little Boston House, 'each with a different hideous tale of misery ... The extremes of opulence and of want are more remarkable and more constantly obvious in this country than in any other that I ever saw.' ... That there were beggars in America John Quincy knew from experience. But the numbers in Great Britain made American poverty seem minuscule and easily managed. In the United States there was more work to be had, even in hard times. It pained Adams to see starving Americans, many able-bodied, some damaged by war and imprisonment, forced to beg in the streets of a foreign country. He worked tirelessly, and stretched his own and the embassy's resources to assist them."
Adams had a long and distinguished career as a statesman even at an early age. He had lived throughout Europe. He played a role in patching up misunderstandings, reaching compromises and building peace.

In 1817 President Monroe appointed him Secretary of State.

That pivot point in JQA's life ignites Fred Kaplan's biography.

Adams's journey from England to the United States in July and August of 1817 to accept appointment as Secretary of State took 51 days, a time to consider challenges with France, Britain and Spain over the Great Lakes, Louisiana and Florida, among other areas and territories.
"On shipboard, he pondered his and his country's future. As much as he worried about foreign affairs, he had an even more pervasive anxiety: the internal health of the nation. Like both his parents, he believed as deeply in the union as he believed in his life. During his father's presidency, both Republicans and Federalists had threatened disunion. After the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson and Madison had claimed the right to secession. Now the South as demanding that new states allow slavery. Whether they had moral objections or not, Northern states objected to the additional congressional and electoral votes that the South would have. The British could be handled, though there would be difficulties. So too could Spain, which Adams had reason to believe would in the end capitulate. There were trade issues with France, though at their worst they were not not likely to result in armed conflict. To Adams, domestic tensions seemed most threatening in the long run. The Declaration of Independence and slavery were, he believed, incompatible. Still, maintaining the union was paramount. 'Much as I must disapprove of the general tenor of Southern politics I would rather even yield to their unreasonable pretensions, and suffer much for their wrongs, than break the chain that binds us altogether ... if it is once broken we shall soon divide into a parcel of petty tribes at perpetual war with one another.' The War of 1812 had 'revealed our darkest side, or tendency to faction, sectionalism, and disunion.' The future contained the threat of 'the dissolution of the Union and a civil war.'"
Adams saw the Sandy Hook lighthouses as his ship came close to the American shore. He visited officials in New York, going aboard the first steam frigate that used both sail and steam, USS John Adams, before heading to see his parents in Quincy, Massachusetts aboard the steamship Fulton. In a visit to Boston he boarded both the the USS Constitution and USS Guerriere.

Kaplan reveals the internecine political thorns Adams faced close to the seat of power as Secretary of State, a position both Jefferson and Monroe had held. "More so than Monroe, Adams believed that American prosperity required greater power for the federal government to promote internal improvements and a modern banking system, encourage manufacturing, advance education and science, and strengthen the military."

"Slaves Waiting for Sale" first sketched by British artist Eyre Crowe ten years after Adams died.
Kaplan shows us his strong aversion to slavery and so-called "divine rights," a full generation before the nation plunged into the War Between the States.

His one term as president was followed by service in the House of Representatives, where he became a strong and committed voice for abolition, "proposing a constitutional amendment 'abolishing hereditary slavery in the United States, prohibiting admission of new slave states, and abolishing slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia.' He had moved from discreet tactfulness to outspoken radicalism," writes Kaplan. Congress voted 114 to 108 for a continuing gag rule to prevent voting on the amendment, and Adams earned countless death threats from slavery proponents.

He stepped up before the Supreme Court to successfully defend  imprisoned Africans aboard the Amistad after the slave ship was rescued and recovered by USS Washington, when "racism, proslavery sentiment and national politics were a toxic mix."

Kaplan presents Adams as a respected statesman who was selected to present the nation's eulogy for Lafayette, help establish the Smithsonian Institution and protect the rights of American Indian tribes. His position against annexation of Texas in support of  Great Britain in the opium war in China – not to mention women's rights – are perplexing until we consider his circumstances.

Human nature dictates that people are often limited in their imagination by their place in space and time. JQA was no different, believing women were denied the right to vote, for example, because of "nature's foundation in natural law and God's will" and that "the preservation of the values of the Declaration and the Constitution did not require it."

Nevertheless, Adams argued for progress in the nullification of slavery using founding documents. Kaplan writes:
"The values that should shape the present, he argued, as he had done many times before, were those inherent in the history of the nation and in its foundational documents. His major target was the doctrine of nullification, its arbitrary and willful insult to the facts and values of American history. The history he summarized was, of course, Adams' version, with its emphasis on the rationale for the revolution in specific events and natural law. Freedom was everything. Liberty and morality were the highest values. The Declaration of Independence provided the principles, the Constitution the implementation. The brilliance of the Constitution was that it was both stable and elastic – it was both stable and elastic – it was a living document. The Bill of Rights, he observed, had corrected a flaw. More corrections were necessary. The Constitution mandated that the federal government 'promote the general welfare.' That meant new initiatives, such as public improvements, that the authors could not have anticipated but had made provision for in general terms. And its most precious gift was union. It was a sacred contract."
Sailors present a wreath at the tomb of John Quincy Adams in 2009. (Photo by Lt. Chad Murphy)
Kaplan gives us details of the challenges, triumphs and failures in Adams's long life, a life filled with illness and injury, including a hand seriously hurt by a misfiring handgun leading to infections, and problems with his eyes – extreme problems for a poet, writer and reader. In addition to Shakespeare, Adams read Plutarch, Cicero, Voltaire, Hume, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Lord Byron, Alexander Pope, John Milton, the Bible and a French translation of the Koran (Quo'ran).

A theme of JQA's life was "stoic courage and acceptance of adversity and death." He experienced the death of most of his immediate and extended family, often at an early age. One son, George Washington Adams was "erratic and unstable" and committed suicide. Another son, John Adams II, died from the effects of alcoholism at 31.

The book opens with his father's death, as Quincy Adams hurries home, hoping in vain to see his beloved father before he died.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away hours apart on July 4th, 1826.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Navy Reads 'Grunt'

Aboard USS Tennessee (SSBN  734) Photo by MC1 Rex Nelson
Review by Bill Doughty

Mary Roach's interest in writing "Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016) is not in the killing "but in the keeping alive."

Mary said "Grunt" is "probably the most interesting book I've written." (My interview with Mary was posted earlier this week.)

One of the most popular and best science writers in our time, Mary Roach is attracted to the offbeat and weird. She brought us the science of sex in "Bonk," of death in "Stiff," of the possible afterlife in "Spook," of digestion in "Gulp," of space in "Packing for Mars," and of all kinds of curious, cool stuff as editor of "Best American Science and Nature Writing (2011)."

In "Grunt" she explores foxholes and body armor, flies and medicinal maggots, heat and sweat, beaded curtains and unrefrigerated goat meat, camouflage and MRAPS, IEDs and earplugs, and diarrhea and sharks.
  • In Groton, Connecticut she takes us into a wet trainer, aka, "one of the reasons Sailors swear." Here's Mary: "A blast of pressurized air empties the submarine's ballast tanks like a Heimlich maneuver on a purpling guest."
  • At the Monell Chemical Senses Center she donates her own underarm gases to stink researchers who evaluate and provide a grade.
  • At Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti, Africa she examines the insufficient size of toilet paper provided in MREs and hears that "Navy guys pack baby wipes" while "Marines just cut off a piece of their t-shirt. Which possibly sums up the whole Marine Corps-Navy relationship."
    Getting a tour of a Stryker. (Photo courtesy of Mary Roach)
  • At Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton's paintball range she asked to be shot to see what it feels like. Forty Marines volunteered, for which Mary seemed to have mixed feelings.
But there's a serious side to Roach's investigations and reports.

At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center she makes a poignant connection with wounded warriors who share their mental toughness and grit. They joke even when severely wounded. Their first thoughts are about their fellow troops rather than about themselves.
"This is some kind of blinding selflessness, the sort of instinct that sends parents running into burning buildings. The bonding of combat, the uncalculating instinct of duty to one's charges and fellow fighters, these are things that I, as an outsider, can never really understand ... My world is full of people, and that includes me, who never have to put their lives and bodies on the line for other human beings or for things they believe in. 'Hero' has always been a movie word, a swelling orchestral soundtrack word. A Walter Reed hallway word. Now it has something under it."
Mary Roach focuses on the sacrifice and resilience of wounded troops who return from war: young people changed but committed with their families to getting back on track.

But there's always insatiable curiosity and Mary's willingness to, in the words of David Bowie, turn and face the strange.

"Grunt" brings us research about maggots in wound care and explores whether sharks are really as dangerous to live humans as their reputation is made out to be. By the way, according to the scientists, "human urine does not attract sharks." A typical Mary Roachism: How do sharks acknowledge pee in the pool when they have "no eyebrows to raise or shoulders to shrug."

Photo from Navy Medicine, DoD NavyLive Blog.
Regarding sharks, she references a former Chief of Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, reveals studies from the Office of Naval Research, and quotes from a paper by Navy Captain H. David Baldridge Jr.: "Analytic Indications of the Impracticality of Incapacitating an Attacking Shark by Exposure to Waterborne Drugs."

Sharks eschew what's alive and chew what's dead, preferring, in Mary's words, to "take no risks and go after a meal that's not going to put up a fight. Injured is good. Dead is better."
"As with fish, so with humans. Over and over, in the shark attack reports of World War II, corpses took the hit. A floating sailor could dispatch a curious shark by hitting it or churning the water with his legs. (Baldridge observed that even a kick to a shark's nose from the rear leg of a swimming rat was enough to cause a 'startled response and rapid departure from the vicinity.') 'The sharks were going after dead men,' said a survivor quoted in a popular book about the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, an event that often comes up in discussions of military shark attacks. 'Honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water,' recalls Navy Captain Lewis L. Haynes, in an oral history conducted by the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, 'I did not see a man attacked by a shark ...' They seemed to have been, he said, 'satisfied with the dead.' Haynes says fifty-six mutilated bodies were recovered, but there's nothing to suggest that any more than a few of them were bitten into while alive."
Mary asked a Naval Special Warfare Command representative about sharks attacking Navy SEALs. His reply: "The question is not, Do Navy SEALs need shark repellent? The question is, Do sharks need Navy SEAL repellent?"

Mary Roach and notebook aboard USS Tennessee (SSBN 734). Photo by MC1 Rex Nelson
Mary explores curious military science aboard a boomer, Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), where "extreme caution is ever the mindset," and where she learns more about "crush depth," "the galley," "Momsen's lungs," and "Trident II launch tubes," among other things – including the importance of sleep in a world with no circadian rhythm. Despite the "long hours and grueling tedium" the crew remains focused and friendly:
"Almost everyone I've met down here has been easygoing and upbeat, especially given how tired they must be. I am, to quote the Dole banana carton in the galley pantry, 'hanging with a cool bunch.' If everyone in the world did a stint in the Navy, we wouldn't need a Navy."
As usual, some of the biggest smiles come from reading the footnotes. For example: Did Julia Childs really cooked up a shark repellent – or just a good story?; Did Brian Williams really like a caffeinated meat stick he sampled at Army's Soldier Systems Center, Natick?; Did you know that when diarrhea researchers are named Riddle and Tribble there's a 94 percent chance of mistakenly calling them "Dribble"?

Mary says that reading science books makes you smarter and more likely to attain attractive dinner partners. But some of her chosen subject matter may make you lose your appetite. In a good way.

"Grunt" ends with a perspective on getting perspective about death in war – important thoughts after her story about "quiet, esoteric battles with less considered adversaries: exhaustion, shock, bacteria, panic, ducks."

Ultimately, Roach writes, "This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping," studying "the curious science of humans at war."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mary Roach Interview 2016 'Curious Science'

By Bill Doughty

Mary Roach's latest work, "Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War" hits bookstores today.

I interviewed Mary recently. As usual she was open, insightful and funny, never taking herself completely seriously.

Mary Roach deals with serious subjects – even war and death – in the same way many women and men in uniform do: with a fearless swagger but reflecting a sometimes sick, macabre humor. Shamelessly human and real.

In this interview: Who's a hero? Which branch of the service would Mary choose? What does she think of the World War II generation? Why read books?

What was physically toughest thing you did during research and writing of this book? What was mentally toughest?
​"I carried a 30-pound ruck inside the USUHS (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences) "cook box," as part of a heat injury study. Thirty pounds is about a third of what soldiers regularly carry in heat like that.  And I lasted seven minutes, I think.  Put me on a boat, man."Mentally toughest: trying to strike the right tone in my writing.  Needing to be the irreverent, flip goofball my readers have come to expect, but at the same time wanting to be respectful of  men and women in the armed forces and cognizant of the hard work and risks that they undertake on behalf of all Americans."  
From your "Grunt" interviews and interaction, is there someone who is impossible to get out of your mind?
​"The young combat engineer I interviewed after his surgery at Walter Reed.  He had stepped on an IED​, lost all of one leg and part of another and his pelvis was broken, and his first concern, when he comes to, was his men.  He was their commander and he kept trying to get up to see who was hit, who needed help.   As I said in the book, the word "hero" never used to mean much to me.  Sort of a movie word, a swelling-orchestral-soundtrack word.  Now there's something behind it."
Aboard USS Tennessee (SSBN  734) Photo by MC1 Rex Nelson
Now that you've experienced life with different branches of the service, if you had to sign up tomorrow, which would you choose?
​"Why, Navy, of course, Bill!  What a silly question." ​
In "Grunt," you said, "If everyone in the world did a stint in the Navy, we wouldn't need a Navy." Would you mind elaborating a bit?
"I wrote that in my notebook when I was out at sea on an SSBN, the USS Tennessee.  Those guys were working and concentrating for hours on end on very little sleep, and I didn't hear anyone complain.  I never even saw a yawn.   Everyone was upbeat, flexible, and professional, with sense of  humor intact.  For weeks after I got home, I tried to conduct myself more like them.  Then I gave up and went back to being my usual whiney, bratty self." 
What was the biggest insight about the military? Any surprises to original surmises?
"I originally thought that access would be a problem.  I expected double-talk, obfuscation, delays. Got none of that.  PAOs, Navy especially, were more helpful and more forthcoming than most civilian PAOs.  Unless something was classified, the PAO would do what he or she could to address my request.  (Though, granted, I was not writing 'Zero Dark Thirty'!)"
You conclude "Grunt" with a perspective on thinking about war. Is war ever justified?
Mary climbs out of a Stryker. (photo courtesy Mary Roach)
​"The book ends at AFMES (Armed Forces Medical Examiner System), at a Combat Mortality Conference.  In that particular setting, it was hard to have the kind of perspective one needs to see the justification for the lives lost:  so many, so young.  But unfortunately there are situations in which it is justified."
In "Grunt" you mention previous wars, especially the Second World War. This December we'll commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Any words about "the Greatest Generation" and the legacy of that war?
​"They put us Baby Boomers and Millennials to shame. We're spoiled and self-centered. We  have no idea how easy we have it."
In general, what can young people get from reading books (especially science books)?
​"A deeper knowledge and understanding of history and the world around them.  The ability to sound smarter than they actually are, and thereby attain fame, riches, and attractive dinner companions."
What are you reading now?
​"I just finished 'Dead Wake,' Erik Larson's terrific book about the last crossing of the Lusitania.  I had not read much set in WWI, so it was doubly interesting for me.  My father came over to the US on the Lusitania in 1913, a couple years before she went down, so I was curious to learn about more about it.  My dad (he was 65 when I was born) traveled in steerage class, though, and there wasn't anything about that part of the ship in Larson's book. Probably because most survivors who went on to write memoirs were first-class."

Mary Roach's "Grunt" tour began this week at Barnes & Noble, Union Square, New York. My review of "Grunt" will be posted later in the week. See some other Navy Reads posts related to Mary Roach, including her previous recommended reading list here.

Friday, June 3, 2016

World Oceans Day and Rachel Carson

Review by Bill Doughty

Prose is poetry for Rachel Carson, whose "Silent Spring," published in 1962, awakened the ecology/environment movement in the United States. In "The Sea Around Us" (1951, Oxford University Press), she explains the oceans' relationship with the earth and our ties to the sea.

Perfect for World Oceans Day, June 8.

"The Sea Around Us" is a work of art. Carson's imagery is as fresh as when it was created mid-20th century. She shows how the earth and oceans formed and how life crawled from the sea, always dependent on "mother sea," but she presciently warns of a warming planet and rising seas.

Want to understand the science of the creation, tides, seasons and inhabitants of the oceans or how we are all connected by the oceans? Read Rachel Carson. 

Eventually after millions of years of evolution, "man, too, found his way back ..."
"And yet he has returned to his mother sea only on her own terms. He cannot control or change the ocean as, in his brief tenancy of earth, he has subdued and plundered the continents. in the artificial world of his cities and towns, he often forgets the true nature of his planet and the long vistas of its history, in which the existence of the race of men has occupied a mere moment of time. The sense of all these things comes to him most clearly in the course of a long ocean voyage, when he watches day after day the receding rim of the horizon, ridged and furrowed by waves; when at night he becomes aware of the earth's rotation as the stars pass overhead; or when, alone in this world of water and sky, he feels the loneliness of his earth in space. And then, as never on land, he knows the truth that his world is a water world, a planet dominated by its covering mantle of ocean, in which the continents are but transient intrusions of land above the surface of the all-encircling sea."
Carson predicts global warming based on natural phenomenon and cycles she observed and studied in the last century. In the 1950s and 60s she wrote about erosion, pesticides and pollution, invasive species, endangered species, and ocean dumping. What would she say about our impact on the climate and our effect on the planet today?

"Unquestionably, there are other agents at work in bringing about the climatic changes in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions," she writes in the mid-1950s. "We have therefore begun to move strongly into a period of warmer, milder weather. There will be fluctuations, as earth and sun and moon move through space and the tidal power waxes and wanes. But the long trend is toward a warmer earth; the pendulum is swinging."

She acknowledges the challenges of exploring the seas for fossil fuels and other resources.
"So our search for mineral wealth often leads us back to the seas of ancient times – to the oil pressed from the bodies of fishes, seaweeds, and other forms of plant and animal life and then stored away in ancient rocks; to the rich brines hidden in subterranean pools where the fossil water of old seas still remains; to the layers of salts that are the mineral substances of those old seas laid down as a covering mantle over the continents."
According to biographer William Souder, author of "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson," among Carson's admirers was Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. (Both Nimitz and Carson were featured in the Great Americans series of stamps provided by the U.S. Postal Service in the 80s and 90s.)

Carson reminds us of the U.S. Navy's role in mapping and studying the oceans, especially by seafaring scientist Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury in the 19th century, prior to the Civil War. She writes of USS Ramapo's encounter with a 112-foot wave in 1933 while sailing from Manila, Philippines to San Diego. Carson shares discoveries in the Pacific by the U.S. Navy aboard USS Jasper, USS Henderson and USS Nereus in the Pacific during and just after World War II.

The ancients, she says, revered and respected the deep mysteries of the oceans.
"For the sea lies all about us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutation, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea – to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end."
Curiosity about navigating the oceans began thousands of years ago. "Of the methods of those secretive master mariners, the Phoenicians, we cannot even guess. We have more basis for conjecture about the Polynesians, for we can study their descendants today, and those who have done so find hits of the methods that led ancient colonizers of the Pacific on their course from island to island."

Ancient voyagers sailed by the stars, understood "the varying color of the water," read the clouds, felt the winds, interpreted the currents and followed the migration of birds to lead them to different lands.

Aboard the Hōkūle'a canoe, the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Malama Honua  voyagers are in New York this week during World Oceans Day, sharing their vision for a sustainable earth. No doubt the spirit of Rachel Carson sails aboard Hōkūle'a.

Rachel Carson with a feline friend and her 1951 book, “The Sea Around Us.” (A. Aubrey Bodine, Baltimore Sun file photo, 1954)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hubris, Hiroshima / Memorial Day, Midway

Review by Bill Doughty

During the Cold War U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon claimed that the United States had to fight Communism because of the Domino Theory, a principle that said if a country (say, Vietnam) fell to the Communists, other Asian nations would topple, including eventually even Japan and India.

President Obama's visit to Vietnam and Japan this week was a tangible display of American's rebalance to Indo-Asia-Pacific and, some would say, a repudiation of the Domino Theory as it applies to the spread of Communism.

But what if the theory is accurate for some of those nations in a different context.

In Alistair Horne's "Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century" (HarperCollins, 2015), the venerated historian challenges readers to think of the cause and effect and consequences of unbridled pride – as war begets war.

Perhaps we can see the dominoes not as countries but as battles and wars themselves, one leading to another: Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. The dominoes are toppled by a type of human behavior identified and named by Aristotle in ancient Greece: hubris.

Horne begins his flowing, connected history in Japan more than a century ago. The U.S. Navy and Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened the country to Western influence and trade in 1853. Drawn to emulate modern nations, the Emperor Meiji committed his people to curiosity, learning and growth.
"A new, compulsory education scheme would create fifty-four thousand primary schools – or one for roughly every six hundred inhabitants; this would eventually lead to the Japanese becoming the most highly literate people in Asia. Within one generation, Japan subjected itself to an astonishing industrial revolution, one designed to catch up with two centuries of Western progress. The mantra for Japanese industry and learning became henceforth, unashamedly, and in general successfully, 'copy, improve, and innovate.'"
An expansionist Japan, modeling England and other imperialist powers, set its sights on Manchuria and took on the Russian Empire, even though, "As of the turn of the century, tsarist Russia was both the largest and the most aggressively imperialist nation on the globe."

Victory by imperialist Japan, Horne argues, led to hubris and more war.

Horne takes us with Admiral Heihachiro Togo aboard the flagship of Japan's Combined Fleet, Mikasa – last of the pre-Dreadnought-era battleships (now a museum at Yokosuka's Peace Park adjacent to the U.S. naval base).

Using geography, personalities, strategies and tactics, Horne contextualizes history. Readers go with the coal-burning Russian fleet into the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Cam Rahn Bay in 1905. From Port Arthur and Tsushima readers are taken into North Korea, back into Manchuria and down to Vietnam, still at the beginning of the 20th century.

President Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt, author of "The Naval War of 1812" and father of the "Great White Fleet," played a pivotal role in bringing about, through the Portsmouth Treaty in New Hampshire, what would be temporary peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Horne's view, the First World War "began, and was caused by, various sublime practitioners of hubris in conflict with one another." He purposefully refocuses on the Pacific.

When Togo retired from official duties in 1926 he admonished his nation to remember an ancient Japanese saying, "Tighten your helmet strip in the hour of victory." His contemporary, General Maresuke Nogi, committed ritual suicide, seppuku, to atone for his shame at the death of so many Japanese troops in Manchuria. 

Togo's life and Nogi's death further glorified and galvanized a "suicidally dangerous mythology" of a "divine Japan."

Horne writes, "The myth of Japanese invincibility, which had grown up around him, would lie at the heart of the spiraling new militarism."

American codebreakers in Pearl Harbor help turn the tide at Midway.
The Battle of Nomonhan (also known as Khalkhin Gol) in 1939 became a far-reaching domino as General Georgy Zhukov, hardened on the Mongolian battlefield, returned to successfully defend Moscow from Hitler's invading force in December 1941. "As one who would mete out the punishment prescribed by hubris, Zhukov ... would then go on, through the triumph of Stalingrad, to inflict the ultimate destruction of the Führer's evil dreams in the ruins of Berlin."

Meanwhile, hubris led Imperial Japan to move toward Southeast Asia and Indochina for oil and other raw materials, leading to international condemnation, U.S.sanctions and war. Within six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. bases on Oahu, Admiral Chester Nimitz and planners in Hawaii launched an ambush against Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto and the Japanese fleet at Midway.
"In terms of the history of naval warfare, June 4, 1942, was a stunning vindication of the pioneers' belief in the carrier and its aircraft as the future queen of the oceans. Midway saw the eclipse of the mighty Dreadnought class as the capital ship of navies; both the super-battleships Musashi and Yamato would be sunk by carrier planes, having scarcely fired a shot from their gigantic guns. From Midway on, the line would run directly to Hiroshima in 1945 – and beyond that to the establishment of the United States as the world's naval superpower."
Nimitz inspects the damage after the Battle of Midway.
Nimitz is profiled as combining "the attributes of both boldness and caution" "who listened to his advisors, delegated authority and was immune to panic." Nimitz trusted his codebreakers and other intelligence personnel. And he respected the chain of command, including civilian oversight of the military. He stands in sharp contrast to "The American Caesar," Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who "preferred his own counsel" as a "vainglorious ... actor and egoist," according to Horne. 

Truman's MacArthur was Lincoln's McClelland. When the two met for the first time it was on MacArthur's terms and was "a true dialog of the deaf," one eventually leading to MacArthur's open defiance, hubris, and more toppling of prideful dominoes.
"Few acts of hubris in the twentieth century were punished more savagely or more swiftly than MacArthur's, after that remarkable triumph at Inchon went so catastrophically to his head. Thrusting on to the Yalu in pursuit of total victory was a huge risk, which proved to be a frontier too far, a risk that was unjustified, the costs to world equilibrium unwarranted. Its consequences were legion, casting long shadows beyond the actual conflict of the Korean War. Korea was the first war fought by the United States that did not end in a clear-cut American victory. As far as it had involved a United Nations commitment, this proved an experience unlikely to be repeated. When it came to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the British prime minister Harold Wilson swiftly made it clear that British troops were not going to help out this time. Rather, and similar to President Johnson in 1968, as a consequence of the unpopularity that the war, and specifically the sacking of MacArthur had brought him, Truman declined to run for the White House again. He would be succeeded by another great Second Word War warlord, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 
"Henceforth, at least until Iraq and Afghanistan came along, the United States would confine itself to waging wars with limited objectives only. As the First Gulf War of 1991 would demonstrate, its leaders would pay fastidious attention to not transgressing national borders. There would be no pursuit of the Iraqi Republican Guard over the Kuwaiti border. Probably the unyielding ferocity with which the Korean War was waged led to a hardening and a prolongation of the Cold War; to a worsening of the split with China, which would not begin to heal until the Nixon-Kissinger initiative of the early 1970s; and to a consolidation of Maoism and all its attendant evils. the spectacle of a modern Western army fleeing before Mao's cotton-clad divisions was not likely to be forgotten in East Asia, no more than had been that of the destruction of tsarist forces in 1905 Manchuria. in the eyes of much of the world, it was Korea 1951 that made a great power of Mao's China."
Horne says it remains a question as to whether a more satisfying outcome could have been achieved leading to a "peacefully reunited Korea, if MacArthur had stopped on the Thirty-Eighth Parallel."

The author takes us into Vietnam via France and writes of the "incredible heroism" of the French and Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu in the mid 1950s, noting the defeat at the siege there "cost France not only Indo-China but the rest of its empire as well." He contends, "The imbalance left behind in Vietnam was to lead directly to the American intervention."

Horne's book ends on the cusp of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but he brings up other examples of domino hubris in his epilogue, including "various Middle Eastern flareups" such as the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Can the human condition of vainglorious pride be recognized and controlled without more dominoes toppling?
"If hubris is part of the human condition – deep-seated, lingering, pervasive, and potentially lethal – what can we do to avoid it? If, as these chapters have shown, it is not just our leaders who ignore history and their own experience, we might conclude that we all have something to learn."
Battleship Mikasa Museum in the Peace Park next to Fleet Activities Yokosuka.
In Hiroshima this week Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in translated remarks, said:

"Last year, at the 70th anniversary of the end of war, I visited the United States and made a speech as Prime Minister of Japan at a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.  That war deprived many American youngsters of their dreams and futures. Reflecting upon such harsh history, I offered my eternal condolences to all the American souls that were lost during World War II. I expressed gratitude and respect for all the people in both Japan and the United States who have been committed to reconciliation for the past 70 years. Seventy years later, enemies who fought each other so fiercely have become friends, bonded in spirit, and have become allies, bound in trust and friendship, deep between us. The Japan-U.S. alliance, which came into the world this way, has to be an alliance of hope for the world..."

President Obama asks all of us to think about the deep roots of war and peace, common humanity and shared hopes for the future. The Commander In Chief 
concluded his remarks in Hiroshima this way: 

"The world was forever changed here.  But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is the future we can choose -– a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening."

Obama hugs Hiroshima survivor Shigeaki Mori this week. Mori was 8 when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, leading to the end of the Pacific War.