Sunday, April 23, 2017

Accelerating Change: How to Survive and Thrive

Review by Bill Doughty

The Navy operates in an age of acceleration in a "post-post-Cold War" era. Scientists show we're moving headlong from the Holocene into the Anthropocene, where human population growth, globalization, climate change, and loss or biodiversity are forcing change at exponential speed, and where the United States, China and Russia continue to compete for influence and resources. Meanwhile, Islamist extremists like ISIS coalesce and threaten thanks to social networking and cell phone technology.

That's some of the scene Thomas L. Friedman sets in his latest, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Friedman is author of "From Beirut to Jerusalem," "The World Is Flat," "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," and "That Used to Be Us."
Globalization affects the interconnected economies of the world. Carbon (now above 400 ppm) causes changes in the atmosphere and biosphere. And Moore's law explains how technology grows exponentially. Combined, these forces bring us to either a precipice or a new beginning – a chance for the United States and the world to "reimagine how we stabilize geopolitics," according to Friedman.
Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist/author Thomas Friedman speaks to a packed auditorium
 in Ingersoll Hall, Naval Postgraduate School, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Michael Ehrlich)
"It's important to remember that America is such an important player on the world stage that even small shifts in how we project power can have decisive impacts. And it's this combination of shrinking American power in one part of the world plus the reshaping of the world more broadly by the accelerations in the Market, Mother Nature, and Moore's law that defines the era we are in today, which I call the post-post-Cold War world. It is a world characterized by some very old and some very new forms of geopolitical competition all swirling together at the same time. That is, the traditional great-power competition, primarily among the United States, Russia, and China, is back again (if it really went away) as strong as ever, with the three major powers again jockeying over spheres of influence, along golden-oldie fault lines such as the NATO-Russia frontier or the South China Sea. This competition is propelled by history, geography, and the traditional imperatives of great-power geopolitics, and is reinforced today by the rise of nationalism in Russia and China. It's contours will be determined by the balance of power between these three big nation-states."
As evidence of exponential acceleration of change, Friedman presents the work of Will Steffen published in Anthropocene Review, March 2, 2015, that concludes, "We are now in a no-analogue world." The danger is in how we've (1) breached, (2) almost breached or (3) are about to breach "nine key planetary boundaries": climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, geochemical flows, ocean acidification, freshwater use, atmospheric aerosol loading, introduction of novel entities, and stratospheric ozone layer.

The latter boundary – ensuring the ozone layer is appropriately thick enough to reduce the threat of harmful UV radiation – is a success story and a sign of hope, according to Friedman. "After scientists discovered an ever-widening ozone hole caused by man-made chemicals – chlorofluorocarbons – the world got together and implemented the Montreal Protocol in 1989, banning CFCs, and, as a result, the ozone layer remains safely inside its planetary boundary of losses not greater than 5 percent from preindustrial levels."

Both Mother Nature and humankind can innovate and be highly adaptive, Friedman contends. Nature evolves through natural selection. Humans have the capability to learn, control and adapt their behavior if they have the knowledge, wisdom and will.

In growing acceleration within societies, we see examples of rapid changes. Typewriters are antiques (to be collected by Tom Hanks). Cassette players are now used as a quaint plot devices in movies like "Guardians of the Galaxy." The Confederate Flag came down in South Carolina after the shooting in Charleston in 2015. In recent years the U.S. military changed its attitude about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people and their rights to equality. The future will reward resiliency and entrepreneurial adaptability.

Those who will survive and thrive during and after the great acceleration are those who embrace innovation, science and education, based on a bedrock of truth and trust, says Friedman. The future belongs to lifelong learners willing to constantly better themselves and unwilling to accept the average or mediocre.
"We have to make our newfound power of one, the power of machines, the power of many, and the power of flows our friends – and our tools to create abundance within the planetary boundaries – not just our enemies. But organizing ourselves to use them that way will require a level of will, of stewardship, and of collective action the likes of which we have never seen humanity display as a whole. Every day there are new breakthroughs in solar energy, wind power, batteries, and energy efficiency that hold out the hope that we can have clean energy at a scale and price that billions can afford – provided we have the will to put a price on carbon so these technologies can rapidly scale and move down the cost-volume curve. As environmentalists have often noted, we have been great at rising to the occasion after big geopolitical upheavals – after Hitler invaded his neighbors, after Pearl Harbor, after 9/11. But this is the first time in human history that we have to act on a threat we have collectively made to ourselves, to act on it at scale, to act before the full consequences are felt, and to act on behalf of a generation that has not yet been born – and to do it before all the planetary boundaries have been breached."
While Friedman is optimistic, he's also realistic. Rapid acceleration and globalization is a double-edged sword.
"Globalization has always been everything and its opposite – it can be incredibly democratizing and it can concentrate incredible power in giant multinationals; it can be incredibly particularizing – the smallest voices can now be heard everywhere – and incredibly homogenizing, with big brands now able to swamp everything anywhere. It can be incredibly empowering, as small companies and individuals can start global companies overnight, with global customers, suppliers, and collaborators, and it can be incredibly disempowering – big forces can come out of nowhere and crush your business when you never even thought they were in your business. Which way it tips depends on the values and tolls that we bring to these flows."
Recent headlines and scandals about online misbehavior show the challenge to leaders in the accelerating world Friedman describes.
"It turns out that social networks, cheap cell phones, and messaging apps are really good at both enabling and impeding collective action. They enable people to get connected horizontally much more easily and efficiently but they also enable individuals at the bottom to pull down those at the top more easily and efficiently – whether they are allies or enemies. Military strategists will tell you that the network is the most empowered organizational form in this period of technological change; classical hierarchies do not optimize in the flat world, but the network does. Networks undermine command-and-control systems – no matter who is on top – while strengthening the voices of whoever is on the bottom to talk back. Social media is good for collective sharing, but not always so great for collective building; good for collective destruction, but maybe not so good for collective construction; fantastic for generating a flash mob, but not so good at generating a flash consensus on a party platform or a constitution."
A U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler refuels in Operation Inherent Resolve mission March 20, 2017,
an extended fight against ISIS. (Photo by Senior Airman Joshua A. Hoskins)
Speaking of double-edged swords and "collective destruction"... Misplaced values in the name of what some call a deranged interpretation of Islam and the Koran is at the heart of radical extremists like Daesh/ISIS/ISIL and similar groups that form a "diffuse movement," one that can best be defeated by other Muslims standing up to the death cults, Friedman shows. Till then, the rise of the terrorists has created a "new balance of power."
"During the Cold War, if you wanted to assess the global balance of power you would likely look at the annual survey "The Military Balance," published by the London-based International institute for Strategic Studies, and self-described as the most 'trusted military data on 171 countries: size of armed forces, defense budgets, equipment.' That book would tell you the relative strengths of their armies, navies, and air forces (their hard power), and their 'soft power': the relative strengths of their economies, their societal appeal, and the degree of entrepreneurship in their culture. And if you added up all those numbers, you would have a rough measure of the balance of power between different nation-states. Not anymore. Assessing today's balance of power requires a much wider lens."
Trees grow tall in suburbs in Minnesota, anchoring Friedman's optimism.
Getting to that wider lens requires us to not act like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled and lulled into unconsciousness (put a frog in boiling water and it jumps out; put it in cool water and gradually raise the temperature, and the frog might not act till it's too late). "We are hardwired to consider nature limitless because for so many years nature seemed so limitless – and we were so relatively few and so relatively light a force upon it; how could it be that we cannot devour as much as we want." 

Friedman tells a great story about his encounter with a parking lot attendant (and blogger) at the beginning of "Thank You for Being Late." Throughout the  book he enlightens us with topics as diverse as in Syria, artificial intelligence, Madagascar, Hadoop, generative design, and Brandi Carlile, among dozens of others.

He concludes this book with a personal and heartfelt story about his "anchoring" roots, symbolized in the trees he remembers in his hometown of St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
"Those trees and I had both grown up and out from the same topsoil, and the most important personal, political, and philosophical lesson I took from the journey that is this book is that the more the world demands that we branch out, the more we each need to be anchored in a topsoil of trust that is the foundation of all healthy communities. We must be enriched by that topsoil, and we must enrich it in turn."
During a recent visit to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, geobiologist and author Hope Jaren ("Lab Girl") invited us to think about how plants – seeds, roots, trees, etc. – are depicted and reflected in books. Of course that came to mind in reading the last few pages of Friedman's latest must-read. Highly recommended.

For more on how the Navy must operate in a rapidly accelerating world, branch out and read the CNO's "Design for Maritime Superiority."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reading Deeper with CNO

By Bill Doughty

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson's reading list is online, and it offers an opportunity to dive deep into a sea of history, heritage, strategic thinking and practical advice for sailors and civilians interested in seapower and national defense.

Published several weeks ago and maintained by the Naval War College, the list includes about 150 titles for the revived Navy Professional Reading Program and includes a core "Canon" of books that provide thought-provoking insights for leaders and communicators.

Titles in The Canon include: Handel's "Masters of War," Hart's "Strategy," Madison's "The Constitution," Jefferson's "The Declaration of Independence," Sun Tzu's "Art of War," and Richardson's "Navy Leader Development Framework," among others. "Framework" includes a great quote from President John F. Kennedy: "Learning and leadership are indispensable to each other." Read to lead.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

Last year in Proceedings magazine, Richardson promised this updated reading list. And he has delivered on that promise.

"Reading can teach us the fundamentals of our business. Thucydides, Clausewitz, Mahan, Corbett . . . these masters wrote works of the highest quality that have stood the test of time. As the challenges the naval service faces have multiplied, knowledge required to meet those challenges has also grown. This means that I cannot possibly dictate a comprehensive list of 'the' books to read. Still, I will soon share with you what I consider to be a canon of classic works. I am also thinking of ways I can highlight other books that I have found interesting because they helped me to think through a problem or see things differently. I will make it easy to obtain these books through an e-book program that can be easily accessed through your personal electronic devices. Finally, I will open up a way for all of us to talk about what we are reading."

The CNO outlined his plans in that article, written with Lt. Ashley O'Keefe, which resonates in his Design for Maritime Superiority. Richardson notes that warfare requires sharp thinking and the ability to adapt.
FN Matt Baumgardt reads aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69)
last April.  (Photo by MC3 Taylor Jackson)
"Usually, the team that can think better and adapt faster will win. Today, as we prepare for operations and war with an increasingly complex set of potential adversaries, we must do more to sharpen our thinking, learn the lessons from history, and expand our minds. The margins of victory will be razor-thin—we cannot be complacent. What we do in peace will be decisive in war."
"I want to revitalize the intellectual debate in our Navy. We all—officers, enlisted, and civilians—need to develop sound and long-term habits for reading and writing during the entire course of our careers. We must challenge our own assumptions, be informed by the facts, and be aware of the current context. We must commit to self-improvement, through formal schools and courses, and especially through self-education. I strongly encourage you to read, think, and write about our naval profession. Our Navy benefits from a vigorous intellectual debate."

Lt. j.g. Shelby Naughton of USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), reads a book to a Timorese child 
during Pacific Partnership 2016. (Photo by MC3 Trevor Kohlrus)
The 150 titles in the new Navy Professional Reading Program are categorized in The Canon, Core Attributes, Naval Power, Fast Learning, Navy Team and Partnerships and include authors such as Kaplan, Stavridis, Winchester, Toll, Daughn, Hornfischer, Morison, Carlson, Singer, Leavitt and Gladwell. One criticism of the choices offered so far: a dearth of women authors. 

But the commitment to provide e-book availability is noteworthy. And for the first time we see movies, series and documentaries recommended, including "Saving Private Ryan," "Band of Brothers," "Zulu," "Black Hawk Down," "John Adams," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Eye in the Sky," which stars Helen Mirren: "Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare."
CNO Richardson values reading professional journals as well as books. And he encourages online discourse.
CNO Adm. Richardson speaks with Sailors in Pearl Harbor in 2015.
(Photo by MC2 Jeff Troutman)
"...more recently, online blogs, have hosted professional conversations. Thoughtful, well-researched articles can offer useful insights and, when needed, can help us change our minds," he writes – as he encourages his sailors to write.

"As reading leads to broader thinking, writing leads to clearer thinking. If you have not written much, I urge you to get started. A sharp pen reflects a sharp mind. But writing is not for the weak. The writer must form and then expose his or her ideas to public scrutiny. That takes confidence. But an argument properly conceived and defended can be of great value to our profession."

"It is not my purpose to offer writing lessons," Richardson says, "but in my experience, simple is better. Avoid acronyms or code. Be clear and concise. Keep in mind Mark Twain’s warning, 'The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.'”

He also recommends Zinsser's "On Writing Well," a Navy Reads favorite and a book recommended by former Chief of Navy Information Rear Adm. (ret.) John Kirby.

So, dive deep into reading and writing.

And in our humble opinion, books offer the deepest dives into insight and wisdom.
"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." – Confucius
Bill Dawson, the last surviving member of the first Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) shows CNO Adm. John Richardson a copy of "Before they were SEALs they were Frogs" during Navy appreciation night at Nationals Park last May. Photo by MC1 Nathan Laird.

Friday, March 10, 2017

One Hope for Science

Review by Bill Doughty

Dr. Hope Jahren asks us to plant a tree while she plants a forest of ideas in this remarkable book. Part autobiography in the very cool shade of science essays, "Lab Girl" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 by A. Hope Jahren), is a perfect book for Women's History Month.

Michiko Kakutani compares Jahren's style of poetry and scientific imagination to Oliver Sacks and Stephen Jay Gould. I smiled – and laughed – at passages that sounded like Mary Roach. And I read and reread beautiful passages that brought E.O. Wilson and Rachel Carson to mind.

But, to be clear, Hope Jahren is a unique voice, humble but fearless in what she reveals. This book that is ultimately an extended love letter to the world, to life, to "the transcendent value of loyalty," and to her imagined granddaughter.

I enjoy reading short chapters of "Lab Girl" to my young grandkids. Here's an excerpt from her chapter on seeds (and more):
"A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance to take its one and only chance to grow ... Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited."
Anomalocaris pictured in a Cambrian sea.
Here's a passage the kids and I enjoyed that sets the stage for life on earth – before plants. This one sent us to Google for a look-see at Anomalocaris and a sidebar to YouTube to see how the history of the earth can be understood using a football field, thanks to NPR's Skunk Bear. Just sharing.
"For several billion years, the whole of the Earth's land surface was completely barren. Even after life had richly populated the oceans, there is no clear evidence for any life on land. While herds of trilobites wallowed on the ocean floor, preyed upon by Anomalocaris – a segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever – there was nothing on land. Sponges, mollusks, snails, corals, and exotic crinoids maneuvered through nearshore and deepwater environments – still nothing. The first jawed and jawless fishes appeared and radiated into the bony forms we know today – still nothing ... Sixty million more years passed before there was life on land that constituted any more than a few single cells stuck together within the cracks of a rock. Once the first plant did somehow make its way onto land, however, it took only a few million years for all of the continents to turn green, first with wetlands and then with forests."
Gorilla at Monkey Jungle
Dr. Jahren is heart-achingly honest and belly-achingly funny in describing roadtrips, the Monkey Jungle, dancing at a glacier, finding something special in hackberry seeds, finding love, being pregnant, and confronting mortality.

Along most of the way she introduces us to  her fraternal soulmate, fellow scientist and lab partner, Bill. We get a bit of history about Armenia and Norway, as relates to Bill's and Hope's families respectively.
Another theme of this book is self-awareness and self-acceptance, as expressed in this found haiku about her life's confusing and sometimes unstable path toward enlightenment:

being what you are
while knowing that it's more than
people want to see
In advice for any parent, leader, scientist or sailor, Jahren writes, "People are like plants. They grow toward the light."
Her writing is often pure poetry in prose:
"In Minnesota, the spring thaw happens all at once when the frozen ground yields to the sun in one day, wetting the spongy soil from within. On the first day of spring, you can can reach into the ground and easily pull up great, loose clumps of dirt as if they were handfuls of too-fresh devil's food cake and watch the fat pink earthworms come writhing out and fling themselves joyfully back into the hole. There is not even a hint of clay within the soils of southern Minnesota; they have lain like a rich black blanket over the limestone of the region for a hundred thousand years ... but the growing season is short, so there's no time to be wasted."
In "Lab Girl" we travel with indefatigable Jahren to her birthplace in Minnesota to places like California, Alaska, the American South, Maryland, Norway and Ireland, then finally to her new home and lab – often the same thing – at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, where she was a tenured professor when "Lab Girl" ends.

Among her studies and achievements: In 2009 she and her team were in the third year of conducting forensic analysis of chemical aftermath of a terrorist attack. "Our idea was to compare, and perhaps link, the chemical fingerprint of post-blast residue with that of the chemical traces gathered from surfaces where the explosives might have been constructed – a kitchen countertop, for example." She achieved success with "a definite dataset, made with integrity and interpreted honestly."
What makes this book so perfect for Women's History Month is the inspiring story behind Jahren's success as a woman in the traditionally man's world of science. She overcame significant roadblocks and obstacles – with toughness, grit and her namesake optimism.

Jahren writes about being stereotyped and second-guessed – knee-deep in chauvinism in a male-dominated world.
"Public and private organizations all over the world have studied the mechanics of sexism within science and have concluded that they are complex and multifactorial. In my own small experience, sexism has been something very simple: the cumulative weight of constantly being told that you can't possibly be what you are."
Global climate change and the urbanization of the planet is a big concern for Jahren. "Viewed from space, our planet appears less green with each passing year," she warns. And, "Humans are actively creating a world where only weeds can live and then feigning shock and outrage upon finding so many."

Baobob tree at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
In a recent study, Jahren and her team are showing that sweet potatoes can grow larger as carbon dioxide increases as predicted for the next several hundred years. 
"This is not a surprise. We also saw that these big potatoes were less nutritious, much lower in protein content, no matter how much fertilizer we gave them. This was a bit of a surprise. It is also bad news, because the poorest and hungriest nations of the world rely on sweet potatoes for a significant amount of dietary protein. It looks as if the bigger potatoes of the future might feed more people while nourishing them less. I don't have an answer for that one."
Hope Jahren takes a clear-eyed look at the real longterm threats to our world and breathes beauty into the nature of reality (and reality of nature) with practical advice: "plant a tree."

This is another book I heard about on the great podcast, Tom Ashbrook's "On Point."

Monday, February 20, 2017

C2 It: Mattis's Recommendation – Grant

Review by Bill Doughty

Mattis addresses the Naval War College
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps General, is known as a reader, leader and critical thinker – the so-called warrior monk.

Among the dozens of books he recommends as an avid reader, as reported in the Washington Post, is "Grant Takes Command: 1863-1865" (Little Brown and Company, 1968, 1969, and Castle Books, 2000).

Mattis says the book shows the importance of commanders' relationships, even more important than command relationships.

General Ulysses S. Grant, who would go on to become the 18th president, achieved command and control in a fractious environment in what, to date, has been the most fractious time in our nation's history: the Civil War fought to maintain the Union and end slavery in the United States.

General Ulysses S. Grant
On one hand, Grant was challenged with difficult generals such as Banks, Butler, Rosecrans and Thomas. Some of his subordinates were outrageously insubordinate or incompetent. Some went behind his back to members of Congress to complain or spread rumors about their adjutant general.

At the War Department, precursor of the Department of Defense, Grant found "... a crippling knot of jealousy, suspicion and self-seeking ... and furious back biting."

On the other hand, Grand had strong bonds with capable Generals like Sherman, Sheridan and Schofield (among many others) and with Navy Admiral David Dixon Porter, "whom Grant held in high regard." Most of all he had a good relationship with President Lincoln.

Lincoln depicted listening to Generals Sherman and Grant and Adm. Porter.
Catton, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, shows that "Grant placed a high value on harmony ... and Lincoln placed a high value on Grant."

U.S. Grant, no grandstander or faker, was focused on substance over celebrity or appearance. He personified toughness. In the field, "The man seemed wholly unmilitary, not to say slouchy, and he went stumping about headquarters in an unbuttoned coat an a battered hat, head down, hands in pockets ... worn down by hard service," Catton writes. "Grant was not interested in parades."

Yet, his mind was sharp and focused, as evidenced by his writing and decisions in support of President Lincoln, including his commitment to bring harmony not only in the field but also to the nation. And "Grant was inclined to be optimistic" as he fought for a lasting peace.

Federal volunteers from Ohio form an honor guard.
Grant wrote, "The North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without slavery." He came to support African American Soldiers and integration of his Army, and he demanded equal treatment for prisoners of war, black or white.

Interestingly, "Grant had never been an antislavery man," Catton writes, "but he had said long ago the war for reunion must destroy slavery." The two simple but sublime points demanded by Grant and Lincoln to the South: "that the Union should be preserved" and "that slavery should be abolished."

Grant at City Point, Virginia in 1864.
To his boyhood friend and naval officer Dan Ammen, Grant wrote that any peace with the South must be unconditional: "A 'peace at any price' would be fearful to contemplate. It would be the beginning of the war. The demands of the South would know no limits. They would demand indemnity for expenses incurred in carrying on the war. They would demand the turn of all their slaves set free in consequence of war. They would demand a treaty looking to the rendition of all fugitive slaves escaping into the Northern states, and they would keep on demanding until it would be better dead than to submit longer."

Catton shows how Grant and his generals fought at places like Chattanooga, Spottsylvania/Cold Harbor and Fort Fisher, where the Navy and Army coordinated in amphibious warfare. His writing occasionally becomes almost McCullough-esque when describing Civil War battlefields. For example, at Cold Harbor, which, in the summer of 1864, was neither cold nor a harbor for warfighters:
"The Cold Harbor plain looked empty, and the fact that everybody knew that it ws not empty made it sinister, like the blank face of a dreadful haunted house. The ground was broken here and there by swamps and little ravines, in front of the Federal lines it rose after a few hundred yards to a low chain of flat hills, and all along this higher ground there was a scar on the earth – a trench of freshly turned dirt, zig-zagging in and out, disappearing in thin mist to right and left. It was marked by regimental flags, limp in the windless wet morning, and there did not seem to be anybody in it. Nobody was in the least deceived; and yet, except for the Rebel skirmishers, who were posted far out in front, the advancing Federals could see hardly any of their enemies. They could not see many friends, either, because there were gaps between the army corps, so that each division would have to fight its own battle. No Federal soldier could see more than a fragment of the field."
Battle of Spottsylvania
We see and feel the tension of media coverage during war in how General Meade punished a reporter (with the unfortunate name Crapsey) who misreported with what today are called "fake facts" about leadership in the Cold Harbor battle. Meade had him tied up, set backward on a mule and paraded around the camp wearing a big placard proclaiming him a libeler. In another case, Grant himself had to intercede when General Burnside wanted to shoot another reporter, named Swinton. Grant saved him, and Swinton got a one-way ticket back to Washington. "But (thereafter) neither Meade nor Burnside ever got any favors from the press."

Catton reveals how Grant and Lincoln kept an unswerving focus not on petty concerns but on the bigger picture: unconditional peace and a united nation with no slavery.

When the Confederacy's Gen. Robert E. Lee reached out to discuss ending the fighting, but with conditions, Grant and Lincoln remained resolute and tough. And when peace did come, Grant ensured there was no "poison" of reprisal against Lee and the South.

General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman would take a similar approach with Imperial Japan 80 years, retaining the emperor as figurehead while helping Japan establish a constitutional democracy that embraced human rights and shifting power to the people.

General Mattis visited both Korea and Japan earlier this month to reaffirm U.S. support to both countries.

This book ends with the end of the Civil War and tragic assassination of President Lincoln, setting the stage for General Grant as a "stranger in a strange land," poised to find the next stage in duty to country.

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that historian Ron Chernow is writing a "painstakingly researched" biography on Grant, due for publication in October 2017. Chernow is the author of "Hamilton," the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda's historical and now historic broadway smash of the same name. Chernow's "Grant" is expected to reevaluate the life of the general and president who has been largely misunderstood and under-appreciated.

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia
Other recommended books by Mattis include T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," Stephen Pressfield's "Gates of Fire: Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae," John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano," Bing West's "The Village," Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God," Reza Aslan's "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," Bernard Lewis's "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror," and Tom Clancy's "Battle Ready."

Mattis's reading lists include several titles by authors familiar to readers of the Navy Reads blog: Robert Kaplan, Thomas Friedman, Bernard Lewis and Peter Bergen.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

'Nuclear Showdown' w/ North Korea?

Review by Bill Doughty

Are we headed to a nuclear showdown with North Korea? Should we negotiate with Kim Jong Un, grandson of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung, son of Kim Jong Il? What's the solution to prevent nuclear conflict?

Perhaps the first step is to try to understand the who, what, when, where and why of the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Gordon G. Chang's "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World" (Random House, 2006) was published when Kim Jong Il was still alive and president of the isolated and insulated country.

Chang's book opens with a quote from former Vice President Dan Quayle: "People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have tremendous impact on history."

Although written more than 10 years ago, this book is still remarkably timely, and the years have helped temper Chang's perspective and conclusions. The history of the Korean Peninsula and the creation of the DPRK is particularly enlightening, as are his descriptions of the main characters in the real-life North Korean drama, beginning with the founder. Kim Il Sung developed a concept of socialism – more religion than philosophy, called Juche, ironically calling for self-reliance. He adopted aspects of Confucianism and Christianity and modeled a culture similar to pre-WWII Imperial Japan, according to Chang: "No stranger to the tale of Christ, he simply defied himself" and "appropriated elements of emperor worship from the Japanese."
"Kim Il Sung didn't know much about Marx or Hegel, but he understood the psychology of the Korean people, who were more in tune to medieval times than modern ones. For an ignorant, traditional, and abused citizenry, he harnessed the powerful force of nationalism, retained elements of feudal and Confucian society, and employed Leninist and Stalinist techniques of social mobilization and control. Like Hitler, he knew how to manipulate imagery and stir emotions. The society he created, while unfamiliar to the rest of us, made perfect sense to Koreans of that time because it fit in with their conception of the world. The charismatic Kim Il Sung exploited his people so well they did not feel oppressed."
Cult of Kim: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un
"Kim, with an obsessive thoroughness, built the most repressive totalitarian system in world history," Chang writes.

The DPRK was created in the aftermath of World War II and expanded in the following decade out of what we Americans call the Korean War, "a stalemate from the weaker perspective but a victory in the eyes of North Koreans."
"Americans, of course, do not subscribe to the DPRK's version of history, yet Kim's fabrication, like all good ones, was formed around a tidbit of truth. The Korean was correct in believing he had dealt a setback to the United States in the war. He had, after all, managed to do something that even Uncle Joe Stalin had not accomplished: at the height of the power of the United States he had dented, if not destroyed, the aura of American military superiority. After a magnificent show of determination in Europe during  the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949. American resolve failed in the mountains of Korea in 1950 to 1953."
North Korea calls that war the Great Fatherland Liberation War, started by the North to reunify the peninsula by force. In the next decade, America plunged headlong into another stalemate war: Vietnam. Chang reminds us of two "barbaric" acts of war committed by North Korea during the conflict in Vietnam, one under President Johnson's watch and the other under President Nixon's. Neither president retaliated.
"In January 1968 North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a reconnaissance vessel, in international waters in the Sea of Japan. It was the first time that a U.S. Navy ship had been taken on the high seas in peacetime in over 150 years. One crew member was killed and several wounded during the seizure. And during the next eleven months, the North Koreans beat Pueblo crew members with lumber, burned them against radiators, and kicked out their teeth. Some sailors were crippled and others almost blinded. The Johnson administration issued an apology to obtain their release. In April 1969 the North Koreans shot down an unarmed Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan. All thirty-one crew members were killed, resulting in the largest loss off U.S. servicemen in a single incident during the Cold War."
Chang concludes, "Through mismanagement and inattention from the Korean War to today, Americans have allowed (the Kimist Regime) to become a grave threat." And North Korea's leaders embrace the idea of perpetual adversaries.

"Totalitarians need enemies in order to stay in power," Chang writes. "The paradox of power is that the most powerful are the most insecure." Nationalism does not equate to patriotism.

In "Nuclear Showdown" we read the history of Rodong and Taepodong missile development and testing, including the time when debris from a test landed in Alaska. Chang warns of North Korea's "power to put plutonium in the paradise of Hawaii."

We get an insight into the nuances of power based on the Kim family's relationship with the military elite and the "three economies" in North Korea: Palace, military and civilian. Guess which two get the most resources.

Chang also gives us a peek into the sad history of abduction of Japanese citizens such as 13-year-old Megumi Yokota by North Korean agents in the 70s and 80s and how DPRK has attempted to blackmail the former Soviet Union, China, Japan and the United States.

Frank Zappa
We get a Kaplan-like perspective on the relevance of geography in the relationship between North Korea and China, with their common border that "both separates and unites." Chang touches on relationships with Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. He includes eclectic quotes from Henry Kissinger, Woody Allen, Francis Fukuyama, Barbara Tuchman, Shintaro Ishihara, Machiavelli, Fareed Zakariah and Frank Zappa.

Zappa gets a chapter quote at the beginning of Chapter 3, "The Pygmalion of Pyongyang": "Without deviation progress is not possible." 

Another Zappa quote, about the possibility of all-out nuclear war, is actually a found haiku:

There will never be
a nuclear war; there's too much
real estate involved

Gordon G. Chang
Chang's conclusion at the end of "Nuclear Showdown" seems muddy, especially with the longview of a decade since its publication. Earlier in the book he says the people of North Korea are itching to embrace entrepreneurial grassroots capitalism, which may eventually lead to rejection of totalitarianism. But, then he calls repeatedly and in the end for American action against the North Korean regime. "There will soon come a point when time is of the essence."
"So there must be a solution. It need not be American, unilateral, or military, but it needs to be near at hand. We can avoid the horror of armed struggle, but only if the world shows determination. And we have to confront reality. The old diplomatic stratagems no longer work. We cannot endlessly repeat them and expect a different result. Now, more than at any other time in history, we have to steel ourselves for war if we don't take great risks for peace."
No walls: President Reagan makes his mark at the Berlin Wall in 1990.
Chang refers to a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. "Reagan's simple answer was that free people always have to tell the truth."

He recalls the famous proclamation to tear down the Berlin Wall – "tear it all down." 

Reagan called for the wall to be brought down 24 years after President John F. Kennedy, former naval officer and World War II veteran, visited Berlin and called for freedom for all Germans and all people.

Chang ends his book with this Reagan quote: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

Some more recent books on North Korea are worth a read, and I'm working through some of these in more depth:

"The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom" by Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), which also mentions the USS Pueblo incident as it describes the history of the "country of the three Kims." The authors say the United States should try to connect with the people of North Korea, working around the Kim regime as much as possible. According to the authors, there is "faint light at the end of the tunnel" as they present evidence that what people actually believe may not match the behavior they are forced to show in front of others, especially the authoritarian state. They show how the leader's credibility suffers over the years as promises are unfulfilled.

"My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth" by Wendy E. Simmons (RosettaBooks, 2015) is an off-beat collection of photos, insights and quotes from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Simmons's immunity from propaganda and manipulation, coupled with her self-aware commitment to children and exploration, makes this a fun book to flip through. Simmons managed to tour the country, go to schools, visit the DMZ and crash a wedding. (She said she got "stink eye" from the bride; see the cover of her book.) "All I know is what I saw, and in North Korea, seeing is not believing." Simmons sees hope in the eyes of children despite the lies, hate and fear they are taught, particularly what the people are told about Americans.

"All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea" by Magnus Bartas & Fredrik Ekman (House of Anansi Press, 2011; translation from Swedish by Saskia Vogel, 2015) focuses on the abduction of Hong Kong filmmakers Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok by North Korea's Kim Jong Il, which they call one of many incidents from a list of crimes against humanity. Focusing on moviemaking, the authors show the integration of Korean and Japanese films, themes and concepts, with a fascinating exploration of Japan's Toho Studios and Eiji Tsuburaya, creator of Godzilla, Mothra, Booska and Ultraman. This book concludes with a mention of the United Nations 372-page report from the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK on depraved conditions in the North "carried out during the Kim clan's rule."

"The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project" by Robert S. Boynton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016) is a fascinating book that delves deeper into the evil abduction of Megumi Yokota (and several other Japanese young people, including some from Europe). The authors touch on the bizarre tale of former Army Sgt. (busted down to Private) Charles Robert Jenkins, who while stationed in South Korea defected to the North during the Vietnam War and was paired with one of the Japanese abductees, Hitomi Soga. They had two daughters. Boynton is a good writer who studies politics, race and ethnicity, and makes this insight about how the concept of "race" has been used to alternately unite and divide Japan, Korea and China. "Though 'race' is a biological fiction, it's power comes from the stories it enables us to tell about the differences between those over whom we feel superior and those to whom we feel inferior."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Believe the Scorpion: 'Winter is Coming'

Review by Bill Doughty

What's the best thing we can do to defeat threats to our nation and world?

Brainy world chess champion Garry Kasparov offers advice, history, analysis and a prescription in his thoughtful "Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped" (PublicAffairs, Perseus Books Group, 2015).

Kasparov challenges us to keep human rights in the forefront – to not look away in the name of political expediency – when dealing with President Putin and his cronies. And deal we must, he says, or risk the appearance (or reality) of appeasement.
"Instead of standing on principles of good and evil, of right and wrong, and on the universal values of human rights and human life, we have engagement, resets, and moral equivalence. That is, appeasement by many other names. The world needs a new alliance based on a global Magna Carta, a declaration of fundamental rights that all members must recognize. Nations that value individual liberty now control the greater part of the world's resources as well as its military power. If they band together and refuse to coddle the rogue regimes and sponsors of terror, their integrity and their influence will be irresistible. The goal should not be to build new walls to isolate the millions of people living under authoritarian rule, but to provide them with hope and the prospect of a brighter future."
Havel (L) and Kasparov (R) meet at Democracy & Security conference, 2007.
Former Czech President Václav Havel is quoted, describing "politicians who kiss and embrace politicians, almost dizzy with the smell of oil and gas." According to Kasparov, Putin's wealth and power are provided by Western companies, especially "energy giants," investing in Russia "as Russian oligarchs spread their wealth."

This book comes with an endorsement from former Navy pilot and Vietnam War POW Senator John McCain (pictured below): "As one of the most influential critics of Vladimir Putin's reign of terror, Garry Kasparov has become a champion for the causes of freedom, democracy, and human rights in Russia."

Written after the invasion of Ukraine but before Russia's foray into Syria, this still-timely book shows how Putin – Time's Person of the Year in 2007 – came to power after Gorbachev and Yeltsin in the pivotal first year of the Millennium. 

Among the events in a tumultuous 2000, a faulty torpedo exploded aboard the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in the frigid Barents Sea, resulting in the death of 118 Russian sailors. That same year Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda targeted USS Cole (DDG 67), killing 17 American sailors.

Terrorism and military tension were once again on the rise in the 21st century, a combustible mix ready to explode in the fall of 2001.

President Putin.
Grandmaster Kasparov explains how history's chess pieces have moved – from Cuba's Bay of Pigs to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, from Chechnya to Ukraine – and dozens of other hotspots on the planet, as ideals of freedom and democracy clashed with fascism and totalitarianism, as elections took place or power was seized and consolidated.

North Korea is mentioned several times. In 2001, "the Russian president had already established personal relations with Kim Jong-il and was ready to play a broker role on the Korean Peninsula."

Former North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il and Putin in 2002.
Kasparov describes the nature of a fascist kleptocracy such as Stalin's and Hitler's. "Dictatorships must be feared to survive and so they cannot bear to be mocked." Fear and disinformation are fomented, and freedom of speech is intolerable. 

Are dictators born or raised that way? "As with most nature-nurture questions, it's both in varying degrees of balance."

This book is filled with word gems, like:

  • "If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, compromises on principles are the streetlights."
  • "When Putin loaned the presidency to his shadow, Dmitry Medvedev it should have been clear to all that democracy was dead."
  • "Even after Western firms were repeatedly betrayed, cheated, and threatened by their Russian partners and kicked out of partnerships or the country, they came back looking for more like beaten dogs to an abusive master."
  • "The mullahs, monarchs, and dictators are pushing back against the threat to their medieval ecosystems."
  • "True nature can override logic and self-preservation."

The last bullet above refers to fabulist Orson Welles's story of the scorpion and the frog: 

"The frog carries the scorpion across the river on its back, convinced by the scorpion's logic that it will not sting him because if it does , they will both die. In the middle of the river the scorpion stings the frog, who says, dying, 'Logic? There is no logic in this!' The scorpion replies, 'I know, I can't help it. It is my character.'"

Fortunately, "Few humans are truly scorpions – complete psychopaths."

Kasparov warns, "Don't trust a scorpion because logic and being in the right doesn't help you very much when you're dead."

Dissidents are true patriots, dedicated to higher ideals as espoused in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, according to Kasparov.

"If we rouse ourselves from our complacency and relearn how to stand up to the dictators and terrorists who threaten the modern world we have built, we can alter our course," he writes.

In other words: Read books.

Using Malala Yousafzai as an example of how education threatens fascists but empowers citizens, Kasparov, the chess champion prescribes a solution: "What these thugs cannot abide is the flowering of education, with the noteworthy exception of militant religious-teaching that often closes minds instead of opening them. They despise the possibility of an educated population, knowing it would mean the end of their kind for a generation."
"If there is anything I have learned from my extensive travels all over the world to promote chess in education it is that talent exists everywhere. The question is how to give it the opportunity to express itself and to thrive. This opportunity that education creates is what is lacking in so much of the undeveloped world and in parts of the developed world as well if we are honest – a shortfall that has wide-ranging and damaging effects. Education is the most effective way to address poverty and violence, even to tackle complex issues of terrorist groups and vicious warlords."
"Winter Is Coming" is, of course, a title taken from George R. R. Martin's "Game of Thrones," but Kasparov recommends another author "to understand the Putin regime in depth": Mario Puzo, author of "The Godfather" (a book novel published in 1969 that I read in high school English class, hiding a paperback version behind the assigned Carson McCullers book; sorry, Ms. Baker).

Kasparov advises: "The rise of Vladimir Putin and his St. Petersburg clan has been described as Machiavellian, but it is better described by the achievements of Don Vito Corleone: the web of betrayals, the secrecy, and the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal – it's all there in Puzo's books."

Other authors and works recommended or inspired after reading "Winter Is Coming" include David Halberstam's "War in a Time of Peace," George Orwell's "1984," Hanna Arendt's "Origins of Totalitarianism," and Masha Gessen's "The Man Without a Face."