Monday, May 25, 2015


Review by Bill Doughty

USNS General C. H. Muir
The Navy ship USNS General C. H. Muir (AP-142), launched by Kaiser Co. in 1944, was among American transport vessels that brought immigrants across the Atlantic from Europe after American and Russian troop liberated World War II concentration camps in Germany.

Allies liberate Dachau.
Referred to by the Nazis as KL (from the German Konzentrationslager), the camps "embodied the spirt of Nazism like no other institution in the Third Reich," author Nikolaus Wachsmann writes in "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" (2015; Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Using primary sources, including recently accessible SS and German police reports, Wachsmann describes the horror and terror in the camps, where both guards and prisoners were dehumanized.

Liberated prisoners. (photo courtesy Truman Library)
"Terror stood at the center of the Third Reich, and no other institution embodied Nazi terror more fully than the KL," he writes, noting anti-semitism was at the core of the "racial war" carried out by Hitler, Himmler and their followers.

The Nazis used an Orwellian term, "protective custody," to describe their reason for establishing the KL. Eventually targeting Jews and other groups, the initial target was political enemies of the State, especially Communists, according to Wachsmann.

Wachsmann's chronology begins in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler rekindled a fascist dictatorship the ashes of Germany's failed early democracy. The Nazis practiced "radical repression of all internal enemies." The chronology examines the complicated nature of the different kinds of camps, describes how they were run, and shows how they were liberated.

Along with terror, at the heart of the reason for the camps was fear and hate. Even after liberation, Wachsmann describes the fear some German soldiers and citizens had of the men, women and children who were imprisoned. "Fear sometimes turned into paranoia and panic, with apocalyptic visions of escaped prisoners."

Wachsmann writes about memorials at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Berlin. Nearly 200 pages of this 865-page book are devoted to notes and sources.

This book is a new authoritative standard on the history of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, showing different facets from the point of view of captors and captives, alike.

Gen. Charles H. Muir
As for USNS General C. H. Muir, the ship not only served to bring troops and survivors back from Europe in 1945 but then also brought troops to Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, Ulithi, and Leyte and in the following decade served in the Korean War. General C. H. Muir received two battle stars for Korean War service, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The ship's namesake was born in 1860, the year before the Civil War began.  According to NHHC:
"Following duty at various posts in the United States, including service in the Indian Wars, [General Muir] took part in the capture of Santiago during the Spanish-American War and fought in the Philippines – during the insurrection which followed. Muir was also a member of the China Relief Expedition of 1901. Staff duty and service in the Philippines followed; and, with America's entrance into World War I, he was given command of the 28th Division. Muir was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive."
Muir died December 8, 1933, the same year Hitler came to power in Germany.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jefferson, Monty Python, UCMJ and Magna Carta at 800

by Bill Doughty

Terry Jones of Monty Python narrates a really cool video synthesizing the history of Magna Carta on the occasion of its 800 year birthday this weekend and recognizing it as one of the cornerstones of democracy and human rights.

The animated video is part of a project sponsored by the British Library:

"Why was Magna Carta agreed at Runnymede in 1215? What did the document say, and how was it interpreted over the next 800 years? Why is it still important today, and how does it affect our culture, laws and rights?"

The ideas captured in the document crossed the Atlantic with colonists and immigrants searching for liberty and an escape from gross inequality.

Penn reprinted Magna Carta in 1687.
Magna Carta influenced growth of freedom in Philadelphia under William Penn in the century before the American Revolution. Penn, founder of Philadelphia ("City of Brotherly Love") was persecuted, even jailed, for freely expressing his religious beliefs as a Quaker. He stood for the belief, expressed in Magna Carta that the innate rights of people should not be infringed upon by the Church or State. Penn had the full text of Magna Carta reprinted in Philadelphia in 1687.

The U.S. National Archives offers an exhibit and series of programs this summer commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

From the Archives website: "During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Interestingly, Thomas Paine in his "Rights of Man" denounced Magna Carta for not going far enough, in that it was merely a bargain with the barons and other nobles and did not represent the interest of all people. Perhaps Paine's argument was influenced by his strong ties to France.

Nevertheless, Thomas Jefferson saw Magna Carta as a turning point in the history of human rights.

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson, who as president was commander in chief during the Navy's victory in the the Barbary Wars, wrote a letter in 1814 referencing Magna Carta. It was the same year British troops burned the Library of Congress in the War of 1812 (Jefferson would donate 6,000 books from his personal library in response).
In Jefferson's letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, dated Feb. 10, 1814, the statesman reminisces about "a time of life when I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they had, and bearding every authority which stood in the way."

He reasons that Magna Carta, also spelled "Magna Charta," was significant in that it marked a turning point in history from common law to statute law.
"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statute law, or Lex Scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century."
Jefferson's letter makes the case that American law and justice evolved from legislative authority based on fundamentals of human reasoning, rights and freedom.

In "Thomas Jefferson: A Life" author Willard Sterne Randall reveals that "whether he knew it or not (Jefferson) was descended, on his mother's side ... from one of the barons who signed the Magna Carta in 1215."

Magna Carta also influenced the thinking and philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and therefore Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King John is compelled to sign Magna Carta May 15, 1215.
2nd Lt. Allen Ernst, of 71st FTW Legal Office of Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, offers this perspective as to why the 800-year-old document is relevant to members of the armed forces as a keystone for Uniformed Code of Military Justice:

"The UCMJ governs all US military personnel around the world, from the chief of staff to the newest airman basic, and protects the rights of service members by laying out strict guidelines for the due process of military law," he writes. "For example, Article 7(e) prohibits confinement of individuals without probable cause, and Article 55 specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishment."
According to Ernst, "The Magna Carta was a response to a problem. King John of England was abusing his supreme power, supposedly by divine right, acting selfishly at best and destructively at worst."

Navy JAGs visit Library of Congress Magna Carta exhibit Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Lt.j.g. Hood)
Lt.j.g. Colin Hood of the Region Legal Service Office Naval District Washington wrote in a post in March on DOD Navy Live U.S. Navy JAG Corps blog:

"Although the original charter was nullified by Pope Innocent III a few weeks after its distribution, language from the document would be recycled in subsequent royal charters and decrees. The interpretation and implementation of ideas expressed in the Magna Carta would eventually lead to the beginnings of several legal theories (the right to due process, the jury system, etc.) we depend on today."

Eventually, in 20th century, Magna Carta would even influence the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to the funny and informative Monty Pythonesque video, the British Library's comprehensive site offers a series of essays about Magna Carta, including more about how early American history was influenced by the landmark document.

(Special thanks to friend and colleague Brandon Bosworth for his suggestion to do a Navy Reads post on this topic. Check out Brandon's A Gent In Training blog. Mind-expanding reads.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering B.B. King of the Blues

by Bill Doughty

Reading books on weekends (or while working on the Navy Reads blog) can be enhanced with some music on. This weekend it will be the blues.

Riley B. King died May 14 in Las Vegas. The King of the Blues was 89.

I heard my first B.B. King album at 17 in 1971, "Live at Cook County Jail."

When I discovered the music of B.B. King and his guitar Lucille I was already into the electric blues of Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Cream, and of course Led Zeppelin. B.B. was the pure heart of stage-band blues who captured hearts with "The Thrill is Gone."

But it was his Live at Cook County version of "How Blue Can You Get," written by Leonard and Jane Feather, that gives me chills every time I hear it. Funny, audacious, powerful: 

   "I gave you a brand new Ford, but you said 'I want a Cadillac.' 
   I bought you a ten dollar dinner, and you said 'thanks for the snack.' 
   I let you live in my penthouse; you said it was just a shack.
   I gave you seven children, and now you want to give 'em back."

   I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met. 
   You know our love is nothing but the blues. 
   Tell me how blue can you get"

You have to hear his Cook County performance as he belts out these lines backed by his tight band.

B.B. King was renowned for his generous spirit and positive perspective. He was said by one biographer to "worship education and lament his lack of schooling," having survived the Depression and life as a sharecropper, picking cotton as a child and young man. His influences were the Count Basie Band, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Django Reinhardt and especially T. Bone Walker.

As an artist he communicated universal messages of love and pain through his music.

B.B. King performs at Harvard's Lippmann's House in 1980.
In 1980 the King of the Blues visited Harvard University's Lippmann House at the invitation of Bulgarian journalist and Nieman Foundation for Journalism Fellow Bistra Lankova and biographer Charles Sawyer, author of "The Arrival of B.B. King."

King performed "for love," according to Sawyer.
"What followed was a unique and purely magical performance. He played five songs, singing without a microphone while his audience listened, in complete thrall to the greatest blues singer and guitarist of all time, who was sitting across the room from them, giving them a private concert. The power of B.B.’s voice was enhanced, not diminished, by the absence of a sound system because of the intimacy he achieved in the confines of a small, acoustically dampened space."
You can read about B.B. King's unique example of King's commitment to the blues, and listen to his performance – in a library, captured on a small recorder. The acoustic dampening comes from the books, no doubt. Among the songs King does in the nearly-unplugged venue are "I Like to Live the Love (that I Sing About)," "How Blue Can You Get" and "The Thrill is Gone."

According to David Ritz, another writer who collaborated with King on his autobiography "Blues All Around Me," King's move to Memphis in 1946 at the age of 21 "changed his life – and the course of American music."

Ritz wrote this in 1998 about B.B. King in liner notes to the great bluesman's Greatest Hits:
"His devotion to the urban blues he loves so deeply has insured the genre a distinct place of acceptance and honor. King is a man of honor, an artist whose lifework bears the stamp of integrity, passion and honesty. He has blessed our culture with a blues, born in despair and nourished in faith, of singular and stirring beauty."
The thrill is not gone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

McRaven & Russell on Fear, Hope and Beginning of Wisdom

by Bill Doughty

Retired Adm. William McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Forces Command, published a list of recommended books in 2013, the year before he retired. The list included some familiar Navy Reads favorites: "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, "The World is Flat 3.0" by Thomas Friedman, "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, and "Eleven Rings" by NBA Coach Phil Jackson.

McRaven's book and author recommendations were presented to special operations warriors as a way to "understand contemporary issues, develop a strong appreciation of our history and heritage, and stimulate creative thinking to confront complex challenges." The complete list was published on "War on the Rocks."

When he promulgated his list McRaven said he valued critical thinking and analysis, and he expected his SEALS and other warfighters to confront challenges head-on. He suggested the same approach to new college graduates.

McRaven was a guest on this past Sunday's This Week show on ABC TV where he discussed his civilian job or "new mission" as Chancellor of the University of Texas system. Guest anchor Martha Raddatz played clips from his viral world-famous commencement address from last year at the UT with advice about what to do if you want to change the world. McRaven explained what he'd learned from SEAL training, starting with "make your bed."

McRaven challenged graduates, just as he challenged his warrior readers, to face their fears and embrace hope.

"If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope," he said to University of Texas graduates.

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote this about the subjects of fear and hope in an essay, "Education":
"No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man's survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create."
Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and author of "A History of Western Philosophy," is sometimes quoted in commencement ceremonies, too.

The excerpt above from "Education" was published in an anthology of nonfiction, fiction and poetry titled "The World's Best," edited by Whit Burnett (The Dial Press, New York, 1950).

Russell himself introduced the piece, "because reverence for human individuality and mental initiative are, in my opinion, of the utmost importance, and are increasingly threatened ..."

Russell was a pacifist who believed that a strategy of reason and cooperation was better than tactics of killing and conflict in dealing with complex challenges. An opponent to the First World War, he later came to support Britain in war against Germany in World War II when he saw there was no reasoning with Adolf Hitler.

Among Russell's famous quotes are: "War does not determine who is right – only who is left" and "To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom..."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

'Dead Wake' and Stink of U-Boats

Review by Bill Doughty

Captain William Thomas Turner
Premonition, dread, drama, romance and revelation await readers of "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson (Crown Publishers, Penguin Random House, 2015).

The author describes the times and the people who inhabit this true story, including Master of the Lusitania, Captain William Thomas Turner, an imposing and self-assured man "with the physique of a bank safe."

"Dead Wake" builds like a thriller as it interweaves side stories with strong characters and historical references from a century ago and shows how the United States was dragged into World War I despite President Wilson's drive to remain neutral. Entreaties by Great Britain were ignored, as was German savagery against civilians and disrespect for "sacred freedom of the seas" – even for nearly two years after the sinking of the Lusitania. But eventually strategy on one side and miscalculation on Germany's side led the United States to join the Allies.

Attacks on civilian shipping – including against commercial ocean liners, causing to the deaths of innocent children, women and men – were perpetrated by German submarines, known as U-boats.

For Navy readers, the description of life in early 20th century submarines provides pungent details and insights.
"The boats were cramped, especially when first setting out on patrol, with food stored in every possible location, including the latrine. Vegetables and meats were kept in the coolest places, among the boat's munitions. Water was rationed. If you wanted to shave, you did so using the remains of the morning's tea. No one bathed. Fresh food quickly spoiled."
German submarines were known to scavenge – from other vessels, from a dispatched hunting party on land, and from the sea after explosions killed schools of fish.
"These fish and their residual odors, however could only have worsened the single most aspect of U-boat life: the air within the boat. First there was the basal reek of three dozen men who never bathed, wore leather clothes that did not breathe, and shared one small lavatory. The toilet from time to time imparted to the boat the scent of a cholera hospital and could be flushed only when the U-boat was on the surface or at shallow depths, lest the undersea pressure blow material back into the vessel. This tended to happen to novice officers and crew, and was called a 'U-boat baptism.' The odor of diesel fuel infiltrated all corners of the boat, ensuring that every cup of cocoa and piece of bread tasted of oil. Then came the fragrances that emanated from the kitchen long after meals were cooked, most notably that close cousin to male body odor, day-old fried onions."
U-boats in harbor. U-20 is second from left in front.
U-boats became the scourge of the seas, especially after Unterseeboot-20, under Kptlt. Walther Schwieger, sank the civilian ocean liner Lusitania, May 7, 1915. British artist Norman Wilkinson immortalized the scene.

But, according to Larson, "U-boats despite their fearsome reputations, were fragile vessels, complex and primitive at the same time."
"The boats were prone to accident. They were packed with complicated mechanical systems for steering, diving, ascending, and regulating pressure. Amid all this were wedged torpedoes, grenades and artillery shells. Along the bottom of the hull lay the boat's array of batteries, filled with sulfuric acid, which upon contact with seawater produced deadly chlorine gas. In this environment, simple errors could, and did, lead to catastrophe."
Larson gives examples in snippets of stories, and he quotes directly from letters, papers, once-secret dispatches, archived reports and logs, journals, telegrams, memoirs, and newspaper accounts.

Several times while reading personal stories or correspondence never meant to be public, especially those from the Wilson Papers, readers may feel they're invading someone's privacy.

British artist Norman Wilkinson immortalized the sinking of the Lusitania.
Yet, the author's accuracy in describing the science of undersea warfare, the architecture of ocean liners, or the terror of abandoning a sinking ship makes for powerful magnetic reading. You'll see the presidency, periscopes and vulture-like seagulls in a different light after reading "Dead Wake." And you'll practically smell the inside of a U-boat in 1915.

The conclusion of this book touches on some fascinating discussion in the aftermath of the sinking of the Lusitania – in the wake of the "dead wake."

Was there a conspiracy by the British Admiralty and a secret desire for the ship to be attacked in order to get the United States into the war? What was behind the German plot to get Mexico to side with Germany "in return for Texas, New Mexico and Arizona"? Why was Captain Turner, by all accounts a good and honorable man, blamed by Winston Churchill and the Admiralty?

U.S. Navy destroyers join the fight in Gribble's painting, "The Return of the Mayflower."
When U.S. destroyers joined the British in patrols against German U-boats on May 8, 1917, people in Great Britain rejoiced the "descendants of the colonials returning now at Britain's time of need." The moment was captured, Larson notes, in "The Return of the Mayflower," a painting by Bernard Gribble.

Larson ties up story lines nicely and unflinchingly – showing us the grisly reality of life and death in time of war. A recommended read that helps put the First World War and submarine warfare in context.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

ISIS and The Why

Review by Bill Doughty

A new book about the self-proclaimed Islamic State explains who and what is behind the violent jihadists – when, where and how they came to power and, perhaps most importantly, why they exist.

The Why is one of the most intriguing insights in "ISIS: The State of Terror" by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger (2015, HarperCollins).

As with some other ultra-fundamentalist groups, the terrorists of ISIS/ISIL, like al Qaeda and the Taliban, have a persecution complex and see the world in polarized good-and-evil, black and white terms.  They believe in the need to purify the world before armageddon and the apocalypse – "the final hour" or "end times."
"ISIS has begun to evoke the apocalyptic tradition much more explicitly, through actions as well as words ... While Muslim apocalyptic thought is diverse and complex, most narratives contain some elements that would be easily recognized by Christians and Jews: at an undetermined time in the future the world will end, a messianic figure will return to the earth, and God will pass judgment on all people, justly relegating some to heaven and some to hell."
Jessica Stern
In Chapter 10, "The Coming Final Battle?," the authors explain the concept of belief in the Mahdi (The Guided One), expected to appear before the Day of Judgment, according to some believers (83 percent of people in Afghanistan; 72 percent in Iraq, as reported by the Pew Research Center).

Stern and Berger write, "For both Sunnis and Shi'ites, the Mahdi's role is, in part, to end the disunity of the Muslim community and to prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ, who is understood to be a prophet in Islam." In a fascinating cover profile of ISIS in the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Graeme Wood discusses the Prophetic narration that claims Jesus as "the second-most-revered prophet in Islam," who will return to "lead the Muslims to victory."

Why the extreme and gory violence, including crucifixion and beheadings?

The answer may be in what author Mark Juergensmeyer calls "ancient religious rites of sacrifice" and martyrdom. In his pre-9/11 book, "Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Terrorism" (University of California Press, 2000), Juergensmeyer mirrors arguments made by the authors of "ISIS" fifteen years later: Persecution complex, belief in moral superiority, and a call for sacrifice resulting in a form of martyrdom.
"There is some evidence that ancient religious rites of sacrifice, like the destruction involved in modern-day terrorism, were performances involving the murder of living beings. The later domestication of sacrifice in evolved forms of religious practice, such as the Christian ritual of the Eucharist, masked the fact that in most early forms of sacrifice a real animal – in some cases a human – offered its life on a sacred chopping block, an altar. In the Hebrew Bible, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the book of Leviticus gives a detailed guide for preparing animals for sacrificial slaughter. The very architecture of ancient Israeli temples reflected the centrality of the sacrificial event. The Vedic Agnicayana ritual, some three thousand years old and probably the most ancient ritual still performed today, involves the construction of an elaborate altar for sacrificial ritual, which some claim was originally a human sacrifice. This was certainly so at the other side of the world at the time of the ancient Aztec empire, when conquered soldiers were treated royally in preparation for their role in the sacrificial rite. Then they were set upon with knives ..."
Juergensmeyer shows the similarity of beliefs in Osama bin Laden's interpretation of Islam, Timothy McVeigh's association with Christian Identity White Supremacy, and Shoko Asahara's Aum Shinrikyo cult's armageddon terrorism. There are uncanny links to persecution complex, blind belief and various forms of millenarism through homegrown and international terrorist groups. Our former enemies in World War II also held messianic beliefs and feelings of persecution which may have fueled atrocities in that war.

While evidence shows that most Muslims around the world reject ISIS, there is a danger, according to the authors, in ignoring the strong beliefs held by "true believer" jihadist extremists, who think behavior such as beheadings, slavery, and sexual assaults and other cruelty toward women is ordained, based on their faith and interpretation of a written word or "law."

If that helps explain The Why, what about The How in dealing with the people rallying behind the black and white flags? How should we combat the threat of ISIS/ISIL? 

Graeme Wood takes a pessimistic view:

"Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group's message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even it fit doesn't last until the end of time," he concludes.

Stern and Berger provide suggestions including ostracism and an outright siege to let them rot, countering through social media, not taking the bait when provoked, and insisting on a nuanced educated conviction in our approach – not interpreting things in black-and-white. 

"Empathy is the antidote to human cruelty," they advise.

So is education, science, reading and critical thinking.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Stavridis Bounce

Navy Reads got a bounce this month when the Task & Purpose blog connected to a post we published in 2013: "Stavridis's Novel Approach to Summer," in which former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis revealed top 20 works of fiction by authors ranging from Ian Fleming and Ian McEwan to Stephen King and Hilary Mantel, author of "Wolf Hall" (now a BBC/PBS series).

Luckily, Stavridis, as dean of The Fletcher School of Tufts University, is still recommending books, including several works of fiction, Ha Jin's "A Map of Betrayal," Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven," and Phil Klay's "Redeployment," which Dean Stavridis calls "a very serious read" of "beautifully realized stories."

Two works of nonfiction he recommends from 2014 are "World Order" by Henry Kissinger and "In the Kingdom of Ice," by Hampton Sides.

On Task & Purpose U.S. Army Major Crispin Burke presents the six smart habits of the U.S. military's most successful commanders, and among those habits is reading.

"Not only does reading expose you to new ideas, but it improves concentration, helps your writing skills, and best of all, it’s a lot more productive than playing video games," Burke advises.

"Most importantly, reading will teach you that there’s very little you’ll live through that someone else hasn’t experienced already. That’s especially true in the profession of arms — after nearly 5,000 years of recorded military history, most armed conflicts differ little from the days of Sun Tzu, Thucydides, and Clausewitz," he adds.

Burke also examines the importance of sound mind and body, setting a battle rhythm, networking, getting ground truth (not relying on yes-people), and remembering humility – servant leadership. Burke offers great examples to back up his thesis. Learning through others' experiences is a task with a purpose, and reading, once embraced, becomes more joy than task.

See how then-Adm. Stavridis explained in 2012 on TED Talks how the U.S. military is delivering global security this century using more than the barrel of a gun.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ernie Pyle Reflections

by Bill Doughty

Published two days before he was killed on Ie Shima, a small island near Okinawa, war correspondent Ernie Pyle offered reflections on the "bedlam of war."  This excerpt, one of Pyle's final observations/contemplations, is republished in "Ernie's War," edited by David Nichols.
April 16, 1945 – We camped one night on a little hillside that led up to a bluff overlooking a small river. The bluff dropped straight down for a long way. Up there on top of the bluff it was just like a little park.     The bluff was terraced, although it wasn't farmed. The grass was soft and green. Up there on top of the bluff it was just like a little park.     The bluff was terraced, although it wasn't farmed. The grass on it was soft and green. And those small, straight-limbed pine trees were dotted all over it.     Looking down from the bluff, the river made a turn and across it was an old stone bridge. At the end of the bridge was a village – or what had been a village.     It was now just a jumble of ashes and sagging thatched roofs from our bombardment. In every direction little valleys led away from the turn in the river.     It was a pretty and gentle a sight as you ever saw. It had the softness of antiquity about it and the miniature charm and daintiness that we see in Japanese prints. And the sad, uncanny silence that follows the bedlam of war.     A bright sun made the morning hot and a refreshing little breeze sang through the pine trees. There wasn't a shot nor a warlike sound within hearing. I sat on the bluff for a long time, just looking. It all seemed so quiet and peaceful. I noticed a lot of the Marines sitting and just looking too....
Ernie Pyle with Marines aboard a Navy ship in 1945.
At the time of his death, 70 years ago today at the hand of a Japanese machine gun sniper, the great reporter had been inspired by soldiers in Europe, Sailors at sea in the Pacific and finally embedded with Marines. He had lived and seen the tragedy of a necessary war.

A rough draft of a column Pyle had been preparing was found on his body. It was about the end of the war in Europe. Anticipating Germany's surrender, which would come less than three weeks later, and presuming great national relief and elation about the war's end, Pyle called for remembrance:
     In the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead. Those who are gone would not wish themselves to be a millstone of gloom around our necks.     But there are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.     Dead men by mass production – in one country after another – month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.     Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.     Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.     These are the things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn't come back. You didn't see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France.     We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands. That's the difference....
Ernie Pyle at work.
Pyle was the ultimate patriot – one who championed American warfighters, immortalized their sacrifices and shared "the agony in your heart" war creates. He could and did simultaneously hate war and love those who fought for freedom in war.

Strongly tied to his soldiers in Europe, he was exhausted by the time he came to the Pacific and frustrated by Navy censors of the time, according to biographer Nichols. The exhaustion may have colored his writing toward the end.

There is a disturbing element to Pyle's later writing in how he describes the Japanese, or "Japs," generally; however, that can perhaps be understood in the context of the times. Had he lived, one can imagine Pyle reconsidering his view and writing insightful columns about the forged friendship with America's now strong ally.

Pyle was the great humanizer of the war for Americans, telling the story of the average American warfighter, sharing his reflections and explaining to homefront readers why young Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines fought – in hopes we would never forget the sacrifices of our military in World War II.

His clear and evocative writing was rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Pyle inspired not only American warfighters but also the American public, educating them on the details of war, such as why men fought and risked their lives.

In the book's foreword Studs Terkel writes of Pyle: "He knew, too, that it was neither God nor Flag nor Mother that impelled a pimply faced kid to risk, to lose his life in an obscene adventure. He did it for the kid next to him; he couldn't let him down. They needed one another so bad. 'I lay there in the darkness ... thinking of the millions far away at home who must remain forever unaware of the powerful fraternalism in the ghastly brotherhood of war.'"

A joint honor guard pays tribute to Ernie Pyle at Punchbowl April 18, 2015; photo from
Ernie Pyle's remains rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, "Punchbowl," on Oahu, Hawaii. A remembrance ceremony was held there this morning.

KITV(ABC) covered the ceremony.

Ernie Pyle was born in 1900.

("Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches," edited with a biographical essay by David Nichols, 1986, Random House.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Audacity of Fighting

Reviews by Bill Doughty

"Audacity" by Melanie Crowder (2015, Philomel Books, Penguin) is poetic narrative and historical fiction inspired by the life of Clara Lemlich, who as a young girl immigrated to the United States with her orthodox Russian Jewish family at the turn of the 20th century.

Crowder writes in free verse throughout, describing life in Russia and New York as well as the voyage sailing first to England then across the Atlantic where the salt in the air strung her eyes and the stench burned her nostrils.

Papa and Mama and little Benjamin
take one bunk
Marcus and Nathan
settle into another.
I sling my sack onto a top bunk
crawl up after it
turn my face to the tarred planks
that separate us
from the ice-cold water.

The mattress crinkles beneath me
filling the air with a pungent,
briny scent.
                    What kind of hay  
                     smells like the sea?

I pick at a loose seam
pull out a strand of the brittle stuffing.

The heat at the back of my eyes
the ball in throat
I pull my book of poems
from the bottom of my sack
hide it in the crook
between my knees and shoulders
whisper each line
in time
to the gently rocking boat.

Clara Lemlich, 2010
"Audacity" shows the challenges facing girls who yearn for an education but who live in fundamentalist families "where study is disobedience." 

Her own father burns her books when he discovers them. When she has to work to help provide food for her family she is met with cruelty in the early 1900s garment industry.

Clara sees "her own destiny is gripped in the fists of others," yet she stands up to seemingly intractable violence, harassment, sexual assault and inequality in the workplace.

Throughout "Audacity" images of various birds – starling, shrike, thrush, sparrow, hawk, warbler – fly across the pages, leading Clara from poverty and sweatshops to fighting for better working conditions and the growing chorus calling for women's right to vote.

... Fighting

"Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting" by Kevin Powers (2014, Little and Brown Company) is a slim volume by the poet and Iraq War who is a PEN/Hemingway award winner for "The Yellow Birds."

Like Phil Klay ("Redeployment") and Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried," from the Vietnam generation), Powers presents war and peace as stark, intertwined and connected.

War and memories of war follow the warrior into civilian life. Powers presents the images of war in detached cruel realities, exemplified in "Field Manual." As with Klay's opening story in "Redeployment" he makes readers think about how feral dogs in the war zone had to be removed.

Everything can become associated with the shadow of war, even the poems themselves.

From "Improvised Explosive Device":

If this poem had wires
coming out of it,
you would not read it.
If the words in this poem were made
of metal, if you could see
the mechanics of their curvature,
you would hope they would stay covered
by whatever paper rested
in the trash pile they were hidden in.
But words or wires would lead you still
to fields of grass between white buildings.

In poems titled "Meditation on a Main Supply Route," "Death, Mother and Child," "Blue Star Mother," "Portugal" and "A Lamp in the Place of the Sun," the author takes us from Mosul to Europe to his home in Virginia.

Anthony Swofford, author of "Jarhead," called Powers's "The Yellow Birds" worthy of being on the "high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."

As in Klay's "Redeployment" and O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," Powers shows how the shadow of war can be both dark and illuminating.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

How Dr. Craven and Navy Won 'Silent' Cold War

Review by Bill Doughty

Dr. John Piña Craven, 1924-2015.
The world lost an American hero last February when John Piña Craven passed away at the age of 90.  Memorial services are being held this week in Hawaii.

Dr. Craven, who served as an enlisted Sailor in World War II, was a scientist, professor and Cold War warrior as Chief Scientist, U.S. Navy's Special Projects Office.
He reveals provocative information in "The Silent War" – how USS Halibut (SSGN-587) and deep undersea technology discovered a lost rogue Soviet submarine and how "the United States Navy successfully challenged the Soviet Black Sea Fleet." The result, according to Craven: President Gorbachev became convinced that Soviet leadership was being corrupted and right-wing chauvinistic zealots were gaining control of the military.
He explains the development of the Polaris missile and submarine, SeaLab (which "signaled the occupation of the sea by humans as marine mammals"), and DSRV – Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle, featured in "The Hunt for Red October."

During the Cold War, Craven writes, "A major issue for both sides was freedom of navigation, the right of commerce and the military to have full access to the ocean."

"The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea" shows how science, technology, logic and reason can be employed for the preservation of peace.

Though written before 9/11, Craven's book shows prescience and insights about the threat of global warming, the need for innovation and the danger of privatization in fracturing command and control, especially with respect to nuclear weapons. He even comments on the danger of growing income inequality.

Imagine, this was written in 2001:
"The recent events in North Korea and the Balkans demonstrate that new forms of policing are required. We must guard the undersea and the littorals of the world in the new era of global instability. The coastal zone, the home of our burgeoning population, is also affected by a widening gap between the rich and poor."
Navy Captains Scott and Mark Kelly at NASA.
He compares undersea exploration and living to NASA missions in space. "Our dive to the floor of the Atlantic was at least as difficult technologically as Apollo touching down on the moon, if not more so."

Reading in 2015 his comparison with space exploration and a discussion of undersea psychological tests brings to mind the upcoming Mars-related mission involving twin naval aviators turned astronauts, Captains Scott and Mark Kelly.

Bringing it back to earth, Craven describes his complicated relationship with Adm. Hyman Rickover, comparing their upbringing in families of immigrants in Williamsburg, New York – Craven's family via Scotland and Rickover's from Russia.

Tunis Augustus MacDonough Craven, U.S. Navy
Craven traces his naval lineage through several generations on his father's side, including the commanding officer of USS Tecumseh, sunk by the Confederates at the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War. On his mother's side, the Hispanic "Piña" were once Moorish pirates, he candidly reports.

Dr. Craven's humility, sense of humor and love of science show through in this book, which is filled with surprises, intrigue and fascinating revelations. For his actions, Craven was most often awarded quietly behind the scenes.

One of Craven's two Distinguished Civilian Service Awards was presented by former Secretary of the Navy John Chafee for the scientist's work with USS Halibut to locate and identify the missing Soviet submarine. President Nixon secretly visited Hawaii to award the Presidential Unit Citation to Halibut's crew, according to Craven.

After his service with the Navy Dr. Craven was marine affairs coordinator for the state of Hawaii. He also served as dean of marine programs at the University of Hawaii and was appointed as director of the Law of the Sea Institute before serving as president of the Common Heritage Corporation.

USS Halibut (SSGN-587). Photo from New York Times.
In "Silent" Craven is careful about what he reveals, neither confirming nor denying certain specifics of projects or missions.

"The discipline of tight security is such that until you are specifically released from its constraints you must follow them to the grave," he writes. 

His family provided this obituary: "John moved his family to Honolulu in 1970 for 'one year' and ended up staying for over forty more. John was known for his professional accomplishments as a nationally recognized ocean scientist and marine educator. But with equal zest he embraced music, art and poetry, which he loved to share with everyone he met."

"The Silent War" concludes with a poetic paragraph in tribute to the military and civilian public servants who, with him, helped win the Cold War:
"They also taught us to walk softly and display strength; to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves; to prepare a world for future generations that cannot speak for themselves; to know that actions speak louder than words and, acting as children of the ocean, in the silence of the ocean deeps, to create a silence that is heard around the world."
From his obituary, published in the March 29 Honolulu Star-Advertiser: "A celebration of John's remarkable life will be held at Central Union Church on Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 5:00 pm, with visitation at 4:30 pm and a reception following the service. In accordance with his wishes, John's ashes will be spread at sea. He was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.

"In lieu of flowers, the John P. Craven Marine Education Fund (#127-0620-4) at the University of Hawaii Foundation has been established to honor his life and passion. The fund will support student scholarships in the Marine Option Program. Checks should be written to UH Foundation and sent to UH Foundation, PO Box 11270, Honolulu, HI 96828-0270. Please include either the fund name or fund number when sending checks."

("The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea" by John Piña Craven, former Chief Scientist, U.S. Navy's Special Projects Office, 2001, Simon & Shuster)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Duke's Coach K and Navy Core Values

by Bill Doughty

Coach K after 1,000 wins with his 2014/2015 team.
Victory starts with strong defense and execution through power projection. That's the theme of today's victory by the Duke Blue Devils over the Michigan State Spartans.

The best teams have strong, good and caring coaches, and each of the coaches for this year's NCAA Final Four tournament in Indianapolis has a good, experienced coach on the bench.

"But the strongest bench job of the season has been done by arguably the best coach of any sport on the planet: Mike Krzyzewski," writes Steve DeShazo of on the eve of today's game.

Coach K and Coach Izzo have fun yesterday.
Coach K is the picture of sustained honor, courage and commitment.

"After 35 years at Duke, his program is almost self-sustaining," DeShazo writes. "He’s won a record 1,016 games, four national titles and will tie the legendary John Wooden today with his 12th Final Four appearance ... Krzyzewski’s role with USA Basketball enriches his status even more."

Krzyewski knows when to be serious yet he shows he can have fun.

Coach K is author of several books, including "The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team," "Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords For Success" and "Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life." We featured "Leading with the Heart" in a recent Navy Reads review; the book is on the CNO's Professional Reading Program.

Coach K on Honor, Courage and Commitment:

Honored to coach Team USA in the Olympics.
Honor as head coach of USA team in the Olympics – “For me, this is the ultimate honor in coaching,” said Krzyzewski. “It is a chance to represent the United States at this elite level of basketball. I am honored to be chosen and look forward to the opportunity to develop this team that will represent our great country in its own sport, both on and off the court.”

Courageous leadership – “It takes courage not only to make decisions, but to live with those decisions afterward.”

Committed teamwork – “Mutual commitment helps overcome the fear of failure—especially when people are part of a team sharing and achieving goals. It also sets the stage for open dialogue and honest conversation.”