Sunday, October 15, 2017

Shadows, Reflections of 'Intimate' Vietnam

Review by Bill Doughty

How could we  get sucked into a civil war in Asia, and how could we stay stuck in that war for so many years? What is revealed in the shadows of that war and its aftermath?

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns answer those questions and present a comprehensive and compassionate work in their massive "The Vietnam War: An Intimate History" (Knopf, 2017). It's must reading for anyone who failed to understand or learn the lessons of Vietnam.

Of course, this book is a also a detailed compendium to the documentary film series (and website) by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. According to the authors:
"America's involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended, thirty years later, in failure, witnessed by the entire world. It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence, and cold war miscalculation. And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than to admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions, made by five American presidents, belonging to both political parties."
The Vietnam War grew out of World War II as a national liberation war to prevent totalitarianism. "Ambitious dictatorships needed to be halted in their tracks before they constituted a serious danger to the peace of the world."

President-elect Nixon visits LBJ's White House in 1968.
Ward and Burns show how American leaders willingly inherited from the French a role in Vietnam's civil war, from Truman and Eisenhower through JFK and LBJ and, finally to President Richard Nixon, who, in President Lyndon B. Johnson's words, committed "treason" by preventing an early peace with North Vietnam in order to win election in 1968.

Nixon's own words are printed as transcripts.

In one exchange, in which Ward and Burns say "Nixon was lying," Nixon told President Johnson, in the midst of the 1968 election, "We've got to get this goddamned war off the plate ... Just the quicker the better and the hell with the political credit. Believe me, that's the way I feel about it."

President Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson Library)
(Interrogation specialist Stan Walters says often people who frequently say "believe me" or "trust me" don't believe their own claims.)

LBJ's conversations with others – and growing conflicted conscience – are also part of the record. 

Johnson was "caught between his key advisors – and between his conflicting desires simultaneously to end a war and to keep from being the first president to lose one."

Ward and Burns show how the Gulf of Tonkin incident escalated our involvement in Vietnam, from a questionable encounter at sea involving U.S. Navy destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy turned into "one of the most controversial and consequential events in American history" and leading immediately to air attacks and soon a commitment to a land war.

USS Maddox operates off Oahu, Hawaii, March 21, 1964. (Photo by PH2 Antoine, NHHC)
This book is filled with images showing the pain, exhaustion, shock, desperation and destruction of the war. The book's cover shows through a rice paddy reflection the authors' intent to show perspectives from both sides.

Highlights and insights in this 600+ page book include the role of Anna Chan Chennault before, during and after the war; the stories and lives of veterans John Musgrave, Hal Kushner, Denton "Mogie" Crocker, Joan Furey and Vincent Okamoto; the patriotism and words of John Kerry, Robert F. Kennedy, Walter Cronkite and Merrill McPeak; and the pivotal moments of Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation, the Tet Offensive, Cambodia incursion, My Lai massacre, Kent State shooting, evacuation of Saigon and release of POWs. Writers and thinkers like Tim O'Brien, Karl Marlantes and Neil Sheehan share their thoughts, and we get the perspectives of  former enemies, including Nguyen Van Thieu, Nguyen Thank Tung, Nguyen Tai, and Bao Ninh.

Former North Vietnamese soldier and acclaimed writer, Bao Ninh.
From former North Vietnamese army soldier turned writer Bao Ninh:
"The last time I caught sight of American combat troops close up, on the ground, was late one morning in April 1971, near An Khe Pass. I saw a platoon of airborne troops on patrol on Highway 19. They seemed relaxed, not particularly cautious, walking down the road in single file, skirting the edge of their base. They didn’t know there were three of us scouts silently following their every move, monitoring them from behind thick camouflage on a hill about 100 meters off the road, and they had absolutely no idea that a strongly armed North Vietnamese Army unit was waiting for them at the bend of the road half a kilometer ahead. To this day, I see them clearly in my mind, as if they were right in front of me. I especially remember a radio operator carrying a PRC-25 backpack radio. I can’t understand why as radio operator he wasn’t beside the company commander, but instead was pulling up the rear, trailing behind the group. He seemed nonchalant, with no bulletproof vest, no helmet, no M-16 or grenade launcher, just the radio on his back. He had short brown hair, no beard or mustache. Through my binoculars I saw that he was chewing something, probably gum. He was just ambling along, kicking an empty Coke can as he walked. Fifteen minutes later the sound of gunfire told me his platoon had walked into our ambush. I never found out what happened to that radio man, have no idea whether he made it. "In 1998, during my first trip to the United States, whenever I was visiting a university or high school and saw young boys and girls in auditoriums and hanging out on the lawns, I would see again the face of that young soldier, hear the clatter of that empty Coke can on the road. He was just like a kid on the way home to his mother after school, playing with whatever he happened to come across."It’s been a long time, but I still have nightmares from the war. I still hear the hiss of hundreds of bombs being dropped from B-52s, the roar of artillery barrages and the thrum of the helicopter rotors. I still see platoons of American Marines in bulletproof vests and helmets jumping out of Chinook helicopters, brandishing their M-16s.Worst of all, I can’t forget the dreadful nightmare of dioxin. In the spring of 1971, when we were stationed west of Kon Tum, we were sprayed repeatedly with Agent Orange. I didn’t know if the Americans on those C-123 Caribous knew anything about the terrible toxicity of the liquid they sprayed, or if only the chemical companies that manufactured it knew. We understood all too well its horrible destructive force. As soon as the Caribous passed over us, the sky would turn dark with a strange, thick, milky rain. The jungle canopy broke apart, ulcerated and fell to the ground. Leaves, flowers, fruits, even twigs, all silently dropped. Green leaves turned black, crumpled. Grass withered and died. I witnessed many cruel scenes in the war, but that brutal massacre of nature is what comes back to me most often and disturbs my sleep."
A shadow silhouette of then-President Barak Obama reflects on the Vietnam Memorial in 2012.
In the Vietnam War, blustery hubris and a "feeling of exceptionalism" on both sides led to escalation. Corruption, war-profiteering and political fears caused leaders to continue the war rather than seek peace. Blind obedience was confused as patriotism by a "silent majority" who eventually had to listen to a vocal minority.

Today, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a tribute to the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the "devastating calamity" so that, in the words of the Gold Star Mothers, "those who died should be remembered." 

Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat is remembered. (Army photo by SSgt. Bernardo Fuller)
Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs had the vision for a memorial to remember veterans of the war, but it was Maya Lin who envisioned what it would look like, a black V-shaped black granite wall etched with the names of those who died. The authors write:
"Throughout our long production, we were inspired by the architect Maya Lin, whose Vietnam Veterans Memorial was initially as controversial as the war itself, but which has become one of America’s sacred places. When she unveiled her design in 1981, Lin told the press that her memorial to the Americans who died in the war would be a journey 'that would make you experience death, and where you’d have to be an observer, where you could never really fully be with the dead . . . [It isn’t] some­thing that was going to say, It’s all right, it’s all over. Because it’s not.' Nothing, certainly not our film or book, can make the tragedy of the Vietnam War all right. But we can, and we must, honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served, those who died, and those who participated in the war against the war. As filmmakers, we have tried to do that the only way we know how: by listening to their stories. 'It’s almost going to make me cry,' Army veteran Vincent Okamoto told us, remembering the infantry company he led in Vietnam in 1968. 'Nineteen-, twenty-year-old high school dropouts that come from the lowest socioeconomic rung of American society . . . they didn’t have the escape routes that the elite and the wealthy and the privileged had . . . but to see these kids, who had the least to gain . . . they weren’t going be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire, was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself: how does America produce young men like this?'"
Soldiers at Hue City. (Photo from National Archives)
A Sailor reads and reflects aboard USS Maddox, 1965.
In an essay titled Ghosts, the authors conclude that divisions created by the war remain, but study of the war on all sides has brought about greater understanding. "The Vietnam war was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable," they write. "But meaning can be found in the individual stories of those who lived through it, stories of courage and comradeship and perseverance, of understanding and forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation."

According to the authors, "We can, and we must, honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served, those who died, and those who participated in the war against the war."

Recently, the Naval History and Heritage Command completed its The U.S. Navy and Vietnam War books/pamphlets series, showcasing the Navy's role.

According to a Naval History and Heritage Command press release, "Interested readers can download a free digital copy from the Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) website ... or purchase a hard copy from the Government Printing Office (GPO)."

--The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945-1965; 
--Nixon's Trident: Naval Power in Southeast Asia, 1968-1972;
--The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War; 
--Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon;
--Combat at Close Quarters: Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam; 
--Naval Air War: The Rolling Thunder Campaign; 
--Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Southeast Asia;
--Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War; and
--End of the Saga: The Maritime Evacuation of South Vietnam and Cambodia.

I enjoyed reading Navy Medicine historian Jan Herman's "Navy Medicine in Vietnam" and saw a lot of information that added to the complete story of the Vietnam War.

A North Vietnamese motor gunboat burns in the Raonay River, 12 miles north of Dong Hoi, after being attacked by USS Midway aircraft, April 28, 1965. Note shadow of RF-8A recce plane. (National Archives and Naval History and Heritage Command)

Earlier this year I listed 50 books to represent 50 years of the Vietnam War, including multiple dimensions and perspectives. Ward and Burns's "The Vietnam War" belongs in every military library.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Understanding Mother of all Koreas

Review by Bill Doughty

Part of the Mansudae Grand Monument
North Korea says it wants a "blood reckoning" with the United States. B. R. Myers says believe them.

Myers, who bases his analysis on North Korean source materials, is author of "The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves – And Why It Matters" (MelvilleHouse 2010).

Unlike many other experts, Myers sees little value in freedom-loving people in the South smuggling CDs and DVDs to the North because most of the people in the DPRK are true believers who support the racist, military-first, repressed Juche philosophy of the Kim regime as their religion. "The masses' adoration of (founder) Kim Il-Sung has always been real." The true believers think it is just a matter of time before the people in the South will want to be reunited under the North's conditions.

According to Myers, compared with its communist neighbors, the North's system of government is closer to that of Imperial Japan during the colonial era, when the Japanese military occupied the peninsula, as it had several times for hundreds of years. The appeal of Soviet Russia or Communist China had nothing to compare with the hardcore racist nationalism of a century ago. The three Kims are "living symbols of the homeland." The culture is not Confucian either. "Confucius demanded rigorous self-cultivation through study; the Kim regime urges its subjects to remain as childlike and spontaneous as possible."

Kim Il-Sung celebrates the Chinese leaving North Korea in 1958.
Today, Kim Jong-Un looks remarkably like his grandfather in Kim Il-Sung's younger years, but the grandson is arguably more reckless. 

As opposed to being patriarchal, North Koreans' allegiance to the Kim regime, according to Myers, is matriarchal, with Kim Il-Sung seen as the mother of all Koreans, an appealing image to nationalists in the North. 

Myers says, "Far from being complex," the North Korean worldview "can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader," a strikingly similar worldview to that of fascist Imperial Japan.
"Kim Il Sung's peculiarly androgynous or hermaphroditic image also seems to exert a far more emotional attraction than any of the unambiguously paternal leaders of Eastern Europe were able to ... Sigmund Freud wrote of every child's yearning for a phallic mother, a truly omnipotent parent who is both sexes in one, and Ernest Becker agreed that the hermaphroditic image answers a striving for ontological wholeness that is inherent to man. This may explain why Jesus and Buddha are far more feminine and maternal figures in the popular imagination than in the original scriptures of Christianity and Buddhism. The North Koreans' (pure) race theory gives them extra reason to want a leader who is both mother enough to indulge their unique childlikeness and father enough to protect them from the evil world."
Kim Jong-Un is in the middle of a cult of personality and "hero" worship.
The book opens with an epigraph from a North Korean dictionary with a 109-word definition of "mother," that includes references to the Party and Comrade Platoon Leader and "a metaphor for the source from which something originates." The definition for "father" is six words: "the husband of one's birth mother."
"What emerges is a regime completely unlike the West's perception of it. This is neither a bastion of Stalinism nor a Confucian patriarchy, but a paranoid nationalist, 'military first' state on the far right of the political spectrum."
Though published seven years ago, this book predicts the line of succession through Kim Jong-Il to his son, current dictator Kim Jong-Un, and says to expect more, not less, nuclear proliferation, a storm of madman-like threats, and increased hatred toward the United States.

The worst thing that could happen to the Kims, Myers writes, is that the North Korean people stop seeing the West as a threat.
"The regime is worried that the masses might cease to perceive the United States as an enemy, thus leaving it with no way to justify its rule – or even to justify the existence of the DPRK as a separate state."
But there's a case for cautious optimism as the North's crazed propaganda and beliefs – that Myers calls "the Text" – runs a risk of losing credibility:
"It is but a matter of time before most North Koreans realize that their southern brethren are proud of the state, indifferent to the Dear Leader's very existence, and content to postpone reunification indefinitely. Such revelations may not bring down the regime at once, but they will certainly bring down the Text."
But that, along with a goal of diplomacy with the Kim regime, might be wishful thinking. Myers writes, "The unpleasant truth is that one can neither bully nor cajole a regime – least of all one with nuclear weapons – into committing political suicide."

In a recent interview with the Conversation, which grants free use of its content, B.R. Myers assesses the risk of war and reiterates some of the key points in "The Cleanest Race." The interview concludes:

B.R. Myers
How likely is a war?
"I agree with those who say North Korea knows a nuclear war is unwinnable. I also think it fancies its chances of a peaceful takeover too highly to want to risk a premature invasion while US troops are here. 
"On the other hand, the North’s legitimacy derives almost wholly from its subjects’ perception of perfect strength and resolve. This makes it harder for Pyongyang to back down than it was for Moscow during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
"Also, the North’s ideology glorifies the heart over the mind, instincts over consciousness, which makes rash decisions more likely to be made, even quite low down the military command structure. There is therefore a significant danger of some sort of limited clash at any time. But that has always been the case."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Invisible Shipkillers, Winning the Great War

Review by Bill Doughty

Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare brought the United States into a war many Americans strongly opposed. Exactly one hundred years ago, in 1917, the United States Navy converted ocean liners to serve as troop transports, often rushing to move Soldiers and Marines to England and France. Invisible dangers threatened the ships: U-boats, saboteurs, lack of training, icebergs and a virus that would devastate the ranks of the military.

Those are some of the themes in this remarkable, well-paced book by Peter Hernon: "The Great Rescue: American Heroes, An Iconic Ship, and the Race to Save Europe in WWI" (HarperCollins 2017). Events and people intersect aboard USS Leviathan, a converted German liner.

Hernon follows some now-forgotten characters such as Corporal Freddie Stowers, Army Nurse Corps officer Emma Elizabeth Weaver, several Navy ship captains, and American journalist Irvin Cobb. One character, Congressman Royal Johnson of South Dakota, voted against entering the war out of loyalty to his constituents, but then he enlisted and distinguished himself in combat.

Sailor Humphrey Bogart
Other more well-known names with ties to USS Leviathan get some limelight too, including Navy Seaman Humphrey Bogart (who had a sketchy service record as a teenager); then-Col. Douglas MacArthur (who was flamboyant, vain but brilliant); General John Pershing (who had a tender love relationship with a French artist) and then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who showed diplomatic skills during a trip to Europe).

FDR suffered a life-threatening bout of influenza aboard Leviathan in a return to the States from France.
"The Leviathan was waiting for him out in the harbor, a gray monster with black coal smoke trailing from her tall stacks. By the time Roosevelt boarded her, he could barely stand. He'd been showing signs of illness for days. A week earlier, he'd run a 102-degree fever during a hair-raising all-night drive to Paris without headlights over crowded roads. He ignored the symptoms and refused to rest, pushing himself without letup. According to Roosevelt biographer Kenneth Davis, 'For weeks on end he had been driving his body beyond its capacity for self-renewal, using up every reserve of its strength in reckless disregard of the protests it made.' He was knotted up in pain when he was piped aboard the Leviathan and met Captain Bryan."
One hundred years ago, a killer version of the flu swept through the world and hit the U.S. Navy. "The illness spread fast, and within the tight confines of a ship at sea it could explode like a bomb."

Desperate to bring reinforcements to Europe, the Leviathan knowingly brought aboard hundreds of already-sick troops aboard. Hernon's characters see the "sickness of war" either at sea or in the trenches, where Soldiers and Marines experienced hand-to-hand combat, grenade and machine gun attacks and chemical weapon horrors. And there were other challenges:
"Johnson had to get used to the chronic lack of sleep, especially at night, when staying awake was a matter of life and death for anyone on duty. This was true even in the rear shelters, which regularly came under shell fire. The trenches and dugouts were infested with rats, the big black variety the soldiers had to club to death, and no matter how much the men tried to stay clean and keep their hair cut short, the lice, or 'cooties,' were always with them, burrowing deep into their uniforms and blankets until they were scratching or picking nits nearly every waking moment. In the morning, tormented soldiers angrily ripped off their shirts, looking for the vermin that abounded in the collars and sleeves."
Scenes aboard USS Leviathan
Hernon makes us care about the people he profiles, including African American Cpl. Freddie Stowers, who along with his regiment, overcame racial barriers and showed valor on the battlefield despite entrenched Germans at Verdun.
"The Germans had had four years to add a devilish array of defenses to the already challenging landscape of hills, ravines, and woods – seemingly countless numbers of machine gun pillboxes, a network of trenches, and barbed wire in lines four and five deep and concealed over the years with lush vines and brush. Artillery was positioned to provide flanking fire on infantry trying to move between the Meuse and the Argonne.This masterpiece of interlocking, mutually supportive firepower was designed to defend a critical railroad in the rear, the Sedan-Mezieres line, the only escape route to Germany. If it were broken, the German army would be trapped, unable to be resupplied or reinforced. The war would end."
The war did end, thanks to American presence and power. Hernon uses the battlefield and the sea as a stage for his characters, with USS Leviathan as a centerpiece, all to show an intimate history of World War I, thought to be a war to end all wars but which ended in a treaty described by MacArthur as "drastic ... more like a treaty of perpetual war than of perpetual peace."

USS Leviathan's work was not over after the treaty was signed. The ship joined other converted liners, commercial ships and war ships as part of a "massive logistical undertaking" to bring two million troops home from Europe.

We featured USS Leviathan in a Navy Reads post honoring the Statue of Liberty: According to the Naval Historical Center, "Leviathan (was) an appropriate name considering that she was then the largest ship in the U.S. Navy, and in the World. The Navy would not operate a bigger ship until 1945, when the slightly longer and heavier aircraft carrier Midway entered service."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What Happened to the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Review by Bill Doughty

The Wolf and the Crane

A Wolf once got a bone stuck in his throat. So he went to a Crane and begged her to put her long bill down his throat and pull it out. "I'll make it worth your while," he added. The Crane did as she was asked, and got the bone out quite easily. The Wolf thanked her warmly, and was just turning away, when she cried, "What about that fee of mine?" "Well, what about it?" snapped the Wolf, baring his teeth as he spoke; "you can go about boasting that you once put your head into a Wolf's mouth and didn't get it bitten off. What more do you want?"

"In serving the wicked, expect no reward and be thankful if you escape injury for your pains."

The Wolf and the Lamb

A Wolf came upon a Lamb straying from the flock, and felt some compunction about taking the life of so helpless a creature without some plausible excuse; so he cast about for a grievance and said at last, "Last year, sir, you grossly insulted me." "That is impossible, sir," bleated the Lamb, "for I wasn't born then." "Well," retorted the Wolf, "you feed in my pastures." "That cannot be," replied the Lamb, "for I have never yet tasted grass." "You drink from my spring, then," continued the Wolf. "Indeed, sir," said the poor Lamb, "I have never yet drunk anything but my mother's milk." "Well, anyhow," said the Wolf, "I'm not going without my dinner": and he sprang upon the Lamb and devoured it without more ado.

"Hypocritical speeches are easily seen through."

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

A Wolf resolved to disguise himself in order that he might prey upon a flock of sheep without fear of detection. So he clothed himself in a sheepskin, and slipped among the sheep when they were out at pasture. He completely deceived the shepherd, and when the flock was penned for the night he was shut in with the rest. But that very night as it happened, the shepherd, requiring a supply of mutton for the table, laid hands on the Wolf in mistake for a Sheep, and killed him with his knife on the spot.

"Harm seek, harm find."

Aesop, like Uncle Remus and other fabulists (and many children's book authors), used animals to show human behavior. Charles Santore's illustrations of animals show "some particular aspect of the human condition" and are featured in "Aesop's Fables" (dilithium Press ltd., 1988, and Sterling Children's Books, 2010, for Kohl's Cares charity).

Santore was inspired by English writer G. K. Chesterton, who wrote that animals "have no choice, they cannot be anything but themselves." Without critical thinking human nature is animal nature.

Charles Santore reimagines Aesop, "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
We featured the wolf in this blogpost, but here's one involving an ass and lion that illustrates how character and integrity must trump mere appearance and vanity. 

The Donkey (Ass) in the Lion's Skin

An Ass found a Lion's Skin, and dressed himself up in it. Then he went about frightening everyone he met, for they all took him to be a lion, men and beasts alike, and took to their heels when they saw him coming. Elated by the success of his trick, he loudly brayed in triumph. The Fox heard him, and recognized him at once for the Ass he was, and said to him, "Oh, my friend, it's you, is it? I, too, should have been afraid if I hadn't heard your voice."

"No disguise will hide one's true character."

The uncredited text in this children's book appears to be from the 105-year-old translation of Aesop's fables by Vernon Jones. Thank the internet, and collective critical thinkers for perpetuating the lessons and universal truths of Aesop. Check out this exquisite site with sometimes weird fables (many requiring some forgiveness by the reader in remembering they were written in 600 BCE and translated in 1912).

In the long list of fables at this site, this non-anthropomorphic one appears just before the wolf-and-goose story (file art from 1908 is not by Santore): 

The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner

A Trumpeter marched into battle in the van of the army and put courage into his comrades by his warlike tunes. Being captured by the enemy, he begged for his life, and said, "Do not put me to death; I have killed no one: indeed, I have no weapons, but carry with me only my trumpet here." But his captors replied, "That is only the more reason why we should take your life; for, though you do not fight yourself, you stir up others to do so."

"Words may be deeds."

More than a century ago Chesterton compares Aesop with America's Uncle Remus, noting the storytelling connection of slaves, teachers and students, including the Brothers Grimm, in educating generations of people throughout the centuries. Chesterton warns against hubris and narcissism in the introduction to Vernon Jones's translation: "Whether fables began with Aesop or began with Adam, whether they were German and medieval as Reynard the Fox, or as French and Renaissance as La Fontaine, the upshot is everywhere essentially the same: that superiority is always insolent, because it is always accidental; that pride goes before a fall; and that there is such a thing as being too clever by half."

Even short fables can have profound meanings. Simple stories can illustrate discoveries of the philosophers and inform leaders' insights.

In "Red Scorpion: The War Patrols of USS Rasher," author Peter Sasgen describes the submarine's CO Capt. Willard Ross Laughon, who had attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1929 to 1933. He was well-read and had "dissertations from Aesop's Fables to Kant, expounded with cold logic and heated interest, with an admirable choice of words."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Command At Sea: 'Foreword Presence'

Review by Bill Doughty

One hundred years ago, in 1917, Rear Adm. Harley F. Cope was midway through his studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. He would go on to serve 30 years in the Navy aboard submarines, destroyers, auxiliary ships and battleships. He commanded fleet oiler USS Salinas (AO 19) at the beginning of World War II and commanded USS Tennessee (BB 43) when the war ended.

In the middle of WWII, he published a book which has been a foundation for Navy leaders for generations: "Command at Sea" (United States Naval Institute, 1943).

This "how to" book for officers in command describes the roles and responsibilities of officers and crew, maintenance and administration of the ship, safety at sea, taking command, and combat operations, among other chapters.

I picked up a copy of the third edition, published during the Cold War (1966) and edited by Capt. Howard Bucknell III. Among the fascinating topic headings are "The Value of Admitting a Mistake," "Otherwise Hold Your Peace," and "Good Sea Manners."

Interestingly, the foreword for the third edition is by Adm. John S. "Jack" McCain, written just over a year before his son, naval aviator Lt. John S. McCain III, the future senior senator of Arizona, would be captured and imprisoned in Hanoi.

In the foreword, then-Vice Adm. "Jack" McCain, writing more than a half century ago in July 1966, lauds "Command At Sea" for setting guidelines and formulating a "working philosophy." Here's a good part of Adm. McCain's well-written and powerful foreword:
"The key words in this publication are mission, readiness, goals and personnel. Mission is the purpose, or the reason for being. Readiness is the preparation or training to accomplish the objective. The ultimate goal is victory. None is possible without dedicated personnel, both officers and bluejackets.
"That which makes a professional naval officer or petty officer competent can be acquired. Leadership and skills are more accomplishments than endowments. The secret to the attainment of both is effort and application. Pride, loyalty, and discipline are byproducts stemming from the proper exercise of command leadership. In all professions, but most of all in the naval profession, leadership is man's greatest achievement. By simple definition, leadership is the ability to inspire the officers and men of one's command to maximum effort under all conditions.
"The path to success in command is predicated on understanding. To perform, a man must first understand. It is most important that each officer and bluejacket understand: first, the Navy's overall objectives and mission; then, the particular goals and mission of his own ship. A commanding officer is wise to accentuate the wide range of opportunities and activities that are open to his men in a Navy career. Today's Navy represents the widest variety of possible activities of any profession. The Navy, in close concert with the Marine Corps, engages in all aspects of modern warfare – land, sea, and air."
Adm. John S. "Jack" McCain Jr.
Adm. McCain shows the challenges of a multi-ocean naval presence. He notes that "leadership applies to all echelons" in the chain of command, and he describes life at sea, where accountability and responsibility weigh heavily for everyone in leadership positions:
"Life at sea is a constant conflict of man against the elements. Endless struggle with winds, tides, currents, and storms at sea is everyday routine to the seaman. At sea, a man's entire mode of living changes. A ship is a world unto itself.
"Working hours are subject to all of the vagaries of life at sea, such as weather, enemy action, navigation, operation of machinery, and many other factors. Life is a never-ending round of watches, drills, work routines, meals, reveille, and taps that occupy twenty-four hours of every day, seven days a week.
"A naval officer does not commute to his work, he lives with it. It takes years of exposure and experience before the Navy many completely adjusts to this way of life. Life at sea is a frame of mind, an acquired attitude.
"At sea, the burdens of accountability and responsibility for lives and equipment are secure only when entrusted to those who have qualified for command at sea by virtue of performance. Indeed, the responsibilities are great. The ever-present cloak of responsibility, though seemingly intangible, is never light; and, once accepted, can never be cast off. The commanding officer is mindful of this responsibility in his every challenge and decision every moment of the day and night."
Cmdr. Allen Maxwell Jr., commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88), addresses members of the crew during an operational stand-down aboard the ship. Preble is underway conducting a composite training unit exercise with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Morgan K. Nall)
The captain of a navy ship literally "has the conn," responsible and accountable – the final decision maker at sea. But the wise CO communicates  and consults with his Sailors and ensures there is a strong "working relationship between officers and subordinates based on mutual confidence and respect." In this insightful foreword McCain concludes:
"Command at sea assumes an even greater significance as the seas themselves grow in importance. There is no single factor of greater consequence to the security of the United States – economic, political, and military – in the years to come than sea power, with all of its ramifications. This power not only includes the surface of the oceans, the skies above, and the depths below, but also a new and major task: the projection of power inland."
Today, he would include space and cyberspace as domains of consideration.

McCain's writing is fresh-sounding in contrast with Cope's and Bucknell's formal and sometimes technical prose outlining codes, regs and "thou-shalts."

"Command at Sea" is filled with advice about morale, "tone," loyalty, communication, standards, etiquette, practices, procedures, boldness and integrity.

The writing in 1943 and 1966 may be stiff and dated and white male-centric (no mention of women at sea, three sentences about "minority groups" in 500+ pages, and several references to "Navy Wives"), but the foundation for good leaderships still rings solid. In a way, the old-fashioned writing accentuates the strength of the foundation: despite how society and the Navy has evolved over the years it's important to be brilliant on the basics at the deckplates. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

He Made His Bed

Review by Bill Doughty
"Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life."
Those are the words of retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, author of "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... and Maybe Change the World" by Adm. William H. McRaven (Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Group, 2017)
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students participate in Surf Passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf Passage is one of many physically demanding evolutions that are a part of the first phase of SEAL training. Navy SEALs are the maritime component of U.S. special forces and are trained to conduct a variety of operations from the sea, air and land. (DVIDS photo by Kyle Gahlau, Navy Media Content Services)
McRaven describes SEAL training in Coronado and the life-lessons to be learned, including: the importance of routine, perseverance and commitment, "even in the darkest moments;" failure makes people stronger; bold decision-making can and did save lives in Afghanistan; and to succeed "find someone to help you paddle."

He encourages people to face and keep paddling past their fears. It takes a team, but every individual can make a difference.
"If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person, a Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela, and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala. One person can change the world by giving people hope."
"Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. With hope you can raise up the downtrodden. With hope you can ease the pain of unbearable loss. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference."
Gen. John Kelly, United States Marine Corps, retired.
McRaven tells of the inspiring story of a visit to Dover Air Force Base by Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly, then military assistant to the Secretary of Defense, to comfort families of dozens of service members killed in the war in Afghanistan. Kelly had lost a son in combat, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, killed in Afghanistan while serving with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines. On that day at Dover, he provided real and personal comfort to others.
"Only John Kelly could have made a difference that day," McRaven writes. "His words were words of understanding. His were words of compassion, and above all, his were words of hope."

This small but powerful book is a quick and easy read but with a deceptively deep message of positivity in a pessimistic and divided time.
" is hard and sometimes there is little you can do to affect the outcome of your day. In battle soldiers die, families grieve, your days are long and filled with anxious moments. You search for something that can give you solace, that can motivate you to begin your day, that can be a sense of pride in an oftentimes ugly world. But it is not just combat. it is daily life that needs this same sense of structure. Nothing can replace the strength and comfort of one's faith, but sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right."
A Navy SEAL can inspire his team. His team can win a battle or cut off the head of a "snake." A battle or a key mission can win or stop a war.

One act can make a difference. "Start off by making your bed," advises McRaven. He made his bed and he changed his life and the lives of others, and he can change the lives of those willing to read and lead.
Former Navy Admirals McRaven and Stavridis
Before leaving the Navy after 37 years of distinguished service as a Navy SEAL, Adm. McRaven served as commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces. Like Adm. James Stavridis, who serves as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, McRaven moved from leading in the military to leading in higher education. McRaven is chancellor of the University of Texas system.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Jerry Lewis Farewell

by Bill Doughty

Jerry Lewis couldn't join the military, reportedly because of a heart murmur. He went on to have a long career, at first as part of a comedy duo with Rat Packer Dean Martin, then as a solo comedian. 

Lewis died today in Las Vegas. He was 91. He brought joy to the world, especially during the dark days of the Cold War. And he served as a humanitarian, raising more than 2 billion dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association over 45 years.

Both Dino and Lewis "joined the Navy" in "Sailor Beware," one of those great lowbrow black-and-white comedies of the middle of the last century. As with the Three Stooges and Marx Brothers comedies, the lack of a laugh track somehow made the goofy humor drier and funnier.

Lewis signed up again for duty in "Don't Give Up the Ship," filmed in 1959 aboard USS Vammen (DE 644), named for naval aviator Ens. Clarence E. Vammen, lost in the Battle of Midway.

Jerry Lewis also "served" (food) in the Army and sang about the stereotype that Sailors had it a lot better than Soldiers: "Navy Gets the Gravy and Army Gets the Beans."

Lewis is the well-meaning neurotic that would inspire Woody Allen and Peter Sellers. His work is controversial in its over-the-top slapstick ridiculousness. But "Don't Give Up the Ship" is considered by auteurs as one of his best.

In the end Jerry Lewis faded away and became somewhat controversial with his sclerotic views. But in his heyday, he was energetic, full of life, and willing to let his freak flag fly.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

North Korea's Real Problem

Review by Bill Doughty

What does the leader of North Korea want?

What was Soviet Russia's role in creating the so-called Democratic Republic of North Korea?

How did the Kim regime gain and keep total control over the people of North Korea?

Why is the best weapon against the totalitarian regime also the least destructive?

These and other questions are brought to mind in a bite-sized book of history and context: "North Korea: Unmasking Three Generations of Mad Men" (Lightning Guides, Callisto Media, Berkeley, CA, 2015).

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson's, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry," this book offers quick, to-the-point, relevant information – in this case about the inscrutable black hole of North Korea in the 21st century.

Nothing illustrates the stark difference between the North and South better than the NASA image of the Korean Peninsula showing a bright South Korea with blazing lights of Seoul and Pusan compared with the North's blackness except for a "tiny speck of light in the region of Pyongyang."

The editors of this Lightning Guide enlighten readers with the origins of North Korea in the years following World War II. The Soviet Union wanted the entire peninsula under their control, so they supported Stalinist Kim Il-sung, who served as a major in the Soviet Red Army in the 1940s until Imperial Japan surrendered.
"Though both North and South were hoping for a unified Korea, the ideological tensions between the pro- and anti-communists were ultimately too powerful. In the short time between the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south, it became increasingly clear that each side would try to overtake the other. The conflict – one as much between the Soviet Union and the United States as between North and South Korea – cost millions of lives and cemented in place a division that brought chaos to one side and prosperity to the other."
Kim Il-sung launched an invasion of the south on June 25, 1950, taking control of Seoul. With the help of the U.S. military and the United Nations, the communists were forced back to the 38th Parallel, which became a demarcation line under the Korean Armistice Agreement and created a militarized demilitarized zone. Notably, China came to the aid of the North Korean regime to fight against UN forces.

The endangered Amur Leopard
One of the more fascinating chapters of this book is an examination of the DMZ, a "deceptively peaceful" swath of land that "crosses through prairies, mountains, lakes, tidal marshes and swamps" and is home to endangered species including the Amur Leopard. Naturally, the North opposes UNESCO's (United Nations Environmental, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) efforts to designate and protect endangered wildlife in the DMZ – "with typical North Korean rhetoric about the South's ulterior motives for the designation request."

The paranoia and resentment of leaders in the North creates an environment of fear, hate, intolerance and distrust, where absolute obedience is mandated ("Juche") and freedom seems like a fantasy.

This Lightning Guide quickly introduces us to each of the three Kims who have ruled with an iron fist and who continue to threaten the United States. "Son of the Sun" Kim Jong-il is introduced and described as leaving a "legacy of destruction and despair." He curried favor with his father through narcissistic fawning, built thousands of statues of his father throughout the countryside in the midst of a nationwide famine, and produced thousands of propaganda films. Kim Jong-un, the current dictator, continues his father's and grandfather's quest for totalitarian power and a reunited Korean Peninsula. But in the Kims' world, reunification can come about only if the peninsula is under the control of North Korea.

Will the United States be lured into another war? What if we have faith in our defensive capabilities and the power of a freedom and prosperity? Would knowledge of the outside world be the ultimate weapon to free the people of North Korea? When will the "light come on" for the oppressed people in the north?
"To those living outside North Korea, the situation can seem abstract. Oppression is less harsh without the sound of individual cries, and the Kims have gagged an entire nation. Starvation can be difficult to understand for people who have never been hungry, and the Kims have made it invisible. Perhaps their isolation is a blessing to North Koreans, since just across the Demilitarized Zone, so close and yet so far away, people with the same cultural legacy are thriving. Yet the electronics and digital revolution that has brought so much prosperity to the South may eventually be the undoing of the Kim Dynasty. When information [objective truth] is the greatest threat to a regime, a single tablet or cell phone may end up being more powerful than Kim Jung-un's weapons of mass destruction and repression."
That may be the regime's real problem: how to defend against the truth.

Freedom fighters, including defectors, routinely send information via balloons carrying information leaflets, snacks and even U.S. and ROK currency. Broadcasters send information over radio waves to the hungry people in the north.

This small book can whet your appetite to dig deeper for more information about the history of North Korea, and I'm working my way through Bradley K. Martin's 874-page "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty" (St. Martin's Press, 2004, 2006), which includes details of the USS Pueblo incident and the effects of "Vietnam Syndrome."

Martin considers options for dealing with North Korea and urges patience and understanding even in the face of heated hyperbolic rhetoric. His conclusion: "If the United States should feel compelled to fight with North Korea, I had been saying and writing for a decade, the war should be fought with information rather than bullets."