Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Tom Hanks Gift

Review by Bill Doughty

Actor, writer, patriot Tom Hanks speaks with a Purple Heart recipient veteran.
Tom Hanks, writer, builds short stories the way he describes building a fire in "Christmas Eve 1953," a gem of a story in "Uncommon Type: Some Stories" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) – to breathe, brighten and be warm. There's a reason why warmth, like hope and resilience, is important in this story.

Hanks's character Virgil Beuell entrusts his son, Davey, to operate the family's fireplace:
"A fire is going in the family room. He had taught Davey how to build one by stacking the wood the way he did his toy Lincoln Logs, like a square house around the kindling, never a pyramid. The kid now viewed making the fire as his sacred duty. Come the first frosts of November, the Beuell home was the warmest place for miles and miles."
U.S. soldiers fight in Belgium, Nov. 4, 1944. (National Archives)
As a Navy read, I found "Christmas Eve 1953" most poignant: Army combat scenes and references to Pearl Harbor, FNGs, battle buddies, and wounded warriors (before they were called that).

We are transported from a quiet and cold December 24, 1953 in a family home in the American heartland to another Christmas Eve nine years earlier fighting Nazis in France and Belgium. The cold helps us appreciate being warm.
"This hole was the seventh Virgil had chipped out of the frozen ground and covered with tree limbs since they had walked through Bastogne. Virgil didn't want to dig any more of them. Moving to another position meant shouldering weapons and gear, carrying it who knew how far or for how long, digging another hole, and building another shelter, working up the sweat that, in the subzero winter, caused a man's uniform to freeze to his back. Frostbite had taken more men off the line than wounds from enemy fire. Some of the freezing guys had been able to get out before the encirclement. Those that hadn't had already lost toes and fingers, some even their feet and hands."
Hanks fans, and there are legions, will no doubt want to pick up this collection of American short stories as a holiday gift. 

Be aware that the language is saltier than anything you'll likely hear on screen in a Tom Hanks film.

Each short story has strong characters, compelling dynamics and a reference to a typewriter. Tom Hanks loves typewriters – mechanical wonders, each connected to countless stories in the lives of the people who tapped their keys.

Funny and sad, loose and tense, cool and warm as a fireplace, these stories are an exquisite slice of Americana. Read "Christmas Eve 1953" and be prepared to have the story stay with you for a long time.

In a 2011 post, "Faith, Fear and Tom Hanks," I said Renaissance man Tom Hanks "transcends genres." Add "gifted short story writer" to his list of skills.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

David McCullough Now & Then: Time to Take a Stand



Review by Bill Doughty

Rarely does a relatively thin and small book command so much respect. McCullough's "The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For" (2017, Simon & Schuster) is a collection of a sampling of the great historian's speeches from 1989 through 2016.

Naturally the speeches include topics like history, U.S. presidents, art, education and books. The central theme, however, is captured in the title. This is an inspirational book to read on the eve of the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor to help us reflect on the origins of American freedom and equality, ideals carried by Soldiers, Marines and Sailors who stood up to authoritarian nationalism and fascism in World War II: ideals reflected in the American spirit.

Thomas Jefferson
An essential read in this collection is the speech, "The Spirit of Jefferson," which McCullough gave in a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia in 1994.

In 1776, the founders gathered together to stand up to authoritarian imperial control of King George and Great Britain. "To Jefferson," McCullough writes, "the Revolution was more than a struggle for independence; it was a struggle for democracy, and thus what he wrote was truly revolutionary. Why do some men reach for the stars and so many others never look up? Thomas Jefferson reached for the stars:"

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

The Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution are included in the canon of reading published by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in the CNO's Navy Professional Reading Program, considered fundamental. 

These founding documents demand, establish and perpetuate equal dignity of human beings, separation of powers, freedom of the press (among others) and self-government by the people.

"Never, never anywhere, had there been a government instituted on the consent of the people," McCullough reminds us. 
"When he wrote the Declaration of Independence he was speaking to the world then, but speaking to us also across time. The ideas are transcendent, as is so much else that is bedrock to what we believe as a people, what we stand for, so many principles that have their origins here, with the mind and spirit of Thomas Jefferson. Sadly, too many today take for granted public schools, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality before the law, forgetting that these were ever novel and daring ideas."
David McCullough
McCullough isn't sure if Jefferson meant to include "women" when he used the term "men," as in "mankind" or "humans." And, could he have meant to include black people? Hopefully yes, but "practically, no," McCullough admits. Like the other founders, Jefferson was a product of his time – the 18th century. Like other humans, the founders were flawed when it came to living up to the ideals they espoused. But those ideas were to be realized later.

Abraham Lincoln, certainly one of our greatest presidents, called on Americans to honor Jefferson on the eve of the Civil War. Lincoln interpreted Jefferson's words in the Declaration to be "an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times."

McCullough shares a poignant moment standing on the South Portico balcony of the White House, built there on orders of Truman after the Second World War, "in keeping, as he explained to a critical press, with Jefferson's designs for the University of Virginia." 

It should be noted that one of Truman's greatest achievements was issuing an executive order ending segregation and promoting integrating of the military, further realizing Jefferson's and Lincoln's ideals.
"On that evening, beside me, stood the highest ranking officer in the military services, General Colin Powell. We were looking across the Mall, past the Washington Monument to the Jefferson Memorial, which was just catching the last light of the day. It is his favorite of all the memorials in Washington, the general told me. Then, slowly and with feeling he recited the line – 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'"
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial reflects its image on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. in 2004. The memorial honors the Nation's 3rd President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain)

McCullough says, "The Declaration of Independence was not a creation of the gods, but of living men, and, let us never forget, extremely brave men." By signing the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote, the founders pledged "our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor." They placed their lives and reputations on the line, McCullough notes. "It was their code of integrity, their code of leadership."

Other speeches focus on cities, colleges, historic preservation, the presidency, lessons of history, and books. Lots of books. We'll save that topic for another Navy Reads review, because McCullough offers so much to consider about reading and readers.

As for the American presidency, that topic also deserves its own blogpost. 

Sailors spell out "#USA" standing with the American flag on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Gulf in 2015.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackie Hart/Released)

Several times McCullough highlights the influence of the Navy, directly or indirectly, in how (former assistant Secretary of the Navy) President Theodore Roosevelt and World War II veteran President John F. Kennedy led the nation as commanders in chief. McCullough's speech, originally delivered in Dallas in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, features a huge amount of JFK's own thoughts and words from his inaugural address. This is another must-read chapter. Here are some of JFK's words:

"The goal of a peaceful world ... is our guide for the present and our vision for the future ... the quest is the greatest adventure of our century. We sometimes chafe at the burden of our obligations, the complexity of our decisions, the agony of our choices. But there is no comfort or security ... in evasion, no solution in abdications, no relief in irresponsibility."
"The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

Kennedy "knew words matter," McCullough says. "His words changed lives. His words changed history Rarely has a commander-in-chief addressed the nation with such command of language."

McCullough concludes:
"Again and again John Kennedy's words are fired with his love of life, his love of his country and its history. He read history, he wrote history, and he understood that history is not just about times past, but also about those who populate the present, each new generation as he liked to say, and that we, too, will be judged by history ... He also knew from his reading and from experience that very little of consequence is ever accomplished alone, but by joint effort."
As a companion to this book, I borrowed the audio book from my public library and listened to it while driving to Pearl Harbor. It's uplifting to hear David McCullough's works in his own voice.  

Seventy-six years ago we were about to be drawn into a war against Imperial Japan and fascist Germany. Today both former enemies are free democracies and our strong allies, their governments based on Jeffersonian principles. McCullough reminds us of the spirit that unites Americans – who we are and what we stand for.

PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 29, 2017) A U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), renders honors to the USS Arizona as the ship departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific region routinely for more than 70 years promoting peace and security. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Cole Schroeder)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Write Stuff: 'Endurance'

Review by Bill Doughty

Scott Kelly, Christmas photo aboard ISS in 2010.
As a young man, future naval aviator, Navy captain and American astronaut, Scott Kelly was on his way to becoming a failure – unfocused, undisciplined and underwhelmed with the future. His only motivator was taking risks. Then he found a passion for a time as an EMT.

But the real ignition in his life came from a book: Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." Kelly writes in his own book, "Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery" (Knopf/Borzoi 2017):
"I was captivated by the description of the Navy test pilots, young hotshots catapulting off aircraft carriers... This wasn't just an exciting adventure story. This was something more like a life plan. These young men, flying jets in the Navy, did a real job that existed in the real world. Some of them became astronauts, and that was a real job too. These were hard jobs to get, I understood, but some people did get them. It could be done. What drew me to these Navy pilots wasn't the idea of the 'right stuff' – a special quality these few brave men had – it was the idea of doing something immensely difficult, risking your life for it, and surviving. It was like a night run in the ambulance, but at the speed of sound. The adults around me who encouraged me to become a doctor thought I liked being an EMT because I liked taking people's blood pressure measurements, stabilizing broken bones, and helping people. But what I craved about the ambulance was the excitement, the difficulty, the risk. Here, in a book, I found something I'd thought I would never find: an ambition. I closed the book late that night a different person."
Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords meet Tom Wolfe in May 2016.
But then 18-year-old Scott had to turn ambition into action. As a college student he needed a boost from his twin brother, Mark, in the form of blunt advice: choose to study instead of party; aim for excellence. "That phone call with Mark was almost as pivotal a moment in my life as reading 'The Right Stuff.' The book had given me a vision of who I wanted to be; my brother's advice showed me how to get there."
Scott and Mark Kelly

Scott and Mark, who grew up in New Jersey, took separate and sometimes circuitous routes to becoming Navy pilots and astronauts, but their future seemed predestined. Their grandfathers were veterans of sea service in World War II, one serving on a destroyer in the Pacific and the other as a Merchant Marine officer. Scott and Mark were both attracted to service and adventure and the opportunity to make a difference.

In Scott's case he earned his U.S. Coast Guard license and participated in ROTC training on a Navy ship from California to Hawaii. With the ROTC he became acquainted with surface, submarine and SEAL training, but found his calling in naval aviation.

USS Eisenhower (CVN-69)
He describes landing on the training carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) and later on USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Arabian Sea during Operation Desert Shield – on the outskirts of a sandstorm with low visibility. Scott boltered several times – failed to catch the arresting wire with his F-14's tailhook – before safely landing aboard Ike. He learned more about risk management and was reminded of "a saying in the Navy about mistakes: 'There are those who have and those who will.'"

With NASA, Scott enjoyed training with Russians, Germans and Japanese, finding value in diversity and gaining "a profound respect for scientific knowledge."

Much of "Endurance" is about Scott's life as an astronaut, of course, especially his 340 consecutive days in space on a mission considered vital to understanding the effects of living in space for an eventual mission to Mars. He calls the International Space Station "a foothold for our species in space." Toward that end, he participated in scientific studies with his identical twin brother, Mark, "at the genetic level."

Kelly and Obama.
Scott shows what it's like to: grow zinnias in space; live and work with Russians; tweet of speak with presidents, including Obama and Putin; eat burritos; watch CNN and the film 'Gravity'; urinate and draw blood; battle high levels of carbon dioxide; and listen to Pink Floyd, Jay-Z and Coldplay inside the ISS.

In space, Scott read Alfred Lansing's "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" about the Irish adventurer's exploration of the Antarctic. One of Shackleton's voyages was aboard the ship Endurance. Kelly chose "Endurance" as the name of his book, with the subtitle "A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery." (Interestingly, "Discovery" was the name of the ship Shackleton took on a voyage at the very beginning of the 20th century.)

Remembering Challenger: El Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe,
Dick Scobee, 
Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik and Ron McNair. (NASA)
Scott gives special tribute to the Columbia and Challenger tragedies, eulogizing the astronauts lost, including some close personal and professional friends. The reader gains an even greater appreciation for the bravery of the explorers of space and human endurance.

Throughout the book we go deep into some personal territory: Scott's divorce, his love for fiancé Amiko Kauderer, his bout with prostate cancer, and how he and Mark dealt with the tragic shooting of his sister-in-law, then Representative Gabby Giffords, and others in Tucson, Arizona. Scott was in space on January 8, 2011 when he received notice of the shooting. He was offered an opportunity to address the nation.

He said, in part:
"'These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another. Not just with our actions, but with our irresponsible words. We are better than this. We must do better. The crew of ISS Expedition Twenty-six and the flight control centers around the world would like to observe a moment of silence in honor of all the victims, which include my sister-in-law, Gabrielle Giffords, a caring and dedicated public servant...' Those of us who have had to privilege to look down on the Earth from space get the chance to take a larger perspective on the planet and the people who share it. I feel more strongly than ever that we must do better."


Scott shares what it's like to see Earth from space, including while on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station:
"The color and brilliance of the planet, sprawling out in every direction, are startling. I've seen the Earth from spacecraft windows countless times now, but the difference between seeing the planet from inside a spacecraft, through multiple layers of bulletproof glass, and seeing it from out here is like the difference between seeing a mountain from a car window and climbing the peak. My face is almost pressed against the thin layer of my clear plastic visor, my peripheral vision seemingly expanding out in every direction. I take in the stunning blue, the texture of the clouds, the varied landscapes of the planet, the glowing atmosphere edging on the horizon, a delicate sliver that makes all life on Earth possible. There is nothing but the black vacuum of the cosmos beyond."
Scott and Amiko
Toward the end of his nearly one year in space, Scott reflects on the "whole arc of my life that brought me here, and I always think about what it meant to me to read 'The Right Stuff' as a young man."

On "a quiet Saturday afternoon" passing over the Indian Ocean, Scott calls Tom Wolfe and talks about communication, books and writing, among other things. And Scott thanks him.

"Endurance" is a terrific biography of a quiet American hero. Kelly credits Margaret Lazarus Dean for assisting with the book. There are laugh-out-loud moments, especially about lost-in-translation Janglish on a dessert truck labeled "Marchen & Happy for You." There are private and sad passages. And there are inspiring keepsakes, like Amiko's advice: "Teamwork makes the dream work" – and this found haiku by Scott about what he learned in life:


I've learned that grass smells
great... wind feels amazing... rain
is a miracle

In an interview with "The Costco Connection" published this month Navy Captain (ret.) Scott Kelly discusses how his nearly year in space affected him. "I think it gives you more empathy for Earth and its inhabitants, and the planet itself, when you are detached from it for a long time. It definitely makes you appreciate everything Earth has to offer, which is everything. As humans, this is where we live and where we evolved, and everything is basically here. So not having most of that makes you definitely appreciate what we have – and what I have."

Reed Warrick gets a high five during his book signing at Costco in Kirkland, WA.
Phots by Kailan Manandic, courtesy Kirkland Reporter
We can imagine a young man or woman somewhere picking up this book and finding a path to purpose, endurance and discovery.

As Kelly says, "I would like people to think, whether they're younger or older, 'I can do more than I think I'm capable of. More than my experience base, education, background would let me think is possible.' ... You can always learn from your mistakes. You can always do better."

In his acknowledgements, Kelly thanks Amiko, Mark and other family members and professionals, and he concludes with: "And finally, I have to thank Tom Wolfe for his early inspiration. I truly believe if I had not read "The Right Stuff" as an eighteen-year-old, I would not have written this book or had the privilege of flying in space."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kowtowing to China

Review by Bill Doughty

Hawaii's King Kalakaua
In 1881, Hawaii's King Kalakaua "issued an urgent warning to the Chinese about the coming Western-led global transition that he believed threatened to devastate the peoples of Asia, make it imperative that they unite," according to reporter/historian Howard W. French. 

Kalakaua, who had been received in Tokyo with "pomp and circumstance," made his argument to China based on race: we, like you, are the same as Asians. The Qing dynasty and its representatives, however, were shocked that Kalakaua would consider the "morally superior race" of the Chinese to be thought of as equals.

Condescension to outsiders was expressed in the Central Kingdom's demand for tribute from other countries and territories, including Japan's Ryukyu Islands, European explorers and traders on the Silk Road, and the "barbarian southern others" of Southeast Asia, among others.

In his thought-provoking "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) Howard W. French shows how kowtowing to the leaders of China has been expected for centuries.

In 1793 Qing emperor Qianlong granted an audience with Lord Macartney, envoy of the British monarch, George III, in hopes of developing greater trade. "The English envoy plied his host with six hundred crates full of gifts, all carefully chosen to impress." Macartney, however, "had declined to perform the 'full' kowtow while presenting himself before the Chinese throne, meaning kneeling three times and prostrating oneself nine times, taking care to touch the forehead to the ground each time, according to the standard of ritualized submission demanded by Chinese protocol under 'tian xia.' [China-centric worldview)."

A depiction of Lord MacArtney's meeting with the Qing emperor and failure to properly kowtow.
A letter from Emperor Qianlong back to the British king is fascinating in its tone and meaning. Rejecting the petition for greater trade, the letter begins, "You, O King, from afar have yearned after the blessings of our civilization and in you eagerness to come into touch with our converting influence had send an Embassy across the sea..."

China thumbed its nose at the proposal as "not consistent with our dynastic usage," adding "our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders." The letter closes with an ancient tweet-like threat to "barbarian merchants" to leave China alone. "Do not say that you were not warned in due time! Tremblingly obey and show no negligence! A special mandate!"

The idea of a special heaven-sent mandate, or "manifest destiny" by another name, was not new in history or human nature, but for centuries China's turn inward, coupled with its disdain for anyone non-Chinese and constant demand for outside tribute, caused a gradual  internal weakening.

Depiction of Admiral Zheng He.
For a time China embraced trade and exploration, from the Song dynasty to the Ming-backed voyages of Zheng He in the 15th Century.  But In a "China first" attitude, the Chinese word for civilization was synonymous with being Chinese, and the narcissistic view was that the Chinese empire was the center of the world.
"China began its career as an energetic oceangoing nation under the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), and in historical terms that career was very brief, as was its period of serious engagement with the much-disputed waters of what is known today as the South China Sea. This history is critical nowadays not just to the Chinese Communist Party's expansive claims of having controlled the entire region enclosed by its nine-dash line 'since time immemorial' – which can easily be refuted – as official propaganda holds, but also in order to comprehend the emergence over time of what would become a remarkably consistent Chinese worldview, based above all on notions of centrality and superiority. Under the Ming dynasty three centuries later, when the Chinese were confronted for the first time with a European-drawn map of the world, in 1584, the 'mappa mundi' produced by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, they were astonished to find their empire positioned at the eastern end of the Eurasian landmass. Out of deference, Ricci drew another map for his hosts placing China at the center."
In "Everything Under the Heavens" French examines China's historical ties with other states expected to kowtow and pay tribute, especially in Asia: Japan and its territories, Vietnam ("Annam"), Cambodia, the Philippines and Korea.
"This pattern is as evident on the Korean Peninsula as it is in Southeast Asia. China would prefer even an extremely nettlesome client in North Korea to any plausible alternative, and hence goes to great lengths to shield it from international pressure over its nuclear weapons program. A testy Pyongyang not heeding advice is better, in China's eyes, than a united Korea linked with the United States. Beijing simultaneously pressures South Korea, whose economy has become increasingly dependent on trade with China, against reinforcing its alliance with the United States, warning in 2016, for example, that if Seoul accepts the installation of sophisticated anti-ballistic missile systems to protect itself from North Korean attack, this could 'destroy bilateral relations' with China. In July 2016, the United States and South Korea announced their decision to deploy the missile defense system over China's strong objections..."
If China has a world view of self-righteous superiority, with China at the top of a global hierarchy, what does that portend for the region?

Five hundred years after Zheng He's gunboat diplomacy and Chinese dynasties' demands for tribute, China, under President Xi Jinping, is embracing globalization, a cooperative approach to confronting climate change, and partnership-building with his neighbors. 

But French points out that at a Central Committee "work forum" on diplomacy, Xi spoke "not only about the use of carrots and sticks with other countries, but also about the need to build the case for Chinese 'righteousness' and to reinforce Beijing's moral authority in the world."

Will China demand that the world's maps be centered on the kingdom "under the heavens"? Will China continue "stealthily tightening its grip on the surrounding seas to the east and especially to the south" through its New Silk Road Initiative? Will China continue to attempt "turning the South China Sea into a 'Chinese lake'" with its nine-dash line? 

French notes: "Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said one would 'have to believe in a flat Earth' not to grasp that China's goal was to 'achieve hegemony in East Asia.'"
Sonar Technician (Surface) SA Rodolfo Melo, USS Chafee (DDG 90), handles line as
Chafee departs Hong Kong, China Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by MC1 Benjamin A. Lewis.)
Yet China has significant challenges, according to French, not the least of which are an aging population, a slowing economy, unpredictable effects of nationalism, and competing, sometimes angry, neighbors. And "the more China subjects itself to its sharp elbows the more others will naturally band together to defy it, as the last few years have already shown, while clamoring for the United States to stand with them."

Meanwhile, at least historically, the United States has been a beacon of values: freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, among others. "China today is a country virtually without allies," French writes, "whereas America has a globe-spanning network of formal alliance relationships and a set of fundamental values – based on participation, openness, democracy and human rights – that constitute a tremendous appeal for peoples all over the world, often including citizens of unfriendly states and outright foes."

On the U.S.'s role and possible limiting of China as a competing superpower, French reappraises the rebalance to the Pacific that President Obama initiated:
"A country of China's size cannot be contained, and any effort to do so would be strongly counterproductive. Rather than containment, what is going on is a process whereby Washington is steadily raising the costs for China by repositioning 60 percent of its naval assets to the neighborhood and upgrading military cooperation with its allies, Japan, the Philippines and others, while helping medium-sized powers like Vietnam ... The most salient U.S. goal, as I've written elsewhere, is 'thickening the web among China's wary neighbors, who have a shared interest in keeping China from using force to upend the existing order. Japan excepted for the time being, none of these countries has any prospect of prevailing toe-to-toe with China, and some of them are frankly Lilliputian. In concert, however, even if not in outright alliance, they may be able to effectively tie down the giant and constrain it to a mutually acceptable set of international rules.'"
How would the world and history be different if, in the late 19th century, a narcissistic China had not practiced racial animus and a transactional foreign policy? What if instead China had openly embraced international trade, cooperation and commerce? What if China had not demanded kowtowing – and instead embraced King Kalakaua of Hawaii.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Good Leadership at the Top

Review by Bill Doughty

Walter Isaacson distills the qualities that make a good leader in "Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness" (W.W. Norton, 2010), featuring essays from writers including Evan Thomas,  Alan Brinkley, Glenda Gilmore, Robert Dallek and David M. Kennedy.

The "toughest part of political leadership," he contends, "is knowing when to compromise versus when it is necessary to stand firm on principle."

An advisor to presidents, Benjamin Franklin, 81 years old at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, proposed a compromise between small and large states: "a House proportioned by population and a Senate with equal votes per state." Franklin united the convention and nation with his compromise.

Isaacson writes, "Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies."

Unfortunately, Franklin also compromised on the issue of slavery, a position that "soon haunted him" and propelled him to become an abolitionist.
"He realized that humility required tolerance for other people's values, which at times required compromise of one's own; however, it was important to be uncompromising in opposing those who refused to show tolerance of others."
In an essay perfect for Veterans Day, Sean Wilentz reintroduces us to Ulysses S. Grant, who as a former Union general and U.S. president visited Berlin, Germany in 1877 and met with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant
In conversation with Bismarck, Grant corrected the perception that America's Civil War was fought only to save the Union. Grant told him, "As soon as slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle."

According to Wilentz, Grant, who, like Washington and Jefferson, had his own complicated history as a slaveowner, had to clean up "the mess left behind by the pro-southern obstructionist president Andrew Johnson." Grant eventually strongly opposed Johnson when Johnson "hardened his defense of white supremacy and obstructed congressional efforts to guarantee the civil and political rights of the ex-slaves."

During Reconstruction and the years that followed, Grant took on the Ku Klux Klan and "subterfuges that might disqualify black voters" and intimidation "with the express purposes of scaring black voters from the polls." But President Grant, "as a career military officer, was particularly sensitive about any display of executive power that might be interpreted as the actions of a would-be Caesar."

Like every leader, Grant had blemishes, but his achievements should be recognized and appreciated, according to Wilentz.
"Grant left behind the most admirable and politically courageous record on race relations of any president from Abraham Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson. For that leadership, he sustained broad approval among the American people – but he earned the enmity of southern racists and northern 'liberal' reformers of his own time and then earned, from generations of later historians, a lasting reputation for incompetence and worse. It is long past time that the reconstruction of our understanding of Reconstruction came to include President Ulysses S. Grant."
The essay writers in "Profiles in Leadership" examine a diverse groups of leaders and influencers including, among others, George Washington, Pauli Murray, Charles Finney, Chief Joseph, W.E.B Dubois, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie and Dwight Eisenhower.
"Wendell Willkie is an interesting, and overlooked, case of a leader who was both principled and willing to seek common ground with his political opponents. As David Levering Lewis explains in his essay, when Willkie won the 1940 nomination of the Republican Party, his best political strategy would have been to embrace the prevailing isolationist Republican sentiment and oppose any intervention in what was to become World War II. But Willkie followed his own principles and supported a consensus approach on foreign policy. After his loss Willkie helped devise, with great clarity of vision, a Republican internationalism."Eisenhower was also good at eliciting consensus, as David Kennedy points out in his essay. When given a clear mission, he was able to bring people along and nurture a practical optimism. He did this not by being assertive. He never bought the notion that bullying and leadership were synonymous. But he was bold in his conduct of war because he was given a clear goal. Eisenhower was less effective, however, when he had to develop his own sense of mission and his own moral vision. That is why, Kennedy argues, he was timid on the race issue. He also valued comity over disruptive crusades for social justice. Added to that, I think, was that Eisenhower, like many people in the [1950s], did not believe integration was something that should be rushed."
Dwight D. Eisenhower
"Justice too long delayed is justice denied," Martin Luther King Jr. would write a decade later in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" when he was imprisoned in Alabama.

While Eisenhower, who David Kennedy calls "no bigot," showed tolerance for integration to a point, including finishing what Truman started with integration of the military, he failed to call for integration on the national stage and he stalled legislation for civil rights.

"The walls have ears."
He also did not condemn the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till or other acts of violence and discrimination against blacks, offering no opinion on the subject of racial justice. His armed intervention in the face of riots in Little Rock, Arkansas was based, he said, on "his duty to maintain order and respect for the directives of the federal courts."

Isaacson, author of "The Innovators" and biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs, recently published what promises to be a fascinating study on Leonardo da Vinci.

Isaacson sees patterns and context in history, creativity and leadership. He commends humility, integrity, commitment and the courage of one's convictions – all important leadership qualities.

He concludes, "The history of a nation is probably best served by a mix of leadership styles over the years, sometimes creating a pattern of reactions and then counterreactions to what went before ... The greatest challenge of leadership is to know when to be flexible and pragmatic, on the one hand, and when it is, instead, a moment to stand firm on principle and clarity of vision." Like a lot of things in life, it's 'the wisdom to know the difference.'"

Sunday, October 22, 2017

John Finn / Seton's Halloween Story

Review by Bill Doughty
World War II's first Medal of Honor recipient (former Navy Chief and Lieutenant) John Finn came to Pearl Harbor Dec. 6, 2009 to ride in a whiteboat named for him. He was 100.

Ernest Thompson Seton
I had the special privilege of interviewing John Finn that day during his boat ride. He told me his favorite author, beginning early in his life, was Ernest Thompson Seton, the naturalist, artist, writer, adventurer and Native American Indian advocate.
Finn said Seton was a great writer who captured his imagination and influenced his love of the West.

Seton had a significant role in the birth of Scouting in the United States. He is the reason there are such strong ties with Scouting and Native American culture.
Recently I read Seton's "The Arctic Prairies: A Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; Being the Account of a Voyage to the Region North of Aylmer," first published in 1911 – when John Finn was nearly two years old – and reprinted in 1917 in the version I held. The subject of the book, the journey itself, started in 1907.
Seton recounts stories, does science experiments, makes sketches of wildlife and narrates the journey to "unbroken forest and prairie leagues." This richly rewarding book follows the six-month journey Seton made with Edward A. Preble.
Preble was a naturalist whose bloodline included a distant great-great-great grandfather, the brother of Commodore Edward Preble, who defeated the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean on orders of President Thomas Jefferson.
It was naturalist Preble who became the center of a campfire Halloween story just as the journey was coming to a close, after various adventures with lynxes, buffaloes, musk-ox, caribou, wolves, bears, coyotes, Arctic foxes and a myriad of birds. Many of the creatures in the cold North were hungry, some dying of starvation in the early winter.
One particular animal became the focus of October 28, leading up to the end of the Seton-Preble journey on Halloween 1907.
"On that same night we had a curious adventure with a weasel. All were sitting around the camp-fire at bed-time, when I heard a distinct patter on the leaves. 'Something coming,' I whispered. All held still, then out of the gloom came bounding a snow-white weasel. Preble was lying on his back with his hands clasped behind his head and the weasel fearlessly jumped on my colleague's broad chest, and stood peering about. In a flash Preble's right elbow was down and held the weasel prisoner, his left hand coming to assist. Now, it is pretty well known that if you and a weasel grab each other at the same time he has choice of holds. 'I have got him,' said Preble, then added feelingly, 'but he got me first. Suffering Moses! The little cuss is grinding his teeth in deeper.' The muffled screaming of the small demon died away as Preble's strong left hand crushed out its life, but as long as there was a spark of it remaining, those desperate jaws were grinding deeper into his thumb. It seemed a remarkably long affair to us, and from time to time, as Preble let off some fierce ejaculation, one of us would ask, 'Hello! Are you two still at it,' or 'How are you and your friend these times, Preble?' In a few minutes it was over, but that creature in his fury seemed to have inspired himself with lock-jaw, for his teeth were so driven in and double-locked, that I had to pry the jaws apart before the hand was free. The weasel may now be seen in the American Museum, and Preble in the Agricultural Department at Washington, the latter none the worse. So wore away the month, the last night came, a night of fireside joy at home (for was it not Hallowe'en?), and our celebration took the form of washing, shaving, mending clothes, in preparation for our landing in the morning."
Seton admitted to a wanderlust desire to go to unexplored regions. He traveled the Nyarling River and camped at the Great Slave Lake, White Fish River, Salt River, Athabska River and Little Buffalo River. He met with Native Americans he called Cree, Chipewyan, Grand Lake Algonquin and Blackfoot Indians.
He describes – and sketches drawings of – dozens of fauna and flora, presented in scientific sketches. Black-and-white photos show the beautiful desolation of the open country.
In the final chapter, "The End," Seton writes:
"All that night of Hallowe'en, a partridge drummed near my untented couch on the balsam boughs. What a glorious sound of woods and life triumphant it seemed; and why did he drum at night? Simply because he had more joy than the short fall day gave him time to express. He seemed to be beating our march of victory, for were we not in triumph coming home? The gray firstlight came through the trees and showed us lying each in his blanket, covered with leaves, like babes in the woods. The gray jays came wailing through the gloom, a faroff cock-of-the-pines was trumpeting in the lovely, unplagued autumn woods; it seemed as though all the very best things in the land were assembled and the bad things all left out, so that our final memories should have no evil shade. The scene comes brightly back again, the sheltering fir-clad shore, the staunch canoe skimming the river's tranquil reach, the water smiling round her bow, as we push from this, the last of full five hundred camps. The dawn fog lifts, the river sparkles in the sun, we round the last of a thousand headlands. The little frontier town of the Landing swings into view once more – what a metropolis it seems to us now!"
We can picture a young John Finn reading this book rapturously and enjoying the photos and drawings by the author.

USS John Finn (DDG 113) in Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler.
Last summer, in Pearl Harbor the Navy commissioned a new guided-missile destroyer: USS John Finn (DDG 113). The ship is homeported in San Diego.

Meanwhile, the John Finn whiteboat, one of several in Pearl Harbor with Sailors at the helm, is used nearly every day to take about 150 visitors per trip to the USS Arizona Memorial – more than a million-and-a-half people per year from throughout the world. 

Among the groups who visit Pearl Harbor each year are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Interestingly, Ernest Thompson Seton is considered to one of the "fathers" of Scouting. 
Politics, patriotism and even spirituality/religion are intertwined in a fascinating essay by David C. Scott and presented by Johnny Walker about Seton's role in the early days of Scouting.
Ernest Thompson Seton founded The Woodcraft Movement in 1901 and wrote the first Boy Scouts of America handbooks. The original 1910 BSA manual is subtitled "A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft" (Seton and Baden-Powell, 1910). Seton also wrote "The Woodcraft Manual for Girls" in 1916. 
For perspective on Seton, consider that he was born in England in April 14, 1860, nearly one year to the day before the start of America's Civil War. He moved to Canada, where he lived and studied, before eventually moving to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen, settling near Santa Fe, New Mexico – in the heart of his (and Finn's) beloved West.

Seton teaches young people about Indian culture as part of his Woodcraft Movement, 1903.
A complicated individual, Seton became enmeshed in an early 20th century controversy that ended up putting him somewhat at odds with his President Theodore Roosevelt over anthropomorphic portrayals of animals in nature. TR reportedly advised Seton to back up his views with facts, leading to volumes of academic and scientific investigations about animals.

Though apparently hobbled by his own ego and patriarchal thinking toward other races, he was an early champion of equal rights for women, and he had deep respect for Native American Indian culture.

Seton also reached across the Atlantic to his native England and sought to strengthen ties in World War I, reinforcing the ideal of service. 

In his "The Gospel of the Redman: An Indian Bible" Seton writes: "The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, 'How much service have I rendered to my people?' His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and colored with complete realization of the spirit world."

Seton died 71 years ago on Oct. 23, 1946, one year after the end of the war John Finn helped win. Today the Navy remembers the service of John Finn, who, though wounded and vulnerable, fought back, firing his mounted machine gun at attacking enemy planes on December 7, 1941 at Naval Station Kaneohe Bay, now Marine Corps Base Hawaii. We can imagine Finn's spirit aboard USS John Finn, at MCBH and in Pearl Harbor.


Extended family members and friends of the late John Finn visit his namesake whiteboat in Pearl Harbor July 17, 2017. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler)

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.