Saturday, December 27, 2014

Climate Change as Serial Killer

by Bill Doughty

Climate change has been a killer for millennia, according to Eugene Linden, author of "The Winds of Change" (Simon & Shuster, 2006).

"Earthrise" in 1968. Photo courtesy of NASA.
His examination of the history of climate-as-assassin – and key questions in the debate – shows what may be in store with a warming earth, melting ice and the effect on in the invisible "ocean conveyor" on what Bill McKibben described in "Eaarth": "a blue-and-white marble floating."

Seen clearly from space for the first time in the early days of space exploration, earth is revealed as an ecosystem of sea, land and sky – "vast ocean, air currents and weather systems" – a home world alone in the vastness of space. Balanced. Interconnected.

Over time earth has experienced the extremes of heat, cold, floods and droughts. But thanks to a rare synergy of offsets – the position of large land masses, contours of the ocean floor, the reflective power of ice and snow, and tilting of earth's spin axis, among others – the period over the past 10,000 years has been relatively calm for our planet.

In other words, "This is about as good as it gets," according to Linden.

But the serial killer waits to strike again. Climate change has killed entire species, disrupted humanity and changed cultures.

Akkadian victory stele of Ram-Sin
"It's not climate, but climate change that throws civilizations into a tailspin," Linden writes.

Africa and Mesoamerica experienced drought that collapsed cultures including the Mayans. Ancient civilizations thought they had displeased the gods. The Anasazi disappeared. The Akkadian civilization disintegrated as warming climate dried the lands and hot winds blew away topsoil.

Linden cites the works of Barbara Tuchman ("A Distant Mirror"), Jared Diamond ("Guns, Germs and Steel") and, interestingly, Adam Smith ("The Wealth of Nations") as well as David Keys, author of "Catastrophe: An Investigation Into the Origins of the Modern World."
"Keys does not shy away from big ideas. In 'Catastrophe' he argues that by unleashing the plague from the south and causing barbarians to move westward from Asia, the climate upheavals of 536 played a key role in the end of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, and other events that marked the end of ancient times and set the stage for the emergence of the modern world. It's a sweeping claim, so bold that it almost begs contradiction, even from those willing to posit the consequential role of climate in human affairs. When a civilization is in decline, after all, the agent of its end might be entirely different from the cause of its decline. When pneumonia kills an aged patient in failing health, is pneumonia the killer, or merely the final nudge? As Keys exhaustively documents, by the sixth century, the Roman Empire was senescent, with little sense of purpose, kept together principally by the fear of the gathering barbarians at the gates who were constantly probing for opportunities and signs of weakness."
Bruegel's Triumph of Death
Climate warming unleashes invasive species and diseases – bark beetles, rats, hantavirus, mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. The result is millions of deaths, including from plagues. The Black Death started in China, came down the Silk Road to Crimea, and then in 1346 moved westward to Europe.

Climate change may be a killer, but it also opens the way for ecological opportunity. Just as Kaplan does in "Monsoon," Linden sees synergy in climate, weather and geography: "Climate does not control geography, of course, but climate can override the advantage that geography might otherwise confer."

Preparing a gravity core for deployment.
(Photo by Mary Carman, Woods Hole)
Researchers, including Navy veteran Lloyd Keigwin of Woods Hole's McLean Laboratory, are studying the effects of and on the ocean as a result of abrupt climate change. Are oceans stable? How will currents and civilization change in a warmer climate? What can we learn by studying paleoclimate in the Holocene, including the "Little Ice Age"?

Ice, caves, lake sediment, tree rings and dirt blown over ice are witnesses to the serial killing, the silent witnesses or proxies that help scientists examine the past.

A clear and present danger comes periodically in the form of El Niño, "the killer next door."

"In the rogue's gallery of climate killers, El Niño may be a mere foot soldier, but because we are repeatedly reminded of its depredations, it looms large in the minds of those who study the impact of climate on history," Linden writes.

El Niños in India and China over the past century and a half killed substantially more than the 60 million people who perished during World War II, according to Linden and his source, Cesar Caviedes ("El Niño in History: Storming Through the Ages"). Is it possible that a warmer world will invite more severe storms?

Earth's system for achieving balance on the blue-and-white marble (with an El Niño pictured in red) is interconnected and not completely understood, but Linden shows in research, timeline and graphs how science is searching for answers to questions in his final chapter, "Going Forward":
"Where are we headed? Is climate changing? If so, are we causing these changes? What changes lie in the future? Are we better prepared to deal with climate change? Can we do anything to halt climate change or ameliorate its effects?"
Navy leaders recognize that climate change can accelerate instability and conflict, degrade the environment and cause food and water scarcity, disruption and migration – requiring significant humanitarian assistance.

In 2009 the Secretary of the Navy outlined goals for reducing use of fossil fuels and embracing new sustainable, renewable and nonpolluting forms of energy. Also in 2009 the Chief of Naval Operations created Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) to address the naval implications of a changing Arctic and global environment. 

The Navy participates with the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the National Ice Center, whose mission is to "provide the highest quality, timely, accurate, and relevant snow and ice products and services to meet the strategic, operations, and tactical requirements of the United States interests across the global area of responsibility."

Last month the U.S. and China, the world's biggest polluters, signed a climate agreement to significantly reduce emissions over the next decade and beyond. A United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru shows hope for the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making significant progress in next December's global climate treaty meeting in Paris, France. 

Is cooperation in fighting a serial killer among the New Year's resolutions through 2015 and 2016?

140318-N-RB579-607 ICE CAMP NAUTILUS (March 18, 2014) Chief Machinist's Mate (Nuclear) Aaron Cook braves the cold while supervising a work party at Ice Camp Nautilus, located on a sheet of ice adrift on the Arctic Ocean, during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2014. ICEX 2014 is a U.S. Navy exercise highlighting submarine capabilities in an arctic environment. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Dr. Amy Sun/Released)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

U.S. Navy Frees Cuba

Review by Bill Doughty

The United States Navy helped the people of Cuba achieve independence from "corrupt, repressive Spanish colonial reign," writes Ivan Musicant in "Empire By Default" (Holt, 1998), a comprehensive reference about a decade of "profound turbulence."

The 1890s included a major economic depression, the annexation of Hawaii, and war with Spain over Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Also during the turbulent decade that led to what the author calls the dawn of the American century:
"The powers, East and West, were carving up the prostrate body of defenseless imperial China. Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan had scooped out large chunks for naval bases, railroads, mining concessions, and trading zones, eyeing one another with the deadly suspicion of thieves splitting the loot."
Africa was still being partitioned by imperial powers, an "avaricious Japan" was already setting its sights on East and South East Asia, and tensions were high with Germany over Samoa. And in 1895 some Americans were nearly ready to go to war again with Britain over its "arrogance" in the Americas, including over Venezuela's boundaries.

Meantime, Germany, Japan and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt were inspired by the strategic concepts of Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of "Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660, 1783." A stronger more powerful Navy was the advantage in the Spanish-American War.

Author Musicant opens and closes the 658+ page "Empire By Default" with references to the great naval thinker. It's another indication of how great Mahan's influence is to the development of the modern Navy and American century.

"Empire" includes copious notes, an extensive bibliography, supporting photos, and a helpful index. Historical profiles are provided on Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, General Campo, General Weyler, Secretary of the Navy Long, Commodore  Dewey, Capt. Sigsbee, Senator Proctor, Capt. Sampson, Brig. Gen. Shafter, and Commodore Schley, among others.

Musicant shows how a mysterious explosion aboard USS Maine ignited war, how Col. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders took San Juan Hill, and why readiness is so important to success in warfare. "In training, discipline, education, seamanship, and engineering, the Spanish navy was woefully behind its American enemy."

The Spanish-American War demonstrated the capabilities of expeditionary forces, reminding the nation of the significance of the Marines, the need for interservice interoperability, and the importance of accurate assessment of capabilities.
"The war for Cuba – and the Philippines and Puerto Rico as well – would depend, in chief, not on the strength and number of soldiers in the field, but on who controlled the sea, and here Spain had not the slightest chance of success. Falling into a fatal mode of military fantasy, in 1895 Spain adopted a new rating system for its navy that was wholly unrealistic and went far to dupe the nation and even foreign naval observers, who should have known better, into classifying the Spanish navy into a much higher material category of strength and readiness than it deserved."
The defeat of Rear Adm. Cervera in Cuba was a turning point not only for the United States Navy but also for the world against imperialism and monarchy. The Spanish Empire was coming to an end just as the United States "forged a new empire" based on altruism and independence, according to Musicant.

The Spanish American War guaranteed the building of a canal in Central America so the Navy could move from ocean to ocean.

And, with the annexation of Hawaii, the nation became "a commanding presence in the Far East ... as a naval base projecting power to the Orient."

"The battle had wrested for the U.S. Navy total control of the sea," Musicant writes. "America, as Alfred Thayer Mahan had predicted, now looked outward."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Unbroken' Humility and Respect

Review by Bill Doughty

Louie Zamperini and Laura Hillenbrand share a moment.
Laura Hillenbrand writes with vivid power about the life of Louis Zamperini: troublemaker kid, redeemed brother, Olympic runner, Army Air Forces lieutenant, POW and veteran.

"Unbroken" is a true story of fearless determination in the face of death, hate and brutality of war. No wonder the story was made into a feature film. 

There are some surprising ties to the Navy, and a big part of story takes place at sea.

In fact, as the preface opens, it's June 23, 1943 in the "endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean." Sharks rub against Zamperini's raft and an enemy bomber flies overhead firing machine guns below. 
Young Louie
Hillenbrand is in the zone in describing conflict, action and people. Here's how she portrays Louie as a boy, son of immigrant parents in Torrance, California who spoke only Italian at home:
"His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked it with his aunt Margie's hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, and slathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did no good."
Louie and Pete Zamperini
Louie's big brother Pete became mentor and coach, encouraging Louie to train as a runner who would set records. Pete believed Louie was capable of running a four-minute mile. He got within 13 seconds of that mark. Louis Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he was introduced to Adolf Hitler. 

He was set to run in the 1940 Games in Finland but they were canceled after Nazi Germany invaded. Fascism spread like a stain by the Nazis across Europe and – by Imperial Japan – through Asia.

Pete served in World War II as a Navy Chief Petty Officer training Sailors in San Diego. Louie became a bombardier stationed at Hickam Field and Kahuku, Hawaii. He trained aboard his B-24 named "Super Man" off Barbers Point on Oahu and Barking Sands on Kauai before deploying to Midway and other Pacific islands, including Funafuti and Samoa.

Following a successful raid on Wake Island, Admiral Nimitz presented pilots with the Distinguished Flying Cross and crewmen with Air Medals.

Pete and Louie in WWII
After crashing into the ocean on a search mission, facing hunger, delirium, sharks and enemy attacks, Louie and his close friend, pilot Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips, survived, floating 2,000 miles only to be captured by the enemy. They would spend the rest of the war in Japanese prison camps. Both the days at sea and the months languishing as slave-labor prisoners are portrayed by Hillenbrand with vivid prose, carefully researched details, and insights into the character of not only the protagonists but also some of the key antagonists.

Zamperini faced torture by brutal guards in camps at Kwajalein and Ofuna and especially at Omori and Naoetsu, men corrupted by power.
"Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler's death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people: Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet."
Hillenbrand shows that the guards were not representative of Japanese civilians or pre-militaristic society.  They were the "dregs ... washed out of regular soldierly life, too incompetent to perform basic duties. Quite a few were deranged."

While some of the guards showed compassion and understanding, many were "murderously sadistic" and felt racially and morally superior, driven by a religious fervor, hate and fear, according to Hillenbrand.

Among the POWs were Pappy Boyington, USS Houston survivor Cmdr. Arthur Maher, and Marine officer William Harris. Harris would be invited by Gen. MacArthur to be on the deck of the USS Missouri for the signing of the instruments of surrender Sept. 2, 1945. Five years later he fought in the Korean War where he became missing in action. Harris was awarded the Navy Cross in absentia.

Zamperini and his fellow POWs survived through stealing, sabotage and sheer determination. After the surrender, they rejected hate and revenge. Instead, they showed humanity to their former captors and civilians living near the camps. Back home, Louie lived with PTSD but was helped by family, friends and faith and forgiveness. Louis Zamperini died earlier this year. He was 97.

I'm posting this on the day after Marcus Mariota, quarterback of the University of Oregon Ducks, was awarded the Heisman trophy. In his acceptance remarks, Mariota, a Polynesian American native son of Hawaii, thanked his teammates, coaches, family and home state: "To Hawaii nei [beloved Hawaii], thank you for teaching me humility and respect. Two aspects of my life that I will never change."
I thought of parallels – how fearless and determined Lou Zamperini lived his life with humility and respect, though his brutal prison guards had neither during the war. History is filled with examples of the power of honor, courage and commitment to inalienable human rights.

Mariota's father, Toa, is originally from American Samoa.

In her acknowledgements in "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," Hillenbrand concludes with a dedication:
"Finally, I wish to remember the millions of Allied servicemen and prisoners of war who lived the story of the Second World War. Many of these men never came home; many others returned bearing emotional and physical scars that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. I come away from this book with the deepest appreciation for what these men endured, and what they sacrificed, for the good of humanity."
Humility and respect.
Samoa 1943.