Monday, December 28, 2015

Nantucket 'Slay Ride' – 'In the Heart of the Sea'

Review by Bill Doughty

From the Warner Bros. film by producer-director Ron Howard.
Nathaniel Philbrick's "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" (2000, Viking Press) plumbs the depths and dimensions of race and religion, survival and sustainability, and leadership and life in the 1800s, where insular thinking could lead to death.

Essex was captained by steady (and ultimately resilient) 28-year-old George Pollard. His first mate was "cocksure" and ambitious Owen Chase, 22. Seven of the crew were free black men in the North during an era of slavery in the South. The cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, was 15.

"Heart" is a true story about whaling, but it's also about understanding our place in the natural world.

The ill-fated whaling ship Essex (not USS Essex) sailed from Nantucket in 1819, just a few years after the end of the War of 1812 and within a generation of the American Civil War – a time of wooden sailing ships and Old World ways. More people lived off the land – and the sea.

Then, as now, people depended on burning oil for energy, and in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s, whale oil was often used for lighting streets and homes. Whales were harpooned, hauled, butchered and rendered at sea. Whalers collected their oil in barrels. They also collected ambergris, a fatty substance found in the intestinal tract.

Philbrick describes the terrible violence, danger and back-breaking work – and stink.
"The repetitious nature of the work – a whaler was, after all, a factory ship – tended to desensitize the men to the awesome wonder of the whale ... Whales were described by the amount of oil they would produce (as in a fifty-barrel whale), and although the whalemen took careful note of the mammal's habits, they made no attempt to regard it as anything more than a commodity whose constituent parts (head, blubber, ambergris, etc.) were of value to them. The rest of it – the tons of meat, bone, and guts – was simply thrown away, creating festering rafts of offal that attracted birds, fish, and, of course, sharks. Just as the skinned corpses of buffaloes would soon dot the prairies of the American West, so did the headless gray remains of sperm whales litter the Pacific Ocean in the early nineteenth century."
Sperm whales. (photo courtesy NOAA)
Philbrick reports that American whalers killed nearly a quarter million sperm whales between 1804 and 1876. "As a disturbing point of comparison, in 1964, the peak year for modern whaling, 29,255 sperm whales were killed." (But the whales made a comeback. "Today there are between one-and-a-half to two million sperm whales.")

After wiping out the whales near their island, the people of Nantucket ventured throughout the Atlantic by the time of the Revolutionary War. Then, in bigger ships equipped with whaleboats and processing equipment, they sailed around Cape Horn, South America and into the Pacific.

Whalers also devastated the environment in the Galapagos Islands, where hundreds of tortoises were taken for meat. They even temporarily wiped out sea birds on Henderson Island. That happened exactly 195 years ago this month.

Philbrick shows parallels of sperm whale pods with Nantucket whalers' families – where males were separated from females and offspring for years at a time.

We see how whaling ships were outfitted and how whaleboats were maneuvered during the chase. We learn the language of whaling; the term "Nantucket sleigh ride" comes from the rough ride whaleboats would take after whales were harpooned. We feel the brutal life, separation and consequences of whaling, where one quarter of the women in Nantucket over 23 were "widowed by the sea."

Like other Americans of their time, the people of Nantucket relied on letters and word of mouth for most of their communication. Traditions were revered. People on Nantucket Island lived in a "protective bubble," as Philbrick calls it, that helped them know their place in a complicated class pecking order and shape their decision-making. The bubble, he shows, blocked their ability to be innovative.
"Nantucketers were suspicious of anything beyond their immediate experience. Their far-reaching success in whaling was founded not on radical technological advances or bold gambles but on a profound conservatism. Gradually building on the achievements of the generations before them, they had expanded their whaling empire in a most deliberate and painstaking manner. If new information didn't come to them from the lips of another Nantucketer, it was suspect."
An African American whaler
Insulated thinking would have life-and-death consequences for the crew of Essex after their ship was destroyed.

In a story that inspired Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," an enraged 85-foot-long bull sperm whale with "fury and vengeance" attacked and fatally damaged the Essex. And in a sense that's when the suspense "In the Heart of the Sea" begins.

Some people die while others survive, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive. Who lives, who dies, and how it all happens is worth the read.

The story goes deep into the nature of racism, humanity and redemption.

Most of those who survived were brought back from South America by the U.S. Navy aboard the frigate USS Constellation. The U.S. Navy schooner Waterwitch and brig Pearl had roles in verifying the story for historians and writers, including Melville and Philbrick himself.

In a fascinating denoument, Philbrick shows what happened to key characters in the years after the sinking of the Essex. He reveals how Nantucket changed, then and now. Downtown Nantucket "has become a thriving summer resort" where there was once a "decrepit fishing village." 

"Wishbone" jaw and "fingerlike bones from the fins" on display in Nantucket.
Today, the Nantucket Historical Association and whaling museum showcases the skeleton of a sperm whale on display for study and appreciation.

"In the Heart of the Sea" opens our eyes to how much the world has evolved, where we now have more understanding of our place in the environment and our responsibility for conserving resources and protecting the world's oceans and species.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

AHA Moment: 'Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now'

Review by Bill Doughty

"Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2015 HarperCollins).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA) says there is a war going on within Islam: "a war between those who wish to reform ... and those who wish to turn back to the time of the Prophet."

Those who wish for reform, while not uniform in their thinking, reject a culture of fatalism and death. Reformers want a culture where blasphemy, heresy and apostasy are not punishable by death – where anti-modernity, martyrdom and murder are not celebrated – where belief in an afterlife does not conflict with being alive here on earth. Where freedom is sacred.

Martyrdom is a common thread in radical jihadists' attacks against the United States and U.S. military – from the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon to the USS Cole terrorist attack in Aden, Yemen; from attacks in Africa and Europe to suicide bombings in the Middle East and on U.S. soil on 9/11.

Two believers in a cult of death, with apparent influence of ISIL, massacred innocent Americans earlier this month in San Bernardino, California.

In the wake of that horrific act of violence, Commander in Chief President Barack Obama addressed the nation. He spoke of ongoing airstrikes and taking the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as IS, ISIS and Daesh – without starting another extended ground war. He also offered perspective and advice similar to that of the reformers.

In part, the president said:

"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.  ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world – including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. 

"That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity."

Obama's words and ideas in support of moderates are reflected by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Power of Reason

True reform must come from within, says Ali.
AHA: "I believe that each human being possesses the power of reason as well as a conscience. That includes all Muslims as individuals. At present, some Muslims ignore their consciences, and join groups such as Boko Haram or IS, obeying textual prescriptions and religious dogma. But their crimes against human reason and against human conscience committed in the name of Islam and sharia are already forcing a reexamination of Islamic scripture, doctrine, and law. This process cannot be stopped, no matter how much violence is used against would be reformers. Ultimately, I believe it is human reason and human conscience that will prevail."
She identifies three types of dissident-reformers: those in the West, those within the Islamic world, and a growing number of Muslim clergymen.

Dissidents in the West: "These individuals are not clergymen but 'ordinary' Muslims, generally educated, well read, and preoccupied with the crisis of Islam." For example, Zuhdi Jasser of American Islamic Forum for Democracy in Phoenix, Arizona, launched "Jefferson project" calling for "the separation of mosque and state."

Citizen reformers and dissidents in the Islamic world: Taslima Nasrin, for one, calls for a "uniform civil code of laws that is not based on religious dogmas, and that is equally applicable to men and women." AHA: "The rule of civil law rather than sharia law will ensure all citizens are treated as equals, regardless of their private religious affiliation."

Clerical reformers: AHA differentiates between true reformers and those who condemn the violence of ISIS and Al-Qaeda while working behind the scenes to nevertheless impose sharia. She writes: "Independent thinking, outside of the shackles of orthodoxy, is necessary for a civilization to flourish."

Like Fighting the Cold War

Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for using Cold War strategies to counter radical extremist ideologies, attacking the ideas as was done against Communism decades ago. " ignoring the ideas that give rise to Islamist violence we continue to ignore the root of the problem."

"Just as critics of communism during the Cold War came from a variety of backgrounds and disagreed on much, today's critics of Islam unreformed are not in agreement on all issues."

AHA calls for assistance and "where necessary, security" for those calling for a reformation of Islam.

"The dawn of a Muslim Reformation is the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion," AHA writes.

She says Islam needs a Voltaire, the French historian and philosopher who witnessed the birth of freedom in the West and saw it take root in a secular democratic nation: the United States.

She also calls for a John Locke – someone like the English scholar who will call for truth and knowledge over blind belief.

"In Locke's formulation, protection against persecution is one of the highest responsibilities of any government or ruler."

Voices and Rights of Women

Reformation ought to begin with "half of humanity," AHA says. "Today, more than two hundred years after Voltaire and three hundred years after John Locke, the rights of women are in retreat throughout the Muslim world." In some corners of the world people still tolerate and practice female genital mutilation, death sentences for rape victims, forced marriages for girls before the age of ten, and torture and death for women adulterers.

She sees civil rights as "a beacon" into the 21st century. Reformers question ideas that are considered by some to be unquestionable.

Should we tolerate intolerance? Should we live in fear? Should we accommodate hate? Should we accept political correctness over freedom of speech?

AHA says that we must not bend to fundamentalist sensitivities or demands; instead, reformation calls for accommodation to Western ideals of freedom.

Ten years ago Asra Q. Nomani called for the equal rights of women, including equality in mosques. ("Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam," 2005, HarperCollins. "While we challenge the status quo, we are busy creating a new reality," Nomani writes.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, bestselling author of Infidel.
For her part in the new reality, AHA compares the internet in this century to the printing press 500 years ago. Books helped bring about the Reformation in Europe.

While terrorists are using new technology, the communication network across the Muslim world is reaching millions of more peace-loving people and helping turn the tide through freedom of expression. Among the peace-lovers, she includes Malala Yousafza, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning student; "here, surely, is the authentic voice of a Muslim Reformation."
AHA: "The Muslim Reformation is not fiction. It is fact. Over the past few years, dozens if not hundreds of developments have convinced me that, while Islam's problems are indeed deep and structural, Muslim people are like everyone else in one important respect: most want a better life for themselves and their children."
Reading Reasoning Reforming

Ali and Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman in February 2015.
Reading is at the root of reformation, rationality and reason. Education leads to freedom of thought. The first step in resolving a problem is studying and understanding it – in other words, being well read.

The last voice in "Heretic" is from reformer and dissident Iyad Jamal al-Din, a cleric from Iraq who says the choice is fundamentalism as represented by radical jihadists like ISIS or "man-made, civil enlightened law."
AHA concludes: "To repeat the words of al-Din: 'We must not embellish things and say that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and rose water, and that everything is fine.' It is not. But the fact that such words can be uttered at all is one of the reasons I believe the Muslim Reformation has begun."
As for those who have declared war on the West:

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) launches Tomahawk cruise missiles in strikes against ISIL in 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/Released)
The U.S. military, with ally partners, is engaged in Operation Inherent Resolve to attack and defeat the Islamic State In the Levant.  Even those of us on the sidelines can be part of the battle against radical fundamentalist ideology, albeit indirectly.

President Obama's weekly radio message yesterday focused on combatting ISIL, as reported by Jim Garamone on

"American service members are doing their parts to root out and kill the ideology. 'Our men and women in uniform are stepping up our campaign to destroy ISIL,' the president said. 'Our airstrikes are hitting ISIL harder than ever, in Iraq and Syria. We’re taking out more of their fighters and leaders, their weapons, their oil tankers. Our special operations forces are on the ground — because we’re going to hunt down these terrorists wherever they try to hide.'

"It is not limited to Iraq and Syria. 'In recent weeks, our strikes have taken out the ISIL finance chief, a terrorist leader in Somalia and the ISIL leader in Libya. Our message to these killers is simple — we will find you, and justice will be done,' Obama said.

"But the most important thing Americans can do is 'stay true to who we are as Americans,' he said. 'Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background. That’s how they stoke fear. That’s how they recruit.'"

If defeating radical jihadists relies on turning away from fear and hate and embracing our commonality, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says we can begin by rejecting fatalism, martyrdom and a cult of death:

"The next step in dismantling the ideological foundation of Islamist violence will be to persuade Muslims raised on an alluring vision of the afterlife to embrace life in this world, rather than actively seeking death as a path to the next."

A U.S. seaman directs an E/A-18G Growler to the catapult on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the U.S. 5th fleet area of operations, May 28, 2015. The Theodore Roosevelt is supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Josh Petrosino)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Heartfelt 'Destiny and Power' of Bush 41

Review by Bill Doughty

The future President George H. W. Bush was 17 years old, attending Phillips Academy Andover, when Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. When he turned 18 he went off to war. When he was 20 he was a naval aviator with VT-51 in the Pacific, flying from the deck of USS San Jacinto.

On September 2, 1944 Bush was shot down in action over Chichi-Jima, an island heavily defended communications/supply island 700 miles south of Tokyo. His squadron's mission was to take out a radio tower atop Mount Yoake.

Author Jon Meacham recounts the terror Bush felt before, during and after his plane was hit by enemy fire.
Bush was in range of the tower. The Japanese guns filled the air with flak. Flying at a thirty-five-degree angle to the surface, Bush zeroed in on the target and went straight for it. Racing ever closer to the island, the plane was hit. As the Avenger jolted forward, Bush was able to keep it on target. Smoke filled the cockpit. Flames raced along the wings.
Bush stayed the course and dropped his bombs, damaging the radio tower, according to Meacham, before accelerating back out to sea. He knew his plane was losing altitude due to the severity of the fire. "Hit the Silk" he remembers telling his two crewmen.

"Buffeted by the wind ... Bobbing on the surface ...stung my a Portuguese man-of-war ..." Bush was a target for the Japanese as he paddled with his arms and waited for help. He was rescued by the submarine USS Finback. His first concern was for his aircrew. Two were lost and never found.

Meacham's account comes in Part II of "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush" (Random House, 2015). Part II is titled "War and Marriage."

The crucible event in the western Pacific galvanized Bush's character, which had first been shaped, according to Meacham, by Bush's mother to be "courageous, competitive, caring, and tireless."  Yet a complicated amalgam of guilt and appreciation for being alive continued throughout his life:
There was no logic to the costs of combat. Bush realized, no real rhyme or reason. All you could do was your best, and take what came ... "I'll always wonder, 'Why me? Why was I spared?'" Bush recalled. He spent the rest of his life striving to prove that he was worthy of being saved when others were doomed.
Undoubtedly his wisdom gained in combat and service in the Navy at such a young age helped inform his decision-making decades later as commander-in-chief.

Meacham's masterwork biography includes a generational perspective of Bush's family, including with his partner First Lady Barbara Bush; his time at Yale; his achievements in business; life in Texas; diplomacy in China; the "Age of Reagan;" the winning of the Cold War; his Presidency; and the "Twilight" years since.

While most of the book understandably focuses on politics, Meacham makes it personal; he takes us into the mind of the former president, thanks to extensive interviews, access to Bush's recorded diary and well-documented research.

Our only complaint is that there could have been more space devoted to Bush Sr.'s service in the Navy. There's a brief but warm mention of the commissioning of USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77). Still, there's more here than in other biographies of our 41st president.

Former Chief of Staff John Sununu, for example, devoted barely one page out of nearly 400 to his former Boss's naval career in "The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H. W. Bush" (Broadside Books, 2015).

Sununu writes:
"Underneath his kinder and gentler exterior are a bona fide toughness and a commitment to complete his missions. After he was shot down – he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism – he arrived in Hawaii for reassignment. He was offered a choice of returning to the United States or rejoining his old squadron, which was still battling in the Pacific. Bush elected to return to his squadron."
Nearly all of the rest of Sununu's book is a subjective behind-the-scenes look at the Bush 41 administration. Nearly all political. Meacham's work is much more objective, more insightful and, ironically, more heartfelt.

Read a review of "Flyboys of WWII" on Navy Reads.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

[for Paris] Enlightening 'Mother of Exiles'

by Bill Doughty
(Navy photos courtesy and Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Statue of Liberty stands as a symbol of enlightenment. France bequeathed the sculpture to the United States in the late 1800s. Lady Liberty has inspired U.S. Sailors and Marines, veterans, and people "yearning to breathe free" for more than a century.

131108-N-XQ474-108 NEW YORK CITY (Nov. 8, 2013) A Sailor and Marine man the rails of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) as it transits past the statue of liberty. New York departed Naval Station Norfolk to conduct training operations and participate in Veterans Week New York City to honor the service of our nation's veterans. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Andrew Schneider/Released)

According to the National Park Service, "In 1865, a French political intellectual and anti-slavery activist named Edouard de Laboulaye proposed that a statue representing liberty be built for the United States. This monument would honor the United States' centennial of independence and the friendship with France. French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi supported Laboulaye's idea and in 1870 began designing the statue of 'Liberty Enlightening the World.'"

The statue had to be shipped in pieces and reconstructed. It arrived aboard the French Navy ship, Isère. For more than a century U.S. Navy ships have paid tribute, sailing past in New York Harbor.

The Statue of Liberty is framed between the smokestacks of USS Boston in 1889, a protected cruiser and one of the first ships constructed from steel, part of the "modern Navy" of the late 1800s.

USS Leviathan sails with escorts past the Statue of Liberty in 1917. The former German passenger liner Vaterland was seized by the United States during World War I and renamed USS Leviathan in September 1917, serving as a troop transport to Europe, where troops fought with the people of France and England. 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."

Jerome Agel writes in "Words that Make America Great" (Random House, 1999), "America was the objective of the largest migration of people ever seen on the planet. This extraordinary flow shaped us as a nation. The newcomers came for different reasons ... But most of them considered America a haven, a refuge, a country of the second chance."

Agel reprints the sonnet "The New Colossus," written in 1886, noting that the last five lines of the poem are part of the 150-foot-high pedestal that supports the sculpture.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) Passes the Statue of Liberty while en route to Bayonne New Jersey from the New York Navy Yard 16 November 1945.
SSN 696 emblem designed in 1977. USS New York City (SSN-696) was commissioned March 3, 1979 and served till April 30, 1997.
131213-N-KG934-298 NEW YORK (Dec. 13, 2013) The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, pilots fly in the world-renowned Delta Formation past the New York City skyline. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terrence Siren/Released)
121001-G-TG089-038 NEW YORK - The guided-missile destroyer Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Michael Murphy (DDG 112) makes its way through New York Harbor in preparation for its commissioning Oct. 6, 2012. The new destroyer honors the late Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, a New York native, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat as leader of a four-man reconnaissance team in Afghanistan. Murphy was the first person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan, and the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the award since the Vietnam War. #murph (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson/Released)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

You & WWII: Bonejarring 'Wake of the Wahoo'

Review by Bill Doughty

Ever wonder what it would be like to step into the shoes of a World War II veteran back in the 1940s? 

Former Navy Yeoman Forest J. Sterling helps us smell the diesel, feel the pressure changes and taste the salty air when his submarine surfaces after a tense, bonejarring attack. "Wake of the Wahoo" takes the reader across the breadth of the Pacific for "The Heroic Story of America's Most Daring WWII Submarine, USS Wahoo" and shows the spirit of shipmates at war.

With a foreword by retired Vice Adm. Charles A. Lockwood, the people are real, the action is intense, and the life on the boat and on liberty rings true, whether the crew is playing cards, eating sardine sandwiches, dealing with bum torpedoes or dodging Layson Albatross ("Gooney") birds on Midway in between missions.

Captain Dudley "Mush" Morton is shown to be an innovative and tough but caring leader who placed the welfare of his crew above his own. Lt. Cmdr. Dick O'Kane, who would one day be awarded the Medal of Honor and go on to become a rear admiral, is depicted as an intense and dedicated warfighter.

Sailors experience the extreme and the mundane.

Sterling writes about heading out for deployment from Wahoo's homeport in Hawaii:
"Wahoo backed clear of the pier and turned. She shook as the screws reversed, stopped and then headed proudly out of Pearl Harbor Channel. On the pier, the spectators were straggling off to their routine jobs, and on the Wahoo, I stood watching with my stomach churning in excitement. There was a sudden silence about the ship, and I noticed everyone who was topside had done likewise. Krause was two-blocking the Colors, after having dipped the flag in a Wahoo salute. I found myself wishing that on this patrol Wahoo would in some small way help to atone for the sacrifice made by the men still entombed aboard the Arizona."
He describes fear and determination during a depth charge attack from above:
"Wahoo was searching frantically for the bottom, piling tons and tons of protective water over her back. 'Rig for depth charge, rig for depth charge.' I felt Wahoo's decks level off and at that instant Pandora's box opened and all hell broke loose. Three depth charges went off in succession, seemingly right on deck over the crew's messroom. We were plunged into complete darkness, and a loose piece of metal shooting through the void struck my left ear, causing it to sting sharply. Dishes stacked on the tables were lifted and thrown about. Loose knives and forks flew about at random, their screaming lost in the blasts of the depth charges. Patches of cork showered down, followed by a ventilationless room full of smoking dust."
More action topside as the deck gun and twenty millimeters fired on an armed enemy motor launch, with Sterling standing watch and observing:
"Whenever the deck gun went off, I flinched from the shock wave that followed. There would be a blinding flash of yellow, which I saw from the corners of my eyes against the binoculars, the shock jarring my whole body, followed by a cloud of acrid white with brownish tints and pale blue colors drifting into view on the starboard side of the ship. A sharp explosion of a shell going off near the twenty millimeters caused me to jump. I looked down and saw the barrel pointing in the air and Gerlacher staggering dazedly away from the gun. Glinski was sitting on deck and looked stupidly at his right foot. The shoe leather was brutally torn and I could see blood spurting from a wound onto the deck. I resolutely returned to scanning the ocean."
This is a personal account of submariners who, according to Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, played a critical role in achieving victory in the war. Nimitz, himself, stepped aboard Wahoo to present the crew with the Presidential Unit Citation signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox after the sub's third war patrol.

Wahoo took on Japanese freighters, destroyers, troop transports, and other submarines, sinking 21 ships of 62,963 tonnage.

Sterling is a good writer because he was a good reader, describing how he and his shipmates would read magazines like Look, Reader's Digest and periodicals about the American West. They read newspapers and studied atlases when they weren't playing pinochle or eating, another favorite pastime. On the menu aboard the submarine: mincemeat pie, chili con carne, "Dagwood sandwiches," corned beef and cabbage, fried chicken and apple pie with a slice of cheese.

In the book's preface, Sterling says the story and life aboard the ship "can only be told by someone who was there." Just prior to the Wahoo's last fateful mission, Sterling was suddenly transferred to a school to help him become a better yeoman and make Chief. (He would rejoin the Pacific War and participate in landings at Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Leyte before rejoining the Silent Service.)

Wahoo ship's bell recovered and on display.
Sterling shares poignant memories of seeing Wahoo sail from Pearl Harbor one last time. He closes the book with a recommendation about O'Kane's book "Wahoo" and ends with this message to shipmates:

"Sorry, fellows. I should have been with you. I can never understand why Captain Morton changed his mind and transferred me at the last moment. My spirit has been with you all these years." Sterling died in 2002 and is interred at Biloxi National Cemetery.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert congratulates new CNO Adm. John Richardson Sept. 18, 2015. (USNI)
This book was a personal recommendation from Adm. Jon Greenert, who served from Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2015 as Chief of Naval Operations. Greenert, like current CNO Adm. John Richardson, is a submariner. While Greenert commanded the U.S. Seventh Fleet out of Japan, an international team discovered the remains of USS Wahoo in 2005 in the Soya Strait.

At different times Greenert and Richardson commanded USS Honolulu (SSN 718) in Pearl Harbor earlier in their careers – in the wake of the Wahoo.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Japan For Kennedy – 'PT 109'

Review by Bill Doughty

Naval officer Lt. John Fitzergald Kennedy became president of the United States in large part because of his heroism in the Solomon Islands – despite the "fouled up" battle plan in the Battle of Blackett Strait.

Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy in 1942
That's the contention of author William Doyle in the new and updated account of Kennedy's service: "PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy" (HarperCollins 2015).

Doyle also shows how the Kennedy family contributed to the strong friendship America built with Japan after the war and in the seven decades since.

The "creation myth" of JFK's heroism began when a Japanese destroyer, Amagiri, captained by Kohei Hanami, rammed the small torpedo boat, killing two men and sending others overboard as the boat exploded and sank.
"A hundred-foot-high fireball rose from the crash site, fed by thousands of gallons of fuel that spilled into the water from the crippled boat. Despite the night's poor visibility, the inferno was visible for mlles. The crash propelled seven of the thirteen men into the blazing ocean, most of them wearing life jackets and helmets ... They fell into a world of horror – a black, shark-infested ocean punctuated by pockets of flaming gasoline, lethal fumes, and muffled shouts and screams, with their boat nowhere to be seen. As they struggled in the water and gulped salt water and gasoline, they had every reason to believe they could very soon be drowned, consumed by fire, or eaten alive from beneath."
The sinking of PT 109 was a symptom of the failure of the Battle of Blackett Strait, caused by bad Mark VIII torpedoes, poor communications, weak leadership and a lack of command and control. In a conversation with author John Hersey, Kennedy would later compare it to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.

Rescuer Eroni Kumana, who died in 2014
In the wake of the sinking of PT 109 Kennedy showed his mettle, swimming three-and-a-half miles leading his men "over open water, behind enemy lines in broad daylight, fully exposed for four hours to any Japanese lookouts or pilots who happened to look his way."
"All the while, he bit on to a strap and towed a badly burned sailor along with him. Simultaneously he was charged with leading nine other men, including several injured and several non-swimmers, toward safety. It was a performance Kennedy would rarely talk about publicly, but it was an astonishing feat that his crewmen never forgot. On this day, his leadership and example delivered them the hope, however slim, that salvation may be on the the horizon."
Kennedy's subsequent leadership ensured the sailors' survival and rescue, with help from local islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana. The story was compared to Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey" mythology.

After the war, the Kennedy family's ties to Japan strengthened, despite some challenges.

Doyle recounts JFK's visit in 1950, marked by his near-death illness, and brother Robert Kennedy's visit in 1962 as Attorney General, tarnished by demonstrations against America's policies in Cuba and Vietnam.

In 1957 JFK was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "Profiles in Courage." That same year daughter Caroline was born. Today Caroline Kennedy is U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Doyle shows how on March 5, 2015 Ambassador Kennedy met the widow of Kohei Hanami, the man who captained Amagiri and sank PT 09.

JFK had planned to meet Kohei Hanami on a trip to Japan in 1964, a trip that didn't happen due to Kennedy's assassination.

Packed with great photos and new information, "PT 109" is an enjoyable and informative read, profiling John F. Kennedy's "stubborn, indomitable courage" and showing how the Navy contributed to his character and core values.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Navy: "Sea of Glory"

Review by Bill Doughty

Charles Wilkes captained Exploration Expedition 
Some historians say the United States Navy was "born again" during the War of 1812, which ended two hundred years ago this year, a war which brought great heroes such as David Porter, Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Isaac Hull, Oliver Hazard Perry and Charles Stewart.

A young man who came of age at the end of the War of 1812, Charles Wilkes, was inspired by British naval hero James Cook and by the U.S. Navy heroes of 1812-1815 (especially Porter and Decatur) to join the Navy. Aboard his flagship, sloop-of-war Vincennes, Wilkes would lead the "Ex.Ex.," the nation's historic Exploring Expedition to Antarctica and around the globe.

But there was something wrong with Wilkes.

Nathaniel Philbrick, a favorite author of Navy Reads, examines Wilkes's psyche while presenting an epic telling of the adventure by six ships carrying sailors, scientists and surveyors. Philbrick's "Sea of Glory" (Viking Penguin Books, 2003) is another work of art about the sea.

As the Navy prepares to celebrate its birthday this week, "Sea of Glory" is a good way to reflect on the mind-boggling significance of Ex. Ex. to history and science. Wilkes and his team of explorers discovered Antarctica; explored of volcanoes in Hawaii; and surveyed Fiji, Pearl Harbor, the Columbia River, and swaths of the Pacific. They brought back unprecedented numbers of plant, animal and mineral species.
"By any measure, the achievements of the Expedition would be extraordinary. After four years at sea, after losing two ships and twenty-eight officers and men, the Expedition logged 87,000 miles, surveyed 280 Pacific islands, and created 180 charts – some of which were still used as late as World War II. The Expedition also mapped 800 miles of coastline in the Pacific Northwest and 1,500 miles of the icebound Antarctic coast. Just as important would be its contribution to the rise of science in America. The thousands of specimens and artifacts amassed by the Expedition's scientists would become the foundation of the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Indeed, without the Ex. Ex.,  there might never have been a national museum in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Botanic Garden, the U.S. Hydrographic Office, and the Naval Observatory all owe their existence, in varying degrees to the Expedition."
Vincennes in Disappointment Bay, Antarctica
"Sea of Glory" is captivating for its description of hazardous life at sea, interactions with native populations, and the sunset of the age of discovery. It also shows how far America has evolved from the days of wooden ships, whaling and the trade of otter and seal skins, sandalwood and sea slugs. Yes, sea slugs.

The Wilkes expedition would influence Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and other writers and thinkers and spawn Civil War leaders, including the great William Reynolds (Wilkes's opposite and ultimate antagonist), who would claim the Midway Atoll/Islands for the United States, instrumental to the new steam-powered Navy. Surveys of the Pacific by Ex. Ex. would be used by the U.S. Navy in planning the invasion of Tarawa in WWII.

But what was wrong with Wilkes?

"Sea of Glory" is filled with strange happenstances of history, strange characters and warped personalities, none more warped than Wilkes himself, described as "arrogant," "insecure," "egotistical," "vain," "impulsive," "cruel," "duplicitous" and "manipulative" – stretched beyond his capabilities."

"The less control he felt, the more he became fixated on the issue of rank," Philbrick writes. Wilkes, in fact, was literally a self-promoter who thought he deserved the rank of Captain rather than Lieutenant, so he put on the epaulets and uniform of the senior rank during the expedition, an "audacious, even outrageous act, without precedent in the U.S. Navy."

Philbrick and RADM Richard Gurnon, USMS (ret.), former president of Mass. Maritime Academy.
It's no wonder Wilkes fell out of favor with a host of senior officers and Secretaries of the Navy, including SECNAV Gideon Welles.

As a leader, Wilkes believed in blind obedience, harsh discipline and public humiliation of subordinates. When envious or angry he turned to excessive and extreme violence. After the expedition, the Navy court-martialed Wilkes for excessive flogging of Sailors and Marines, among other charges, but he ultimately redeemed himself in the Civil War. He later devoted his life to his legacy while others dedicated themselves to the significant scientific discoveries of his expedition.

Philbrick notes that "science in America was forever changed by the Ex. Ex." However, because of a shift in focus from the Pacific to the American West, among other reasons, the Exploration Expedition has been obscured despite its influence.
"[Wilkes] had once dared to assume that if he should successfully complete his mission, a grateful nation would shower him with praise and recognition. He had fashioned out of disaster one of the largest, most sophisticated scientific and surveying enterprises the world had ever seen. He had found a new continent, charted hundreds of Pacific islands, collected tons of artifacts and specimens, and explored the Pacific Northwest and the Sulu Sea. And he had now returned to find that nobody in New York, Washington, or, it seemed, the entire nation apparently cared."
While attention in coming weeks will understandably be focused on Philbrick's terrific "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex," readers interested in naval history are wise to include "Sea of Glory" or "The Last Stand" for Philbrick's good studies about leadership, life-and-death challenges and the depths of human nature.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

World War III – & Questions Raised

Review by Bill Doughty

Is war with China possible? If it were to occur, how would it likely be fought and where?

These questions are posed in a work of fiction by P.W. Singer and August Cole, working in the big shadow left by Tom Clancy but with some cyber-subversiveness inspired by William Gibson ("Neuromancer").

"Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War" (an Eamon Dolan Book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) says the war would be fought largely by the U.S. Navy, centered in Hawaii. 

Understandably, the book opens with a disclaimer: "The following was inspired by real-world trends and technologies. But ultimately, it is a work of fiction, not prediction."

But as unbelievable the action and scenarios seem, the technology is real, according to the authors: rail guns, lasers, cyber, drones, and a "metal storm" swarm of weapons.

Singer and Cole paint in bright colors on a wide canvas.
QM3 N. Wylie launches PUMA II UAV aboard USS Gonzalez
(DDG 66) Sept. 3, 2015. (Photo by MC2 D. C. Ortega)
"Captain Jamie Simmons stood in the lee of the helicopter bay and scanned the blue sky. Even with the chill that grew as they moved farther north, the rhythmic rise and fall of the following Pacific swell made the moment wholly pleasant. It was the kind of beauty that unexpectedly wormed its way into the experience of war."
Their book opens "243 miles above the earth's surface" then plunges 2 miles below sea level in Mariana Trench before ultimately centering on Hawaii.

There are some weird moments: Alice Cooper pirates, psychosexual spies, "Battle of Kamehameha Highway," air war over Kaneohe, boarding party in space, and Walmart warfighters. But most of the book is straight ahead techno-thriller – with riveting descriptions of surface naval warfare aboard USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the physics of air battles, the cool effectiveness of Navy SEALs and what the future might be for unmanned vehicles in combat.

Richly developed characters act out strong themes of honor, courage and commitment, with a complicated father-son relationship and an accurate description of the sacrifices of military families. Throughout – the influence of Mahan and especially Sun Tzu.

This Sun Tzu quote opens Part 1: "You can fight a war for a long time or you can make your nation strong. You cannot do both."

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1941. 
History is remembered, especially in the primary setting for this novel, Hawaii. The authors describe the heroics of two young U.S. Army Air Corps pilots at Wheeler airfield during the attack on Oahu of December 7, 1941:
"Ignoring the usual pre-takeoff checklists, each pilot climbed into a P-40 Warhawk fighter plane and took off down the airstrip. Only once they were in the air did they figure out they were about to take on over three hundred enemy aircraft. Undeterred, Welch and Taylor plowed straight into the second wave of of the Japanese attack. They didn't stop the attack, but they did manage to shoot down six planes before they ran out of ammunition. More important, the two pilots put up enough of a fight that Japanese planners assumed there were far more defenders in the air. They decided against sending in a final, third attack wave designed to pummel Pearl Harbor's fuel storage, maintenance, and dry-dock repair yards, an attack that would have set back the American war effort at least another year."
Static display of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by MCC James E. Foehl)
No question that Adm. (Ret.) James Stavridis enjoyed this book. The endorsement by the former supreme allied commander of NATO, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, reads, in part: "...Singer and Cole lay out a plausible, frightening, and pitch-perfect vision of what such a war could look like. This page-turning marvel is the best source of high-tech geopolitical visioneering since Tom Clancy's 'Red Storm Rising' and Sir John Hackett's 'The Third World War.' A startling blueprint for the wars of the future that needs to be read now."

The ultimate questions generated by "Ghost Fleet" are these: Can our idealism, morality and ethics catch up with advances in technology? Can we evolve beyond our natural tendencies to act out of greed, violence and mistrust? Can we remain vigilant and ready?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nature of War, War on Nature – 'Talking Peace'

Review by Bill Doughty

"As a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy ..."

That's how former Commander in Chief and President Jimmy Carter begins his 1993 book for young people, "Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation."

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977.
The book, published eight years before 9/11, is surprisingly still relevant and timely – beginning with the first chapter, "Peace in the Middle East." Carter describes how peace was achieved between former mortal enemies Egypt and Israel via his Camp David process.

Carter acknowledges the dangers presented by displaced Kurds and Shiites. His text is accompanied by a maps of the region and a map of the world highlighting free countries and regions without conflict. He concludes:  "In the Middle East, many issues remain resolved. What happens to the people of his troubled region will have a direct effect on our own lives ... as with disturbances in other regions, our nation could once again be dragged into armed combat." Those words were written in the 1993 first edition.

Carter explains the causes of war in simple language meant for young readers:
"The reasons for going to war are many and varied. Battles may occur because a piece of land that has long been related to one group is taken over or controlled by another. Nations struggle over natural resources, including access to seas and oceans. Historically, ideas also have led to war. When one group has no tolerance for the religious opinions, race, or ethnicity of its neighbors, violent conflict can erupt. A change in the politics of a government that harms the average citizen's quality of life may inspire war. An oppressive regime's abuse of the people may eventually incite protest or outright rebellion."
A "notable graduate" of the U.S. Naval Academy. Courtesy of USNA.
Quoting Thomas Paine, he explains when and why war is necessary: "It is the object only of a war that makes it honorable," Paine wrote. Carter concludes, "Few Americans today would criticize the military actions our forefathers took to liberate America from British rule and to support democratic ideals for all people."

"Protecting the Environment" is the title of another chapter that includes short essays on "global warming," "loss of biodiversity" and "overpopulation":
"Another way in which humans have fundamentally altered the balance of nature is by reproducing. The number of people in the world is growing at an explosive rate, even as the numbers of many other species dramatically decline ... Our resources – food, water, shelter, and gainful employment – are already taxed and will not be able to keep pace with this phenomenal growth."
Pope Francis addresses the United States Congress Sept. 24, 2015.
Carter's passion about the environment was echoed last week by Pope Francis in his historic address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Francis said: "I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity... Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."

Pope John Paul II is hosted by then-President Carter Oct. 6, 1979.
That "culture of care" is at the heart of Carter's lifetime of work. Carter hosted Pope John Paul II for a visit to the White House Oct. 6 1979. The White House issued a statement that day about their private meeting in the Oval Office: "The Pope and the President agreed that efforts to advance human rights constitute the compelling idea of our times."

"Talking Peace" is a book filled with the former naval officer's views on world peace, democracy, health care and human rights, showing how all are interrelated.

As in his other writings, Carter credits his mother for his views about human rights and equality for all. Later, he was further inspired during his service in the Navy, he says.

"...As a submarine officer I was influenced by the policies of President Harry Truman, who sought to abolish racial discrimination in the United States armed forces," Carter writes. He expands his views about equality, including income equality, and efforts at conflict mediation in more recent books such as "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power," 2014; and "A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety," 2015.

This book was published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Books, with profits donated to the Carter Center. It has been updated since the first edition from 1993. President Carter is a recipient of the Gold Medal of the International Institute of Human Rights, the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and the Liberty Medal, among other honors.

Nine years after this book was published Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Prize for Peace.

In his 2002 Nobel acceptance speech, Carter said, "I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law."

Carter said he remained hopeful despite the rise of fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism. "The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices."

Kings Bay, Ga. (Aug. 11, 2005) - Former President Jimmy Carter speaks with former Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Vice Adm. Charles Munns, as they ride out to sea on the bridge aboard the Sea Wolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23). U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Mark Jones (RELEASED)