Saturday, December 31, 2016

Who is President of the United States in 2017?

Review by Bill Doughty

According to Mark Greaney (and the late but immortal Tom Clancy) President Jack Ryan leads the free world in 2017 – as ISIS works through a rogue Saudi, Yemeni and Romanian to allow Islamist militants to target, attack and kill hundreds of Americans in cities across the United States.

The remedy: Arm every off duty service member with military-issued concealed handguns but resist the urge to invade another Middle East country. Also, beef up cyberdefense. Finally, while under attack, keep your cool even in the face of threats to the Constitution and the very existence of the nation.

According to Greaney, speaking through President Ryan in his novel "True Faith and Allegiance" (Putnam, 2016), "People have a reasonable tendency to do one of two things when they listen to someone in government warn them of a threat. They either tune in or freak out."

It's the voice of reason from the fictional commander-in-chief – channeling Peter Bergen. Here's the wisdom of Clancy's and Greany's speaking through their President Ryan:
"Let's keep this in perspective for the average U.S. citizen. It is a sad fact that there were more than fifty shootings in Chicago over the weekend, with seven dead. There exists, quite unfortunately, violence all around us. What is happening with these Islamic State terrorists in our borders is of utmost concern to us, but I would not want the average American citizen to do anything more than report any concerns you may have to your local law enforcement agency."
The president watches as his son Jack Ryan Jr. and his team of quasi-official operatives save the world. No spoiler alert needed.

Tom Clancy gets a brief aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk in 2002. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
In "True Faith" bad guys get information about military service members and federal civilians from stolen SF-86 e-QIP forms, the 127-page paperwork required to get and maintain a security clearance. They then set out to assassinate and otherwise terrorize in hopes of drawing more radical militants to their cause – and to draw the United States deeper into the Middle East.

The premise is drawn in part from real-life events in June 2016 when hackers stole personal private information about millions of people from the Office of Personnel Management.

Cybercrime + open source intelligence x cyberwarfare = terror.

USS Sampson (DDG 102) operates off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand in November 2016.
"Someone was fusing legal data with an illegal theft of data and then weaponizing the results," Greaney writes.

Working with more than forty characters, Greaney never loses the pace, balance or intrigue moving from narrative and dialog, including in White House press conferences, to then unleash the action. And, unlike some other thrillers, there's only a minimal amount of eye-rolling to some pretty unrealistic situations.

For example: The story opens at a Mexican restaurant in New Jersey with a harrowing and seemingly disconnected attack on Cmdr. Scott Hagen, captain of USS James Greer (DDG-102) by a crazed Russian avenging the death of his brother in a Baltic sea battle. (The real DDG-102, by the way, is USS Sampson, homeported in San Diego. Sampson recently assisted New Zealand after an earthquake.)

Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, Eastern Europeans and various spies of all persuasions make appearances, as do the Peshmerga and their friends.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache helicopters (Photo by Capt. Brian Harris).
Peppering the narrative are some terrific action scenes featuring U.S. Army Capt. Carrie Ann Underwood copiloting and operating the guns on an AH-64E Apache in northern Iraq. Hornets from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) also make an appearance.

Intended irony? Both the protagonists and evildoers in this thriller are fired up by a desire for "righteous payback."

Fortunately, President Jack Ryan (played in the past by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine and reportedly to be played by John Krasinski fighting ISIS/ISIL in an Amazon TV series) is a voice of relative reason in a dynamic and dangerous world waiting for the better angels of our nature.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 15, 2016) Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) conducts flight operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 3rd Class J. M. Tolbert/Released)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Diary of Pearl Harbor Survivor – Navy Chief Al Rodrigues

Review by Bill Doughty

Pacific Historic Parks provides this short book at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, overlooking USS Arizona and "Battleship Row" next to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

The cover reads: "A Native Son of Hawaii's memories of the War in the Pacific while on duty during the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and while serving on the battleship USS Washington in the Pacific Theater."

This is his wartime diary aboard USS Washington (BB-56) as well as his insights and reflections as a volunteer at the Visitor Center, where his message to visitors is: "Freedom is not free."

This enjoyable little book, published in 2014, starts with Rodrigues's recollections as a young boy growing up in Hawaii.

Al was born on the island of Kauai on February 7, 1920. His full name: Alfred Benjamin Kameeiamoku Rodrigues. Al's mother was Hawaiian. She died when Al was only 8, "and I felt like I wanted to die also. I loved her so much." Al's father was of Portuguese descent. He experienced some prejudice growing up in mixed-race family on Kauai.

Kapaa Kauai in 1924, looking away from Lihue and toward "Sleeping Giant" mountain range.
"Kauai is geologically the oldest island of the group of islands and, without any personal prejudice, the most beautiful of all." Al attended Kauai High School in Lihue, where he competed in various sports, when he wasn't surfing or caddying at the Waialua Golf Course (25 cents per bag for nine holes, with usually a ten-cent tip).
"I played football, volleyball, basketball and baseball and was also on the swimming team so kept busy. The only wrong thing I did was take up smoking, so there went my caddy money. I finally quit smoking when I retired from the Navy."
Rodrigues joined the Navy with an ambition to be an engineering, but under the guidance of Navy Chief George Maile, a fellow Sailor from Hawaii, he chose instead to become a storekeeper. "It made a difference on the rest of my career in the Navy."

Gunners aboard USS Ward (DD-139).
He remembers holding air raid drills in November of 1941. "It was an omen that something was to happen," he said.
"On December 7, 1941, I had the four-to-eight watch; and the officer of the deck, who was a quartermaster second class, told me that they had received a message at 3:30 a.m. that our destroyer the USS Ward (DD-139) had dropped depth charges on an unidentified submarine and sunk it."
Al had just put his breakfast tray down when he could hear explosions "in the shipyard area." He and his buddies assumed it was dredging work until he heard the General Alarm. They all ran to the armory where they were issued .30 caliber rifles or .45 pistols. Not much help against the incoming enemy planes, red rising suns on the bottom of their wings.
"They were flying low enough that you could see the pilots' faces. We heard yells to shoot the pilot as they had open cockpits. Hell, it was hard enough to shoot the airplane, much less the pilot. With a rifle of 1941 vintage, you could only shoot one bullet at a time then cock the rifle before shooting the next shot, and by then the plane was out of reach."
Naval Supply Center at Pearl Harbor in the 1940s.
Storekeepers like Al provided supplies and made room "for sailors who lost everything." He worked closely with the Naval Supply Center, now known as Fleet Industrial Supply Center.

This book is filled with tweet-size stories about characters like Sake-Mac, the Chief Commissary man; an unnamed bunkmate accused of murder in New York; and C.B. Wilson, who helped Al sneak out at night for a luau. 

USS Washington (BB-56) in the Shipyard after a collision with USS Indiana (BB-58) in 1944.
Most of "Diary" is in fact a diary, a journal, and a way to keep track of events at a time when news was blocked, letters were censored and information was subject to propaganda and what we'd now call fake news.

Al gives us a feel for day-to-day life during wartime aboard USS Washington and how the enemy was viewed by Sailors and the nation at the time. The cover of his diary was inscribed with some of the locations he visited, including Palau, Gilberts, Nauru, Marianas and Marshall Islands, where his ship's bow was crushed in a collision with USS Indiana (BB-58).

We see how close Al was to his sister, Nani.

Al remembers fondly some time he finagled in New York City, which welcomed service members who had served in the war. After the war he returned to Hawaii.
"The City and County of Honolulu had an ad asking for men to join the police force and I applied. The first thing they did was make me get on a scale and I weighed 149 pounds. The sergeant told me to go home, eat some bananas and come back tomorrow as the minimum weight was 150 pounds. Did that; I ate a few and the next day I was accepted for the next recruit training as I met the correct weight."
Al Rodrigues's diary.
But Al changed his mind and rejoined the Navy, where he served as a Navy Chief at the Yards and Docks Supply Depot.

He married "the cutest local Japanese girl," Ruth, and raised a family – three sons, Kammy, Jay and Ronald. Ronald was born in Yokosuka, Japan when Al was stationed at Naval Supply Depot there.  "In 1960, sometime while stationed at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Lualualei, Oahu, Ruth and I split. We had differences and she eventually married a guy named Pete, who was a Navy friend of mine. It sure is funny how some things just work out for the best – for all concerned."

Pearl Harbor Survivors Sterling Cale and Al Rodrigues meet young visitors in 2009.
Al met his second wife, Louise, who already had four children, Jimmy, Mary, Stella and Fred. "Now with four of hers, three of mine (from my first marriage) plus two of ours (son Kalani and daughter Aulani born at Tripler Army Medical Center) it adds up to nine in the family. And we are still one happy family. It is mine, hers and ours. Nice, huh!"

Today, Al Rodrigues volunteers at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where he meets people "from many foreign countries and every state in the Union."
"In closing, I want to remind people that we should honor the memories of my generation so that we can pass to future generations the stories of what those brave, heroic men and women of World war II did to preserve our freedom. Freedom is not free."
Thank you to Agnes Tauyan, Director of Public Affairs for Navy Region Hawaii, for recommending this book for a Navy Reads review.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Post-75th – The Legacy of Pearl Harbor

Review by Bill Doughty

Parts II and III: Strike! to Victory...

Pearl Harbor survivor Donald Stratton renders a salute as USS Halsey (DDG 97) performs a Pass-in-Review during the 75th Anniversary National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)
USS Arizona Seaman 1st Class Don Stratton represented all Pearl Harbor survivors in returning the salute of guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey at the Navy's and National Park Service's Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony – the 75th anniversary commemoration held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam last week.

Young Sailor Don Stratton
In "Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness" author Craig Nelson quotes Stratton, who remembers his injuries: "'Both my legs were burn pretty bad,' Stratton said, 'My legs, arms, face, my hair. Lost a couple of tattoos ... don't recommend that way to get rid of 'em...'"

Nelson provides short vignettes of dozens of warfighters impacted by Imperial Japan's attack on Oahu. He introduces readers to John Finn, Peter Tomich, Lee Soucy, Max Middlesworth, Sterling Cale and Dorie Miller, among others.

He reports, "A great many of America's servicemen at this moment were teenagers or young men, untried by life and untested by combat – of the forty thousand enlisted men on Oahu in 1941, the average age was nineteen." And, "All were bonded by that special tick of the heart that make a life of duty."

Young men who were coming of age were branded by what they saw and experienced. But their preferred lasting memories were the days before the attack, according to Nelson. Those memories include "battles of the bands," such as those involving the USS Arizona Band. Every member of the band was killed on Dec. 7, 1941.

Imperial General Quarters; the Emperor seen as a "living god."
"Many Pearl Harbor survivors would, for decades, hold vivid and precise memories not so much of December 7 as of December 6, since that was the last moment they were with so many, many friends who would be taken from them." But all would have images of the attack and the war branded in their minds for a lifetime.

Nelson does not hold back in his vivid description of the violence and gore of the war in the Pacific.

His timely and well-researched book offers drama of the lead-up to the war, of the actual attack, and in the aftermath, including conspiracy theories. His lead-up to the attack is covered in our previous post showing the various roads that led to war, both political – as the military controlled the civilian government and populace, actively promoting patriotism in the guise of and faith-based nationalism and xenophobia. 

Matsuoka Yosuke, Japan's foreign minister in 1940-41, pictured on the cover of Time magazine, at left, orchestrated the tripartite pact with Germany and Italy. Matsuoka advocated for war against Russia and then the United States in the name of the emperor.

Imperial Japan's attack originated from a racist and religious extremist belief in racial superiority, exemplified in a verse by poet and war advocate Takamura Kotaro that include these lines:

Nippon, the Land of the Gods
Ruled by a living God

The "reluctant admiral," Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku, famously warned of awakening a sleeping giant – the United States – and instilling a "terrible resolve." Nelson describes that resolve, starting with heroic recovery, salvage and restoration in Pearl Harbor:
"The miracle of muscle and engineering that restored the American fleet at Pearl Harbor would continue on a grand scale in the United States, where a secret group of heroes now began turning the tide of war. The most brilliant of generals, the most inspiring of admirals, and the greatest of battlefield troops would pale in significance to the thousands of American Rosie and Ronnie the Riveters who outproduced both the Axis and the other Allied powers combined, contributing nearly three hundred thousand tanks to Roosevelt's arsenal of democracy in 1943. Like all wars, the winners of World War II were the guys with the most ships, guns, and planes; in 1944, Joseph Stalin even proposed a toast to the productivity of the American assembly live."
Why did Japan's warmongers prevail over the diplomats in bringing about the infamous attack? The militarists took control of the government and the press, and the people in power made irrational assumptions and decisions, which the largely uninformed populace followed blindly.
" the end, Japanese emotion won out over rational action. Starting with the fundamental theory – that killing thousands of Americans in a surprise attack would trigger the United States to falter and surrender – and ending with the decision to wage war – during which dozens in Tokyo, from graduate students to finance, foreign, naval, and prime minister, told the army that fighting the United States was nonsensical – Japan's course to pearl Harbor was irrational in the extreme. Sense, in the end, did not carry the day."
Stars & Stripes page one featuring Adm. "Bull" Halsey. 
Nelson shows how "The Pearl Harbor attack set in motion a series of events that rippled across the Pacific," to include an early turning point for the United States Navy – the Battle of Midway.

For the American Military "Remember Pearl Harbor" was a rallying cry. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's description of "infamy" captured the depth of shock of an adversary's deception – attacking under the cover of diplomacy:

"If the holocaust defined evil for the Americans of WWII, Dec. 7 was the embodiment of malignant treachery," Nelson writes.

"Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness" concludes with a hopeful context – that the world would learn the lessons of history.
"With a rage ignited by Tokyo, a confidence born with Doolittle, and the great idealism of ensuring such a thing would never happen again, Pearl Harbor's greatest legacy is our nation's continuing struggle to make sure that there will never be a World War III. Whatever you think of the United States of America, its foreign policy, its military, and its actions overseas, the world at overall peace since 1943 has been an American goal and an American triumph. What could be a greater legacy to those who served and died in World War II, beginning at Pearl Harbor?"
Pearl Harbor survivor Don Stratton gives his perspective as to why world leaders should commit to lasting peace: "'I seen everything that went on there, and I tell you what. There was more courage and more heroics and more valor and more sacrifice that day than a human being ought to see in ten lifetimes."

Minutes before Hawaii-homeported USS Halsey saluted USS Arizona, Don Stratton and survivors at the main ceremony last Wednesday in Pearl Harbor, the ship and its crew saluted USS Utah on the other side of Ford Island. USS Utah survivor Gil Meyer returned the salute for all of his shipmates past and present.
161207-N-QE566-008 PEARL HARBOR (Dec. 07, 2016) (right) Retired Chief Petty Officer Gilbert Meyer, a USS Utah and Pearl Harbor survivor, and Capt. Jeffrey Rathbun, U.S. Pacific Fleet Command Deputy Director, Logistics, Engineering and Security Cooperation, return honors to USS Halsey (DDG 97) as the ship sailed past the USS Utah Memorial in Pearl Harbor as part of a pass in review and salute to USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor survivors Dec. 7.  (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Corwin M. Colbert)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Orange Enemy, Operation Z, Roads to War: 'Pearl Harbor'

Review by Bill Doughty

Part I: The Roads to War...

Considering the signals, warnings and consequences 75 years ago, how in the world did the attack on Oahu of Dec. 7, 1941 happen? In light of all the evidence, Imperial Japan's attack – "Operation Z" – should have been predicted, prevented or at least defended against.

Craig Nelson presents that thesis in "Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness" (2016: Scribner) and shows the dangers of complacency (despite planning under War Plan Orange), hubris and racism, leading to "faulty stereotypes" and miscalculation.
"Five decades after December 7 and eight years before 9/11, Central Intelligence Agency analyst A. R. Northridge summarized these attitudes in a September 22, 1993, Pearl Harbor report: 'It seems clear to me that we failed to foresee the Japanese assault largely because we were influenced by a faulty stereotype of what was an adversary nation. Today, progress in the arts of weaponry and technical intelligence collection make unlikely another Pearl Harbor kind of surprise attack, but the faulty stereotypes that can lead to grave miscalculation of an adversary's capability and intent remain with us, almost as a human condition ... what sort of people did Americans, at the time of Pearl Harbor, believe the Japanese to be, and what did they believe about Japanese intentions toward themselves? ... 'The Japanese people, given the conflicts of interest between us, will quite likely – or maybe only possibly – do us a mischief if they can; but they lack the capacity to harm us seriously, and they know that this is so. On the other hand, they are so cultivated and mannerly that it really is, after all, inconceivable that they would even try to harm us.'"
Nelson adds, "The Japanese, meanwhile, shared this cultural and racial blindness." While much of racially segregated and white-dominated America saw non-whites as inferior, the Japanese believed themselves to be a morally superior race – god's people under a living god, Emperor Hirohito, pictured at right in wartime uniform.

According to Nelson, "The Japanese also believed the United States was a nation governed of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich."

Warnings of impending war were clear in the lead-up to December 7, 1941, as War Plan Orange focused on the possibility of a U.S.-Japan war.

Chief of Naval Operations Harold "Betty" Stark assigned Rear Adm. Walter Ansel to do a study nearly a year before the attack, and Ansel warned Hawaii's Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Rear Adm. Claude Bloch of the strong possibility of a "surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor." A bizarre ad appeared in the New Yorker on Nov. 22 seeming to warn of the attack and including dice showing the numbers 12 and 7, "numbers on no known dice." Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox saw Imperial Japan's diplomats "deliberately stalling" and reported his concerns to Roosevelt on Nov. 29.

Talk to people who remember the 1930s and early 1940s and they will tell you that everyone in the country knew war was probable. Times were tense. Under a narcissistic authoritarian ruler, war was already a reality in Europe, and under a military-controlled government, Japan was waging conquests in Asia.
Japan joins the Tripartite Axis with Germany and Italy.

On the world's stage, Hitler brought Japan into the Axis powers. Japan's military, especially its army, took control of Japan's government and media. Japan's imperialism against China and Southeast Asia continued to escalate, but U.S.-led trade embargoes against Japan by President Roosevelt were biting into the military's expansion in November 1941.

"Japan's oil reserves were vanishing. America's Pacific forces, especially in the Philippines, were rising," Nelson writes.
Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short, tragic figures caught in infamy.

In the bitter days leading up to Dec. 7, as negotiations broke down, Stark issued a new alert system for all of Oahu.

Why didn't Adm. Kimmel or the Army's  Gen. Walter Short take more steps to minimize targets, conduct greater surveillance and protect major assets and otherwise mitigate a surprise attack? Is hindsight 20-20 vision? Could more have been done to prevent the debacle of the surprise attack? Clearly we underestimated our adversary.
"Japan, then, had the appearance of a civilian government, but it was a de facto military dictatorship. Yet, unlike the smooth governance offered by other fascists, all of this resulted in anarchy. In the fourteen years of the Great Wast Asia War – from 1931's Manchurian Incident, to 1945's unconditional surrender – Japan was led by fifteen different prime ministers. This wasn't just a fascistic and chaotic government; it was one so marred by threats of domestic violence that even the revered emperor regularly feared his assassination. One simple explanation for Pearl Harbor, then, is the great difficulty American leaders had in crafting an effective defense strategy against an enemy that had lost its mind."
Imperial Japan's "God's army" invades Manchuria in the 1930s. 
"Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness" provides a sweep of history that shows how cultural misunderstandings led to war. This book offers a lot more. We meet some of the survivors on both sides and hear their stories in Part II, "Strike." Then, Nelson takes us into the aftermath of the war and presents a surprising conclusion in Part III, "Victory."

As we approach the 75th commemoration of the attack on Oahu, Navy Reads is reviewing this timely and provocative book in parts, concluding with Nelson's view of the "greatest legacy" of Pearl Harbor.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Confronting 'Thrill-Kill Cult' of ISIS

Review by Bill Doughty

An examination of the roots, branches and seeds of ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh can be found in two new approaches to the study of Islamist-jihadist theology: Fawaz A. Gerges's "ISIS: A History" (2016, Princeton University Press) and Malcolm Nance's "Defeating Isis: Who They Are, How They Fight, What They Believe" (2016, Skyhorse Publishing) including a foreword by Richard Engel, NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent.

Both books reveal how Salafi-Jihadists arose from Sunni and Shia strife, and each author offers advice on how ISIS can be defeated, a "complex task that requires political and social strategies that deny the group the oxygen that sustains it," according to Gerges.

Gerges shows "the world according to ISIS" and how jihadism evolved from Zarqawi to Baghdadi. The evolution accelerated as wars in Iraq and Syria created a crisis in Sunni identity; that led to a breakdown in respect for countries' borders.
"Following a rapid rise and concomitant territorial conquests, the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL, (Islamic State of Iraq and wa-Sham or Levant), or by its Arabic abbreviation, Da'esh, has for now, by default, taken operational command and leadership of the global jihadist movement, eclipsing Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), which attacked the U.S. homeland on September 11, 2001. At the time of writing, ISIS controls a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, as large as the United Kingdom, with a population estimated at roughly between six million and nine million people. Additionally, ISIS controls a sectarian army numbering more than thirty thousand combatants, in part through an amalgamation of local armed insurgents in Iraq and Syria and foreign recruits."
Fawaz A. Georges
Gerges says we must confront the ideology "frozen in time and space" from centuries ago that binds the groups of radicalized Sunni Muslims.
"It is easy to dismiss the Salafi-Jihadists ... as monsters, savages, and killers. It is also tempting to belittle their religious fanaticism and messianism as un-Islamic. This type of moral and ethical condemnation overlooks a painful truth: that an important Sunni constituency believes in the group's utopian and romantic vision of building an Islamic state, even though many might not condone its gruesome violence. Other Sunnis have lent a helping hand to ISIS because they see it as an effective bulwark against the Shia- and Alawite-dominated governments in Baghdad and Damascus respectively, as well as their Iranian patrons. Through its rapid emergence in the aftermath of the civil strife that has gripped the Middle East since 2011, ISIS has managed to effectively tap into a crisis of Sunni Arab identity in Iraq, Syria and beyond."
Both authors agree on how ISIS got its start – in the "social rupture" and "repercussions" caused in Iraq in 2003. According to Gerges: "The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, combined with the subsequent social turmoil and prolonged and costly armed resistance, led to the dismantling of state institutions and the establishment of a political system based on muhasasa, or the distribution of spoils of power along communal, ethnic, and tribal lines."

In "Defeating Isis," Nance writes:
"The invasion of Iraq was not just an exhausting failure, unsuccessful in stamping out insurgency and terrorism; it actually created he entire legion of terror and tyranny that we know as the Islamic State. Had the invasion not toppled the existing social, political, and tribal structure of Mesopotamia, there would be no ISIS to fight. Al-Qaeda might well have died slowly in the mountains of Pakistan. Today, however, the global jihadist movement under the aegis of a newly minted ISIS has reinforced their ranks and even provided the old-guard al-Qaeda with enough recruits to conduct terrorist acts across such a widely diverse number of regions that the world is adjusting to the circumstances in what is becoming the 'new normal.'"
The origins and subsequent atrocities of jihadism – including suicide bombings, such as the attack on USS Cole (DDG 51) in 2000 and attacks of 9/11/2001 and since, as well as gruesome beheadings and burnings of prisoners alive – are extremely uncomfortable to read and think about.

I was reminded of the excellent Frontline specials on ISIS, including "The Rise of ISIS" and the latest, "Contronting ISIS" with correspondent Martin Smith"Warning: tonight's program contains graphic imagery of war and extreme violence."

Watch Frontline and you'll want to dive deeper into how and why the war is leading back to Mosul, for example.
An AV-8B Harrier with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) Aug. 8, 2016 for a precision air strike against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zhiwei Tan)
Gerges's insightful narrative is well-written and heartfelt. He examines the effects of not only a power vacuum but also a thought vacuum due to millenarian, end-of-the-world tribal thinking. "Formal separation of mosque and state is essential in order to end the instrumentalization of religion for political purposes by both religious and secular politicians."

Freedom-worshipping philosopher Voltaire
At just over 500 pages, Nance's book is encyclopedic in presenting the who, what, when, where and why of Da'esh. How to defeat the terrorists? Nance's recommendation is: Target the ideology as well as the entrenched warriors, and do so surgically with continued creative use of Special Warfare and airpower.

Da'esh's nasty lack of civility, love of authoritarian male domination, tyranny over dissent, and hate-based superstitious ideology succeed when people fail to apply critical thinking skills. Nance concludes:
"The French philosopher Voltaire once remarked, 'Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.' ISIS is the epitome of this commentary. The absurdity of their cult ideology has caused the deaths of tens of thousands and subjugated millions under their rule. If the war to defeat ISIS could be fought with just the strength and moral fiber of Lt. Kasabeh [Jordanian pilot burned to death in a cage] and Ruqi Hassan [assassinated for writing the truth about life in 'the fantasy of the caliphate.'] then the outcome would be the swift and utter destruction of this cult. Yet for all of the social power ready to be harnessed, a grand war promises not even the slightest chance of success until the ISIS cult's murderous mayhem is reframed, redefined, and revealed as the apocalyptic thrill-kill death cult that it is. Redefining and fighting this ideology with a single, damning word, "cult," is more accurate, readily consumable, and believable than hoping that ISIS will somehow contain itself or self-destruct."
Gerges concludes that ISIS is only the latest brand of Islamist extremist philosophy, what Peter Bergen calls "binladenism." Gerges writes: "Ideas are the first line of defense against the Salafi-jihadist nihilistic ideology and the final nail in its coffin. Without this revolution in ideas, the narrative and brand of Salafi-jihadism, of which iSIS is the most recent iteration, will continue to prevail in the Arab-Islamic world."

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Sept. 24, 2016) Boatswain's Mate Seaman Noah Cheeks, from Follansbee, W.Va., dons a cranial during flight operations aboard USS Ross (DDG 71) Sept. 24, 2016. Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is providing multi-warfare defense support to Charles de Gaulle carrier-based operations in the Eastern Mediterranean against identified ISIL positions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Atlas Obscura Shrugged

Review by Bill Doughty

When it comes to strange and wonderful places or things in our Universe, it's not about the who or what or where or when or even why; according to authors of "Atlas Obscura," it's the "how"––specifically, how we choose to see our world and everything around us.

The opportunities to discover, see and catalogue new wonders are "infinite," according to Dylan Thuras, "if you're willing to sort of slow down, look around, listen and start asking questions."

Thuras, Joshua Foer and Ella Morton bring us this book packed with question-asking strangeness, subtitled a Freakonomics-esque "An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders" (2016, Workman Publishing).

Mary Roach enjoys a different perspective including "Atlas"
It goes on sale today.

Once a person chooses to see the world differently, they can discover places in their own neighborhood––or aboard their ship––or in places admittedly farther afield that are strangely fascinating.

That's the approach the authors take as they journey into the world in what Mary Roach, author of "Gulp" and "Grunt," describes as “a joyful antidote to the creeping suspicion that travel these days is little more than a homogenized corporate shopping opportunity. Here are hundreds of surprising, perplexing, mind-blowing, inspiring reasons to travel a day longer and farther off the path."

Some places and things in this book to see in a new light: "Cargo Cults of Tanna" in Vanuatu archipelago, "Slab City" and the "East Jesus" community on a former U.S. Marine Corps training base near Niland, California, "Yamamoto's Bomber" wreckage still in the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea,  "Ghost Fleet of Truck Lagoon" in Chuuk, and the not-to-be-missed (?) "Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum" in Pyongyang (mural at right).

Website Wonders

The wonders of the "Atlas Obscura" spring from the popular website of the same name.

Foer and Thuras are cofounders of the Atlas Obscura phenomenon, who see there work as "never complete" and who are always ready to credit legions of fans who provide tips, photos and edits as "co-authors."

In the introduction to the new book they proclaim, "Though Atlas Obscura may have the trappings of a travel guide, it is in truth something else. The site, and this book, are a kind of wunderkammer of places, a cabinet of curiosities that is meant to inspire wanderlust as much as wanderlust."

Here are just a few of the wonders to be found on their website, on the internationally themed #navalhistory section:

John Paul Jones tomb: 

"Today, Jones rests in a extravagant sarcophagus below the chapel of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The incredible coffin is covered in sculpted barnacles and is held up by legs in the shape of stylized dolphins. The whole thing is sculpted out of a black and white marble that makes it look as though it has been weathered by untold ages beneath the waves."

NOAA's Discovery of USS Conestoga:

"In September 2014, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was on an expedition in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, looking for shipwrecks, when they found the wreck ... a seagoing tugboat. It had a metal hull, and though the upper deck had collapsed, the boilers, the anchor and the engine were all still there. They determined that it had been powered by coal, which dated it to the late 19th century or early 20th ... When the Conestoga disappeared, it was the last U.S. Navy ship to be lost, without explanation, during peacetime. Planes and ships were sent out to find it, in the largest air and sea search in Navy history until the hunt for Amelia Earhardt. But for almost 100 years, it remained lost."

USS Constitution

"Commissioned by the first US president, George Washington, the USS Constitution is probably most famous for defeating numerous British warships in the War of 1812. It was during this war, in the battle against the HMS Guerriere, the ship earned the nickname “Old Ironsides,” when her crew noticed shots from the British ship simply bounced off. The USS Constitution is America's Ship of State ... Today the ship is berthed neatly at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, at the end of the Freedom Trail in Boston, where she stands the oldest commissioned and fully functioning warship in the United States. The wooden-hulled, 3-mast heavy frigate of the US Navy was launched in 1797 ... Today, the ship keeps a crew of 60 officers and sailors to aid in its mission to promote the understanding of the US Navy's role in war and peace, as part of the Naval History & Heritage Command. The crew are all active-duty Navy sailors––an honorable special duty assignment ... Until current restoration work is complete, the ship is in Dry Dock. The USS Constitution is still open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis during their operating hours."

Mare Island Cemetery

"Hidden away on Mare Island in Vallejo is the Bay Area's oldest Naval cemetery, the final resting place of sailors and soldiers and loved ones--and one convicted killer ... Burials began at this hillside cemetery in 1856 and continued until 1921. Although it's not noted for big-name interments, there are some memorable stories among the headstones. Among the approximately 900 buried here are the daughter of Francis Scott Key, murderess Lucy Lawson, and six Russian sailors who were laid to rest near the middle during the Civil War era."

Treasure Island Naval History Mural

"Within the lobby of Treasure Island’s former administration building of the 1939 World’s Fair is a mural that stretches 251 feet long and 26 feet high. Designed by New York artist Lowell Nesbitt and executed by a team of a dozen Bay Area painters, the enormous artwork depicts naval history in the Pacific since 1813, featuring a total of eleven Navy and Marine Corps events. The mural was completed in 1976 to align with the opening of the Navy-Marine Corps Museum, which included artifacts from Treasure Island’s World's Fair, Pan Am Clipper flights and American military operations in the Pacific ... Today, the building is occupied by the Treasure Island Development Authority. The museum artifacts have come and gone, but the impressive mural continues to glow on the lobby’s East wall."

Granted, there is not much from the Navy-Marine Corps team in Atlas Obscura, especially in the new book. But, before you shrug: For anyone interested in "how" to look at world differently, this book––and of course the Atlas Obscura website––is a treasure trove of weirdness and enlightenment.

Mary Roach calls this "...Bestest travel guide ever.”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Underground Railroad – to DC

Review by Bill Doughty

(Art courtesy National Park Service)
It's on the Commander-in-Chief's summer reading list, was chosen by Oprah for her book club, and gives insights to our nation's original sin in the lead-up to the opening later this week of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

All good reasons to read this fantasy fiction by a gifted writer.

Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad" (2016 Doubleday, Penguin Random House) takes liberty in his storytelling of the sacrifices of slaves and abolitionists in the decades before the Civil War. Fantasy comes into play when he envisions an extended, actual, literal underground railroad.

Reading this novel, one can imagine a movie version produced by directors who blend the real with the unreal: Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and, especially because of the graphic violence the jumps out unexpectedly, Quentin Tarantino.

Strong characters include both resilient and resigned slaves, sadistic plantation owners, a patronizing widow, conflicted and committed railroad operators, and weird slave-catchers. Settings involve slave quarters, saloons, various hiding places, an "anatomy house," the Museum of Natural Wonders and a barn filled with shackles.
"She saw the chains first. Thousands of them dangled off the wall on nails in a morbid inventory of manacles and fetters, of shackles for ankles and wrists and necks in all variety and combinations. Shackles to prevent a person from absconding, from moving their hands, or to suspend a body in the air for a beating. One row was devoted to children's chains and the tiny manacles and links connecting them. Another row showcased iron cuffs so thin that only the thought of punishment prevented their wearer from splitting them. A line of ornate muzzles commanded their own section, and there was a pile of ball and chains in the corner. The balls were arranged in a pyramid, the chains trailing off in S-shapes. Some of the shackles were rusted, some were broken, and others seemed as if they had been forged that very morning. Cora moved to one part of the collection and touched a metal loop with spikes radiating toward its center. She decided it was intended for wear around the neck."

A display of slave shackles will be featured in the Smithsonian's new museum. For his part, Whitehead in "Underground" imagines a Museum of Natural Wonders with live-action scenes of American History acted out by people. One scene involves a sanitized look at life on a slave ship:
"The soothing blue walls of Life on the The Slave Ship evoked the Atlantic sky. Here Cora stalked a section of a frigate deck, around the mast, various small barrels, and coils of rope. Her African costume was a colorful wrap; her sailor outfit made her look like a street rascal, with a tunic, trousers, and leather boots. The story of the African boy went that after he came aboard, he helped out on deck with various small tasks, a kind of apprentice. Cora tucked her hair under the red cap. A statue of a sailor leaned against the gunwale, spyglass pointed. The eyes, mouth, and skin color were painted on its wax head in disturbing hues."
Slavery is described by the slave catchers and by the antebellum South, in general, as an "American Imperative," part of the economy, the normal way of life, based on an authoritarian patriarchal attitude where intolerance, hatred and violence were acceptable, especially when directed to "the other." Through the hundreds of years of slavery in North America we can perhaps come to grips with its legacy––segregation, racism, bigotry and Civil Rights––in the decades since it ended.

In the deep South nearly two centuries ago, Cotton is king, and cotton becomes a symbol, both in the first time our hero Cora wears soft cotton clothes and in the pivotal role a cottonmouth snake plays deep in the narrative.

And aboard slave ships, atop auction blocks (such as the one pictured at left above, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)  and on plantations people are "cargo":
"List upon list crowded the ledger of slavery. The names gathered first on the African coast in tens of thousands of manifests. That human cargo. The names of the dead were as important as the names of the living, as every loss from disease and suicide––and the other mishaps labeled as such for accounting purposes––needed to be justified to employers. At the auction block they tallied the souls purchased at each auction, and on the plantations the overseers preserved the names of workers in rows of tight cursive. Every name an asset, breathing capital, profit made flesh."
From Frederick Douglass's autobiography.
But freedom is the "ultimate currency" in life. 

This book is both an indictment and an inspiration.

Whitehead gives us a poetically worded insight from a slave's perspective: "Men start off good and the world makes them mean. The world is mean from the start."

As good as this book is, could it have been better story without the fantasy of an actual railroad underground? What is blurred in strong metaphor and mythology? What is considered reality and historical truth?

For strong, passionate and contemporaneous nonfiction on this important topic, I recommend reading the works of Frederick Douglass, whose writing is strong and whose stories are powerful but true.

And, beginning Sept. 24, we can visit the Smithsonian's new wing to see why some of our national polity is still shackled to sins of the past.

World War II Sailors. 
The Second World War began just 76 years after the official end of slavery. And this year marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of WWII in the Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Words of Inspiration on 9/11 + 15

Review by Bill Doughty

William Safire's compilation of great speeches brings together Western-centric wisdom and inspiration in the 1,157-page tome, "Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History" (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002). Here are just a few excerpts:

Former Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt (prior to becoming President), April 10, 1899:

"The army and the navy are the sword and the shield which this nation must carry if she is to do her duty among the nations of the earth."

President John F. Kennedy at Amherst College, Oct. 27, 1963:

"I look forward to a great future for America––a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose ...  And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well."

Gen. MacArthur at West Point, May 12, 1962
Gen. Douglas MacArthur at West Point, May 12, 1962:

"'Duty,' 'honor,' 'country'––those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."

President Franklin D. Rooselvelt at his first inauguration, March 4, 1933:

"This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself––nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Senator Robert F. Kennedy, on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968:

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women's Suffrage Convention of 1868:

"With violence and disturbance in the natural world, we see a constant effort to maintain an equilibrium of forces. Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea, mountain and valley, each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves, balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought, that peace, harmony, and beauty may reign supreme. There is a striking analogy between matter and mind, and the present disorganization of society warns us that in the dethronement of woman we have let loose the elements of violence and ruin that she only has the power to curb. If the civilization of the age calls for an extension of the suffrage, surely a government of the most virtuous educated men and women would better represent the whole and protect the interests of all than could the representation of either sex alone."

President Thomas Jefferson at his first inauguration, March 4, 1801:

"Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind; let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little, if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and as capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions."

President Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration, March 4, 1861:

President Woodrow Wilson
"We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

President Woodrow Wilson addressing Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, June 2, 1916:

"I congratulate you that you are going to live your lives under the most stimulating compulsion that any man can feel, the sense, not of private duty merely, but of public duty also. And then if you perform that duty, there is a reward awaiting you which is superior to any other reward in the world. That is the affectionate remembrance of your fellow men––their honor, their affection. No man could wish for more than that or find anything higher than that to strive for."

Gen. Colin Powell
Gen. Colin Powell presenting the commencement address at Howard University, May 14, 1994:

"Racism is a disease you can help cure by standing up for your rights and by your commitment to excellence and to performance. By being ready to take advantage of your rights and opportunities that will come from those rights. Never let the dying hand of racism rest on your shoulder, weighing you down. Let racism always be someone else's burden to carry. As you seek your way in the world, never fail to find a way to serve your community. Use your education and your success in life to help those still trapped in cycles of poverty and violence. Above all, never lose faith in America. Its faults are yours to fix, not to curse. America is a family. There may be differences and disputes in the family, but we must not allow the family to be broken into warring factions."

Daniel Webster
U.S. Representative Daniel Webster at the Bunker Hill Monument, June 17, 1825:

"We may hope that the growing influence of enlightened sentiments will promote the permanent peace of the world ... Our proper business is improvement. Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace let us advance the arts of peace and works of peace ... Let us cultivate a true spirit of union and harmony."

The themes here are courage over fear, unity over disharmony, human rights as universal ideal, service as sacred duty, and permanent peace as our collective ultimate goal.