Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hubris, Hiroshima / Memorial Day, Midway

Review by Bill Doughty

During the Cold War U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon claimed that the United States had to fight Communism because of the Domino Theory, a principle that said if a country (say, Vietnam) fell to the Communists, other Asian nations would topple, including eventually even Japan and India.

President Obama's visit to Vietnam and Japan this week was a tangible display of American's rebalance to Indo-Asia-Pacific and, some would say, a repudiation of the Domino Theory as it applies to the spread of Communism.

But what if the theory is accurate for some of those nations in a different context.

In Alistair Horne's "Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century" (HarperCollins, 2015), the venerated historian challenges readers to think of the cause and effect and consequences of unbridled pride – as war begets war.

Perhaps we can see the dominoes not as countries but as battles and wars themselves, one leading to another: Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. The dominoes are toppled by a type of human behavior identified and named by Aristotle in ancient Greece: hubris.

Horne begins his flowing, connected history in Japan more than a century ago. The U.S. Navy and Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened the country to Western influence and trade in 1853. Drawn to emulate modern nations, the Emperor Meiji committed his people to curiosity, learning and growth.
"A new, compulsory education scheme would create fifty-four thousand primary schools – or one for roughly every six hundred inhabitants; this would eventually lead to the Japanese becoming the most highly literate people in Asia. Within one generation, Japan subjected itself to an astonishing industrial revolution, one designed to catch up with two centuries of Western progress. The mantra for Japanese industry and learning became henceforth, unashamedly, and in general successfully, 'copy, improve, and innovate.'"
An expansionist Japan, modeling England and other imperialist powers, set its sights on Manchuria and took on the Russian Empire, even though, "As of the turn of the century, tsarist Russia was both the largest and the most aggressively imperialist nation on the globe."

Victory by imperialist Japan, Horne argues, led to hubris and more war.

Horne takes us with Admiral Heihachiro Togo aboard the flagship of Japan's Combined Fleet, Mikasa – last of the pre-Dreadnought-era battleships (now a museum at Yokosuka's Peace Park adjacent to the U.S. naval base).

Using geography, personalities, strategies and tactics, Horne contextualizes history. Readers go with the coal-burning Russian fleet into the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Cam Rahn Bay in 1905. From Port Arthur and Tsushima readers are taken into North Korea, back into Manchuria and down to Vietnam, still at the beginning of the 20th century.

President Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt, author of "The Naval War of 1812" and father of the "Great White Fleet," played a pivotal role in bringing about, through the Portsmouth Treaty in New Hampshire, what would be temporary peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Horne's view, the First World War "began, and was caused by, various sublime practitioners of hubris in conflict with one another." He purposefully refocuses on the Pacific.

When Togo retired from official duties in 1926 he admonished his nation to remember an ancient Japanese saying, "Tighten your helmet strip in the hour of victory." His contemporary, General Maresuke Nogi, committed ritual suicide, seppuku, to atone for his shame at the death of so many Japanese troops in Manchuria. 

Togo's life and Nogi's death further glorified and galvanized a "suicidally dangerous mythology" of a "divine Japan."

Horne writes, "The myth of Japanese invincibility, which had grown up around him, would lie at the heart of the spiraling new militarism."

American codebreakers in Pearl Harbor help turn the tide at Midway.
The Battle of Nomonhan (also known as Khalkhin Gol) in 1939 became a far-reaching domino as General Georgy Zhukov, hardened on the Mongolian battlefield, returned to successfully defend Moscow from Hitler's invading force in December 1941. "As one who would mete out the punishment prescribed by hubris, Zhukov ... would then go on, through the triumph of Stalingrad, to inflict the ultimate destruction of the F├╝hrer's evil dreams in the ruins of Berlin."

Meanwhile, hubris led Imperial Japan to move toward Southeast Asia and Indochina for oil and other raw materials, leading to international condemnation, U.S.sanctions and war. Within six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. bases on Oahu, Admiral Chester Nimitz and planners in Hawaii launched an ambush against Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto and the Japanese fleet at Midway.
"In terms of the history of naval warfare, June 4, 1942, was a stunning vindication of the pioneers' belief in the carrier and its aircraft as the future queen of the oceans. Midway saw the eclipse of the mighty Dreadnought class as the capital ship of navies; both the super-battleships Musashi and Yamato would be sunk by carrier planes, having scarcely fired a shot from their gigantic guns. From Midway on, the line would run directly to Hiroshima in 1945 – and beyond that to the establishment of the United States as the world's naval superpower."
Nimitz inspects the damage after the Battle of Midway.
Nimitz is profiled as combining "the attributes of both boldness and caution" "who listened to his advisors, delegated authority and was immune to panic." Nimitz trusted his codebreakers and other intelligence personnel. And he respected the chain of command, including civilian oversight of the military. He stands in sharp contrast to "The American Caesar," Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who "preferred his own counsel" as a "vainglorious ... actor and egoist," according to Horne. 

Truman's MacArthur was Lincoln's McClelland. When the two met for the first time it was on MacArthur's terms and was "a true dialog of the deaf," one eventually leading to MacArthur's open defiance, hubris, and more toppling of prideful dominoes.
"Few acts of hubris in the twentieth century were punished more savagely or more swiftly than MacArthur's, after that remarkable triumph at Inchon went so catastrophically to his head. Thrusting on to the Yalu in pursuit of total victory was a huge risk, which proved to be a frontier too far, a risk that was unjustified, the costs to world equilibrium unwarranted. Its consequences were legion, casting long shadows beyond the actual conflict of the Korean War. Korea was the first war fought by the United States that did not end in a clear-cut American victory. As far as it had involved a United Nations commitment, this proved an experience unlikely to be repeated. When it came to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the British prime minister Harold Wilson swiftly made it clear that British troops were not going to help out this time. Rather, and similar to President Johnson in 1968, as a consequence of the unpopularity that the war, and specifically the sacking of MacArthur had brought him, Truman declined to run for the White House again. He would be succeeded by another great Second Word War warlord, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 
"Henceforth, at least until Iraq and Afghanistan came along, the United States would confine itself to waging wars with limited objectives only. As the First Gulf War of 1991 would demonstrate, its leaders would pay fastidious attention to not transgressing national borders. There would be no pursuit of the Iraqi Republican Guard over the Kuwaiti border. Probably the unyielding ferocity with which the Korean War was waged led to a hardening and a prolongation of the Cold War; to a worsening of the split with China, which would not begin to heal until the Nixon-Kissinger initiative of the early 1970s; and to a consolidation of Maoism and all its attendant evils. the spectacle of a modern Western army fleeing before Mao's cotton-clad divisions was not likely to be forgotten in East Asia, no more than had been that of the destruction of tsarist forces in 1905 Manchuria. in the eyes of much of the world, it was Korea 1951 that made a great power of Mao's China."
Horne says it remains a question as to whether a more satisfying outcome could have been achieved leading to a "peacefully reunited Korea, if MacArthur had stopped on the Thirty-Eighth Parallel."

The author takes us into Vietnam via France and writes of the "incredible heroism" of the French and Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu in the mid 1950s, noting the defeat at the siege there "cost France not only Indo-China but the rest of its empire as well." He contends, "The imbalance left behind in Vietnam was to lead directly to the American intervention."

Horne's book ends on the cusp of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but he brings up other examples of domino hubris in his epilogue, including "various Middle Eastern flareups" such as the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Can the human condition of vainglorious pride be recognized and controlled without more dominoes toppling?
"If hubris is part of the human condition – deep-seated, lingering, pervasive, and potentially lethal – what can we do to avoid it? If, as these chapters have shown, it is not just our leaders who ignore history and their own experience, we might conclude that we all have something to learn."
Battleship Mikasa Museum in the Peace Park next to Fleet Activities Yokosuka.
In Hiroshima this week Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in translated remarks, said:

"Last year, at the 70th anniversary of the end of war, I visited the United States and made a speech as Prime Minister of Japan at a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.  That war deprived many American youngsters of their dreams and futures. Reflecting upon such harsh history, I offered my eternal condolences to all the American souls that were lost during World War II. I expressed gratitude and respect for all the people in both Japan and the United States who have been committed to reconciliation for the past 70 years. Seventy years later, enemies who fought each other so fiercely have become friends, bonded in spirit, and have become allies, bound in trust and friendship, deep between us. The Japan-U.S. alliance, which came into the world this way, has to be an alliance of hope for the world..."

President Obama asks all of us to think about the deep roots of war and peace, common humanity and shared hopes for the future. The Commander In Chief 
concluded his remarks in Hiroshima this way: 

"The world was forever changed here.  But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is the future we can choose -– a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening."

Obama hugs Hiroshima survivor Shigeaki Mori this week. Mori was 8 when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, leading to the end of the Pacific War.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Arnold Lobel, Fabulist

by Bill Doughty

Aesop. La Fontaine. "Uncle Remus." Hans Christian Anderson. Thurber. Orwell. Among the great fabulists – fable writers – we can add Arnold Lobel's name.

Author of the "Frog and Toad" series, "Ming Lo Moves the Mountain," "Owl at Home," and Caldecott Medal-winning "Fables," Lobel (May 22, 1933 – Dec. 4, 1987) was an artist and writer, who said writing was difficult because he was such a visual thinker.

His simple stories for various "I Can Read Books" held profound timeless ideas about ethics and morality.

In fact, he is interpreted as channeling the Buddhist dharma in a fascinating essay by Kathyryn Jeser-Morton. Christians and Jews can see his stories consistently reinforcing the Golden Rule; protagonists in Lobel's story frequently turn the other cheek, do unto others or practice "an eye for an eye" while young readers can appreciate the paradoxes. Lobel also inspired at least one "green Muslim" in the garden. 

Lobel's fables are universal for believers or nonbelievers. A writer who believes in the power of fabulist philosopher Lobel as "my hero" is Julia Donaldson, who writes in "The Guardian" that "the stories have a quality of joyful optimism celebrating things such as the spring and friendship in a fresh, unsentimental way."

Such is true in "Mouse Soup" (HarperCollins, 1977) a "Level 2" I Can Read Book for first through third graders. The story is filled with potential danger and creative innovative solutions. Spoiler alert: The quick-thinking mouse uses his wits – and some natural "weapons" – to outsmart and escape from a predatory weasel intent on making mouse soup.

Lobel's books are a great way to teach reading to children. In some cases military service members on deployment can get two copies of children's books and read to their sons and daughters as they read along, connected electronically. United Through Reading helps military families through a feedback loop of reading and recording reactions, bringing sponsors and children closer over time and distance.

From the UTR website: "One of the most difficult things a child can experience is having a parent separated from them for an indeterminate period of time. United Through Reading helps ease the stress of separation for military families by having service members who are separated from the children they love read children’s books aloud on video for the child to watch at home."

UTR provides information on how and where to participate. Also offered: lists of books as suggested reading at various reading levels. Titles include "Amelia Bedelia," "No, David," "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed," "Charlotte's Web," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and "Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords for Success," among dozens of others. 

Of course, families can choose their own favorite story book, nonfiction book, or book of fables.

Arnold Lobel's "Mouse Soup" is a fun choice and a good starting point for more discussion for military families about how to be cautious in a sometimes dangerous world.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

'United States of Jihad' & Homegrown Terrorists

Review by Bill Doughty

San Bernardino terrorists Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook at airport security.
The journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden nearly twenty years ago in 1997, four years before 9/11 – and who accurately predicted the location of bin Laden's hideaway more than a decade later – assesses the level of danger of neighborhood jihadists in his latest work, "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists" (2016, Crown Publishers).

Peter Bergen's conclusion may surprise some Americans.

Bergen's work – which includes insights into the Boston Marathon attack by the Tsarnaev brothers, the killing of Omar Hammami, the hunt for and death of Anwar al-Awlaki, and the Malik/Farook attack in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015 – grips the reader with its sense of immediacy and Bergen's mastery at nonfiction storytelling. 

The book opens with "Americans for ISIS," describing teenager Mohammed Hamzah Khan's attempt to join the Islamist "caliphate" with his younger siblings. Other highlights include behind-the-scenes insights into deranged characters Major Nidal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and David Headley.

Bergen examines the phenomenon of "lone wolves" as well as leader-led jihadists.

The roles of Navy SEAL Team 6 and CIA come up several times in the war against what Bergen calls "Binladenism." Bergen documents the success in tracking down and exterminating overseas terrorists. But, here comes the surprise: radical islamists were not the greatest threat to Americans on U.S. soil in 2015, he reports.
"Americans have also long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadists while underestimating the sources of other forms of terrorism, generally defined as any act of violence against civilians motivated by ideology. Since 9/11, extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right-wing credos, including white supremacists, antiabortion extremists, and antigovernment militants, have killed around the same number of people in the United States as have extremists motivated by al-Qaeda's ideology. As we have seen, by the end of 2015, forty-five people had been killed in jihadist terrorist attacks in the United States, while right-wing racists and antigovernment militants had killed forty-eight."
As an example, Bergen relates terrorist attack by Dylann Roof last year at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which Roof killed nine African Americans vainly hoping "to start a race war." He reminds us of the historical terrorism in our country, including "an astonishing 112 hijackings in the States during the 1970s."

Yet, the fear of ISIS for some is all-consuming, even impinging on some Americans' "pursuit of happiness." The influential philosopher Epicurus (Thomas Jefferson called himself Epicurean) reasoned that people's greatest desire should be the pursuit of a life of happiness, and that the greatest barrier to that pursuit was fear.

So what about our fears? Bergen writes:
"Americans' persistent fear of terrorism can be explained partly by the disparity between expert and lay evaluations of risk. In the words of Clinton Jenkin, a psychologist writing in the peer-reviewed journal Homeland Security Affairs, 'Experts view risk as the likelihood of actual harm based on mortality estimates, whereas lay perceptions of risk are based on a number of qualitative (and subjective) characteristics.' The average person's perception of risk, he explains, is influenced by 'the voluntariness of exposure,' how much control we feel we have, how great we judge the potential damage, how unpredictable the situation seems, and so on. Since terrorists can strike anyone, anywhere, in a random and dreadful manner, we tend to fear them more than we fear far more common and predictable causes of death. In any year since 9/11, Americans were twelve thousand times more likely to die in a car accident, for instance, than in a domestic terrorist incident."
Bergen continues to put fear and Americans' actual risk in perspective:
"The extent to which our government and the media participate in this endemic paranoia is damaging in that, apart from doing the terrorists' job for them, which is to terrorize, it helps to crowd out the far more serious issues the planet faces. Climate change is far less telegenic than ISIS. More to the point, homicide is the fifteenth leading cause of death for Americans. The scale of this death toll resembles both a national security problem and a public health issue. Around 70 percent of American homicides are accomplished with firearms, according to an authoritative study by the United Nations; some eighty-eight thousand Americans died in gun violence between 2003 and 2010. This means that in the years after 9/11, an American residing in the United States was around five thousand times more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen armed with a gun than by a terrorist inspired by the ideology of Osama bin Laden. It's probably more or less inevitable that most Americans will die of cancer or a heart attack, but why is it even plausible that Americans in high schools, colleges, movie theaters, and churches should die at the hands of young armed men?"
Kerry Cahill and Nader Hasan
He concludes his book with a hopeful profile of Kerry Cahill (whose father, Michael, was killed by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood) and her bond of friendship with Nader Hasan, cousin of the terrorist assassin, who reached out to her. 

Nader Hassan's Nawal Foundation is dedicated to American Muslims speaking out against terrorists and terrorism. Kerry joined the foundation after bonding with Nader over homemade baklava and a children's book ("Mouse Soup" by Arnold Lobel, author of "Frog and Toad"). "Mouse Soup," Bergen writes, "had been Michael Cahill's favorite book to read to them as kids."