Sunday, September 24, 2017

Invisible Shipkillers, Winning the Great War

Review by Bill Doughty

Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare brought the United States into a war many Americans strongly opposed. Exactly one hundred years ago, in 1917, the United States Navy converted ocean liners to serve as troop transports, often rushing to move Soldiers and Marines to England and France. Invisible dangers threatened the ships: U-boats, saboteurs, lack of training, icebergs and a virus that would devastate the ranks of the military.

Those are some of the themes in this remarkable, well-paced book by Peter Hernon: "The Great Rescue: American Heroes, An Iconic Ship, and the Race to Save Europe in WWI" (HarperCollins 2017). Events and people intersect aboard USS Leviathan, a converted German liner.

Hernon follows some now-forgotten characters such as Corporal Freddie Stowers, Army Nurse Corps officer Emma Elizabeth Weaver, several Navy ship captains, and American journalist Irvin Cobb. One character, Congressman Royal Johnson of South Dakota, voted against entering the war out of loyalty to his constituents, but then he enlisted and distinguished himself in combat.

Sailor Humphrey Bogart
Other more well-known names with ties to USS Leviathan get some limelight too, including Navy Seaman Humphrey Bogart (who had a sketchy service record as a teenager); then-Col. Douglas MacArthur (who was flamboyant, vain but brilliant); General John Pershing (who had a tender love relationship with a French artist) and then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who showed diplomatic skills during a trip to Europe).

FDR suffered a life-threatening bout of influenza aboard Leviathan in a return to the States from France.
"The Leviathan was waiting for him out in the harbor, a gray monster with black coal smoke trailing from her tall stacks. By the time Roosevelt boarded her, he could barely stand. He'd been showing signs of illness for days. A week earlier, he'd run a 102-degree fever during a hair-raising all-night drive to Paris without headlights over crowded roads. He ignored the symptoms and refused to rest, pushing himself without letup. According to Roosevelt biographer Kenneth Davis, 'For weeks on end he had been driving his body beyond its capacity for self-renewal, using up every reserve of its strength in reckless disregard of the protests it made.' He was knotted up in pain when he was piped aboard the Leviathan and met Captain Bryan."
One hundred years ago, a killer version of the flu swept through the world and hit the U.S. Navy. "The illness spread fast, and within the tight confines of a ship at sea it could explode like a bomb."

Desperate to bring reinforcements to Europe, the Leviathan knowingly brought aboard hundreds of already-sick troops aboard. Hernon's characters see the "sickness of war" either at sea or in the trenches, where Soldiers and Marines experienced hand-to-hand combat, grenade and machine gun attacks and chemical weapon horrors. And there were other challenges:
"Johnson had to get used to the chronic lack of sleep, especially at night, when staying awake was a matter of life and death for anyone on duty. This was true even in the rear shelters, which regularly came under shell fire. The trenches and dugouts were infested with rats, the big black variety the soldiers had to club to death, and no matter how much the men tried to stay clean and keep their hair cut short, the lice, or 'cooties,' were always with them, burrowing deep into their uniforms and blankets until they were scratching or picking nits nearly every waking moment. In the morning, tormented soldiers angrily ripped off their shirts, looking for the vermin that abounded in the collars and sleeves."
Scenes aboard USS Leviathan
Hernon makes us care about the people he profiles, including African American Cpl. Freddie Stowers, who along with his regiment, overcame racial barriers and showed valor on the battlefield despite entrenched Germans at Verdun.
"The Germans had had four years to add a devilish array of defenses to the already challenging landscape of hills, ravines, and woods – seemingly countless numbers of machine gun pillboxes, a network of trenches, and barbed wire in lines four and five deep and concealed over the years with lush vines and brush. Artillery was positioned to provide flanking fire on infantry trying to move between the Meuse and the Argonne.This masterpiece of interlocking, mutually supportive firepower was designed to defend a critical railroad in the rear, the Sedan-Mezieres line, the only escape route to Germany. If it were broken, the German army would be trapped, unable to be resupplied or reinforced. The war would end."
The war did end, thanks to American presence and power. Hernon uses the battlefield and the sea as a stage for his characters, with USS Leviathan as a centerpiece, all to show an intimate history of World War I, thought to be a war to end all wars but which ended in a treaty described by MacArthur as "drastic ... more like a treaty of perpetual war than of perpetual peace."

USS Leviathan's work was not over after the treaty was signed. The ship joined other converted liners, commercial ships and war ships as part of a "massive logistical undertaking" to bring two million troops home from Europe.

We featured USS Leviathan in a Navy Reads post honoring the Statue of Liberty: 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."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What Happened to the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Review by Bill Doughty

The Wolf and the Crane

A Wolf once got a bone stuck in his throat. So he went to a Crane and begged her to put her long bill down his throat and pull it out. "I'll make it worth your while," he added. The Crane did as she was asked, and got the bone out quite easily. The Wolf thanked her warmly, and was just turning away, when she cried, "What about that fee of mine?" "Well, what about it?" snapped the Wolf, baring his teeth as he spoke; "you can go about boasting that you once put your head into a Wolf's mouth and didn't get it bitten off. What more do you want?"

"In serving the wicked, expect no reward and be thankful if you escape injury for your pains."

The Wolf and the Lamb

A Wolf came upon a Lamb straying from the flock, and felt some compunction about taking the life of so helpless a creature without some plausible excuse; so he cast about for a grievance and said at last, "Last year, sir, you grossly insulted me." "That is impossible, sir," bleated the Lamb, "for I wasn't born then." "Well," retorted the Wolf, "you feed in my pastures." "That cannot be," replied the Lamb, "for I have never yet tasted grass." "You drink from my spring, then," continued the Wolf. "Indeed, sir," said the poor Lamb, "I have never yet drunk anything but my mother's milk." "Well, anyhow," said the Wolf, "I'm not going without my dinner": and he sprang upon the Lamb and devoured it without more ado.

"Hypocritical speeches are easily seen through."

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

A Wolf resolved to disguise himself in order that he might prey upon a flock of sheep without fear of detection. So he clothed himself in a sheepskin, and slipped among the sheep when they were out at pasture. He completely deceived the shepherd, and when the flock was penned for the night he was shut in with the rest. But that very night as it happened, the shepherd, requiring a supply of mutton for the table, laid hands on the Wolf in mistake for a Sheep, and killed him with his knife on the spot.

"Harm seek, harm find."

Aesop, like Uncle Remus and other fabulists (and many children's book authors), used animals to show human behavior. Charles Santore's illustrations of animals show "some particular aspect of the human condition" and are featured in "Aesop's Fables" (dilithium Press ltd., 1988, and Sterling Children's Books, 2010, for Kohl's Cares charity).

Santore was inspired by English writer G. K. Chesterton, who wrote that animals "have no choice, they cannot be anything but themselves." Without critical thinking human nature is animal nature.

Charles Santore reimagines Aesop, "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
We featured the wolf in this blogpost, but here's one involving an ass and lion that illustrates how character and integrity must trump mere appearance and vanity. 

The Donkey (Ass) in the Lion's Skin

An Ass found a Lion's Skin, and dressed himself up in it. Then he went about frightening everyone he met, for they all took him to be a lion, men and beasts alike, and took to their heels when they saw him coming. Elated by the success of his trick, he loudly brayed in triumph. The Fox heard him, and recognized him at once for the Ass he was, and said to him, "Oh, my friend, it's you, is it? I, too, should have been afraid if I hadn't heard your voice."

"No disguise will hide one's true character."

The uncredited text in this children's book appears to be from the 105-year-old translation of Aesop's fables by Vernon Jones. Thank the internet, and collective critical thinkers for perpetuating the lessons and universal truths of Aesop. Check out this exquisite site with sometimes weird fables (many requiring some forgiveness by the reader in remembering they were written in 600 BCE and translated in 1912).

In the long list of fables at this site, this non-anthropomorphic one appears just before the wolf-and-goose story (file art from 1908 is not by Santore): 

The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner

A Trumpeter marched into battle in the van of the army and put courage into his comrades by his warlike tunes. Being captured by the enemy, he begged for his life, and said, "Do not put me to death; I have killed no one: indeed, I have no weapons, but carry with me only my trumpet here." But his captors replied, "That is only the more reason why we should take your life; for, though you do not fight yourself, you stir up others to do so."

"Words may be deeds."

More than a century ago Chesterton compares Aesop with America's Uncle Remus, noting the storytelling connection of slaves, teachers and students, including the Brothers Grimm, in educating generations of people throughout the centuries. Chesterton warns against hubris and narcissism in the introduction to Vernon Jones's translation: "Whether fables began with Aesop or began with Adam, whether they were German and medieval as Reynard the Fox, or as French and Renaissance as La Fontaine, the upshot is everywhere essentially the same: that superiority is always insolent, because it is always accidental; that pride goes before a fall; and that there is such a thing as being too clever by half."

Even short fables can have profound meanings. Simple stories can illustrate discoveries of the philosophers and inform leaders' insights.

In "Red Scorpion: The War Patrols of USS Rasher," author Peter Sasgen describes the submarine's CO Capt. Willard Ross Laughon, who had attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1929 to 1933. He was well-read and had "dissertations from Aesop's Fables to Kant, expounded with cold logic and heated interest, with an admirable choice of words."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Command At Sea: 'Foreword Presence'

Review by Bill Doughty

One hundred years ago, in 1917, Rear Adm. Harley F. Cope was midway through his studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. He would go on to serve 30 years in the Navy aboard submarines, destroyers, auxiliary ships and battleships. He commanded fleet oiler USS Salinas (AO 19) at the beginning of World War II and commanded USS Tennessee (BB 43) when the war ended.

In the middle of WWII, he published a book which has been a foundation for Navy leaders for generations: "Command at Sea" (United States Naval Institute, 1943).

This "how to" book for officers in command describes the roles and responsibilities of officers and crew, maintenance and administration of the ship, safety at sea, taking command, and combat operations, among other chapters.

I picked up a copy of the third edition, published during the Cold War (1966) and edited by Capt. Howard Bucknell III. Among the fascinating topic headings are "The Value of Admitting a Mistake," "Otherwise Hold Your Peace," and "Good Sea Manners."

Interestingly, the foreword for the third edition is by Adm. John S. "Jack" McCain, written just over a year before his son, naval aviator Lt. John S. McCain III, the future senior senator of Arizona, would be captured and imprisoned in Hanoi.

In the foreword, then-Vice Adm. "Jack" McCain, writing more than a half century ago in July 1966, lauds "Command At Sea" for setting guidelines and formulating a "working philosophy." Here's a good part of Adm. McCain's well-written and powerful foreword:
"The key words in this publication are mission, readiness, goals and personnel. Mission is the purpose, or the reason for being. Readiness is the preparation or training to accomplish the objective. The ultimate goal is victory. None is possible without dedicated personnel, both officers and bluejackets.
"That which makes a professional naval officer or petty officer competent can be acquired. Leadership and skills are more accomplishments than endowments. The secret to the attainment of both is effort and application. Pride, loyalty, and discipline are byproducts stemming from the proper exercise of command leadership. In all professions, but most of all in the naval profession, leadership is man's greatest achievement. By simple definition, leadership is the ability to inspire the officers and men of one's command to maximum effort under all conditions.
"The path to success in command is predicated on understanding. To perform, a man must first understand. It is most important that each officer and bluejacket understand: first, the Navy's overall objectives and mission; then, the particular goals and mission of his own ship. A commanding officer is wise to accentuate the wide range of opportunities and activities that are open to his men in a Navy career. Today's Navy represents the widest variety of possible activities of any profession. The Navy, in close concert with the Marine Corps, engages in all aspects of modern warfare – land, sea, and air."
Adm. John S. "Jack" McCain Jr.
Adm. McCain shows the challenges of a multi-ocean naval presence. He notes that "leadership applies to all echelons" in the chain of command, and he describes life at sea, where accountability and responsibility weigh heavily for everyone in leadership positions:
"Life at sea is a constant conflict of man against the elements. Endless struggle with winds, tides, currents, and storms at sea is everyday routine to the seaman. At sea, a man's entire mode of living changes. A ship is a world unto itself.
"Working hours are subject to all of the vagaries of life at sea, such as weather, enemy action, navigation, operation of machinery, and many other factors. Life is a never-ending round of watches, drills, work routines, meals, reveille, and taps that occupy twenty-four hours of every day, seven days a week.
"A naval officer does not commute to his work, he lives with it. It takes years of exposure and experience before the Navy many completely adjusts to this way of life. Life at sea is a frame of mind, an acquired attitude.
"At sea, the burdens of accountability and responsibility for lives and equipment are secure only when entrusted to those who have qualified for command at sea by virtue of performance. Indeed, the responsibilities are great. The ever-present cloak of responsibility, though seemingly intangible, is never light; and, once accepted, can never be cast off. The commanding officer is mindful of this responsibility in his every challenge and decision every moment of the day and night."
Cmdr. Allen Maxwell Jr., commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88), addresses members of the crew during an operational stand-down aboard the ship. Preble is underway conducting a composite training unit exercise with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Morgan K. Nall)
The captain of a navy ship literally "has the conn," responsible and accountable – the final decision maker at sea. But the wise CO communicates  and consults with his Sailors and ensures there is a strong "working relationship between officers and subordinates based on mutual confidence and respect." In this insightful foreword McCain concludes:
"Command at sea assumes an even greater significance as the seas themselves grow in importance. There is no single factor of greater consequence to the security of the United States – economic, political, and military – in the years to come than sea power, with all of its ramifications. This power not only includes the surface of the oceans, the skies above, and the depths below, but also a new and major task: the projection of power inland."
Today, he would include space and cyberspace as domains of consideration.

McCain's writing is fresh-sounding in contrast with Cope's and Bucknell's formal and sometimes technical prose outlining codes, regs and "thou-shalts."

"Command at Sea" is filled with advice about morale, "tone," loyalty, communication, standards, etiquette, practices, procedures, boldness and integrity.

The writing in 1943 and 1966 may be stiff and dated and white male-centric (no mention of women at sea, three sentences about "minority groups" in 500+ pages, and several references to "Navy Wives"), but the foundation for good leaderships still rings solid. In a way, the old-fashioned writing accentuates the strength of the foundation: despite how society and the Navy has evolved over the years it's important to be brilliant on the basics at the deckplates.