Sunday, October 22, 2017

John Finn / Seton's Halloween Story

Review by Bill Doughty
World War II's first Medal of Honor recipient (former Navy Chief and Lieutenant) John Finn came to Pearl Harbor Dec. 6, 2009 to ride in a whiteboat named for him. He was 100.

Ernest Thompson Seton
I had the special privilege of interviewing John Finn that day during his boat ride. He told me his favorite author, beginning early in his life, was Ernest Thompson Seton, the naturalist, artist, writer, adventurer and Native American Indian advocate.
Finn said Seton was a great writer who captured his imagination and influenced his love of the West.

Seton had a significant role in the birth of Scouting in the United States. He is the reason there are such strong ties with Scouting and Native American culture.
Recently I read Seton's "The Arctic Prairies: A Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; Being the Account of a Voyage to the Region North of Aylmer," first published in 1911 – when John Finn was nearly two years old – and reprinted in 1917 in the version I held. The subject of the book, the journey itself, started in 1907.
Seton recounts stories, does science experiments, makes sketches of wildlife and narrates the journey to "unbroken forest and prairie leagues." This richly rewarding book follows the six-month journey Seton made with Edward A. Preble.
Preble was a naturalist whose bloodline included a distant great-great-great grandfather, the brother of Commodore Edward Preble, who defeated the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean on orders of President Thomas Jefferson.
It was naturalist Preble who became the center of a campfire Halloween story just as the journey was coming to a close, after various adventures with lynxes, buffaloes, musk-ox, caribou, wolves, bears, coyotes, Arctic foxes and a myriad of birds. Many of the creatures in the cold North were hungry, some dying of starvation in the early winter.
One particular animal became the focus of October 28, leading up to the end of the Seton-Preble journey on Halloween 1907.
"On that same night we had a curious adventure with a weasel. All were sitting around the camp-fire at bed-time, when I heard a distinct patter on the leaves. 'Something coming,' I whispered. All held still, then out of the gloom came bounding a snow-white weasel. Preble was lying on his back with his hands clasped behind his head and the weasel fearlessly jumped on my colleague's broad chest, and stood peering about. In a flash Preble's right elbow was down and held the weasel prisoner, his left hand coming to assist. Now, it is pretty well known that if you and a weasel grab each other at the same time he has choice of holds. 'I have got him,' said Preble, then added feelingly, 'but he got me first. Suffering Moses! The little cuss is grinding his teeth in deeper.' The muffled screaming of the small demon died away as Preble's strong left hand crushed out its life, but as long as there was a spark of it remaining, those desperate jaws were grinding deeper into his thumb. It seemed a remarkably long affair to us, and from time to time, as Preble let off some fierce ejaculation, one of us would ask, 'Hello! Are you two still at it,' or 'How are you and your friend these times, Preble?' In a few minutes it was over, but that creature in his fury seemed to have inspired himself with lock-jaw, for his teeth were so driven in and double-locked, that I had to pry the jaws apart before the hand was free. The weasel may now be seen in the American Museum, and Preble in the Agricultural Department at Washington, the latter none the worse. So wore away the month, the last night came, a night of fireside joy at home (for was it not Hallowe'en?), and our celebration took the form of washing, shaving, mending clothes, in preparation for our landing in the morning."
Seton admitted to a wanderlust desire to go to unexplored regions. He traveled the Nyarling River and camped at the Great Slave Lake, White Fish River, Salt River, Athabska River and Little Buffalo River. He met with Native Americans he called Cree, Chipewyan, Grand Lake Algonquin and Blackfoot Indians.
He describes – and sketches drawings of – dozens of fauna and flora, presented in scientific sketches. Black-and-white photos show the beautiful desolation of the open country.
In the final chapter, "The End," Seton writes:
"All that night of Hallowe'en, a partridge drummed near my untented couch on the balsam boughs. What a glorious sound of woods and life triumphant it seemed; and why did he drum at night? Simply because he had more joy than the short fall day gave him time to express. He seemed to be beating our march of victory, for were we not in triumph coming home? The gray firstlight came through the trees and showed us lying each in his blanket, covered with leaves, like babes in the woods. The gray jays came wailing through the gloom, a faroff cock-of-the-pines was trumpeting in the lovely, unplagued autumn woods; it seemed as though all the very best things in the land were assembled and the bad things all left out, so that our final memories should have no evil shade. The scene comes brightly back again, the sheltering fir-clad shore, the staunch canoe skimming the river's tranquil reach, the water smiling round her bow, as we push from this, the last of full five hundred camps. The dawn fog lifts, the river sparkles in the sun, we round the last of a thousand headlands. The little frontier town of the Landing swings into view once more – what a metropolis it seems to us now!"
We can picture a young John Finn reading this book rapturously and enjoying the photos and drawings by the author.

USS John Finn (DDG 113) in Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler.
Last summer, in Pearl Harbor the Navy commissioned a new guided-missile destroyer: USS John Finn (DDG 113). The ship is homeported in San Diego.

Meanwhile, the John Finn whiteboat, one of several in Pearl Harbor with Sailors at the helm, is used nearly every day to take about 150 visitors per trip to the USS Arizona Memorial – more than a million-and-a-half people per year from throughout the world. 

Among the groups who visit Pearl Harbor each year are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Interestingly, Ernest Thompson Seton is considered to one of the "fathers" of Scouting. 
Politics, patriotism and even spirituality/religion are intertwined in a fascinating essay by David C. Scott and presented by Johnny Walker about Seton's role in the early days of Scouting.
Ernest Thompson Seton founded The Woodcraft Movement in 1901 and wrote the first Boy Scouts of America handbooks. The original 1910 BSA manual is subtitled "A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft" (Seton and Baden-Powell, 1910). Seton also wrote "The Woodcraft Manual for Girls" in 1916. 
For perspective on Seton, consider that he was born in England in April 14, 1860, nearly one year to the day before the start of America's Civil War. He moved to Canada, where he lived and studied, before eventually moving to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen, settling near Santa Fe, New Mexico – in the heart of his (and Finn's) beloved West.

Seton teaches young people about Indian culture as part of his Woodcraft Movement, 1903.
A complicated individual, Seton became enmeshed in an early 20th century controversy that ended up putting him somewhat at odds with his President Theodore Roosevelt over anthropomorphic portrayals of animals in nature. TR reportedly advised Seton to back up his views with facts, leading to volumes of academic and scientific investigations about animals.

Though apparently hobbled by his own ego and patriarchal thinking toward other races, he was an early champion of equal rights for women, and he had deep respect for Native American Indian culture.

Seton also reached across the Atlantic to his native England and sought to strengthen ties in World War I, reinforcing the ideal of service. 

In his "The Gospel of the Redman: An Indian Bible" Seton writes: "The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, 'How much service have I rendered to my people?' His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and colored with complete realization of the spirit world."

Seton died 71 years ago on Oct. 23, 1946, one year after the end of the war John Finn helped win. Today the Navy remembers the service of John Finn, who, though wounded and vulnerable, fought back, firing his mounted machine gun at attacking enemy planes on December 7, 1941 at Naval Station Kaneohe Bay, now Marine Corps Base Hawaii. We can imagine Finn's spirit aboard USS John Finn, at MCBH and in Pearl Harbor.

Extended family members and friends of the late John Finn visit his namesake whiteboat in Pearl Harbor July 17, 2017. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Shadows, Reflections of 'Intimate' Vietnam

Review by Bill Doughty

How could we  get sucked into a civil war in Asia, and how could we stay stuck in that war for so many years? What is revealed in the shadows of that war and its aftermath?

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns answer those questions and present a comprehensive and compassionate work in their massive "The Vietnam War: An Intimate History" (Knopf, 2017). It's must reading for anyone who failed to understand or learn the lessons of Vietnam.

Of course, this book is a also a detailed compendium to the documentary film series (and website) by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. According to the authors:
"America's involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended, thirty years later, in failure, witnessed by the entire world. It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence, and cold war miscalculation. And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than to admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions, made by five American presidents, belonging to both political parties."
The Vietnam War grew out of World War II as a national liberation war to prevent totalitarianism. "Ambitious dictatorships needed to be halted in their tracks before they constituted a serious danger to the peace of the world."

President-elect Nixon visits LBJ's White House in 1968.
Ward and Burns show how American leaders willingly inherited from the French a role in Vietnam's civil war, from Truman and Eisenhower through JFK and LBJ and, finally to President Richard Nixon, who, in President Lyndon B. Johnson's words, committed "treason" by preventing an early peace with North Vietnam in order to win election in 1968.

Nixon's own words are printed as transcripts.

In one exchange, in which Ward and Burns say "Nixon was lying," Nixon told President Johnson, in the midst of the 1968 election, "We've got to get this goddamned war off the plate ... Just the quicker the better and the hell with the political credit. Believe me, that's the way I feel about it."

President Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson Library)
(Interrogation specialist Stan Walters says often people who frequently say "believe me" or "trust me" don't believe their own claims.)

LBJ's conversations with others – and growing conflicted conscience – are also part of the record. 

Johnson was "caught between his key advisors – and between his conflicting desires simultaneously to end a war and to keep from being the first president to lose one."

Ward and Burns show how the Gulf of Tonkin incident escalated our involvement in Vietnam, from a questionable encounter at sea involving U.S. Navy destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy turned into "one of the most controversial and consequential events in American history" and leading immediately to air attacks and soon a commitment to a land war.

USS Maddox operates off Oahu, Hawaii, March 21, 1964. (Photo by PH2 Antoine, NHHC)
This book is filled with images showing the pain, exhaustion, shock, desperation and destruction of the war. The book's cover shows through a rice paddy reflection the authors' intent to show perspectives from both sides.

Highlights and insights in this 600+ page book include the role of Anna Chan Chennault before, during and after the war; the stories and lives of veterans John Musgrave, Hal Kushner, Denton "Mogie" Crocker, Joan Furey and Vincent Okamoto; the patriotism and words of John Kerry, Robert F. Kennedy, Walter Cronkite and Merrill McPeak; and the pivotal moments of Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation, the Tet Offensive, Cambodia incursion, My Lai massacre, Kent State shooting, evacuation of Saigon and release of POWs. Writers and thinkers like Tim O'Brien, Karl Marlantes and Neil Sheehan share their thoughts, and we get the perspectives of  former enemies, including Nguyen Van Thieu, Nguyen Thank Tung, Nguyen Tai, and Bao Ninh.

Former North Vietnamese soldier and acclaimed writer, Bao Ninh.
From former North Vietnamese army soldier turned writer Bao Ninh:
"The last time I caught sight of American combat troops close up, on the ground, was late one morning in April 1971, near An Khe Pass. I saw a platoon of airborne troops on patrol on Highway 19. They seemed relaxed, not particularly cautious, walking down the road in single file, skirting the edge of their base. They didn’t know there were three of us scouts silently following their every move, monitoring them from behind thick camouflage on a hill about 100 meters off the road, and they had absolutely no idea that a strongly armed North Vietnamese Army unit was waiting for them at the bend of the road half a kilometer ahead. To this day, I see them clearly in my mind, as if they were right in front of me. I especially remember a radio operator carrying a PRC-25 backpack radio. I can’t understand why as radio operator he wasn’t beside the company commander, but instead was pulling up the rear, trailing behind the group. He seemed nonchalant, with no bulletproof vest, no helmet, no M-16 or grenade launcher, just the radio on his back. He had short brown hair, no beard or mustache. Through my binoculars I saw that he was chewing something, probably gum. He was just ambling along, kicking an empty Coke can as he walked. Fifteen minutes later the sound of gunfire told me his platoon had walked into our ambush. I never found out what happened to that radio man, have no idea whether he made it. "In 1998, during my first trip to the United States, whenever I was visiting a university or high school and saw young boys and girls in auditoriums and hanging out on the lawns, I would see again the face of that young soldier, hear the clatter of that empty Coke can on the road. He was just like a kid on the way home to his mother after school, playing with whatever he happened to come across."It’s been a long time, but I still have nightmares from the war. I still hear the hiss of hundreds of bombs being dropped from B-52s, the roar of artillery barrages and the thrum of the helicopter rotors. I still see platoons of American Marines in bulletproof vests and helmets jumping out of Chinook helicopters, brandishing their M-16s.Worst of all, I can’t forget the dreadful nightmare of dioxin. In the spring of 1971, when we were stationed west of Kon Tum, we were sprayed repeatedly with Agent Orange. I didn’t know if the Americans on those C-123 Caribous knew anything about the terrible toxicity of the liquid they sprayed, or if only the chemical companies that manufactured it knew. We understood all too well its horrible destructive force. As soon as the Caribous passed over us, the sky would turn dark with a strange, thick, milky rain. The jungle canopy broke apart, ulcerated and fell to the ground. Leaves, flowers, fruits, even twigs, all silently dropped. Green leaves turned black, crumpled. Grass withered and died. I witnessed many cruel scenes in the war, but that brutal massacre of nature is what comes back to me most often and disturbs my sleep."
A shadow silhouette of then-President Barak Obama reflects on the Vietnam Memorial in 2012.
In the Vietnam War, blustery hubris and a "feeling of exceptionalism" on both sides led to escalation. Corruption, war-profiteering and political fears caused leaders to continue the war rather than seek peace. Blind obedience was confused as patriotism by a "silent majority" who eventually had to listen to a vocal minority.

Today, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a tribute to the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the "devastating calamity" so that, in the words of the Gold Star Mothers, "those who died should be remembered." 

Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat is remembered. (Army photo by SSgt. Bernardo Fuller)
Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs had the vision for a memorial to remember veterans of the war, but it was Maya Lin who envisioned what it would look like, a black V-shaped black granite wall etched with the names of those who died. The authors write:
"Throughout our long production, we were inspired by the architect Maya Lin, whose Vietnam Veterans Memorial was initially as controversial as the war itself, but which has become one of America’s sacred places. When she unveiled her design in 1981, Lin told the press that her memorial to the Americans who died in the war would be a journey 'that would make you experience death, and where you’d have to be an observer, where you could never really fully be with the dead . . . [It isn’t] some­thing that was going to say, It’s all right, it’s all over. Because it’s not.' Nothing, certainly not our film or book, can make the tragedy of the Vietnam War all right. But we can, and we must, honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served, those who died, and those who participated in the war against the war. As filmmakers, we have tried to do that the only way we know how: by listening to their stories. 'It’s almost going to make me cry,' Army veteran Vincent Okamoto told us, remembering the infantry company he led in Vietnam in 1968. 'Nineteen-, twenty-year-old high school dropouts that come from the lowest socioeconomic rung of American society . . . they didn’t have the escape routes that the elite and the wealthy and the privileged had . . . but to see these kids, who had the least to gain . . . they weren’t going be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire, was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself: how does America produce young men like this?'"
Soldiers at Hue City. (Photo from National Archives)
A Sailor reads and reflects aboard USS Maddox, 1965.
In an essay titled Ghosts, the authors conclude that divisions created by the war remain, but study of the war on all sides has brought about greater understanding. "The Vietnam war was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable," they write. "But meaning can be found in the individual stories of those who lived through it, stories of courage and comradeship and perseverance, of understanding and forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation."

According to the authors, "We can, and we must, honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served, those who died, and those who participated in the war against the war."

Recently, the Naval History and Heritage Command completed its The U.S. Navy and Vietnam War books/pamphlets series, showcasing the Navy's role.

According to a Naval History and Heritage Command press release, "Interested readers can download a free digital copy from the Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) website ... or purchase a hard copy from the Government Printing Office (GPO)."

--The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945-1965; 
--Nixon's Trident: Naval Power in Southeast Asia, 1968-1972;
--The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War; 
--Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon;
--Combat at Close Quarters: Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam; 
--Naval Air War: The Rolling Thunder Campaign; 
--Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Southeast Asia;
--Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War; and
--End of the Saga: The Maritime Evacuation of South Vietnam and Cambodia.

I enjoyed reading Navy Medicine historian Jan Herman's "Navy Medicine in Vietnam" and saw a lot of information that added to the complete story of the Vietnam War.

A North Vietnamese motor gunboat burns in the Raonay River, 12 miles north of Dong Hoi, after being attacked by USS Midway aircraft, April 28, 1965. Note shadow of RF-8A recce plane. (National Archives and Naval History and Heritage Command)

Earlier this year I listed 50 books to represent 50 years of the Vietnam War, including multiple dimensions and perspectives. Ward and Burns's "The Vietnam War" belongs in every military library.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Understanding Mother of all Koreas

Review by Bill Doughty

Part of the Mansudae Grand Monument
North Korea says it wants a "blood reckoning" with the United States. B. R. Myers says believe them.

Myers, who bases his analysis on North Korean source materials, is author of "The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves – And Why It Matters" (MelvilleHouse 2010).

Unlike many other experts, Myers sees little value in freedom-loving people in the South smuggling CDs and DVDs to the North because most of the people in the DPRK are true believers who support the racist, military-first, repressed Juche philosophy of the Kim regime as their religion. "The masses' adoration of (founder) Kim Il-Sung has always been real." The true believers think it is just a matter of time before the people in the South will want to be reunited under the North's conditions.

According to Myers, compared with its communist neighbors, the North's system of government is closer to that of Imperial Japan during the colonial era, when the Japanese military occupied the peninsula, as it had several times for hundreds of years. The appeal of Soviet Russia or Communist China had nothing to compare with the hardcore racist nationalism of a century ago. The three Kims are "living symbols of the homeland." The culture is not Confucian either. "Confucius demanded rigorous self-cultivation through study; the Kim regime urges its subjects to remain as childlike and spontaneous as possible."

Kim Il-Sung celebrates the Chinese leaving North Korea in 1958.
Today, Kim Jong-Un looks remarkably like his grandfather in Kim Il-Sung's younger years, but the grandson is arguably more reckless. 

As opposed to being patriarchal, North Koreans' allegiance to the Kim regime, according to Myers, is matriarchal, with Kim Il-Sung seen as the mother of all Koreans, an appealing image to nationalists in the North. 

Myers says, "Far from being complex," the North Korean worldview "can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader," a strikingly similar worldview to that of fascist Imperial Japan.
"Kim Il Sung's peculiarly androgynous or hermaphroditic image also seems to exert a far more emotional attraction than any of the unambiguously paternal leaders of Eastern Europe were able to ... Sigmund Freud wrote of every child's yearning for a phallic mother, a truly omnipotent parent who is both sexes in one, and Ernest Becker agreed that the hermaphroditic image answers a striving for ontological wholeness that is inherent to man. This may explain why Jesus and Buddha are far more feminine and maternal figures in the popular imagination than in the original scriptures of Christianity and Buddhism. The North Koreans' (pure) race theory gives them extra reason to want a leader who is both mother enough to indulge their unique childlikeness and father enough to protect them from the evil world."
Kim Jong-Un is in the middle of a cult of personality and "hero" worship.
The book opens with an epigraph from a North Korean dictionary with a 109-word definition of "mother," that includes references to the Party and Comrade Platoon Leader and "a metaphor for the source from which something originates." The definition for "father" is six words: "the husband of one's birth mother."
"What emerges is a regime completely unlike the West's perception of it. This is neither a bastion of Stalinism nor a Confucian patriarchy, but a paranoid nationalist, 'military first' state on the far right of the political spectrum."
Though published seven years ago, this book predicts the line of succession through Kim Jong-Il to his son, current dictator Kim Jong-Un, and says to expect more, not less, nuclear proliferation, a storm of madman-like threats, and increased hatred toward the United States.

The worst thing that could happen to the Kims, Myers writes, is that the North Korean people stop seeing the West as a threat.
"The regime is worried that the masses might cease to perceive the United States as an enemy, thus leaving it with no way to justify its rule – or even to justify the existence of the DPRK as a separate state."
But there's a case for cautious optimism as the North's crazed propaganda and beliefs – that Myers calls "the Text" – runs a risk of losing credibility:
"It is but a matter of time before most North Koreans realize that their southern brethren are proud of the state, indifferent to the Dear Leader's very existence, and content to postpone reunification indefinitely. Such revelations may not bring down the regime at once, but they will certainly bring down the Text."
But that, along with a goal of diplomacy with the Kim regime, might be wishful thinking. Myers writes, "The unpleasant truth is that one can neither bully nor cajole a regime – least of all one with nuclear weapons – into committing political suicide."

In a recent interview with the Conversation, which grants free use of its content, B.R. Myers assesses the risk of war and reiterates some of the key points in "The Cleanest Race." The interview concludes:

B.R. Myers
How likely is a war?
"I agree with those who say North Korea knows a nuclear war is unwinnable. I also think it fancies its chances of a peaceful takeover too highly to want to risk a premature invasion while US troops are here. 
"On the other hand, the North’s legitimacy derives almost wholly from its subjects’ perception of perfect strength and resolve. This makes it harder for Pyongyang to back down than it was for Moscow during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
"Also, the North’s ideology glorifies the heart over the mind, instincts over consciousness, which makes rash decisions more likely to be made, even quite low down the military command structure. There is therefore a significant danger of some sort of limited clash at any time. But that has always been the case."