Thursday, May 31, 2012

Troubles In Euroland

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, today conveyed a blunt message to the European Parliament: “The configuration we had for 10 years, which was considered sustainable, has been shown now to be unsustainable unless further steps are undertaken.”

Draghi has taken steps to ease the crisis, but his message seems to be that these measures are not sufficient. Leaving no room for misunderstanding, he criticized Europe's political leaders for taking half-measures that have made the crisis in Europe worse. “The next step is for our leaders to clarify what is the vision for a certain number of years from now,” he said. “The sooner this has been specified, the better. Dispel this fog.”

One consequence of the continuing uncertainty in Europe is that the dollar has been strengthening against the Euro and now stands at a value of about .81 Euro per dollar. "Stengthening" sounds good, doesn't it. It is good news for Americans interested in traveling to Europe of buying products from Europe. But it is bad news for US tourism  (visiting the US has become more expensive for Europeans) and bad news for American companies selling goods and services to Europe.

70 Years Ago: Midway Girds For Battle

As Japanese naval forces approach the island of Midway, US Army, Navy and Marine Corps defenders get ready.

In making their plans, Japan expected US naval forces to vacillate in the vicinity of Hawaii or to go north after the Japanese force approaching the Aleutians. They would, the plans assumed, be unable to act until after the Japanese carrier force hit Midway and the 5,000 man invasion force was ashore. The 5,000-man force, in the Japanese scenario, would encounter only a small Marine garrison standing in their way.

Not exactly.

As early as December 17th, 1941, Marines had begun improving defense installations on Midway. The air base was beefed up with 17 SB2U-3 Vindicator bombers, 100 man defense battalion, Navy 7-inch and 3-inch guns that arrived Christmas Eve. By year's end, the island had another 14 Brewster fighters, additional antiaircraft machine guns, radar, 5-inch guns, aviation supplies and personnel. The marine detachment built individual aircraft bunkers and underground personnel shelters.

By April, Midway's Eastern Island had become a major installation . Admiral Nimitz flew into Midway on May 2d to inspect the island and review preparations for battle. Less than a week later, more equipment was on the way. The island received 37-mm anti aircraft guns, a new 3-inch antiaircraft battery, a light tank platoon, a squadron of SBD-2 Devastators and another of F4F-3 Wildcat fighters. Army B-26 Marauders arrived, modified to deliver air-launched torpedoes, Army B-17's were added to the mix and a detachment of brand new navy TBF torpedo bombers arrive. By May 31, there were 107 aircraft on the island, including a squadron of PBY-5 amphibious seaplanes capable of long range patrols, search and rescue, and dropping bombs and torpedoes.

Army, Navy and Marines on the island were ready.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tulsa: My Home Town

Spotted an item today in the Washington Post. "Otis G. Clark," the headline declares, "survivor of Tulsa race riot, dies at 109." The cause of death, the article reported, was not disclosed.

Ninety-one years ago, May 31, 1921, Otis Clark, then 18 years old, was living in Greenwood, a prosperous African American neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, when mobs of white rioters burned the area to the ground and killed an unknown number of victims, possibly as many as 300. The population of Greenwood at the time was about 15,000. The article tells Otis Clark's story. But it happened in my home town.

Sometimes when you research your own family history, you learn things you would just as soon not know. But they happened and can't be undone. In this case, both my maternal grandfather, then a member of the KKK, and my paternal grandfather as well, took part in the riot. The object: "to run those n*****s out of town."

When we see or hear of efforts by some to "return to the thrilling days of yesteryear," we need to know where that path leads. And make sure we never go there again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

70 Years Ago: USS Yorktown Leaves Pearl For Midway

May 30, 1942 - Task Force 17, made up of USS Yorktown, two cruisers and five destroyers, departed Pearl Harbor after hurried repairs to Yorktown. TF 17 under tactical command of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher embarked in Yorktown, planned to join TF 16 to defend Midway against Japan's 50-ship task force (plus 116 auxiliary and transport vessels). RADM Fletcher, an aviator, was also senior to RADM Raymond Spruance, a surface warfare officer.

What Are Political Parties For?

for the past year, I have been expressing my skepticism about third party presidential candidates. Most recently, I reported the admitted failure earlier this month of Americans Elect, the most recent delusional party.

In fact, third parties make little sense in a winner-take-all political system. In 1948, two parties broke off of the national democratic party, and Harry Truman won despite their defection.

The last time a third party candidate came close to winning was a century ago, when Teddy Roosevelt was the candidate of the Progressive (or Bull Moose) party. Roosevelt's showing only served to split the Republican vote and bring about the election of Woodrow Wilson.

Some say that Ralph Nader had the same effect by depriving Al Gore of a win in Florida in 2000. A post-election recount of the entire state by a consortium of journalists, though, determined that more Floridians cast votes for Gore than for Bush. This would only have become clear, however, with a complete recount.

There is a new blog that addresses the questions surrounding parties: It is run by a trio of political scientists with a particular interest and background in political parties. I commend it to your attention.

Moral Hazard And War

Economists talk about "moral hazard." This means a situation where there is a tendency to take undue risks because the costs are not borne by the party taking the risk. We should extend the concept to war.

In 1941 and 1942 the attacking forces faced at least as much risk as those being attacked. This was true at Pearl Harbor, at Bataan and Corregidor, in the Coral Sea, and at Midway. And countless other battles.

It is usually not true of the political leaders who order a country to war. They do not bear the risks of the military forces.

The equation of risk becomes distorted forever when attacks are conducted from halfway around the world by those who sit in front of computers and direct robotic drones to destroy targets and people. It is the inhabitants of target areas who bear the risk.

Is this a kind of moral risk we are willing to take?

As a professional military officer, I always wanted to minimize the risk to my own sailors. At what point does this kind of planning cross a moral divide?

Apart from moral considerations, we may need to think about the message we convey. Is the message that our cause is not worth risking an American life? If so, we should say so. But we need to ask ourselves the question - if a cause is not worth dying for, is it worth killing for?

Monday, May 28, 2012

70 Years Ago: USS Yorktown May 29, 1942

May 29, 1942, USS Yorktown still in drydock at Pearl Harbor. Shipyard workers labored around the clock to repair damage enough that Yorktown could operate at sea for a couple of weeks. During the repairs, the ship also took on supplies, spare parts, and new equipment. The Japanese attack was scheduled for June 4. Would Yorktown be ready in time.

Don Winslow of The Navy

When I entered the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps about fifty-eight years ago, all I knew about the navy came from three sources: the Victory at Sea television series, the book Queen of the Flattops about USS Lexington (sunk at The Battle of the Coral Sea) and Don Winslow comic books. It wasn't until about five years ago that I learned that the character Don Winslow was devised as a means to help naval recruitment in the Midwest. The creator, Frank Martinek had served as an officer in naval intelligence during World War I. He had already used the Don Winslow character in some novels he had written. When I told my wife about the recruitment angle, she said, "it worked, didn't it?"

Comic Book Cover For Don Winslow Of The Navy Issue #3 Fawcett Publications

70 Years Ago Today: Task Force 16 Leaves For Midway

Task Force 16, RADM Raymond Spruance commanding, gets underway from Pearl Harbor, headed for Midway 1,100 nautical miles distant, to intercept the Japanese carrier force supporting the invasion of Midway. TF 16 consists of the carriers  Enterprise and Hornet, six cruisers and nine destroyers. The Japanese force consisted of four aircraft carriers and a total of nearly 90 ships. Vice Admiral Halsey, normally commander of TF 16, was in the hospital. He recommended Spruance, his escort force commander, to replace him for the battle. This was unusual, because Spruance was a surface warfare officer, not a qualified aviator.

A third US carrier, Yorktown, remained in drydock to repair damage suffered at the Battle of the Coral Sea. In fact, Japan thought Yorktown had also been sunk at Coral Sea. It was not clear whether Yorktown could be repaired in time for Midway. RADM Frank Jack Fletcher, an aviator and senior to Spruance, was embarked in Yorktown.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Personal Note: USS Iowa BB-61

Yesterday USS Iowa (BB-61), the first ship I ever went to sea on (summer training cruise of 1955), left San Francisco Bay on her way to her new home in Southern California. She is to be transformed into an interactive naval museum at San Pedro, Port of Los Angeles.

This weekend also was the 75th anniversary of completion of the Golden Gate bridge. The bridge and I are the same age.

USS Iowa (BB-61) Midshipman training Cruise 1955