Friday, December 15, 2017

Some Thoughts After Alabama

I'm an old white guy from Mississippi.

I know a thing or two because I've seen a thing or two.

Last night I was excited to watch MSNBC interview Patricia Gaines, a white volunteer for Doug Jones on Tuesday who had been a child in Selma in 1961.

The last Time she had been in Selma was the night her family fled in the middle of the night because they had been threatened by the Klan. Her father had been pastor of a white church in Selma who announced that he would welcome black worshipers. In 1961 threats by the Klan were not to be lightly dismissed.

It was exciting to watch how thrilled she was to attend Doug Jones' victory celebration Tuesday night and to celebrate what a good man Alabama has elected. My wife and I shared her excitement.

In 1957, we were students at the University of Mississippi. I was president of the state Methodist Student Movement. We had tried to arrange a social event with an African American choir from a nearby black college who was performing at our church. It was absolutely prohibited by both church and university officials. I know the forces at work and was as thrilled as Patricia Gaines at what just happened.

I knew many courageous students and ministers who spoke up after Brown vs Board of education. Students from all of the major denominations led in examining racial issues. In fact, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission complained that the students who headed each of the religious groups at Ole Miss were integrationists. It was at least true that student religious activists wrestled mightily with the important issues of the day and mostly rejected white supremacy.

Student Christians seem to be freshly addressing these issues. Good.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Strange Case Of Michael Flynn

For anyone who has been following the Mueller investigation, The recent guilty plea by Retired General Michael Flynn was no surprise.

What was a surprise is the lack of professional integrity exhibited by General Flynn.

For that matter, he didn't seem too bright.

How can he not have known that his telephone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak would be monitored?

How can he not have recognized Russian efforts to recruit him to their cause?

He was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency?


To give him the benefit of the doubt, he seems to have had little or no awareness of Russian intelligence methods.

Note to our intelligence officers: Russia is not our friend.

And Putin despises democracy.


Haley Barbour's Prophecy

My eyes have been glued to the TV screen watching the returns for Alabama's special election to fill the senate seat vacated by US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

With over 70% of the vote in earlier in the evening the race remained too close to call. It was exciting to follow the count. I am delighted with the result.

I have never lived in Alabama, so I am not qualified to draw a lot of conclusions about tonight's senate election. But I know Mississippi well. And I want to call attention to a forgotten prophecy.

In 1993, Haley Barbour of Yazoo City, Mississippi became chair of the Republican National Committee. Washington's journalists found this a surprising development. "Doesn't it seem strange," they asked, "that you, from a state in the solid democratic South, have become chair of the Republican Party?"

Barbour, exhibiting his normal aplomb, replied "why, not at all. Where Mississippi has been is where the country is going."

Haley Barbour's prophecy was not good news, especially for those from Mississippi.

I know where Mississippi has been, and I don't believe the country really wants to go there. Even the people of Alabama welcomed having Mississippi next door as an example that things could be worse.

I know where Mississippi has been, because I watched it go there since 1940.

I never met Haley Barbour, but I know his home town well. My father was born there in 1915, my grandparents were born there in 1880, and my brother was born there in 1941. One of my great uncles was owner, editor and publisher of the Yazoo City Herald.

In 1940 Mississippi, elections were for white people.  So were sidewalks.  In those days, political parties were deemed to be private organizations who could determine their own membership. Across the South, the Democratic Party only allowed white members. This scheme was abolished by the US Supreme Court in 1944.

Jim Crow remained alive and well. Education for black children was optional, and the facilities were abominable.

Black lives really didn't matter. I learned this in 1945 when I overheard adults talking about a lack man who was "shot while trying to escape. They found 29 bullets in his body.

I didn't believe the "shot trying to escape" story.

I entered first grade in Greenwood, MS in 1943. I graduated from Ole Miss in 1958.

I have stories to tell.

Mostly I don't want the United States to go where Mississippi has been.

I fear our present leaders want to take us there. Bad idea.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Kennedy Assassination - Personal Recollections - Conspiracy?

"Where were you the day President Kennedy was assassinated?"

There was a time when this was a nearly ubiquitous question. Like "where were you on December 7, 1941?"

Such questions place your personal history in a national context.

Too often as I grow older, I hear the answer "I wasn't born yet."

I was disappointed last month that the president delayed release of documents about the assassination. The longer the delay, the more persistent and inventive are the rumors of conspiracy and cover up.

Even so, I recently recalled some memories that need to be put in the mix.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was a twenty-six year old navy lieutenant attending a six-month course in Newport, Rhode Island training to be a department head of a US Navy destroyer. That Friday marked the completion of the first period of our training. We were to be examined the following week.

Vice Admiral W.R. Smedberg III, Chief of Naval Personnel spoke that morning to the graduating class of the US Naval Officer Candidate School.

Admiral Smedberg ordered that all officer students at the several schools on the Newport Naval Station gather at the main auditorium at 1:30 to hear a speech by the Admiral.

Over the lunch hour, students at the Destroyer School heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We wondered if the Admiral would deliver the speech.

When we entered the auditorium, Admiral Smedberg approached the podium and began speaking as if nothing had happened. Worse than that, the speech turned out to be an attack on the defense policies of the Kennedy administration.

After about 20 minutes, the admiral's aide walked out and handed Admiral Smedberg a note. The admiral read the note and put it in his jacket pocket.  Then he looked up from his notes and announced that President Kennedy had died. He then continued his speech.

We were stunned. After the admiral left, we student officers had to return to our classes to hear the lectures scheduled for that afternoon.

It was a bad weekend for study and preparation for exams.

None of us suspected Admiral Smedberg of involvement in a conspiracy ala Seven Days in May. That movie didn't come out until the following year.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fatal Collisions Part II: USS John S. McCain August 21 2017

August 20, 2017, day before USS McCain was scheduled to transit the Singapore Strait and enter Sembawang for a scheduled port visit, McCain held a navigation brief to prepare the crew. Sounds like a good idea, but it also sounds more formal than any such briefing I ever held. I would usually lay out the track on a chart and show it to the captain. Then I would brief the bearing takers.

The report of investigation into the next days' collision described the purpose of the brief as "designed to provide maximum awareness of the risks involved" in transiting the channel. At 0400 the following morning (August 21, 2017) as the darkened ship, showing only her navigation lights required by international rules, None of the principal watchstanders on the bridge, including the officer of the deck and the conning officer, had attended the previous day's brief.

By 0430, manned stations on the bridge included: the executive officer,  officer of the deck, conning officer, junior officer of the deck, commanding officer, quartermaster of the watch, navigator, shipping officer, helmsman, and boatswain's mate of the watch. Just outside, on the port wing of the bridge, a single lookout was stationed. The lee helm and helm safety officer positions were not manned.

The ship had not yet stationed the Sea and Anchor detail, consisting of crew members with specialized navigation and ship handling qualifications. This was not planned to be set until 0600. The ship had already entered the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme at 0520. Among crew members standing watch on McCain's bridge at the time were sailors temporarily assigned from USS Antietam (CG-54) which had run aground in January and was being repaired. Antietam's steering and thrust control system was considerably different from McCain's system. These watchstanders lacked a basic level of knowledge on the steering control system, especially how to transfer control of steering and thrust between stations.

At 0513, McCain was steering 226 degrees at 20 knots.  The captain noticed that the helmsman was having difficulty steering the ordered course while also controlling the thrust of the port and starboard engines. So at 0519, he ordered that steering be separated from thrust control and divided between two control consoles. It was a sensible thing to do.

Just giving a sensible order doesn't do any good unless the crew knows how to carry it out.

At 0521 the helmsman reported loss of steering. The ship was in a turn to port, crossing into an adjacent traffic separation lane in front of a large tanker. At 0524 McCain crossed in front of merchant ship Alnic's bow and was struck in berthing compartments three and five. Compartment five, normally fifteen feet wide, was compacted to five feet wide. Ten sailors were drowned.

The proximate cause of the collision is that the crew did not succeed in separating steering control from thrust control as the captain desired. As the ship attempted to steer within the traffic separation scheme, it came about that the starboard propeller provided thrust for 20 knots while the port shaft provided thrust for only 5 knots. This caused the ship to twist to port, which the helmsman was powerless to counteract by moving the rudder. In short, the helmsman and lee helmsman did not know how to do what the captain directed.

The investigative report explained: "The combination of the wrong rudder direction, and the two shafts working opposite to one this fashion caused an un-commanded turn to the left into the heavily congested traffic area in close proximity tothree ships, including the Alnic."

The helmsman thought steering control had been lost when, in reality, it had been shifted to a different control station without the helmsman, the captain or anyone else on the bridge understanding what was happening. For about three minutes McCain sailed on a course to collide with Alnic without anyone being able to correct the situation. Watchstanders finally regained control by shifting to a third control station, but this was too late. The collision created a 28-foot diameter hole both above and below the waterline. Once again, a navy crew exerted heroic efforts to save their ship from sinking.

The report states that bridge personnel "lost situational awareness." In a more informative section, the report observes: Personnel assigned to ensure these watchstanders were trained had an insufficient level of knowledge to effectively maintain appropriate rigor in the qualification program. The senior most officer responsible for these training standards lacked a general understanding of the procedure for transferring steering control between consoles."

I don't know that I accept "loss of situational awareness" as the explanation. Although the focus since the collisions has been the Pacific Fleet, I suspect similar problems exist in the Atlantic.

What may have been missing was what an older generation of naval officers referred to as "forehandedness." That is, the practice of thinking ahead, planning ahead, preparing for every contingency and, in particular, organizing and training for every likely or even conceivable event.

I think Admiral Burke would be deeply concerned about what happened to his ships.

I know he would have put his shoulder to the wheel to fix the problem.

I suggest today's navy do the same.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain - Summary Report

Last Wednesday the US Navy released a summary report of investigations into the June 17 collision between USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine container ship and the August 21 collision between USS John S. McCain and a merchant tanker in the Strait of Malacca.

When I saw the first reports of the collisions, I didn't want to jump to conclusions. It appeared very much as though neither ship had been keeping a proper bridge watch.

It was worse than I imagined.

About 0100 June 17, 2017, USS Fitzgerald was operating in the vicinity of the island of O-Shima near the Izu Peninsula, within sight of the Japanese coast, at darken ship, with regular navigation lights showing. Fitzgerald was on a southerly heading under a clear, moonlit sky with light to moderate sea. According to the Navy's investigation, Fitzgerald's radar operators failed to tune and adjust radars to maintain an accurate picture of other ships in the area.

This kind of problem harkens back to the failure of USS Blue, a radar-equipped destroyer at the Battle of Savo Island (near Guadalcanal) to detect Japanese ships during a 1942 attack. The Japanese fleet on that long ago July 8th had no radar, but soundly trounced the radar-equipped US fleet. In the case of  USS Fitzgerald, weather and visibility conditions were such that competent, attentive seamen really needed no radar to keep track of ships in the vicinity. It could all have been taken care of visually.

There was a traffic separation scheme in the vicinity of O-Shima to enhance safety of shipping, but Fitzgerald did not follow it. Fitzgerald was, like all commercial ships, equipped with an Automated Identification System, to alert nearby ships of it position, but did not turn it on. Like other ships of the Arleigh Burke class, Fitzgerald's hull was designed to minimize its return of other ships radar, using stealth technology. In essence, Fitzgerald was operating at sea under a cloak of invisibility, concealing its own position from other ships. So Fitzgerald must be under a special obligation to avoid colliding with other ships. Perhaps an extra careful system of lookouts?

Because of international rules for maneuvering at sea, there must be special attention paid to ships on Fitzgerald's starboard side. Fitzgerald had NO lookouts stationed on the starboard side.

Fitzgerald's skipper had gone to sleep in his cabin, and the ship's second in command, the executive officer, was also not on the bridge. Normally, that is not a problem. The officer of the deck, the officer on watch in charge of the ship, follows the Captain's standing night orders. Those standing orders require the officer of the deck to notify the Captain whenever another vessel is predicted to come within 3 nautical miles of Fitzgerald.

The investigative report cites 13 instances when Fitzgerald came within 3 nautical miles of another ship and the officer of the deck did not alert the captain. About 0125, Fitzgerald encountered three merchant vessels approaching from the starboard side each of which posed a risk of collision, including the Phillipine container ship ACX Crystal. Apparently uncertain about collision risk, about 0129, the OOD ordered hard left rudder and increased speed. Shortly afterward, ACX Crystal slammed into Fitzgerald's starboard side, rupturing the hull both above and below the waterline, knocking sailors out of their bunks and initiating a heroic effort to save the ship.  Following the collision, thirty-six Fitzgerald sailors were recognized for their heroic efforts at damage control and rescue efforts.

Lookouts never saw the ACX Crystal coming.


If anything, events aboard USS John S. McCain on August 21 were even worse. I'll tackle that story tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Infallibility Of Generals

The White House Spokesman has admonished the press not to challenge anything said by a four-star Marine General, no matter how inaccurate it may be.


Generals are not infallible.

I know that is true, not because of something I have read, but because in my three decades of service, I often challenged generals and admirals when I disagreed with them, which was fairly often. Not only was I never thrown out of their offices, I was usually invited back. They valued my advice.

I gave them my best advice, whether they welcomed it or not, because it was my job.

Just as it is the job of the press - a job protected by the US Constitution - to uncover and report the truth.

General Dunford, USMC understands that and did a really superb job yesterday responding to the press about what happened in Niger.

Good for him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Donald Trump's Ball Game: Calvin Ball

I finally realized today that President Trump is a skilled practitioner of Calvin Ball.

What's that? You ask. Google the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

Here's the description of the game:

Friday, October 6, 2017

National Security Consequences Of Donald Trump

In 1919 the British economist John Maynard Keynes, disappointed at the Treaty of Versailles, published a brilliant little book, the Economic Consequences of The Peace.

His main point was less about economics in the usual sense, and more about national security. In fact, he foretold the European economic collapse of the 20's and 30's, the consequent rise of authoritarian dictatorships and eventual war.

Thus, the consequences of Versailles were more about national and international security matters rather than more direct economic concerns.

Keynes wanted a settlement focused on rebuilding the economy of Europe. The Allies wanted to pursue national advantage.

They mostly saw the world in terms of a zero-sum game. That is, if you win some advantage, I suffer an equal  loss.

That seems to be Donald Trump's view.

Bad economics. Bad strategy. Disastrous negotiating technique.

We built a better world after the end of WWII. Stronger economy. More lasting peace. Greater prosperity.

Not a zero sum world.

Donald J. Trump is a pitiful excuse for a President of the US. I have seen them all in action since FDR. And followed them all carefully. Most surround themselves with good people. And listen,

That's the best way.

DJT can ruin it all.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Vietnam War On PBS

I have been watching the Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War. It is now available on streaming video: Watch the Entire Landmark Film 'The Vietnam War'

New on the PBS Streaming Video Channel

Friday, Sept. 29, 2017


The Vietnam War

A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Watch all 10 episodes of the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film, featuring testimony from nearly 100 witnesses.

It is a terrific series. I learned a lot from it and recommend it to all Americans. The interviews with participants are particularly well done, especially interviews of Vietnamese participants, both North and South, and interviews of veterans.

My personal connections to the war began in 1961 at the Army language School, when Special Forces troops began showing up to study either French or Vietnamese language. The next connection was in 1964 when I was Weapons Officer of USS Higbee, steaming South from Yokusuka August 3-6 to join naval forces in the Tonkin Gulf after the attack on USS Maddox August 2, 1964. Over the next two years, my ship established the coastal surveillance patrol to intercept Vietnamese vessels transporting weapons and personnel from the north to the Viet Cong. During that time, we fired about 10,000 rounds of 5-inch projectiles at targets up tp 9 miles inland.

I never served in-country, but had some grasp of what was going on.

I can't say that watching the film is enjoyable, but you will learn a lot.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Collisions At Sea - Not Necessary

The collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain are still something of a mystery, since the investigations have not been made public. But more and more information has been disclosed.

Most recently, it has been revealed that equipment installed on every ship to avoid collisions by transmitting information to other ships about position, course and speed, has been routinely turned off. As a result, other ships have had difficulty detecting USN ships by radar.

In a recent statement, the Chief of Naval Operations explained that the Navy's stealth technology makes it very difficult for commercial ships to detect its ships by radar or even visually. Apparently, ships have routinely turned off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) even in crowded sea ways. This may explain why the Philippine container ship that collided with USS Fitzgerald knew it had collided with something, but didn't know it was a ship.

It may be that ship personnel turn off the AIS in crowded waters because it frequently sounds an alarm of a pending collision and this becomes annoying. Something of this sort may have contributed to McCain's collision with a tanker in the approaches to Singapore.

According to Congressional Testimony, the Navy will no longer routinely turn off AIS equipment (

But this can't be a complete explanation for the collisions. My conjecture is that officers of the deck and other bridge personnel have become too reliant on automated radar and steering systems and may not be doing such a simple thing as looking out the window.

I recommend greater emphasis on basic seamanship skills.

Read up,for example, on the Andrea Doria and other examples of collisions at sea.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The First Time I Saw Tampa

The first time I saw Tampa, we were getting ready for war.

It was 1940, I was not quite four years old, but I knew that war was coming. I knew it from the newsreels at the movies. But mostly I knew it because my dad was in the US Army Air Corps, and I saw the P-39's, the P-40's, the B-18's and C-47's flying overhead.

We lived in an upstairs apartment, and Mother sent me down to the front yard every morning to pick a grapefruit for breakfast.

Tampa was a small town. We got around by walking or by taking the street car. Sometimes we would take the streetcar to the end of the line, where we would watch the sea. I was fascinated by the conductor flipping the seat backs in the other direction before starting back the way we had come.

After about six months, we moved to Tallahassee. Another air base. Different airplanes. We were there on December 7, 1941. Moved to Mississippi in 1942 during the war. Didn't get back to Florida until 1969. In 1942, Mississippi was much like Florida - poor, economically backward, racist.

I didn't make it back to Florida until 1969. Operated three ships out of Mayport, Florida.

By 1969, Florida was modernizing and that was a good thing.

Mississippi was another thing entirely.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Puerto Rico, Irma, and International Relations

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Puerto Rico, I am reminded of a friend and shipmate, and also of a blustering captain who may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer.

It is customary for an officer reporting to a ship to pay a courtesy call on the captain.

In 1957, Navy Reserve Lieutenant Jose Ortega-Otero, a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, reported to USS Cabildo, where he was to become the Chief Engineer.

When Jose called on the captain, the commanding officer detected an unfamiliar accent.

"Where are you from?" Captain Kelsey asked.

"I'm from Puerto Rico," Jose answered.

"What are you doing in the American Navy?" Captain Kelsey asked in puzzlement.

"I was about to be drafted into the American Army," Jose explained.

Schoolbus History

Interesting event this morning in Oriental celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first public school bus in the state of North Carolina that began operation on this date in 1917.

This was a revolutionary development demonstrating the dedication of the State of North Carolina to public school education in rural areas of the state.

It is a result worth celebrating.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Play Taps For Democracy

This evening's White House announcement of a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could mark the death nell of American Democracy.

That may sound extreme, but Democracy requires rule of law. Otherwise, a dictatorial tyrant can ignore the constraints of constitutional democracy with impunity.

That seems to be happening.

Defense of our democracy will require courage.

Perhaps our democracy will be rescued by the three career generals running the government.

Maybe democracy will be rescued by the Republicans in charge of the Senate and the House.

Maybe not.

One of the most thoughtful voices I know writing about our national turmoil is a retired Navy Warrant Officer named Jim Wright. He used to live in Alaska but now lives in Florida.

He uses clear language, which tends to be a bit blunt. The kind of language sailors use.

Some people may find sailor's language offensive.

I love it, though I (mostly) don't speak that way.

Check it out: (

Monday, August 21, 2017

Another Deadly Collision - This Time Near Singapore

Another Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer assigned to the Seventh Fleet collided this morning at the entrance to the Malacca Strait with a much larger ship, this time a tanker. Significant damage to the destroyer (USS John S. McCain - named for the father and grandfather of Senator McCain of Arizona), which has entered port in Singapore. Ten sailors are missing, and a search is underway. The Navy has ordered a pause in operations to try to figure out what is going on. Some suspicion that there is a systemic fault of some kind.

I have a couple of ideas.

More to follow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Translation: President Trump Is A Raving Lunatic

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is a courtly Southern gentleman of the old school. He speaks clearly, but with constraint. So when he says something, it sometimes needs to be translated.

Today in Chattanooga, Senator Corker observed of Trump: "The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Later in the day he observed: "We should hope that (Trump) aspires that he does some self-reflection, that he does what is necessary to demonstrate stability, to demonstrate competence, to demonstrate that he understands the character of our nation and works daily to bring out the best of the people in our nation."

I grew up in the South and am fairly good at translation. What he says means: "Donald J. Trump is a raving lunatic."

For what it's worth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Be Clear: We Don't Need Statues Glorifying Traitors

Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was not because he owned slaves - it was because he committed treason against the United States.

Moreover, he knew he was committing treason. As did Jefferson Davis, General Beauregard, J.E.B. Stewart and many others memorialized by statuary.

Remember: we have no statue of Benedict Arnold.

By the way, some of my ancestors owned slaves and some fought for the Confederacy. There are no statues to them nor would I want any.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Just a reminder:

Article 3 - The Judicial Branch
Section 3 - Treason

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Points to remember:

Robert E. Lee committed treason.

Jefferson Davis committed treason.

Many others committed treason, including some of my ancestors.

The elected officials and commissioned officers knew at the time they were committing treason.

Soldiers drafted by the Confederacy had no choice. Their leaders did have a choice.

It is time to remove statues glorifying traitors.

Our best known traitor of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold, has no statue in his honor despite his important victory at Saratoga. General Arnold was wounded in the foot in the battle. 
There is a statue at Saratoga of Benedict Arnold's boot, though it does not identify him.

Maybe that's a good precedent. We can put up statues to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in Mexico.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Locked And Loaded - Give Me a Break!

Donald J Trump's latest bluster was the boastful phrase: Lock and Load!

It turns out that is a phrase used by actor John Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison) in the movie Sands of Iwo Jima.

No wonder Donald Trump borrows phrases from John Wayne. Neither of them ever wore their country's uniform for real. They use bluster to conceal that reality.

Like Wayne, Trump is playing a role. He isn't as good at it, and unlike Wayne, Trump can really cause people to die. Americans can die. Unnecessarily.

John Wayne was a chicken hawk. So is Donald Trump.

Trump is also a man without honor.

Now he wants us to go to war with Venezuela? What is that about?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

United States And Korea

In 1949 a classmate in a country grade school in Oklahoma told us he had joined the National Guard.

He was big for his age - he had just turned fifteen, and could easily pass for eighteen. Like many farm boys, he was a good rifle shot and was at home around firearms. The big attraction was that they paid him for going to drills. It was a really good deal - good enough to lie about his age.

The down side came the following summer when the North Korean army attacked across the 38th parallel into South Korea. Oklahoma's "Fighting Forty-Fifth" was the first National Guard unit called up to be sent to Korea.

The young man's parents lost no time letting the National Guard know he was under age.

Like others of my generation, I spent my high school years in the shadow of Korea. Graduates were drafted right away and sent off to war. Even after the armistice of 1953, we knew if war was not to be in Korea, it would likely be in some other place.

It would be war or rumors of war for the foreseeable future.

I prepared for war by entering the Naval ROTC.

America's first conflict in Korea took place in 1871. Korea did not welcome foreign merchant ships and treated shipwrecked sailors harshly. Their treatment of American sailors led to a punitive expedition.

We sent a naval force and put marines ashore. A force commanded by Commander Winfield Scott Schley, later a hero in  the Spanish American War.

We have missed many opportunities to negotiate a permanent settlement to Korea, but it always takes longer than we have before another election.

A key misstep in my view was the decision in 1956 to introduce nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula. We are reaping the results of that decision now. North Korea's response was a combination of belligerence and passive countermeasures. Most significantly, they dug reinforced caves which eventually served as protected sites for their nuclear development programs.

The Honest John nuclear missiles and the nuclear howitzers that we installed in Korea had very limited capabilities and were obsolete very soon. They were removed by President Bush long after they ceased to be of any use.

But the hardened enclosures remain an enormous obstacle to preemptive attack.

Another case of "be careful what you wish for, lest you get it."

Now we need some thinking adults in charge of strategy, including diplomatic strategy.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

John McCain - Man Of Courage

I never met John McCain. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958; I graduated from NROTC in 1958, which puts us in the same year group, with the same date of rank.

He flew airplanes; I drove ships (destroyers and cruisers). In the 1980's I served in the Pentagon in Plans and Policy - he served in Congressional Relations.

So our paths never crossed.

I often disagreed with him.

But I never doubted his courage or his integrity.

He has more strength and courage in his little toe than Donald J. Trump has in his whole body.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Democracy And Rule Of Law

Democracy is more than just elections.

The Soviet Union had elections.

Joseph Stalin usually received 98 or 99% of the vote.

The Soviet Union didn't have rule of law. The fictonal Ivan Denisovich was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp for suspicion of an offence. Actual Soviet citizens were sentenced for making jokes about Stalin.

Soviet citizens, like those of Tsarist Russia before them, lived in mortal fear of even minor bureaucrats.

One of my favorite stories by Anton Chekhov is titled "Death Of A Bureaucrat." It describes the terror faced by a minor official who accidentally sneezes on a senior civil service official, keeps apologizing obsequiously and fears the senior official does not excuse him. He goes home to bed, turns his face to the wall and dies of mortification.

When our soldiers came home from World War II, they were determined to prevent our country from going down that path. We might not have been a perfect democracy in 1941 or yet in 1945, but we aspired to be as perfect as we could be and to continue perfecting that state.

What defends us from autocracy is democracy and the rule of law. Not just a casual regard for laws, but a deep respect for law.

Five years ago, our elected officials in the Town of Oriental turned away from rule of law and toward arbitrary exercise of authority in favor of the wishes of the wealthy and the powerful.

When elected officials in a democracy abandon rule of law in favor of influence or some other value, that is a betrayal of democracy and of its citizens.

Last Friday's meeting of the Oriental Planning Board was an attempt to address the consequences of a five year old betrayal.

More to follow.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Navy At Fault in Fitzgerald Collision

According to YAHOO News, preliminary investigation shows the Navy is at fault in the collision of USS Fitzgerald with a Philippine Container Ship.

Here is one published report:

"What caused the bizarre June 17 collision between a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer and a Philippines cargo ship that killed seven U.S. sailors off the coast of Japan?
It looks like some answers may finally be forthcoming.
An initial investigation has found that the USS Fitzgerald’s crew did not respond adequately to signals, did not understand that the other ship was drawing near, and may have failed even to summon the commanding officer, according to CNN.
“They did nothing until the last second,” said one defense official.
“There were many people who should have spoken up,” another official told Fox News.
The far larger cargo ship hit the Fitzgerald on its starboard side at 1:30 am after veering sharply in a failed attempt to avoid it, gouging out a deep gash that left the Navy destroyer listing to one side. After the deadly collision, the Fitzgerald was towed to the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka. Three Navy sailors, including the commanding officer, were evacuated to medical facilities in Japan. Divers salvaged the bodies of seven American sailors.
It was the deadliest U.S. naval event since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
Multiple investigations have been launched to figure out how a radar-equipped, sophisticated vessel like the Fitzgerald was apparently unable to avoid a much larger ship.
International navigation guidelines state that “the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way.”
A Navy spokeswoman warned that no conclusions should yet be drawn from the initial probe.
“We are in the early stages of the investigation process to develop a comprehensive picture of what caused the collision and do not have any definitive information to release at this time,” Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, U.S. Navy Chief of Information, said in a statement.
“It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues,” said Cutler. “Once we have a detailed understanding of the facts and circumstances, we will share those findings with the Fitzgerald families, our Congressional oversight committees and the general public.”
This is not a surprise.
I still want to know exactly how it came about. I now have enough information from this news report to make a guess. 
My guess is that the Officer of The Deck that night may not have been looking out the window. He should have been. USS Fitzgerald was equipped with the latest, most automated radar, the AN/SPY-1D radar. It should have automatically established radar tracks for ships and aircraft in the ship's vicinity. But the scale of the display may not have been right for nearby surface ships. 
In any event, no matter how automated the ship's sensors may be, the Mark I Mod 0 eyeball (otherwise known as seaman's eye) is still necessary for safe operation of ships at sea.
That's why I want to know more about what happened that night.
In any event, one thing is certain: one person is responsible for the safe operation of the ship - the Captain. Others may also be responsible, but there is no doubt about the Captain.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

More News About USS Fitzgerald Collision

Last week the navy moved the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald into dry dock 4 at the Naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, in order to more carefully inspect the damage from the ship's collision with a container ship. The main question is whether the ship can make it back to a shipyard in the states or whether she must be towed or otherwise transported.

So far, it looks like the damage is more extensive than originally thought. The hull was twisted in the collision, much like you twist a wet rag to get the water out. Torsional damage of that kind can make repairs more difficult.

A good CNN article spells out how the navy will investigate and what the probable consequences will be. In a word - there will be responsibility and accountability. This is the way government should work.

And here's another article worth reading:

I have long believed the world could be improved by being more like the navy. At least in the matter of people in responsible positions taking responsibility.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Collision (Or Grounding) At Sea Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Last month, after the USS Fitzgerald collision with a container ship and resulting loss of life, US Navy spokesmen pointed out that such collisions are extremely rare.

I promised to explain the collision based on my own knowledge and experience, but only after the Navy investigation completes its work. Until then, any analysis would be just guesswork.

I am rethinking those assurances. I still think it best to wait until the investigation is over, but it has occurred to me that we can learn a lot from some of the prior rare examples from the 20th century. I know a bit about some of these earlier incidents.

Here are some cases:

NH 66721 Honda Point.gif

September 8, 1923 Honda Point, California

The fourteen ships of destroyer squadron 11 were steaming from San Francisco to San Diego simulating wartime operations. All fourteen ships were Clemson class destroyers less than five years old. The squadron was commanded by Captain Edward Howe Watson, an 1895 graduate of the US Naval Academy, embarked in the flagship USS Delphy. 

The flagship was responsible for navigation, the other ships of the squadron followed in Delphy's wake in a column formation at a speed of twenty knots. The flagship was fitted with a new electronic navigation device, a radio direction finder (RDF), which detected a signal from Point Arguello at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel. The ship's officers had no experience with RDF and distrusted its bearings.

As a result, the ship was navigating by "dead reckoning," - calculating the ship's progress along its track using rpm to estimate speed. A week earlier, Japan was hit with the Great Kanto earthquake, which devastated Tokyo and generated unusual swells and currents all across the Pacific. These swells and currents may have retarded the squadron's progress down the coast.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., in dark and foggy weather, the navigator calculated it was time to turn to enter the Santa Barbara Channel. Delphy was actually several miles northeast of the calculated position and ran aground on the rocky shore at 20 knots. The following ships attempted to turn away, some turning to port and others turning to starboard, but seven destroyers were lost. This was the largest peacetime loss of US Navy ships. 

Captain Watson accepted full responsibility and argued against any court-martial of other officers.

1950 USS Missouri Grounding, Chesapeake Bay

On January 17, 1950, USS Missouri (BB063), the last of the Iowa class battleships to be commissioned, ran hard aground in Chesapeake Bay near Thimble Shoals light in plain view of senior Army and Navy officers quartered near Old Point Comfort. The ship ran aground during an unusually high tide, making salvage difficult. She was refloated 1 February and towed back into drydock for repairs. The incident greatly amused the press, because of President Truman's personal interest in the ship, and greatly amused Army and Air Force officers because of Navy discomfort.

The ship's commanding officer, Captain William D. Brown, had taken command on December 10th as the ship's three month period of repairs was drawing to a close. Brown, a veteran of thirty years of naval service, had a distinguished career commanding submarines and destroyers, but had never commanded such a large ship.

The investigation uncovered a number of shortcomings in shipboard organization as stipulated in U.S. Navy Regulations. The principal organizational shortcoming was the subordinate position of the ship's navigator, who lacked direct access to the ship's captain.

After the Missouri grounding, Navy Regulations were changed to stipulate that the ship's navigator, no matter how junior, would be designated as a department head.

On a personal note, in 1955 I went aboard my first naval ship on a training cruise out of Norfolk. The ship was USS Iowa (BB-61), a sister ship of Missouri.

Another personal note: when I was about to be commissioned, I was asked what job I wanted. I indicated I wanted to be navigator. In 1958, I became navigator and department head at the age of 21. After that time, I was always at least a department head at sea.

More To Come

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Amelia Earhart Update

In May 1937, a month after I was born, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in Amelia's Lockheed Electra, headed Eastward on a projected circumnavigation. On June 28, after flying over Africa,Southeast Asia and Western New Guinea, they crossed the towering Owen Stanley mountan range of Papua New Guinea, landing at the airfield at Lae, on the north coast. They spent the next four days preparing for the most critical phase of the Pacific crossing, the flight from Lae to a refueling stop on Howland Island. She took off from Lae July 2 1937 and was last heard from July 3. She never reached Howland and no trace of her flight was discovered, despite a vast air/sea search.

From the outset of the disappearance, events stimulated speculation that Japan was somehow involved. It was already clear that Japan was readying her Trust Territories in the Pacific to be used as bases in a planned war with the United States.

Five months later, in December, 1937, Japanese army aircraft involved in military operations in Nanking attacked and sank the USS Panay, a Yangtze River gunboat, with loss of American lives. Japan apologized and paid an indemnity, which the US accepted. Nevertheless, it appeared to be a deliberate attack.

Meanwhile, back to Lae.

Recently a photograph discovered in the classified section of the National Archives seems to show Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Jaluit Island and Earhart's airplane on a barge being towed by a Japanese ship. The ship's name is the same as the ship reported by natives to have salvaged the Earhart aircraft. Native reports also claimed that Earhart was imprisoned on Saipan and later executed. These details have not been verified.

The Japanese Army in 1937 may already have been planning an invasion of the North Coast of New Guinea to establish bases from which to march over the Owen Stanley Range and capture Port Moresby. This would allow them to attack Northern Australia by air.

Five years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on March 8, 1942, Japanese marines waded ashore at Lae and the nearby village of Salamaua. A joint naval task force of Australian and US vessels raced to counter the Japanese invasion. The force included US aircraft carriers Lexington and Yorktown, who launched 52 aircraft from each carrier at dawn March 10. The aircraft flew over the mountain range and caught Japanese ships by surprise as they were unloading.

The final score was four transport ships sunk, one cruiser out of action, requiring repairs in Japan, two Japanese destroyers out of action. The US carriers lost only one aircraft.

So Lae, the airfield that Earhart left from on her next leg, proved important to Japanese plans.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I used to read Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News) in Russian. Not to learn either truth or news directly, but to uncover clues as to what the truth or the news might be, or at least what the rulers of the Soviet Union wanted their readers to think was the truth or the news.

It was a more complex task than it might seem.

In October, 1962, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, announced that the Soviet Union had placed offensive nuclear missiles on Cuba, a mere 90 miles from military targets in the United States. The Soviet Union denied it.

The world chose to believe the United States even before Ambassador Stevenson displayed aerial photos of the missiles.

The world believed the United States because in the past our official statements had been true, even when lies might have seemed advantageous.

In most cases, the truth turned out to be stronger than lies.

In May 1960, President Eisenhower admitted that he had known about and approved of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, correcting an earlier CIA cover story.

So the world often gave us the benefit of the doubt and a great deal of credence.

But what will happen when the world comes to believe our president and the people around him never tell the truth?

This last weekend the New York Times compiled and printed a comprehensive list of lies - at least one a day - that President Trump has told since he was inaugurated.

This matters.

I have many anecdotes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Forty-Five Years Ago: Committee To Reelect The President And Undo Rule Of Law

Forty five years ago, a band of burglars perpetrated what was later referred to as a "third rate burglary."

The target: Democratic Party Headquarters. The customer: Committee to Reelect The President (AKA "CREEP). The purpose: to collect information on the Democrats. The goal: reelect President Richard Nixon.

What exactly did Nixon hope to find? It still isn't clear. What is now clear in the aftermath of Russian cyber attacks on the democrats is that even innocuous information can be manipulated to seem ominous.

What is even more clear is that the burglary was an attack on democratic norms. It was also a attack on the rule of law.

This wasn't Nixon's first burglary. There was an earlier burglary on the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. That didn't glean much useful information, either.

I learned several things from the incident:
1. Richard Nixon was dishonest;
2. Richard Nixon was unscrupulous;
3. Richard Nixon did not trust democracy;
4. In 1972 the attack on rule of law did not succeed because:
5. There remained a degree of integrity in the Republican Party;
6. Professional Civil Servants continued to do their jobs in service to the country.

In 1972 as a nation, we still believed in democracy and endeavored to make it better.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

USS Fitzgerald - What Happened?

Earlier today I was asked several times if I could explain what happened to bring about the collision between USS Fitzgerald and a large container ship three times her size.

The truth is, I don't know. It should never have happened.

Neither should the sinking of the Titanic.

At 2:00 a.m. I imagine Commander Bryce Benson, who had taken command of Fitzgerald about a month earlier, had no idea that his ship was in peril. Sailors sleeping below decks on the starboard side forward had no idea that they were in peril.

The ship was operating only about 56 nautical miles from their home port of Yokosuka, Japan, an easy two hour steam. The sea was calm, the night was clear.

We don't yet know who had the conn. We don't know whether Captain Benson was on the bridge or in his sea cabin.

Some of these details won't come out until after the navy completes the investigation.

We only know that something went badly wrong.

Fitzgerald bristles with lethal weapons, with sensors probing the air, sea and ocean depths surrounding the ship. Everything moving in the ship's vicinity is detected, tracked and recorded by her many digital computers. Everything said over the interior telephone systems, every radar or sonar contact, every radio transmission or received signal is digitally recorded to be played back and analyzed.

I can speculate as to the cause, but even though I helped design the ship's equipment and have operated similar ships at sea very near the site of the collision, it would only be a guess.

Rather than engage in guesswork, I would rather remind us of what is certain - USS Fitzgerald is a mighty warship, whose crew willingly encounters the hazards of operating at sea. This is well expressed in the first verse of the Navy Hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
      For those in peril on the sea!

For the rest of it, I'll wait for the investigation report.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Catastrophe At Sea: USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)

About 0230 the morning of June 16, 2017, USS Fitzgerald, a 20 year old guided missile destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class, operating near the volcanic island of O Shima, about fifty miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on the way from the port of Nagoya, to the port of Tokyo  in a calm sea on a clear night.

Damage to Fitzgerald was extensive both topside and below decks, she took on a lot of water, a number of sailors were injured, and seven sailors are missing. Two crew members were evacuated by helicopter to a hospital ashore, including CDR Bryce Benson, her commanding officer, who took command last month. The ship's executive officer has assumed command.

There is no information as to what caused the collision, but one report indicates that the Philipine vessel reversed course in a u-turn about 25 minutes before the collision. Fitzgerald has returned to her base at Yokosuka under her own power, flooding is under control, and the ship is in no danger of sinking. Commander Seventh Fleet has promised updates as soon as more information is available.

USS Fitzgerald is one of fifteen guided missile destroyers and three guided missile cruisers designated as anti-ballistic missile ships.

Admiral Arleigh Burke was the most distinguished destroyer squadron commander of World War II, who went on to become Chief of Naval Operations. He brought about many improvements in the capabilities of the navy and was an inspiration to my generation of officers.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him and working with him at annual Naval Academy foreign affairs symposiums. A great man.

I also had the honor to work on the design of USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) at RCA after I retired from the navy.

Very sad to learn of USS Fitzgerald's collision.

The sea is a demanding task master.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quisling And Fifth Columnists

It was clear when Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president that he thought he was running for the office of dictator. It was equally clear that many of his supporters wanted a dictator.

For those of us with long memories, this is reminiscent of an earlier time when, especially in Europe but also in this country ("America First"), authoritarian dictatorships were seen as the wave of the future. Dictators (e.g. Mussolini), it was said, could make the trains run on time.

Dictators turned out not to be the wave of the future. Democracies prevailed in World War II. When our troops came home in 1945, we recognized the victories in Europe and Asia as victories for democracy and we built a post war world around democracy. But recent surveys suggest that millennials no longer believe it important to live in a democracy. I hope they don't learn their error the hard way.

In the meantime, the 1930's and 1940's enriched many languages with words for people of an authoritarian bent.

In Norway, following the 1940 Nazi invasion, Vidkun Quisling, a former army officer and defense minister,became prime minister. He was a collaborator during German occupation. He was executed in 1945, and his name became synonymous with Nazi collaboration.

Before the German invasion, the way was prepared by Norwegians sympathetic to fascism, sometimes referred to as the "fifth column," a term arising out of the Spanish Civil War.

Both "Quisling" and "fifth column" became terms of opprobrium for persons disloyal to their own people and to democracy.

Now we live in a time when our own president seems to venerate the authoritarian tyrant who leads Russia. Not good. How did we get here? What can we do?

What if we don't want a dictator?

One of the most telling facts from the senate hearings last week and yesterday is the deep lack of Republican curiosity about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Let's be clear. The Russian effort to affect the outcome of our election was an intelligence operation by a hostile power to damage our democracy.

It appeared to succeed, though we can't yet know how many votes were affected. Apparently none were hacked in any voting machines, though some 39 state boards of elections had their voter registration records hacked.

What we do know is that this was a big deal,  using well developed Russian techniques of propaganda, disinformation, false news, cyber warfare and other approaches,

I am not a professional intelligence officer, but I know a bit about it. I had not kept up with recent developments in cyber warfare. So I consulted a recent book, The Plot To Hack America, by Malcolm Nance. Very informative.

Can we protect ourselves? Somewhat, but not completely.

Watch out for Cyber Bears.

The senate seems to be getting on the case. Today they voted 97 - 2 to take away the president's power to lift sanctions on Russia.

This may be a big deal, depending on what the House does.

As they used to say in radio: "don't touch that dial!"