Thursday, June 23, 2016

Next To Last Doolittle Raider Passes - Only One Left

David Thatcher, an Army Air Force gunner decorated for helping save the lives of four seriously wounded fellow crewmen in the Doolittle Raid on Japan of April 18, 1942, America’s first strike against the Japanese homeland in World War II, died Wednesday in Missoula, Mont. He was 94 and the next-to-last survivor among the mission’s 80 airmen.

While it was not a large action, it was the most imaginative and perhaps the most consequential early action in the war. Among the consequences was that Japan removed a large carrier task force from the Indian Ocean to their home waters and goaded them into the disastrous (for them) attack on Midway.

Here  is a link to the NYTimes article about Thatcher.

If you have not seen the movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Good Advice Out of Vermont

Watching Bernie Sanders wrestle with the challenge of acknowledging the end of the Democratic nomination contest, I am reminded of Senator George Aiken (R-Vermont) advice to President Johnson: "Declare victory and bring the troops home."

It was good advice at the time, and would be good advice now.

Let's hear it for Vermont.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Mohammad Ali: The Greatest; 1942 - 2016

It was sad to learn of Muhammad Ali's passing.

He was a truly great American. Not just because he was a great heavyweight boxing champion, but because he was a strong man of principle.

We watched the History Channel remake of "Roots" last week. It wasn't about Muhammad Ali, but it put Ali's life and that of all descendants of slaves in the historical context of slavery in America. This is an American saga. I can't say it is enjoyable, but we all need to watch it.

So often our children only learn about this saga during Black History Month. I find that objectionable - this isn't "Black History" - it is American History and we need to own it.

Last night we watched "Red Tails," the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in combat against Germany. It is a good movie, which I hadn't seen before. I lived in Mississippi during the war, and I know what it was like for African Americans.

In recent years, we have heard a lot of talk about "American Exceptionalism." I agree we are exceptional. We are exceptional in part because of people like the Tuskegee Airmen, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Hank Greenberg. We laughed at observations by Will Rogers, a Cherokee. We simultaneously cheered and discriminated against Jackie Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella. We march to tunes by John Philip Sousa (hispanic). The list of our inner contradictions goes on and on.

Can you imagine America without Jazz and Ragtime? Without Cajun music and cuisine? Without Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese and Japanese cooking?

What other country of European origin would have elected Barack Obama and reelected him four years later? That's pretty exceptional. And yet our legacy of past dominance by white supremacists isn't over. As William Faulkner once wrote - "The past isn't dead - it isn't even past."  We need to fix that.

We are great because of our diversity. We should celebrate all Americans.

You got a problem with that?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Round Up The Usual Movies

This weekend I did a lot of channel surfing. Each Memorial Day, we are treated to a variety of war movies - mainly World War II movies. It was a good review of events.

Some thoughts:

1. The Republican candidate for president, who has  never served in public office (elected or appointed) or in the military, claims he is equipped to be president because he attended a private military high school.

No he isn't.

More to the point, to even utter such a claim reveals an incredible level of contempt for the profession of arms and the skill and knowledge of the Americans who practice it.

2.  Over the past few days, I re watched "The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far." a good contrast between the results of good military planning (D-Day) and over-optimistic and over-confident planning (Operation Market Garden).

Over confidence isn't uncommon in human conflict. A recent example was when George W. Bush's chicken hawk staff dismissed General Shinseki's estimate of the requirements to occupy Iraq. Apparently they thought Shinseki just scribbled a guess on the back of an envelope. That's not how professional military planners work.  Shinseki's was a staff estimate, not a guess. And it was pretty accurate.

3. Our Constitution establishes civilian control of the military. For this to work, we can't require presidents to themselves be military professionals. But they need to take the profession seriously and to treat the profession with respect.

That's a challenge.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Where Hillary is Coming From

Some Young people don't identify with Hillary Clinton. They should. The days Hillary Clinton lived through could come back again. Without an Equal Rights Amendment, there's no guarantee they won't.

Here's some background: ""

Saturday, May 14, 2016

West Virginia and Kentucky Coal Mining Jobs - What Really Caused Job Loss?

My grandfather was a coal miner.

He started working in the mines in 1902, as soon as he turned 16.

There weren't any other jobs in Palo Pinto County, Texas, even then, for a young man with a third grade education, but that was as far as Texas public education went.

Labor saving devices consisted of mules, who became blind in the perpetual darkness of the mine shafts.

My grandfather lost his job in 1917.

Why? Technology.

In 1917, the mine's only customer, the Texas and Pacific Railroad,began converting its steam locomotives from coal-fired to oil-fired. Over the next year, the coal mines shut down all nineteen shafts at the Thurber mine.

That's not all.

In 1916, the US Navy took delivery of its first oil-fired battleship and never built another coal-fired one.

In one fell swoop, the Navy got rid of its biggest logistical and strategic problem and saved money at the same time. No longer did they have to worry about coaling stations. After entering World War I in 1917, the US Navy quickly addressed underway refueling.

The first operational underway replenishment was achieved by the United States Navy oiler USS Maumee. Following the declaration of war, 6 April 1917, she was assigned duty refueling at sea the destroyers being sent to Britain. Stationed about 300 miles south of Greenland, Maumee was ready for the second group of U.S. ships to be sent as they closed her 28 May. With the fueling of those six destroyers, Maumee pioneered the Navy’s underway refueling operations under the direction of Maumee's Chief Engineer Chester Nimitz, thus establishing a pattern of mobile logistic support which would enable the Navy to keep its fleets at sea for extended periods, with a far greater range independent of the availability of a friendly port.

After WWI most navies pursued the refueling of destroyers and other small vessels by either the alongside or astern method, convinced that larger warships could neither be effectively refueled astern nor safely refueled alongside, until a series of tests conducted by Rear Admiral Nimitz in 1939-40 perfected the rigs and shiphandling which made the refueling of any size vessel practical.

Japan continued to use astern refueling of small ships, which slowed down her surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US Navy had already perfected the alongside method, which proved crucial to operations in the Pacific. The Soviet Union also continued to use the astern method.

From 1923, about the time my grandfather came out of the mine shafts for the last time, coal mining entered a long period of decline:

1923        704,793
1943        418,703
1953        293,106
1963        141,646
1973        148,121
1983        175,642
1993        101,322
2003         71,023
2010         86,195
2011         88,000 
2013         80,396
2014         74,931 

I'm pretty sure my grandfather didn't know about the effect that changes in battleship design had on the market for coal, but since coal mining was the only job he knew, he went looking for another one. He found a coal mine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beneath what is now the state fairgrounds. By 1923, he decided  it was too dangerous in the mines and became a chauffeur instead.

In 1917, reductions in coal mining reflected replacement of coal by oil for many heavy energy users.

The current reduction in coal mining may stem from a similar cause. The New York Times recently reported: "The most immediate challenge to the coal industry is the hydraulic fracturing revolution that has produced a glut of natural gas over the last four years, making the fuel cheaper to burn and stimulating a relentless switch by utilities away from coal." Regulation changes may have little to do with it.

Nevertheless, it matters little to miners who have lost jobs.

Maybe we need to think more creatively about what miners do or can do.

For example, can miners operate heavy equipment for other purposes than removing coal from the ground? What can miners build that needs building? What can miners dig that needs digging?

Government planners, scientists and economists should be able to foresee where the world is going and how to use existing skills to go there. We should be able to foresee what skills will be needed in the future and to develop them.

By and large, such planning tasks are beyond the ability of private businesses worried about quarterly profits.

We need a long term vision.

We once had such people.


Monday, May 2, 2016

America First?

When I first heard Donald Trump use the slogan "America First," I wondered if anyone working on his campaign was aware of the history of the "America First Committee" and what a discredited slogan that became after Pearl Harbor.

Last week, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC explained the sordid history of "America First" so that anyone should be able to understand not to use it:

Apparently Donald Trump doesn't get it.

For those unfamiliar with the history, here is Wikipedia's brief account: "The AFC was established on September 4, 1940, by Yale Law School student R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. (son of R. Douglas Stuart, co-founder of Quaker Oats), along with other students, including future President Gerald Ford, future Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart. Future President John F. Kennedy contributed $100, along with a note saying "What you all are doing is vital." At its peak, America First claimed 800,000 dues-paying members in 450 chapters, located mostly in a 300-mile radius of Chicago." The
 Not content with using a discredited slogan, last week Trump gave what was presented as a major foreign policy address. Slate's Fred Kaplan commented that the speech, read from a teleprompter, "—was even more incoherent than his impromptu ramblings of the past several months. In fact, it may stand as the most senseless, self-contradicting foreign policy speech by any major party’s presidential nominee in modern history."

I take exception to Kaplan/s remark, but only because Trump is not yet a "major party's  presidential nominee. It may seem like splitting hairs, but Trump is not the nominee until the Republican convention declares him the nominee.

That being said, if Trump is nominated, he will easily qualify as the most ignorant presidential candidate since I started noticing such things around 1940. 

How do I know? National security policy and international relations have been my profession for more than sixty years. And I was paying attention long before that.

Believe me!