Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

A vision from the Founders

The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, received the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award recently. Obviously, it called for dinner and a speech. And that happened. here it is.

There’s not all that much to add. Scott Johnson wrote about it for PowerLine. Scott pulls a very good quote from it. Human Events also wrote about it, with Raheem Kassam pulling this quote…

“The Founders were keen students of human nature and history,” he said. “They saw that conflict is the normative experience for nations. Hamilton put this Federalist 34. He said, ‘To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and [beneficial] sentiments of peace’.

“I’ll simplify,” Pompeo continued: “The Founders knew peace wasn’t the norm. And in response to this reality, the Founders knew the first duty of the federal government was to provide for the safety of its citizens. Madison said, ‘[Security] is an avowed and essential object of the American Union.’ You all know that.

“How about restraint? The Founders sought to protect our interests but avoid adventurism. The Barbary War, fought so soon after independence, was an effort of last resort to protect our vital commercial interests. The Monroe Doctrine – relevant even today – was a message of deterrence, not a license to grab land. ‘Peace and friendship,’ said Jefferson, ‘with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it. But the temper and folly of our enemies may not leave this in our choice.’

“And finally, respect,” Pompeo mused. “The Founders had recently cast off the tyranny of an empire. They were not eager to subjugate others. In 1821, John Quincy Adams wrote that America ‘goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ But indeed, quite the opposite: ‘She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all’.”

An excellent statement of traditional and current US foreign policy. Like all such thing, perhaps easier to promulgate than to follow in all cases, but an excellent guide. Something we have needed in the last thirty or so years.

Trumping the UN, and Cutting Our Own Throats

If you haven’t seen President Trump’s excellent speech at the UN, here it is.

There are quite a few highlights, but the only one I’ll put here is this:

We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons. We cannot allow a regime that chants “Death to America,” and that threatens Israel with annihilation, to possess the means to deliver a nuclear warhead to any city on Earth. Just can’t do it.

Long ago, like Lou Aguilar at The American Spectator, I saw the 1953 movie The War of the Worlds. I remember it much the way he does, especially this:

The setup comes soon after the A-bomb fail. A desperate general tells physicist Gene Barry (in a superb stoic performance) that there’s nothing more his military can do against the Martian war machine, and the last best hope for Earth is for Barry’s band of scientists to develop some sort of chemical weapon. They drive trucks full of scientific equipment into the last city standing, Los Angeles, only to have its panicked residents manhandle Barry, smash his equipment, and seize the truck in a suicidal attempt to flee the Martians. “They cut their own throats!” declares the shaken Barry to his colleagues.

The image of a berserk crowd destroying its best long-term bet for illusory gain could be a metaphor for the upcoming midterm elections. Under the management of Donald Trump and the Republicans, this country has seldom been in finer shape. It enjoys record-high employment, consumer confidence, stock value, and rising wages. Two nuclear threats have been reduced, and a terrorist caliphate dissolved to attain that most elusive balance of peace and prosperity. And none are benefiting more from this condition than the three pillars of progressive identity politics — blacks, Hispanics, and women. Black, Latino, and female unemployment have never been lower.

He is exactly correct. These are by almost any measure, the good old days, and they are improving by the week. But what are we seeing? A slow moving soft coup in the government, a revolt of the opposition party who is putting their thugs into the streets, just as the Blackshirts and Brownshirts were in Italy and Germany in the 20s and 30s. Not to mention the spectacle of one of the best judges in the country dragged through the mud (not of his creation) for partisan political purposes. The whole garish spectacle has become sickening, and must be tamped down, or we will see violence in the streets.

This is all quite literally insane. It threatens the freedom of the United States, and cannot be tolerated. Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence, and we all believe that: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Surely, one does not throw prudence to the wind when things are going well for almost everyone. Only a deluded fool or an ideologue (often the same thing) would even think of such a thing. But that is where the United States is.

Well, in just a few weeks we will have an election, the projections run from a blue wave to a red tide, with the blue wave getting more press (given the press’ bias, that should surprise no one) but even conservative pollsters are warning of such a thing

But Lou’s last paragraph is spot on so it will end my post as well.

It really is a War of the Worlds, between the real world and a fantasy one. Right now, the fantasists are leading. If people vote them into power this November, they will be cutting their own throats.

American Sovereignty

The other day, National Security Director John Bolton made an official address to the Federalist Society. He said some important things.

“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

One of many things I like about Bolton (and President Trump, for that matter) is that he doesn’t mince words, he says exactly what he means, and means what he says as well. Very refreshing in a public servant.

Scott Johnson at PowerLine had some thoughts on the address, as well.

It is a great speech. It is an educational speech. It is an inspiring speech. Bolton speaks from deep knowledge of the subject. As he relates: “I was honored to lead US efforts internationally to protect Americans from the court’s unacceptable overreach, starting with un-signing the Rome Statute. At President [George W.] Bush’s direction, we next launched a global diplomatic campaign to protect Americans from being delivered into the ICC’s hands. We negotiated about 100 binding, bilateral agreements to prevent other countries from delivering US personnel to the ICC. It remains one of my proudest achievements.”

Paul Mirengoff also at PowerLine adds this.

I have personal experience with the ICC. In the late 1990s, I was part of a team of lawyers that defended a war crimes case before that body.

Of the three judges who heard the case, only one was from a well-functioning democracy. In fact, if memory serves, one of the judges was from China.

Aspects of the proceedings were quite alien to our justice system. The main piece of evidence against our client was hearsay that was subject to no exception recognized in American law. It was admitted, “in the interests of justice.” The interests of justice as perceived by foreign judges, including one from China.

Looking over the current roster of ICC judges, my impression is that fewer of them come from undemocratic nations. On the other hand, Europe is now more anti-Israel and, indeed, more anti-U.S. than it was twenty years ago.

Paul, in particular, knows of what he speaks. It’s well out of my field. But one does not have to be a lawyer to realize that if one is an American (or an Israeli) it is never going to be a good idea to let an American be judged according to Chinese (or European, for that matter) standards. We have maintained our freedom against all comers for more than 240 years by asserting our sovereignty. By all means, including war itself.

Almost a hundred years ago, we refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty ending the First World War, even though President Wilson was one of the key architects of it because we realized that the League of Nations infringed on our sovereignty, and thereby imperiled out citizens’ freedoms. Nothing has changed except the name of the players.

Here’s the speech:

Busy Week Ahead

So NATO meets next week, right after the Supreme Court nomination, and then Trump will visit Britain meeting with May and the Queen, then spending the weekend in Scotland before going to Helsinki to meet Putin. Quite the schedule isn’t it?

I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the NATO meeting. Just as much to hear what is not said as what is. NATO is unraveling, because Europe will not pay for its own defense, even a fraction of it, preferring to let Uncle Sugar do it.

Well, that is not so true for Eastern Europe, who mostly are trying, but Germany and France are simply useless these days, couldn’t mount a decent parade.

There is a report that the British government has forbidden President Trump from meeting with Nigel Farage, now that is cheeky, and if I was Trump, I’d make damned sure I did, but it’s a small thing.

What is not a small thing is Iran, Melanie Phillips has that story.

Britain and the EU regard the Iranian fanatics as people with whom they can to do business – both diplomatic and economic. But the only reasonable, moral and self-defense position is to regard them as a regime beyond the pale which must be destroyed.

No one wants war; the aim should be to prevent the terrible war that is almost inevitable unless the Iranian regime is removed. The best and most likely way to achieve this is for the people of Iran to rise up against it. […]

The result is popular demand for an end to the regime itself. In stark contrast to uprisings that have erupted in the Arab world, the Iranian demonstrators support Israel and the West. The Iranian regime regularly pronounces “Death to Israel.”

The protesters have been shouting instead “Death to Palestine” and demanding that the regime stops funding Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria’s President Assad and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Suddenly, what seemed impossible is now being talked about as a distinct possibility: that a regime which until now has been strutting across the region imposing increasing control may in fact collapse.

So what’s changed? In two words: President Trump. By withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal, he has changed the entire power dynamic within Iran and in the region. Now sanctions have been reimposed and are about to bite far more severely.

With tacit backing by both the US and Russia, Israel has been attacking Iranian military assets across Syria.

The game is now afoot to achieve what until now no one contemplated as a serious possibility: to pry Russia away from Iran and squeeze Iran out of Syria, thus smashing the fulcrum of Iranian power in the region. […]

Clearly, much remains murky and alarming about such a complex dance of deterrence.

America’s ultimate strategic goal, however, is clear: to weaken, stymie and ultimately destroy the Islamic regime in Iran.

Yet, incredibly, Britain and Europe are still attempting to support it. This weekend, the five powers still party to the nuclear deal – Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – are meeting Iran’s foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in Vienna to discuss how it might continue without US support.

This, even though earlier this week, six people were arrested in Belgium, France and Germany, including an Iranian diplomat posted to Vienna, over an alleged Iranian terrorist plot to attack an Iranian-opposition rally in a Paris suburb this weekend.

Britain, France and Germany may realize very soon that they will need to choose between trading with Iran and trading with the US. The State Department has threatened to punish sanctions violators, while major European companies such as Peugeot, Siemens and Total are reportedly preparing to halt their dealings with Tehran.

Both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made a point of telling the Iranian people that they have American and Israeli support and that the fight by the US and Israel is merely against the regime that oppresses them.

Quite. There is a real chance here, like the one that Obama ignored to rid the world of Iran’s odious government, and Europe is attempting to sabotage it. With allies like this, who needs enemies?

Melanie thinks much of this is down to anti-Semitism. It may be so, I don’t know, nor does it matter, really. It exists, and it must be dealt with.

I pay more attention to Britain than the continent as all know. It’s an unbelievably dark landscape these days, dissidents in jail for political speech, the will of the people subverted by the government with regard to Brexit, the government conspiring to demonstrate against the President of the United States, and divers horrid things.

American ideas about rights and responsibilities which we celebrated this week, almost all came from (no longer great) Britain, but they have been evicted from the ancestral home, no doubt for Muslim immigrants.

An entire century ago American troops were attacking Imperial German troops in France. Three times in the last hundred years we have kept Europe free. It’s a fool’s errand, they have no inclination to keep themselves free. Time to move to the east, or come home.

The time may well have come to write off Western Europe, including the United Kingdom. And yet, we often said much the same about Obama’s America. And you know, there are the same stirrings going on in May’s England as there were in Obama’s America.

Once again it was true here, as Kipling said

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late,
With long arrears to make good,
When the Saxon began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy — willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the Saxon began to hate.

Their voices were even and low.
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show
When the Saxon began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd.
It was not taught by the state.
No man spoke it aloud
When the Saxon began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred.
It will not swiftly abate.
Through the chilled years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the Saxon began to hate.

It was the undoing of Kaiser Bill, Hitler, Tojo, and the Soviet Union, and the Radical American left and I hear it stirring today in England. Or one hopes, anyway.

Charles Krauthammer

Well, Charles Krauthammer is gone, although, for many of us, he will never be forgotten. I’m lucky, in a sense, my life and interest has spanned the life of two of the most intellectual and persuasive conservatives in American history, Bill Buckley, and Charles Krauthammer. Not surprisingly I agreed with neither more than perhaps 80% of the time. Conservatism is, above all else, a philosophy of the individual, and each of us brings different things to the table.

What Buckley, and even more Krauthammer, brought was a broad understanding of American conservatism’s basis in philosophy: Jewish, Christian and enlightenment. All have their part, all are important, and each plays slightly differently in each of us.

Much of what Krauthammer brought, for me anyway, was even (maybe especially) when I disagreed with him was that he helped to clarify my thinking. In listening to his rational, logical thinking, the flaws in my own became clear. Not that this meant he changed my mind, sometimes he did, usually, I found (or invented) a flaw in his thinking. Thus he was a superb mentor for my thinking, even as so many of the younger people at Fox News say he was for them.

I think it interesting that the two best obituaries I found this morning are in the £ Daily Mail and the Jerusalem Post.

 From the Mail:

In 1984 he joined the Washington Post where his critical column awarded him the Commentary Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

Krauthammer was an influential voice among Republicans, through his syndicated column and his appearances on Fox News and elsewhere.

He was known for a dour expression, wry humor and sharp intellect.

In 2006, the Financial Times named him the most influential commentator in the United States.

Krauthammer gave mixed reviews to President Donald Trump, questioning his ‘loud and bombastic’ approach to the job and calling him a charlatan while praising actions such as withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

He had been a leading critic of President Barack Obama and what Krauthammer perceived as his ‘social democratic agenda,’ while supporting George W. Bush’s intervention in the Middle East.

Krauthammer also liked President Ronald Reagan’s stand against communism and popularized the term ‘Reagan Doctrine’ to describe it.

He had been married to his wife Robyn Krauthammer for 44 years and has a 32-year-old son, Daniel Krauthammer, who survive him. In his free time, Krauthammer enjoyed baseball and chess.

One of the more fascinating things to me is that he started as a speechwriter for Walter Mondale, and began writing for The Washington Post and The Atlantic, and found himself agreeing with Ronald Reagan more and more. Perhaps the greatest conservative convert of the greatest conservative convert who became president.

He, like, I was not enamored with President Trump during the primary season, not least because we had the strongest field since Lincoln ran alone. Neither of us thought Trump sounded like what a President should, a vulgarian at best. Yet both of us, when he won the nomination decided that he was preferable to the appalling Hillary Clinton, and while not enthusiastic, supported him. I wish we could know what he thought now. For myself, I think Trump has turned into the best conservative (not complete yet) conversion since the Gipper, himself, and may end up saving the Republic as we knew it, and Israel in the bargain.

The Post speaks of his support of Israel:

Krauthammer wrote in 2014 about “Kafkaesque ethical inversions” that make for Western criticism of Israel. “The world’s treatment of Israel is Orwellian, fueled by a mix of classic antisemitism, near-total historical ignorance and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog,” he wrote.

He understood that eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties (such as recent Hamas assaults on the Gaza border) were “depravity.”

“The whole point is to produce dead Palestinians for international television; to deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed; indeed, moral and tactical insanity,” he said. “But it rests on a very rational premise. The whole point is to draw Israeli counter-fire; to produce dead Palestinians for international television, and to ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.”

In 2015, he repeatedly skewered then-president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, calling it “the worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history.”

To Obama, he wrote accusingly: “You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon.”

Decidedly a voice that will be, already has been in fact, missed. One of the clearest we have ever produced. In some ways, it was people like Dr.Krauthammer that made Fox News, as well. I can remember in the early days, even through Gulf War 1, it was nearly unwatchable, even for a conservative. But as he and others built it, it has become by any measure the best American network for news, as opposed to propaganda. Perfect, of course not, but like the country, it is a work of man, not God, and it tries to improve. But there is no improving or replacing Krauthammer. We’ll simply have to muddle along with the words he has written to guide us.

The Mail quoted his farewell letter from a couple weeks ago:

‘I leave this life with no regrets,’ Krauthammer wrote in his farewell statement.

‘It was a wonderful life… I am sad to leave but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.’

We should all be so fortunate.

Fair winds and following seas, Charles, rest in Peace.

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