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.

NATO at 70: What Is It Good For?

Frank Hawkins has an excellent article at American Thinker entitled NATO in Crisis. Let’s have a look.

In 1949, with the debris of WWII still clogging German cities, Western nations led by the United States and Great Britain formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The primary purpose of the alliance was to provide a multinational shield  against Soviet aggression.

Today the alliance itself is threatened, with President Trump rightly accusing Germany and other members of not living up to their pledges to support the pact. Of the 28 members of NATO, only seven are paying the required 2% of GDP to support the alliance. The United States weighs in with a hefty 3.39% while Germany, the second largest economy in the alliance, is only contributing 1.36%.

After being called out by Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that Germany would begin increasing its defense contributions reaching an initial plateau of 1.5% by 2024.

But it’s not working out that way. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz threw the target into doubt with the new German federal budget that suggests their percentage is actually going to shrink to 1.23%.  What’s going on?

In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert Kagan addressed the issue in an article titled, “The New German Question, What Happens When Europe Comes Apart?

Kagan’s article opens as a thoughtful overview until it becomes obvious he’s just another ideological #NeverTrumper. He covers the grand sweep of German history and the country’s historic position in Europe before dissolving into shameless Trump bashing.

There has always been something ironic about the American complaint that Europeans don’t spend enough on defense. They don’t because the world seems relatively peaceful and secure to them. When the world is no longer peaceful and secure, they probably will rearm, but not in ways that will benefit Americans. If one were devising a formula to drive Europe and Germany back to some new version of their past, one could hardly do a better job than what U.S. President Donald Trump is doing now.

Trump bashing seems a bit strong here to me. Kagan plainly doesn’t like what he sees Trump doing, but his description of it is not that different than mine. Nor, does Kagan appear to like Trump, but few establishment Europeans do. I pretty much agree with Trump, however, I see little point anymore for NATO, unless it is there as a check on the EU, which is increasingly plausible. The main trouble with that is that it is the Americans v. everyone and his Slavic cousin. Don’t forget it was Leonid Brezhnev who commented in the 1990s that it was like the Soviet Union had relocated to Brussels.

From where I sit (and I think Trumps sees it similarly) the main threat to freedom today in Europe is the European Union, itself.

The basic problem in western Europe is that Germany tends to dominate it the way the US does North America. While the US is a reasonable partner and neighbor, and especially Canada has a reasonably similar background, none of that is true with regards to Germany and Europe. The only real competitor is the United Kingdom, which of course has much to do with the US involvement as well. That also explains why the US is quite firmly in the Brexit camp, and his alignment with the EU explains Obama’s willingness to interfere with the referendum. (That holds for both Clinton and both Bushes, as well.)

And there is this, for the US, Europe is becoming a sideshow. Russia is a commercial competitor, not an enemy, and no one else perhaps excepting the UK is particularly important to our interests these days.

Those interests are first Israel, and Europe is a very poor ally in this area, other than some in the Visegrad area.

But the main US interest for the foreseeable future will be China, a physically and militarily aggressive competitor verging on an enemy, who will soak up much of our interest and available force.

Do read Hawkin’s excellent article, and Kagan’s, which is linked in the quote is also quite good.

But in short, Europe needs to grow up, America has some work to do elsewhere.

American Historic Moments; Then and Now

Don Troiani- “The Last Salute” HAP

Our friend, Practically Historical, reminds us that 154 years ago today General John B Gordon (seven times wounded, including 5 Minnie balls at Antietam) by order of General Robert E. Lee, surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, to General Joshua L. Chamberlain (won the Medal of Honor at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, wounded six times, nearly mortally at Petersburg, and cited 4 times for bravery) of the Army of the Potomac.

As the Army of Northern Virginia marched past the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the Army to “Carry Arms” (the marching salute) in respect, and at Gordon’s order, the Confederates responded. Chamberlain described the scene:

At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.”    Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”

There is a lesson there for those who would destroy the heritage of the Confederacy. At least 300,000  Americans died upon those fields to (amongst their reasons) to destroy chattel slavery in America. At the end of it, they respected their opponents enough to salute them in honor, and the Confederates enough to return the salute. Without a worthy enemy, there is no honor, and so far no more worthy enemy for American arms has ever appeared than American arms. Both sides fighting for freedom, even if their definitions differed. When you denigrate the Confederates, you also denigrate the forces that fought them and freed the slaves.

And so with salutes and honors, and with terms that meant no proscription lists and no hangings, America’s hardest war ended.


Then there is this:

That is the first ever photograph of a Black Hole, something so dense that even light cannot escape. So how can we take its picture? It’s complicated. Here’s part of the explanation.

And this:

Both of those are some seriously good explaining of a subject that is quite hard to understand.

But how did this happen? A badass stem professor, of course. In fact, a Cal Tech professor with a doctorate from MIT, who graduated from West Lafayette High School. And back in the day when she was in high school used to work with her dad’s colleagues, professors at Purdue. Professor Dr. Katie Bouman. Her dad is Charles Bouman, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue. Wonder what dinner conversation was like in their house.

She explained in a TED talk what she was trying to do a couple years ago as well.

And it worked, as the picture above indicates. Pretty cool, essentially turning the entire Earth into a camera.

This is a very big deal, confirming relativity amongst other things, and another major major accomplishment for American science. I’m not a huge fan of government subsidizing stuff, but I’m not sure that any corporation would really see the point of this research, although I’ll bet there will be commercial benefits derived from it. Most corporations these days are insanely short-sighted about research. Hammer and Rails reminds us:

The combined budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are just over $63 billion for FY 2019. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the US’s 2019 federal budget is $4.746 trillion, the three major scientific foundations and government institutions that allow for such ground breaking scientific research account for just under 1.5% of the federal budget.

For just 1.5% of our budget, we’re able to fund the great work of Dr. Bouman, along with other great scientists at Purdue, the Big Ten, and beyond. While Dr. Bouman didn’t go to Purdue (I guess I can’t blame her for going to MIT instead), her connections to the university allowed her to cultivate her passion in the STEM fields, and it shows that the impact of Purdue continue into interstellar space.

Congrats to Dr. Bouman, former President Córdova, and all the researchers involved in the Event Horizon Telescope.

Yep, and MIT had a couple things to say, as well. First, they noted how important women in Stem are to our success in space.

As noted in the comments to the Tweet above, all these women, and all of us men, as well, follow in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron who wrote the first algorithm. And this:

Neocon to NeverTrump

From left: Bill Kristol, Max Boot, David Frum, Elliot A. Cohen.

Julie Kelly has an article up at American Greatness. Let’s take a look.

For more than two years they misled us.

Exploiting fear and confusion after a shocking event, they warned that our country was in imminent danger at the hands of a mad man. They insisted that legitimate intelligence, including a CIA report issued a month before a national election and a dossier producedby reliable sources in the United Kingdom, proved the threat was real. The subject monopolized discussions on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in the press.

They argued that the situation was so dire that it was straining our relationship with strategic allies. Any evidence to the contrary was readily dismissed. And anyone who questioned their agenda was ridiculed as a coward, a dupe, or a conspiracy theorist. The news media dedicated endless air time and column inches to anyone who wanted to repeat the falsehood.

But an investigative report released two years after the propaganda campaign began found no evidence to support their central claim. The CIA report was highly flawed. The official dossier, some concluded, was deceptive and “sexed-up.”

Sounds really, really familiar these days doesn’t it? It should, we have a current example to look at, but this is not a description of the mess we have seen in Washington the last couple of years, it’s a good description of how we got into the war in Iraq. And most amazingly it was brought to you by the same ‘players’. Ms. Kelly continues:

So, these discredited outcasts thought they found in the Trump-Russia collusion farce a way to redeem themselves in the news media and recover their lost prestige, power, and paychecks. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that a group of influencers on the Right who convinced Americans 16 years ago that we must invade Iraq based on false pretenses are nearly the identical group of people who tried to convince Americans that Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to rig the 2016 election, an allegation also based on hearsay and specious evidence.

It cannot be an innocent mistake. It cannot be explained away as an example of ignorance in the defense of national security or democracy or human decency. It cannot be justified as a mere miscalculation based on the “best available information at the time” nor should we buy any of the numerous excuses that they offered up to rationalize the war.

In fact, one can draw a straight line between the approach of neoconservative propagandists from the Iraq War travesty and the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. The certainty with which they pronounced their dubious claims, their hyperbolic warnings about pending doom—all eerily similar:

Bill Kristol in 2003: “We look forward to the liberation of our own country and others from the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal and sadistic tyrant.”

Bill Kristol in 2018: “It seems to me likely Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation. What then? Good question.”

John McCain in 2003: “I believe that, obviously, we will remove a threat to America’s national security because we will find there are still massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

John McCain in 2017: “There’s a lot of aspects with this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny. In fact, I think there’s a lot of shoes to drop from this centipede. This whole issue of the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly cries out for an investigation.”

David Frum in 2002 (writing for President George W. Bush): “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.“

David Frum in 2016: “I never envisioned an Axis of Evil of which one of the members was the US National Security Adviser.”

Max Boot in 2003: “I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there, but I think we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law.”

Max Boot in 2019: “If this is what it appears to be, it is the biggest scandal in American history—an assault on the very foundations of our democracy in which the president’s own campaign is deeply complicit. There is no longer any question whether collusion occurred. The only questions that remain are: What did the president know? And when did he know it?”

Those are just a handful of examples from a deep trove of comparisons. Other accomplices on the Right involved in both scandals include former NSA Director Michael Hayden; former Weekly Standard editor Stephen Hayes; MSNBC host and former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough; neoconservative think tankers Robert Kagan and Eliot Cohen; and former Bush aides Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner.

Even George W. Bush questioned aloud last year whether alleged Russian meddling “affected the outcome of the election.”

And let’s not forget who was in charge of the FBI before, during, and after the Iraq War: Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel hired in May 2017 to find evidence of Russian collusion. In his February 2003 Senate testimony, Mueller confirmed reports that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and expressed concern that Hussein “may supply terrorists with biological, chemical or radiological material.” James Comey, Mueller’s close friend and successor at the FBI, served as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005. Comey, of course, is the man who opened an investigation into the Trump campaign in July 2016 and signed the FISA application in October 2016 to spy on Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. Both, we’ve been assured repeatedly, were Republicans.

This is from an article by Julie Kelly on American Greatness which when you go read it all (Do it now!) will tell you just how despicable this bunch of charlatans are. Just about every American casualty in the middle east since 2003, over a hundred thousand dead Iraqis, a bunch of Libyans and Syrians, not too mention the invasion of Europe by pseudo refugees can be laid at these clowns doorsteps. All to keep their influence and their paychecks, not to mention the cocktail parties and cruises.

In 1961, as he left the Presidency, Eisenhower told us some base truths, here is a bit of it, the rest is here.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

I can’t speak for you, but in 2003 I bought their snake oil, but like so many of you, in 2016, I knew better.

Screw me once, shame on you,

Screw me twice, shame on me.

Our experience with these neocons tells us we have failed in that mission, that Ike outlined, and rather badly. But you know, we are a sensible people, and in electing Trump, we may have found the cure or at least a palliative.

One hopes so.

Sunday Funnies: the Memes Continue

Sort of a silly week, the Mother of Parliaments is senile at best, every Democrat is at least crazy with some tending towards evil and running for President. Central America is invading. None of that is new, but we did find new pictures for you

Are you bored of Biden yet? I am, but the memes are funny.

Must be a gun and knife free zone, too!

And, of course

Double your pleasure, double your fun, Philip Wrigley used to tell us.

NATO at 70

Walter A. McDougall has a superb article up at Law and Liberty, recapping the history of NATO. While it’s quite long as articles go, it is the best short form history of the alliance I’ve read, as far as I can remember, ever. So you should too.

In just a few days, delegations from the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather in Washington to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the longest-lasting multilateral alliance in modern history.

They shall recall how NATO fostered unity, strength, and will among Western democracies for 40 years and prevailed over the Soviet bloc without a shot being fired. They shall also congratulate themselves on the subsequent 30 years during which the membership expanded from 16 to 29, the mission expanded far beyond collective security, and the area of operations expanded as far afield as Afghanistan. But unchecked inflation is often a symptom of institutional senility rather than vitality.

Perhaps the Americans who steered NATO on its present course were simply anxious to provide new raisons d’être for an alliance whose real target disappeared with the Cold War. Perhaps President Donald Trump had a point when he called NATO obsolete. Perhaps the years of its life are “three score and ten, or by reason of strength fourscore” (Psalm 90:10), in which case, this decennial may be its last.

The threat that gave birth to NATO—the communist bloc—ceased to exist 30 years ago. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed two years after that, reducing Muscovy back to its 17th century boundaries. During the 1990s Russia’s economy contracted by 45 percent and has not grown much since. The Russian defense budget today is 72 percent less than the last Soviet one. And while Vladimir Putin pretends Russia is a world power, even he admitted in his Munich address of 2007 that the Cold War’s bipolarity had been replaced by a hegemony in which the United States is the “one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making,” and has “overstepped its national borders in every way.”[1] Most galling for Putin was the fact that the United States exploited Russian weakness to expand NATO up to and even into the boundaries of the defunct Soviet Union.

Nothing resembling the threat of Josef Stalin’s empire and Red Army exists today and Europeans are well aware of that, which is why only three European governments met the target—2 percent of GNP—for defense spending in 2017. Germans, French, and Italians simply do not feel threatened by Russia. Hence the “free rider” dilemma of a United States that accounts for 71.7 percent of NATO’s defense expenditures in 2017 has only become more acute, not less, since the end of Cold War.[2]

The voracious engulfment by NATO of nearly all countries west of Russia likewise risks its cohesion. The alliance motto, which looms on the wall overlooking the grand conference room in its Brussels headquarters, reads: Animus in consulendo liber (“A mind unfettered in deliberation”). But the fact is that NATO’s deliberations have always been fettered by its unanimity rule. Consensus was hard enough to achieve among the original 12, not to mention the current 29 governments each with own agenda . . . unless, of course, member states just surrender to the will of the United States.

It would appear that NATO today has become both “too big to fail” and “too big to work.” Some day, NATO’s credibility will be put to a test that its constituent states will be unable or unwilling to pass.

Empire by Invitation

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, like so many initiatives identified with the United States, was a British invention.[3] In 1948, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin begged Americans to identify with the Brussels Pact, which Britain, France, and the Benelux countries had just concluded. Bevin’s premises were that Soviet obstruction had crippled the United Nations as an instrument for collective security; that Europe’s postwar democracies were too weak to defend themselves; and that the Marshall Plan could not succeed unless Europeans were assured of a U.S. military commitment.

There are lots of truths here, not least of them that, while I would not use the term empire, Europe has become an American (and to some extent, British) protectorate. Not so much because we wanted it to, as because it is certainly easier to let someone else defend you, especially if you are a believer in globalism. Most of Europe is, that’s why the European Union keeps talking about unity.

If the US hasn’t done anything else, we’ve made an intra-European war nearly impossible for the near future, they’ve all disarmed.

One of my friends is a British expat living quite happily in Siberia, I think from what we tell each other, he would agree heartily with the conclusions in this article, and I see much merit in them as well.

I can’t say that America really wishes Russia any ill, because I don’t think we, in general, do, but we often don’t think things through very well before we do stuff, often for domestic reasons, that may have adverse effects on others.

In any case, read the article linked above, and tell me what you think.

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