238 Years of Teufel Hunden

Official emblem of Officers in the United Stat...

Image via Wikipedia

238 years today ago in a Philadelphia tavern a paragon of excellence was born: The United States Marine Corps.

They gave good service in the Revolution, of course, but first became famous when they came off a Navy flotilla led by USS Enterprise by command of President Jefferson, himself,and stormed all the way to Tripoli.

Next they helped the Army get ashore at Vera Cruz; thereby leading to the famous couplet “From the halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli“. These were the first of what Leckie called “America’s Planetary Soldiers”. They served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American war.

“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

In the First World War at Belleau Wood they were so brave (Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever) that it is now the “Bois de la Brigade de Marine“. They collected the Teufel Hunden moniker from the Kaiser himself.

And so it went, China in the 30’s, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, all the way across the Pacific, raising the flag on Iwo Jima, when the going was tough, the cry was heard: “Send in the Marines”.

Bringing out their dead and wounded all the way from the Yalu in “frozen Chosen”, the amphibious landing and all that followed at Danang. The Maya Guez, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Eagle, Globe and Anchor, a reminder to the world that the world we live in was built by the United States led by the United States Marine Corps.

Personally, I will be quite pleased if and when I walk on heavens streets, to know that they are guarded by United States Marines.

Happy Birthday to the Corps

[Update via The Peanut Gallery]

Semper Fidelis

Rattlesnakes and Kings

First official salute to the American flag on board an American warship in a foreign port, 16 November 1776. Painting by Phillips Melville, depicting Continental Brig Andrew Doria receiving a salute from the Dutch fort at St. Eustatius, West Indies, 16 November 1776.

First official salute to the American flag on board an American warship in a foreign port, 16 November 1776. Painting by Phillips Melville, depicting Continental Brig Andrew Doria receiving a salute from the Dutch fort at St. Eustatius, West Indies, 16 November 1776.

And so we have a kerfuffle. It seems that the President , or at least someone in the executive branch has ordered the US Navy Sea. Air, Land (SEAL) Teams to quit wearing a patch depicting what is commonly referred to as the “First Navy Jack”.

Naval_Jack_of_the_United_States.svgThe patch is a subdued replica of the jack shown to the left. It is supposed to be the jack flown by the USS Andrew Doria, at St. Eustatius on 16 November 1776, when the ship fired a salute to the Dutch fort, which the fort returned, this being the first salute rendered to United States colors by a foreign power. It is also the jack flown by the senior ship of the fleet on active service, That currently is The USS Nimitz, which is sort of a moot point since by order of President Bush, the Navy has been flying it during the course of the Global War on Terror from all ships.

The stripes of course, as they always do, symbolise the 13 united colonies, even as they do on our current flag. The rattlesnake is perhaps the oldest symbol of what would become the United States, it dates back to 1751, and was used by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, during the French and Indian War in his famous woodcut, reminding the colonist to work together.

As we moved into the Revolution it was a motif that was both familiar and distinctive, as well as something apparent to Americans, a wise man does not tread on rattlesnakes after all. Something of the temper of Americans, then and now, is also implied in both its warning and the use of the word “me” rather than a collective pronoun. Americans have always been an individualistic lot, given to amorphous associations as necessary but more inclined to be responsible for themselves, with a limited, and Christian caring for their neighbor, but not willing to grant that it was anything but an individual duty to help succor the poor and unfortunate. A hard people? Perhaps, but also a just people.

Gadsden FlagThe most famous, today anyway, rendering of the rattlesnake motif is , of course, the one designed by General Christopher Gadsden in 1775, which is shown to the left. I also note that the Gadsden Flag was used by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy as his personal flag, It was flown from the mainmast. This same arrangement on the yellow background was used on the drums of the oldest military force of the country, the Continental Marines. It’s a motif, and a warning as well, that the opponents of the American people over the centuries have come to agree with. Most people and countries who have disregarded that warning have not come to good ends.

And I note that except for the naval use, neither of these have ever been symbols of the government of the United States, only the higher standard as emblems of the People.

And so, I find it rather petty, and anti-history for the president to deny the SEALS the use of one of the oldest symbols of the country, and the navy, sadly I’m not surprised.

Perhaps that’s why the President doesn’t like rattlesnakes


Of Mutiny and Education

Cover of "The Caine Mutiny (Collector's E...

Cover of The Caine Mutiny (Collector’s Edition)


Growing up one of my favorite books was The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. He wrote it shortly after the Second World War and it was pretty much his first best-seller.

It tells the story of Willie Keith a pampered young man, and a bit of a momma’s boy, as he joins the Navy during the war, and becomes a pretty good officer. Like everybody coming out of officer’s school he wants to be on a shiny new battleship or aircraft carrier, but he’s assign to the Caine, a rusty old 4 pipe destroyer now converted to a destroyer minesweeper. He’s pretty surly, and has a lot of trouble adapting to serving in a ship that looks like a wreck, and he therefore runs afoul of his CO, Captain de Vriess, usually over silly stuff.

He does notice though, that while it seems to him that a lot of Naval Regulations get ignored the Caine is always where it needs to be to do the job. He credits this to the executive officer, Steve Maryk, who before the war was a fisherman. But he still longs for the spit and polish navy of his dreams. When the Captain is promoted out, he is overjoyed to find that the new captain is a spit and polish and follow all the regulations guy. Funny part is that it doesn’t work all that well, and morale gets very bad. Eventually the ship is caught, along with the rest of the 3d Fleet, in a typhoon off Okinawa, and they are having a great deal of trouble with the ship.

Finally the Exec relieves the captain and turns the bow into the wind, with Keith concurring presumably saving the ship at the cost of a mutiny. Following on this the ship is off the line while Maryk is court-martialed for Mutiny. Keith ends up with a letter of reprimand and command of the ship with orders to return to the east coast after the war so the ship can be scrapped.

It’s a good yarn, and I recommend it highly, and like all good yarns it has a moral.

At some point on of the other officers tells Keith the secret:

“The navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.”

Think about that for a while. Isn’t that pretty much what any large organization is? If it works at all, a large organization doesn’t necessarily have to be efficient but, it cannot be allowed to fail (in the organization’s terms) in any catastrophic way. In the Navy’s case, it must win battles. It doesn’t have to promote the best man, it doesn’t even have to keep everybody alive but, It must win battles and the war. That is it’s whole reason for being.

If you’ve ever been around the military, you know there are at least 4 ways to do anything, 1) The right way; 2) The wrong way; 3) The Navy way; and 4) my way, and that comes from experience. What Capt. de Vriess was doing along with LT Maryk was doing what had to be done to remain operational while ignoring most of the rest, and it worked very well as long as they had people who understood the goals and aspirations of their unit (The Caine).

So what is my point, other than a book review of a book published in about 1948? This is how all large organizations act if they are more concerned about something other than executing their mission. They write all the details down so that a computer can do every job, but nobody has any allowance for common sense.

Sound familiar?

To me it sound a lot like suspending a kindergarten student for eating his Pop-tart into the shape of a gun and saying “bang”. Not to mention a lot of the other stories that come out of American life lately.

Mark Esposito, writing on Jonathon Turley’s blog has thought and written about this as well, and done a better job of researching it than I have, here is some of his thinking

In Maryland, a seven-year-old boy is suspended from his school under its “zero tolerance” policy because he nibbles a pastry into the shape of a handgun and says “Bang!” “Bang!” (Here).  In California,  a high school principal refuses to let an ambulance come onto a football filed to tend to a seriously injured player citing school board rules. (Here). A nurse at a home for the aged ignores the furtive pleas of a 911 dispatcher and refuses to perform CPR on a woman dying of cardiac arrest because she says its policy not to do it.  (Here). She won’t even get someone else to do it.

These grotesque examples of indifference to any form of reason are becoming all too common as we find ourselves governed more by rules than by the judgment of people.  These stories got me thinking about the need for rules in a complicated society and their limitations. It also got me wondering why wisdom and its country cousin, common sense, have been banished from most every discussion of decision making. Here’s John Maynard Keynes in his famous treatise on decision making, Treatise of Probability, discussing how to make the right decision:

If, therefore, the question of right action is under all circumstances a determinate problem, it must be in virtue of an intuitive judgment directed to the situation as a whole, and not in virtue of an arithmetical deduction derived from a series of separate judgments directed to the individual alternatives each treated in isolation.

Armed with that little tidbit, I searched the entire work and found exactly zero uses of the word “wisdom” in Professor Keynes’ detailed analysis of doing the right thing. How can that be?

Wisdom is a an old-fashioned word. It hearkens back to Solomon and Solon. To Plato and Socrates. Aristotle explained that practical wisdom is one part moral will and one part moral skill. It means a human action premised on experience or intuition that achieves the best possible moral result.  Not efficient. Not effective. Not even the most profitable. But the most moral result.

At its core, it is about the time and thought necessary to achieve deep understanding.  Both are in short supply these days as we measure our progress by how far we’ve gotten or by how much we have obtained and how fast we did it. The process by which we achieved these things is less important that the result. And it is this philosophy that has laid waste to ethics, judgment, and most importantly wisdom. In this race to “Just Win Baby,” we have ossified our capacity for wisdom under a steady stream of rules, regulations, guidelines, and protocols. But why?

Speaking at a TED conference in 2009, Professor Barry Schwartz examined the problem and offered an explanation in the context of a study done of hospital janitors. Schwartz looked at the job descriptions of  the janitors.  The explanations of employment were big on such rudimentary tasks as cleaning, restocking, and sanitation, but not one mention of anything involving human interaction. As professor Schwartz remarked “the job could just as easily have been done in a mortuary as in a hospital.” But that assessment did not match what the janitors considered the most important aspect of their jobs. In responses to questioning from researchers, one janitor, Mike,  explained the most important thing about his job was caring for patients. Like the time he stopped mopping a floor because Mr. Jones was finally up and around from surgery and had just left his bed to get some exercise.  Another custodian,  Charlene, told of ignoring the orders of a supervisor to vacuum the visitors lounge because family members of a patient who dutifully arrived every day to be with their loved one were finally getting a chance to take a nap.  And, Luke, who scrubbed the floor of a comatose patient’s room twice because the emotionally drained father at the bedside didn’t see it the first time and insisted it be done. No argument. No rebuttal. No peevishness of any sort. Just compassion. [..]

Continue reading Shackling Our Wisdom With Rules

Do you see his point? It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Or is it?

Let’s take the schools for an example. What is the mission of a public school?

Is it:

  1. To educate our young in the basics they need to survive?
  2. To indoctrinate our young to be dependent on government all their life?
  3. To provide jobs for teachers
  4.  To provide jobs for administrators
  5. To provide union dues for union leadership
  6. To provide union dues for political lobbying

Or some combination.

Maybe that is part (maybe even a large part) of the problems we see in our society, is the mission of the organization what we think it is, or has it mutated into something that was not anticipated.

How do we, if this is the problem, get these organizations back to their original mission?



Pearl Harbor Day

71 years ago today, America was attacked at Pearl Harbor. We were thus thrust onto center stage of the 20th Century’s biggest conflict and the most clear-cut war for liberty in the history of the world. It’s a day to remember the sacrifices made by that generation, who are now leaving us at a very rapid pace. They saved the world for freedom, this would be a very good day to thank them. In this video, I want you to listen to resolve of Franklin Roosevelt, in it you will learn much about leadership in a free country.

This is how an American President responds to an attack on the homeland.

The forward magazines of the U.S. Navy battles...

The Arizona at Pearl Harbor: Image via Wikipedia

We all know (or should) that behind them the Japanese attackers left 2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleships. One of them the USS Arizona is still there, minus her hull, still to this day leaking oil, and designated as both an American Military Cemetery and the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The Japanese fleet also left behind it the most implacable foe there is, the determined and united people of the United States. ADM Halsey’s comment is an indicator: “When this war is over, Japanese will be spoken only in Hell”. It nearly came to that. The casualty projections for the invasion of Japan ran to over 1 Million American casualties only, the only other alternatives were for the Navy to starve the entire country while the Air Force burned it down. Every American (and Japanese) should thank their God for the Atom Bomb for this was the future it prevented. And as the Confederate Air Force has said: “There would have been no Hiroshima without Pearl Harbor”.

It probably should be noted that nearly the entire Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Australian Navy, as well as the US Atlantic Fleet were in the process of joining the US Pacific fleet, which had long since become (by far) the most powerful fleet in the history of the world. Also transhipping were the Allied armies that had defeated Nazi Germany. Götterdämmerung had come for the Japanese as it had for the Germans before them. The implacable free people of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, the Philippine Islands, and even Soviet Russia had made the world (mostly) free, again.

We live in a world shaped by tragedies inflicted on the United States, 9/11 has been very influential in our lives but, Pearl Harbor is even more so. It taught us again that freedom is never free, if we don’t defend it, it will pass as it did, for a time, for many of our allies. It also taught us that when America leads anything is possible.

English: General Douglas MacArthur signs as Su...

The Surrender in Tokyo Bay: Image via Wikipedia

The Pacific Campaign was marked by a series of terrible battles in some of the most inhospitable of climates. Who can forget the battles that followed Pearl Harbor: Guadalcanal, the Coral Sea, The Mitchell raid, Corregidor and the Bataan Death march, Midway, the Marianas, Tarawa, the Liberation of the Philippines, Iwo Jima and the flag, Okinawa, and that final scene in Tokyo Bay, where MacArthur and Wainwright accepted the Japanese surrender on the deck of one of the most powerful battleships ever built: The USS Missouri.  All of this happened in only 44 Months.

English: "Remember December 7th" US ...

Image via Wikipedia

People my age knew the men who fought all those battles, they were our heroes. Combat may not have been realistic but it fired our admiration. Ensign George Gay, the sole survivor of Torpron 8 at Midway, grew up about 10 miles from where I did. They deserve our memories today, because 71 years ago they started the counterattack that built the free (and mostly peaceful) world we have known all our life. We seldom remember that the Pax Americana has mostly held since 1945, we owe a debt to those men (and women), our parents (and mostly grandparents now) that we will never be able to repay except by keeping the peace and freedom they won.


A Global Force for Good

“It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

General George Washington

237 Years ago a great tradition started. As always, it started with men. Men like :Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle and John Burrows Hopkins, the first captains in the service. Men like First Lieutenant John Paul Jones whom Catherine the Great would later call the “Greatest Admiral of the Russian Navy“. Men like Stephan Decatur, who won praise from no less than Lord Nelson. Men like Farragut, Dewey, Sims, Byrd, Halsey, Nimitz and many others not as well known.

Then there are the firsts:

  • First attack by a submerged submarine in 1776
  • First successful attack by a submerged submarine
  • First major amphibious opposed landing in modern history
  • First battle between Ironclad ships firing rifled guns.
  • First overflight of the North Pole
  • First overflight of the South Pole
  • First naval combat where the ships never sighted each other
  • First nuclear propelled ship
  • First submerged circumnavigation of the world.

Then there are the battle honors

  • Bonhommie Richard v Serapis
  • Constitution v HMS GuerriereJavaPictouCyane and Levant.
  • Monitor v Merrimack (or Virginia)
  • Valcour Island
  • Mobile Bay
  • Manila Bay
  • Santiago
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Coral Sea
  • Midway
  • Marianas
  • Operation Neptune
  • Battle of the Atlantic (1917-18 and 1941-45)
  • Operation Torch
  • Vietnam
  • Iraq (twice)
  • And many, many more.

It’s a story written in heroism and blood for 237 years. But you know I want to talk about something else for a bit. We know they are always out there protecting America, and our trade. I’ve talked about it here and here as well as here. That’s all well and good, and it’s the mission as well.

But let’s talk about the real world for a minute here. Let’s say your an Indonesian villager or a Haitian, or a hundred other nationalities, who makes almost enough to feed your family. It’s hard for us to realize how common that is in our world still. Now an earthquake, flood, tsunami, or some other disaster strikes, and you lose effectively everything, maybe your family survives but all you have left is the shirt on your back. You’re obviously sitting around in shock, but maybe you can see the ocean, and you notice some bumps on the horizon. “Now what?” you’d undoubtedly think. What comes over that horizon is one of the greatest battle fleets in the history of the world, able to defeat almost any country all by themselves. What calamity is this you think, as you watch those ships drop anchor and all of a sudden helicopters and landing craft start issuing from that fleet. Think you’d be scared? I sure would be.

So the landing party lands, and you stand around gawking, as American sailors and Marines start giving away food, taking care of the injured, helping to find the missing, setting up tents, hauling in clean water, and everything else you could dream of. Yep, those imperialistic, war mongering Americans sent a whole battle fleet, halfway around the world to help your village get through your troubles, all of it courtesy of the US Taxpayers, who whine as we might about our taxes, never complain about this, because deep down this is who we are.

We do this mission because its who we are, we want to help, but in truth, it’s also good global politics. You think there might be legends in some of those countries about the way the Americans showed up, often even before their own government, to help in time of disaster, I do, and I’m very proud that we do it without thinking about that. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

So, for the 237th time: Happy Birthday, Navy

Welcome Home, Captain.

I mentioned earlier this week that two friends were dealing with returning soldiers this week. One was LTCOL Dan Bohmer, who is safely home. Huzzah! I talked about him and his blog a bit here. Now it’s time to talk about the other.

The other returnee is a British captain, like Dan returning from Afghanistan, in one of the stranger twists of life, I know a bit about him and am sure he knows a bit about me but, we’ve never met. So why him? There’s a story in that.

I’ve been blogging for a bit over a year and I’ve met some wonderful people because of it. The Captain’s wife is one of them. A year ago I hadn’t met a British subject since I was in college but, several are friends now. But even in that select company, the captain’s wife is very special. In the course of the last few months, she has become my dearest friend, period. On or off the internet. In fact I have been known to refer to her as my niece, because that’s how much I love her. Who is this paragon? If you read here at all, you already know. She is none other than Jessica Hoff of All along the Watchtower, my second home on the internet.

Her husband, who I am very much looking forward to meeting, at least for now, at a distance, is a captain in the British army. One of those brave souls who had enough guts to go to Afghanistan (for the fourth time in 150 years)for no better reason than we were going. Friends like these don’t grow on trees, and whatever we did to earn their friendship wasn’t nearly enough.

Our countries have been working together, for the betterment of the world since the Anti-Slavery patrols off Africa in the 19th century and like all relatives we have our spats. but this Yank has always been glad that you are there, the original home of the brave and land of the free.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass.  1900.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
      the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
      While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
      O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
      O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
      you the bugle trills, 

         For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores
          For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
             Here Captain! dear father!
               This arm beneath your head!
                 It is some dream that on the deck,
                   You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
          My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
          The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
          From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
               Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                 But I with mournful tread,
                   Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                    Fallen cold and dead.

I also note that like the good officer he is, he brought his men home with him and I’m very glad they are home as well. My buddies in the Navy have a flag hoist that I suspect you know, in writing we tend to put it.

Bravo Zulu

Now, I’m quite sure you two kids have better things to do than read an old Yank’s drivel, so get to it :-)

It’s also Saturday so here’s some music for the day.

Welcome Home, Sir, and God Bless you both, The first toast tonight will be to you. Have a wonderful weekend.

A repeat , just for you, Jess, Have fun, my dearest friend :-)

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