Toobin does a great job in detailing the personalities of the justices and how they shape the court. Thomas is the m...moresome editing and additions 7/22/10
Toobin does a great job in detailing the personalities of the justices and how they shape the court. Thomas is the most interesting, perhaps. A man obviously bitter about the cards he has been dealt, he holds grudges seemingly forever, even disdaining Yale Law School, his alma mater; yet, he is very well liked and has lots of friends on and off the court. (Scalia, asked once for the difference between himself and Thomas, replied, "I am an originalist; he's a nut.) Thomas would overturn piles of precedent on principle -- he's a huge fan of Ayn Rand -- and a proponent of limiting the power of federal law, but contradictorily sponsoring law clerks who went on to provide legal justification for presidential power expansion under Bush. Go figure.
One concern I had about Thomas was the large number of gifts he accepted from very conservative organizations and people. He got the largest book deal of any justice, 1.5 million from book he wrote from Rupert Murdoch and he makes huge amounts of money in speaking engagements before conservative audiences (he refuses to speak to any audience that might be remotely unfriendly.) Breyer, on the other hand, accepts no gifts or travel from anyone. You can't tell me that getting all that money and travel from a particular political spectrum has no effect.
One of my favorite anecdotes was the inside look at the nomination of Harriet Miers in 2005 for the O'Connor seat. Bush had laid down the law against any kind of leaks. Unfortunately, as Toobin points out, leaks can often serve as a very useful way to flush out any likely problems that might arise from a decision before a commitment is made to that decision. Bush and his primary advisors, Rove, Cheney, and Card, had little idea what a Supreme Court Justice does every day. (Steven Breyer once told his son that justices spend their days reading and writing. "If you like and are good at doing homework, you'll enjoy the Supreme Cour because you'll be doing homework the rest of your life." [paraphrased quote, listened to this as an audiobook:] So they didn't expect nor look for any kind of written trail from Meiers. (Rove can be excused if he seemed a little distracted as there was a very real possibility he might be indicted in the Valerie Plume case.) Rove's first call to get approval was to James Dobson since they knew that mainstream media approval was irrelevant. It was the evangelical constituency that might make troub le. Ironically, it had been Harry Reid who had suggested Meiers and noted that her nomination would breeze through with little chance of a filibuster. Meiers had been a long friend of Bush as well as his personal attorney, she was a strong evangelical, and in any case the Bush team was looking for someone with good judgment and instincts; analysis was less important.
So they were all totally taken by surprise when the vicious attacks from the right began as soon as she had finished her acceptance of the nomination. "The president has made perhaps the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas," was the response of one conservative. She was dismissed as a "taut, anxious, personality," wrote David Frumm. She had no judicial experience. Despite pressure from the right-wing "pro-family" groups arguing her conservative bona fides and that she would overturn Roe v Wade, and her ex-boyfriend Judge Heck's rambling denials of anything more than friendship, it soon became clear she had no ideas at all with regard to constitutional law. Her total experience had been as personal lawyers to Bush and others. Bush assumed that the Senate would fall into line behind his nomination, not realizing that by 2005 Katrina and Iraq had crippled his influence. "Trust me," was no longer enough. Conservatives wanted appellate judges with a proven written agenda. White, Powell, Warren, and Rehnquist, to name but a few, ad little judicial experience, so her lack thereof should not have been a disqualifier. As with the torrent of abuse against Gonzales a few months earlier, facts became irrelevant and some conservatives even charged she and Gonzales were closet liberals despite all evidence to the contrary. The Democrats loved every minute of it.
Meiers seemed to be on the way to confirmation even as conservative antipathy grew, when Charles Krauthammer came up with a "breathtakingly cynical" mechanism to have her exit. The Senate should demand to see privileged documents from her White House tenure. The Senate could refuse to begin confirmation hearings until they received them; the White House could refuse to produce the documents based on its privilege and Meiers could withdraw claiming she did not want to cause a violation of either the White House or Senate's privileges. Meiers, putting her client's (the president) interests first as any good lawyer would, withdrew claiming precisely what Krauthammer had suggested, that she could not afford to let Senators ask her about her work at the White House which might have viollated executive privilege. The seat went to Alito, who, ironically, had been Meiers first choice to replace O'Connor. (O'Connor herself considered the Alito choice as a direct affront.)
This is a fascinating study in the conflict between academic freedom and the authority of the church to determine what is to be orthodox and how to ma...moreThis is a fascinating study in the conflict between academic freedom and the authority of the church to determine what is to be orthodox and how to maintain that orthodoxy. I find it particularly relevant as we now see individual Catholic bishops trying to deny communion to Catholic candidates who are pro-choice.
The author takes the reader through a fascinating tour of trends in moral theology. including consequentialism *the consequences of an action form the basis for judgment as to its morality,) proportionalism (moral principles should never be violated unless the good resulting outweighs the bad of breaking the rule,) the relative merit of a principle may be determined by the number of adherents, i.e. the probability that a moral position is "safe",) among others, leading to a discussion of relativism. (Geez, I hope I got that right.)
During the 1960's, casuistry, the case-by-case examination of an ethical issue, was making a comeback and Curran was an adherent of this method. Even though casuistry had been adopted by 17th century Jesuits, it had fallen out of favor in the church which had moved toward the development of absolutes (see Humanae Vitae). It was a "concrete methods for concrete problems." Curran's contribution to moral theology was a "theology of compromise, i.e. choosing the lesser of evils. *
Curran's philosophy leaned to Protestant moral theology, so much so, that he became the first Catholic president of the predominantly protestant Society of Christian Ethics. I doubt if that endeared him to his masters at Catholic University.
The Vatican, especially under Ratzinger's reign at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was interested in making sure that ecclesiastical courses were taught by ecclesiastically approved teachers. It's ironic that universities, a product of Christian humanism and its attempt to reconcile Greek and Roman philosophy with the teachings of the Church, have much to thank the church for with regard to academic freedom. In the 12th century, teachers would look to the Church for protection against the interference from merchants and bankers and the rest of the rising capitalist class who wanted to interfere with the academic program. On the other hand, the 12th century provided the roots for subjectivism and personalism in morality thanks to Peter Abelard (whether his little dalliance with Heloise influenced his thinking or not remains speculative.) In any case moral absolutes developed by the Church (which themselves had their roots in Cicero and Greek thought) came under pressure. Abelard insisted that intention was the key to determining the sinfulness of an action, not the action alone. (Of course, this guy gave us the idiotic concept of Limbo, too.) In any case, Ratzinger, later to be known as Benedict XVI, was a firm believer in moral absolutes and the antithesis of the new moral theology and personalism represented by Curran. Raztinger believed that moral decline stemmed from economic liberalism and could only be countered by a return to authority. This appealed to Catholics outside the West who still conflated authority with the supernatural.
Admittedly, this might seem like a strange reading selection. Given the recent flap at Notre-Dame over whether they should give Obama an honorary degree, or even invite him to speak, I think the relevancy of the desire for authoritarian control and orthodoxy, particularly with a pope who some might consider an extension of Pius's anti-modernist philosophy, I think it's more than relevant. One could argue that the authority would extend only to the ecclesiastical, perhaps, but in the case of Curran, the Vatican, which had to approve all tenure applications, also wanted to prohibit Curran from teaching Catholic theology in non-ecclesiastical classes.
I find the demand for orthodoxy and authoritarian control inimical to a healthy democratic society. This book provides appropriate historical background and context for those discussions.
This is a nifty little thriller about the child of an English school's maintenance man who decides to destroy the school. It has humor, class conflict...moreThis is a nifty little thriller about the child of an English school's maintenance man who decides to destroy the school. It has humor, class conflict, English snobbery and all sorts of good stuff. I listened to the audio version from Audible.com and the reader was excellent. Highly recommended.(less)
I listened to the audio version of this book masterfully read by Bill Wallis. It's one of the finest (and funniest) political and social satires I hav...moreI listened to the audio version of this book masterfully read by Bill Wallis. It's one of the finest (and funniest) political and social satires I have read (listened to) in a long time. You will laugh out loud as Edwards makes fun of political correctness, conferences, movements, religion, politics, just about everything. I'm sorry the offended other reviewer failed to see the humor and took everything so seriously. This is a marvelous book. (less)
Sean Flynn writes for Esquire and this is based partially on an article he wrote about the terrible fires suffered by Worcester, Massachusetts. The to...moreSean Flynn writes for Esquire and this is based partially on an article he wrote about the terrible fires suffered by Worcester, Massachusetts. The town has lost much of its industrial base and there were many abandoned buildings that were worth more from insurance claims than as empty buildings. It was not uncommon for engine companies to be called out to fires three to five times per night. Sometimes, the fire might be a prelude to the big one, a small fire just enough to set off the sprinkler system, which then would be inactivated until the mechanisms could be replaced. The arsonist would then return to set a fire that would be unchecked by sprinklers, and the firemen would return to the same building several hours later to find a massive fire engulfing the building.
On December 3, 1999, an inferno erupted in the Worcester Cold Storage, ignited by the candles of two vagrants. It was a windowless warehouse just waiting to explode. The building was a labyrinth of segregated rooms, making it hard for the men to communicate and difficult to ventilate, making backdrafts (superheated air at the ceiling ignites smoke particles and gases causing sudden intense heat of thousands of degrees) more likely. Built before refrigeration, when massive amounts of insulating material were required to keep ice cold, the walls were filled with cork, and later polystyrene (made from petroleum) was added. Inside was a jumble of hallways, each having a door that was intended to close tightly after one passed through, in order to keep the cold in. The layers of cork and polystyrene insulation burned vigorously, giving off toxic fumes and intense heat.
The structure became a fireman's nightmare. The vagrants, who set the fire accidentally, left the building and didn’t report it, so by the time firemen arrived several hours later, the building was well engulfed on the inside. Reports that some homeless people lived in the building made the job of surveying the inside much more urgent. Rescue units got lost in the darkness and became trapped. Each fireman, breathing at a normal rate, had only thirty minutes of air in the cylinder on his back; only fifteen minutes if under stress or working hard.
As a civilian listening to the book, I could not help but wonder why they were limited to such a short time. Apparently, it's deliberate because they don't want firemen to be exposed to the in tense heat for more than 20-30 minutes without going outside for relief. The special bunker clothes they wear keep them from burning, but they trap heat, and when firemen sweat, it sometimes becomes so hot inside their clothes that the sweat turns to steam! The environment of that fire was so hot that water from a 2.5 inch hose would flash to steam when it hit. Their radios would have been more helpful had they been channeled. The firemen were constantly speaking over the top of one another, and the microphones had a dangerous tendency to short out when they inevitably got wet.
Six firemen were killed. Two men searching the building got lost and couldn't find their way out. Indeed, firemen say that's the problem with Hollywood fire movies. They always show a brightly burning area well-lit with orange flames. In reality, the screen should be totally black, because the smoke can be so intense they can't see anything and spend most of the time crawling on the floor (where it's much cooler anyway). Four more men died trying to find the first two. They also became lost and could not be found.
Finally, after a personal attempt to get up the stairs, the chief ordered all the men out of the building, despite their futile attempts to rush back in to find the trapped men. They had to resort to an exterior, defensive attack, just throwing more "wet stuff on the red stuff," something my civilian mind thinks they should have done right from the beginning. The building was abandoned anyway. The article this book was based on appeared in Esquire entitled “The Perfect Fire.” It’s definitely a worthy complement to The Perfect Storm, another tragic but wonderfully evocative book. (less)
This is a wonderful book to listen to while traveling with a group of people. It will keep you interested and laughing heartily all the way to your de...moreThis is a wonderful book to listen to while traveling with a group of people. It will keep you interested and laughing heartily all the way to your destination.
Bryson decided one day that it would be a neat thing to hike the Appalachian Trail – all 2,160 miles of it (although the actual length varies depending on the page you might be on in the official guides or what year it is, because the trail is constantly being changed and moved).
Deciding to do a little research, he soon discovered that there are certain dangers to walking the trail, including bears, assorted diseases, and “loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex.”
Henry Thoreau, that great 18-month adventurer into the wilds a short walk from his town, helped create a great nostalgia for the woods, even though, as Bryson notes, he could “stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”
Bryson decided to take Stephen Katz along for the trip. Katz is a character who shows up in several of Bryson’s other books. He’s fat and lazy --he throws away their water supply to make his pack lighter-- and soon Bryson discovers that this may not be the little walk in the woods he had expected. After several weeks on the trail, in rather miserable weather, they arrive in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There, he finds a map of the entire trail, about six inches wide and four feet long, and discovers to his horror that he and Katz have only traveled two inches on the map. “My hair had grown more than that,” he reports.
Even though it’s a very funny book, Bryson makes several serious observations, discussing the mismanagement of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that builds more roads than any construction company; it supervises and has built more than 378,000 miles of roads, more than eight times the total mileage of the interstate highway system. Most of these are to service the needs of logging companies that need to get in to chop down more trees. Bryson also discusses the American ambivalence toward nature. We revere it, but are afraid of it as well. The woods are beautiful, but they “choke off views and leave you muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs.”
A lot of wilderness still exists in the United States, as he discovers on a section of totally uninhabited wilderness the trail traverses in Maine (he decided to do short sections of the trail after his epiphany in Gatlinburg).
This week-long march leaves the hikers completely on their own and is nowhere near any kind of help should one get into trouble (the AT kills several people yearly). There’s still a lot of nature out there; only 2 percent of the United States is classified as built up and 15,600,000 square miles are completely wooded, without a single resident, and remain impressive despite our mismanagement of the ecology and massive logging.
Bryson ended up walking a total of 870 miles of the trail – not an inconsequential feat. Of the two thousand or so who make the attempt every year, only about two hundred finish. (less)
If you have not yet tried Bryson, you probably should seek psychiatric help. He's funny and informative; travel-writing (if you can call it that) at i...moreIf you have not yet tried Bryson, you probably should seek psychiatric help. He's funny and informative; travel-writing (if you can call it that) at its best. His Walk in the Woods is a classic, and while this book about his visit to Australia is not as uproariously funny - the country is, after all, home to the ten most poisonous animals in the world - his descriptions of Australian institutions will delight you. His description of cricket, a game that has nothing wrong with it that "the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry," is a good example. "It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect." It is a very popular sport (?) that's "enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which the spectators burn as many calories as players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning." The pitcher runs at the batter (decked out with a riding hat and "heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioisotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg,") and throws the ball at his ankles. This can go on indefinitely until he is "coaxed into a mis-stroke that leads to his being put out [at which time] all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called. . . ." This usually goes on until your library books are all overdue and autumn has become winter. Of course, listening to cricket on the radio is truly something else: "That's right, Clive. I haven't known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of a number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up in Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction." There are long silences during which the announcers have time to run some errands. "So we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain."
Australia remade itself as a country following the Second World War. It realized that with such a small population, it could not afford to rely forever on Britain for its defense and it began to encourage immigration, "that if it didn't use all that empty land and fill those empty spaces someone from the outside might do it for them." They threw open their doors and the population more than doubled in the years following 1945. They welcomed people from all over Europe and "suddenly Australia was full of people who liked wine and good coffee and olives and eggplants, and realized that spaghetti didn't have to be a vivid orange and come from cans." By 1970, they also realized they had become an Asian nation and were no longer predominantly European and they simply eliminated the color bar they previously had used to ban "undesirables." "In a single generation, Australia remade itself. It went from being a half-forgotten outpost of Britain, provincial, dull, and culturally dependent, to being a nation infinitely more sophisticated, confident, interesting and outward-looking. And it did all this, by and large, without discord or disturbance, or serious mistakes - indeed often with a kind of grace."
Of course, if you are an Aborigine, the outlook is somewhat different and Bryson, to his credit, does not overlook the truly horrible discrimination and crimes committed against this venerable and ancient people - their history is truly astonishing. Whites in Australia had a tendency to treat them the way whites in this country treated the buffalo.
The vastness of Australia cannot be underestimated, and it's a naturalist's paradise with new species being discovered - and probably made extinct - almost daily. The mineral wealth is enormous and barely tapped, not to mention a biodiversity that includes living fossils. There is a species of living rock that dates back to the early eons of the earth and is worth a visit halfway around the world just to see it - if you can avoid the most venomous animals in the world, the sharks, the crocodiles and all the other poisonous stuff. A marvelous book. (less)
Before returning to his native United States after a sojourn of some twenty years in England, Bryson decided to take a trip around that "small island....moreBefore returning to his native United States after a sojourn of some twenty years in England, Bryson decided to take a trip around that "small island." The hysterical comments in this book are the result. The British loved it so much it was a best-seller for months, and they turned it into a TV series. The book even includes a glossary of English terms. For example, do you know the difference between a village and a hamlet? One is a small town where people live, the other a play by Shakespeare!
Bryson is certainly not your average travel writer - as anyone who has read my reviews of his other books knows - and despite his often scathing wit, it's never done with malice, even when very critical of a subject. What astounds me is Bryson's vigor and willingness to put up with all sorts of cold and wet weather. He made his trek during the off-season, i.e., late October, not an especially delightful time of year in Britain. He did not take a car, relying solely on buses and British Rail, a decision that often forced him to make long, out-of-the-way walks of as far as twenty miles, either because schedules didn't coincide, or the irregular bus did not run during the off-season.
He delightfully intermingles political commentary with travelogue. He visits Blackpool, for example, where there are long beaches - that officially don't exist. "I am not making this up. In the late 1980s, when the European Community issued a directive about the standards of ocean-borne sewage, it turned out that nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near even the minimum compliance levels. Most of the bigger resorts like Blackpool went right off the edge of the turdometer, or whatever they measure these things with. This presented an obvious problem to Mrs. Thatcher's government, which was loath to spend money on British beaches when there were perfectly good beaches in Mustique and Barbados, so it drew up an official decree -- this is so bizarre I can hardly stand it, but I swear it is true -- that Brighton, Blackpool, Scarborough, and many other leading resorts did not have, strictly speaking, beaches. Christ knows what it then termed these expanses of sand -- intermediate sewage buffers, I suppose -- but in any case it disposed of the problem without either solving it or costing the treasury a penny, which is of course the main thing, or in the case of the present government, the only thing."
Then there's British Rail. On his way to Manchester, "we crept a mile or so out of the station, then sat for a long time for no evident reason. Eventually, a voice announced that because of faults further up the line this train would terminate in Stockport, which elicited a general groan. Finally, after about twenty minutes, the train falteringly started forward and limped across the green countryside. At each station the voice apologized for the delay and announced anew that the train would terminate in Stockport. When at last we reached Stockport, ninety minutes late, I expected everyone to get off, but no one moved, so neither did I. Only one passenger, a Japanese fellow, dutifully disembarked, then watched in dismay as the train proceeded on, without explanation and without him, to Manchester."
Rebel is the first in the Nathaniel Starbuck series. Cornwell is best known for the Richard Sharpe series, but he has also written novels about Stoneh...moreRebel is the first in the Nathaniel Starbuck series. Cornwell is best known for the Richard Sharpe series, but he has also written novels about Stonehenge and the Arthurian legend (all on my must-read list). The Starbuck series follows Nate Starbuck, son of Elial Joseph Starbuck, a radical abolitionist preacher, to the South, where he enlists in the Faulconer Legion, more from antagonism toward his father than from any allegiance to states’ rights or slavery.
Nate, while at Yale Seminary, had become enamored of a lithe (lithe, always lithe) young actress, who cons him into helping her rob the owner of the theater where she is performing. They flee together to Virginia just as Fort Sumter falls. She is met at the station by her lover and dumps Nate who, recognized as a Yankee, is about to be tarred and feathered by a mob, when he is summarily rescued by Washington Faulconer, an incredibly wealthy Virginia scion. Faulconer’s money was all made in the stock market and railroads, so his manumission of household slaves hardly represented much commitment to any particular position on the slavery issue. He takes Nate on first as his secretary, then as a lieutenant in his new legion. Elial is incensed at his son’s betrayal of abolitionist values.
Elial is the classic zealot who insists one can recognize a Southerner on sight because of their ape-like features stemming from poor breeding, hence their addiction to slavery. Elial glories in the destruction and blood of the battlefield and hands out biblical tracts to dying men, ignoring their pleas for water. Thaddeus Bird, Faulconer’s brother-in-law, is one of the funniest characters, and he nails Faulconer’s braggadocio and arrogance. He recognizes Nate's valuable qualities. "He can think, Adam, and that's a distressingly rare talent among young men. Most of you believe that it is sufficient to merely agree with the prevailing sentiment, which is of course what dogs and churchgoers do. Starbuck has a mind. . . . and he's endowed with a talent for cruelty."
Another favorite quote of mine attributed to his famous general grandfather is: "War is much like making love to a woman, an activity full of delights, but none of them predictable, and the best of them capable of inflicting grievous injury on a man.” Vignettes of famous people abound. The image of Nathaniel Banks, the Union general at Second Manassas, filled with self-importance, who wanted nothing better than to run for president, preening himself in front of his sycophants until he realizes things are not going so well against Stonewall is a minor classic. Belvidere Delaney, the Southern attorney who presciently realizes the North will win the war and who volunteers to spy for the north is another wonderfully drawn character. Another great character is the foul-mouthed swear-you-under-the-table Nathan Evans, a Confederate colonel. For example: "Faulconer doesn't have men, boy, he has white-livered fairies, Milksops, Mudsills, Black-assed, shadbellied, shit-faced, pussy-hearted trash. . . [and:] Boston, a shit hole. A piss hole. A city of puking crap, Christ, but I hate Boston. A city of Black-assed Republican trash. A city of interfering, hymn-singing, lickbelly women who are no damned good for anything." Let's see Tony Soprano top that!
Cornwell must have done considerable research. One scene has all the qualities of verisimilitude and too delightful not to quote. A surgeon has just amputated a Northern soldier’s leg and the patient won’t come up from under the chloroform haze despite the ammonia spirits the assistant is waving under his nose. “ ‘Give me the chloroform,’ the doctor ordered, then took a scalpel to the patient’s torn trousers and cut back the tattered, bloody cloth to reveal the man’s genitals. ‘Behold a miracle,’ the doctor announced and poured a trickle of chloroform onto the unconscious man’s testicles. The man seemed to go into instant spasm and tried to sit up. ‘Frozen balls,’ the doctor said happily, ‘known in the profession as the Lazarus effect.’ ” The book culminates with the Battle of Manassas, during which Starbuck discovers his true vocation, that of a soldier. The battle scenes, while horribly realistic, are less interesting than the characters surrounding Nate. Nate, having met the “elephant” realizes that even though terrified, it appeals to him. He learned that “war was a gigantic game of chance, a huge gamble, a denial of all predestination and prudence.” The adventures continue in the second volume, entitled Copperhead. (less)
Addendum 9/9/09. As I follow the discussion over Afghanistan, I was reminded of a report cited by McNamara that was begun at the behest of CIA directo...moreAddendum 9/9/09. As I follow the discussion over Afghanistan, I was reminded of a report cited by McNamara that was begun at the behest of CIA director Richard Helms. Super-secret it was done to examine contingencies to see what might happen if there were an unfavorable outcome in Vietnam. Over 30 CIA analysts were consulted. It was not to be an argument for ending the war, just responses to a hypothetical question. The memo was entitled "Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam." (The entire report makes fascinating reading and has been declassified. It’s available at: http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/star/image...
Basically, it made four observations:
A. Failure in Vietnam would be a major setback to reputation that would reduce influence as a world power B. Net effects of failure would not be permanent and that over a short time the U.S. could regain its stature C. “The worst potential damage would be of the self-inflicted kind – lead to loss of confidence in internal dissension which would limit our future ability to use our resources and power wisely and to full effect and lead to a loss of confidence by others in the American capacity for leadership.” D. Destabilizing effects in immediate area of SE Asia, some realignments in neighboring countries
“The frustration of a world power, once it has committed vast resources and much prestige to a military enterprise must be in some degree damaging to the general security system it upholds. . . .If the analysis here advances the discussion at all, it is in the direction of suggesting that such risks are probably more limited and controllable than most previous argument has indicated.”
McNamara claims he never saw the memo until he wrote the book. Johnson may not have shown it to anyone.
A book worth mentioning is Harold Ford's CIA and Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968 by Harold Ford, available from Google Books:
7/6/09 McNamara died today, thought I might review my earlier review.
Clearly, the policy wonks made many errors in their decision to pursue the war in Vietnam. Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest catalogs many of those arrogant positions and their failures to listen to southeast Asia experts. But there was also a visceral fear of Communism (not to mention a fear of right-wing McCarthyites who had ruined many a reputation for failure to be anti-Communist enough. That's why only Nixon could go to China. The military was sure that just a few more soldiers would win the war, just a few more bombing missions, etc. etc.
The book reveals a level of amateurism that is scary and that from the "best and the brightest," a phrase that when I hear it now gives me the willies. They failed to learn as much as they could about Vietnam
McNamara, by 1966, had already decided that the war could not be won. Johnson knew that McNamara and RFK were friends and spoke frequently and by this time RFK was running for president and had come out against continued involvement in Vietnam. Already, McNamara and Dean Rusk both by this time were showing the strain physically. Diplomatic efforts continued to fail and in 1967, Buddhist uprising intensified and the fragility of the South Vietnamese government became obvious. The military situation while not great, was overshadowed by political problems. Johnson had even hinted in April of 1966 that he might be willing to withdraw troops from Vietnam and "make a stand in Thailand." (I'm not sure what the Thais would have thought of that, but no matter, other people's considerations don't seem to be taken into account when the U.S. is on the march.) "Looking back I deeply regret that I did not force a probing debate about whether it would ever be possible to forge a winning military effort on a foundation of political quicksand.. . . I believe it is clear today that military force especially, when wielded by an outside power, just cannot win in a country that cannot govern itself."
His colleagues saw things differently, and inaccurately says McNamara. Dean Rusk was already sure in 1966 that the situation was such that the North Vietnamese could not succeed. Ambassador Lodge was convinced the military war was going well (this was before Tet) and that the war would be lost only if the political will failed in the United States. McNamara reports that he laid out the reasons why the US could not succeed in the fall of 1966 after a trip to Vietnam. (McNamara was pilloried when the book came out by critics who faulted him for not going public with his dissent, or at least making a stronger effort to persuade the president of the lost cause. I think that's being a little harsh given the overwhelming support for the war from Johnson's other advisers.
I would hope that current administration officials would read this book, obviously the Bush folks did not, or maybe they didn't care. I would hope that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Just take a stroll along the Vietnam Memorial to realize the import of those decisions. An important book, if a cynic-maker.
"What color is God?" asks the young James of his mother, confused by all the white images of Jesus that surround him and his black father and mother....more"What color is God?" asks the young James of his mother, confused by all the white images of Jesus that surround him and his black father and mother. "God's not black. He's not white. . . . God is the color of water," is the wonderful response of Rachel, an astonishingly gifted and driven woman who despite numerous adversities managed to raise, often on her own, twelve amazing children. They all grew up to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, a chemistry teacher, social worker or other kind of professional. That she was a white Jew –at least initially, she later converted to Protestantism and started her own Baptists church with her second husband –living in a black ghetto with little income and virtually no support from her family makes it even more remarkable.
Two voices complement each other in this moving narrative: Rachel, James' mother, writes about growing up and the Jewish family that ultimately rejected her, and James, her musician and composer son, who describes his own journey from the ghetto to middle class society. Rachel, who almost became a prostitute at one point to support herself, had the good sense to marry two very dedicated black men. Unfortunately, both died young, leaving Rachel to care for an enormous household of children.
Their two accounts are suffused with the issues of race, identity and religion. All of these issue are transcended by the force of Rachel's will and her unshakeable insistence that education and religion were paramount. James was puzzled by his mother's whiteness. She was the only white in the neighborhood who was disdained by other blacks who saw her as an interloper, and whites who disliked her for being a white person surviving in a black world. The question of race was always in the background during this time of racial struggle, the civil rights movement, and Black Power. One of the older brothers became an activist; James drifted into truancy and drugs. Finally, after moving to Delaware, he discovered music in the hands of a talented white teacher at an otherwise all black school. Rachel shrewdly used the busing system to have her children attend schools in neighborhoods where learning was a priority. She took them to every free cultural event she could find � it certainly helped living in New York. To top things off, Rachel went back to school herself and earned a bachelor's degree in social work. She ignores her children's pleas to stay out of the ghetto and enjoys walking around the Red Hook Housing Project that was her family's old stomping grounds. This book is a testimony to a mother's love and to education's value in overcoming adversity. (less)
James Carroll is a former priest, son of an air force general, and brother both to a draft resister and an FBI agent whose assignment was to track dow...moreJames Carroll is a former priest, son of an air force general, and brother both to a draft resister and an FBI agent whose assignment was to track down draft resisters. James left the priesthood, saddened and sickened by the war in Vietnam and perhaps subconsciously by his father's role in it. This book is, in part, his reconciliation with God and his father - maybe because, in some measure, they were one and the same.
His father was certainly James' idol. He put himself through law school while working in the Chicago stockyards, became an FBI agent because there were no law firm jobs early in the war, and brought himself to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover by suggesting a novel way of involving the FBI in a manhunt for an escaped prisoner who had never committed a federal crime - charging him with failure to notify his draft board of a change of address. That led to Hoover's recommendation that he head a new Office of Special Investigations of the Air Force . This office had tremendous power - it was not subject to the regular chain of command, which made the brass nervous - but they discovered his usefulness when he used his FBI skills and connections to discover that a letter libeling some of the Air Force generals was a Navy hoax. The Navy was trying to smear the Air Force so the new service would not be given control over nuclear weapons.
The fifties were a time of great fear. Even Pope Pius XII, insisting on neutrality during WW II, delivered several pronouncements justifying war with the Communists (Fascists were OK because they believed in God; Communists were not, because they didn't). In a fabulous casuistry he even promoted the view that killing millions during a nuclear exchange was acceptable under the doctrine of "unintended but predictable consequences," i.e., the deaths would be not objectionable because they were unintended. Thus the Cold War and MAD (Mutually Assured destruction) were legitimized.
Carroll's father once said that if he ever had to leave, the young James was to get everyone into the car and drive as far away from Washington as possible. He told his son world War III was inevitable. Man had never created a weapon he did not eventually use. As head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was the one who recognized the significance of the missiles in Cuba. The . generals' wives took turns parking at the end of the runway where the choppers were parked. As long as those helicopters remained there, they knew the brass had not been evacuated to Thunder Mountain, and they could remain at home. The fatalism of his parents was one reason he decided to become a priest: to emphasize the spiritual, which was all that now mattered.
The split between James and his father became more pronounced over Martin Luther King, Jr. Carroll has since learned from David Garrow's book, The FBI and Martin Luther King: From Selma to Memphis that the FBI under a racist Hoover had evidence that Stanley Levinson, a King confidant, had ties to Moscow and honestly believed he might be a Soviet agent. Joseph could not reveal any of that to his son - not that it might have made any difference by that point. The tenor of the anti-King campaign changed after King won the Nobel Prize and Hoover determined to bring him down. Illegal wiretaps revealed King's enthusiasm for extramarital affairs, and soon he became "that degenerate." Joseph told his son his support (and that of the Vatican by now) of King was simply naive and ill-informed. No child can accept that kind of explanation.
In a very interesting section, Carroll traces United States involvement in Vietnam to the machination of Cardinal Spellman, who was impressed by the mystic Diem, then an exile in the U.S. Diem was placed in charge of the government in an attempt to Catholicize the country. The writings of Tom Dooley, later revealed to be a CIA shill, were a further attempt to portray Vietnam as a predominantly Catholic country - it was 90% Buddhist. Even McNamara referred to Vietnam in speeches as a Catholic nation. Diem was vicious in his discrimination against the Buddhists. "Diem was a Vietminh's dream, driving more and more of the populace into its arms. Americans expected him to be a democrat, but he was a true medieval Catholic of the kind that even the Vatican knew only in nostalgia. Diem believed that he ruled by the will of God." But General Carroll was a pariah in his profession as much as his son was at home. Here was an Air Force general who had never flown a plane, had not served in WW II, who had not had to rise through the ranks. So he had an extra motivation for not rocking the boat. It was this civilian background, and nonparticipation in the Pentagon internecine battles, that influenced Kennedy to appoint him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kennedy wanted an independent source of information after the Air Force brass had lied to him about the nature of the missile gap (there was one, but it was in our favor). James learned later that the DIA had questioned many of the data supplied by the Pentagon about how the war was going, but it was ignored.
General Carroll eventually broke with Defense Secretary Melvin Laird over a policy issue and retired from the Air Force. Unfortunately, father and son never reconciled. The general died in 1991, sick with Alzheimer's disease and "an almost entirely broken man." This is one of the best, most honest and revealing memoirs I have read.
Carroll's novel Memorial Bridge apparently deals with the same era and topics.
In Master and Commander, the first of the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, Jack gets his first command. It's the Sophie, a seventy-eight-foot...moreIn Master and Commander, the first of the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, Jack gets his first command. It's the Sophie, a seventy-eight-foot sloop with a crew of more than eighty. It's a wonder where they stuck them all. It's also the beginning of the friendship between Jack and Stephen Maturin, who becomes the ship's surgeon. They don't get off on the right foot, however, as Maturin castigates Jack for tapping his hand out of rhythm during a chamber concert. Rather than come to blows, they discover they have several things in common, a love of music being the foremost.
Jack's first responsibility is to convoy a group of his Majesty's merchant ships, so they put to sea after first trying out some cannon in the bow that threaten to drive the ship's carpenter into severe apoplexy when he sees how the shock from the guns threatens to pull apart the little ship's seams. The most startling revelation to the modern reader is the number of offenses for which a seaman, or officer, could be put to death. Every first Sunday, the Captain was required to read the Articles of War, which delineated all these heinous crimes such as threatening an officer, or failing to proceed against the enemy with adequate haste, or any one of a number of miscellaneous other offenses, each of which would result in the death penalty.
This volume should be read first, for O'Brian clearly explains the nomenclature and functions of each part of a working eighteenth-century sailing vessel. The entire ship is explained, from bowsprit to spanker, and a description of the crews living quarters is given. Patrick O'Brian wrote in the introduction to Nelson's Navy: "...One’s pleasure in a sailor's account of his voyage is so very much enhanced if one can follow the more technical passages. This is even more true where the navy of Nelson's day is concerned, for by the time of Trafalgar the sailing man-of-war ... had reached its apogee, an immensely complex machine requiring extraordinary skill to handle and, of course, a copious vocabulary to speak of its parts and function." O'Brian knows his vocabulary.
Living quarters were cramped. Each sailor had only a hammock, which he stung in the fourteen inches of space assigned to him. When Maturin exclaims how surely that space is not enough for a man to sleep in, he is reminded that actually the amount of room is double that for about half the crew is on watch at any given time, providing double the space.
Stephen soon discovers much to his consternation, that Sophie's first lieutenant, is one James Dillon. He and Dillon are members of the United Irishmen, an organization of Protestants and Catholics trying to unite Ireland and responsible for a recently thwarted rebellion. One never knows how its former members might react to being in close quarters with others, especially as internal strife and numerous betrayals of former friends and comrades had rived the society. Jack's intolerance is revealed as he admits to Maturin his hatred of the dreaded Papists Unfortunately, he creates a potentially difficult situation by making derogatory comments about Catholics to the crew before discovering Dillon and many of the men are Catholic, and he did so mean to get off to a good start with at least his first lieutenant!
A recurrent theme of the Aubrey/Maturin series is the meaning of friendship, and that theme is certainly developed in Master and Commander. Maturin and Dillon have a chance to explain their feelings about the Irish republican movement after they are removed to a prize ship that must be sailed into port, Dillon to command and Maturin to help deliver a baby born to the French captain's wife. Maturin explains, and perhaps we can also assume this is O'Brian speaking, that the bloody results of the French Revolution have soured him to groups of any kind. "'I would not cross this room to reform parliament or prevent the union or to bring about the millennium... - but man as part of a movement or a crowd is ... inhuman... the only feelings I have are for men as individuals; my loyalties, such as they may be, are to private persons alone.... Patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile."'
O'Brian's characters are human, with all that implies. They make mistakes, act stupidly on occasion, suffer from greed and ill temper. So many modern action stories have superhuman heroes who suffer only from occasional bouts of pseudo-remorse for their actions, explained in nauseating psychobabble,never suffering from anything remotely resembling a crisis of conscience. Sign of our times perhaps. O'Brian also his a good deal of fun at the expense of the eighteenth-century stuffed-shirt upper class. Consider the following scene at a rather hoity-toity, mixed company dinner party: "Mr. Ellis was clearly very much at home in Captain Harte's house, for without having to ask the way he walked to the sideboard, opened the lead-lined door and took out the chamber-pot, and looking over his shoulder he went on without a pause to state that fortunately the lower classes naturally looked up to gentlemen and loved them, in their humble way' only gentlemen were fit to be officers. God had ordered it so, he said, buttoning the flap of his breeches ' and he as he sat down again at the table he observed that he knew one house where the article was silver - solid silver."(less)
The sixth Aubry/Maturin — and they keep getting better and better, Brian finds the two friends prisoners of the Americans, the War of 1812 having begu...moreThe sixth Aubry/Maturin — and they keep getting better and better, Brian finds the two friends prisoners of the Americans, the War of 1812 having begun. And not auspiciously for the British. The Americans with a completely volunteer navy (no press gangs for them) have been more than competently trained by their British cousins and have become more than a match for the British, who have become used to sweeping the seas of all opposition. The British have been blockading Boston and, to their humiliation, have had three excellent frigates sunk or captured.
The French and an American intelligence officer, Johnson, who in the meantime has become the consort of the lovely Diana Villiers — Stephen’s heartthrob — who has been known to pass on intelligence herself, suspect Jack of intelligence gathering. Stephen, the professional spy and amateur ornithologist, is acutely aware of the damage his spying has done to the French and he narrowly evades their clutches. The pair and Diana escape with the assistance of a friendly American and sail out to the Shannon, Captain Broke. Broke is a cousin of Jack’s and a magnificent seaman. Soon the Chesapeake sails out of Boston to give chase and battle. Knowing they will be hung if caught, the trio have an avid interest in the outcome of the battle. Diana is armed with some small pistols to shoot rats and boarders if necessary. She has been moved from the master’s quarters to the forepeak, away from the action and below the waterline, as the officers cabins are broken down to clear the decks for battle. Stephen visits her before the action to fortify her spirits (she suffers dreadfully from seasickness). “ ‘Oh,’ she said, and absently took three spoonfuls of the soup. ‘Lord above, what is this?’ “ ‘Soup. Portable soup. Pray take a little more; it will rectify the humours.’ “ ‘I thought it was like-warm glue. But it goes down quite well if you don’t breathe.’ She ate on until a cockroach fell into the can from a beam above, when Stephen took the can and put it down among the other cockroaches on the deck.”
The scene becomes vivid as they shoot the bolder rats. How could one not enjoy this kind of writing? But you will have to read Fortune of War to learn the outcome of the battle.