Times of Change in the Marshall Islands

The room was small, well-lit, and government blue-gray except for the floor, which was

Looking at a Modernist federal office building from the northeast. James V. Forrestal Building in 2006. (Wikipedia)

Looking at a Modernist federal office building from the northeast. James V. Forrestal Building in 2006. (Wikipedia)

highly polished government-white, gold flecked linoleum tile. A compact blue-grey table, six chairs and an incongruous soda machine humming away in the corner were the only furnishings.  There were no windows. My elation and excitement at having been summoned to the DOE, Department of Energy, Headquarters in the Forrestal Building in Washington D.C. was eroding to a sense of foreboding. I was the DOE contractor’s Pacific Operations manager and was thrilled to have been invited to brief the Pacific’s Marshall Islands Program. It was 1300 hours and a game was afoot.

To this point, everything had gone like clockwork. The afternoon flight from Honolulu, Hawaii landed spot on time in California and the middle-of-the-night nonstop commuter flight to

I walked around the Runit Dome (on Enewetak). It is completely unmarked. I would have heeded a warning sign, if it was there.' — Michael Gerrard

I walked around the Runit Dome (on Enewetak). It is completely unmarked. I would have heeded a warning sign, if it was there.’ — Michael Gerrard

Washington’s Dulles International was smooth enough to grab a few hours of sleep. A quick trip to the Dulles women’s room gave me cover to ditch the palazzo pants and cotton shirt and don the uniform; a blue power suit with a light pink silk blouse, panty hose, and matching heels. I was almost ready for my big day at Forrestal. Grabbing the bag with my newly purchased makeup, I colored my eyes, powdered my face, and painted my lips just like the sales lady at Ala Moana taught me. Throwing my tan London Fog overcoat nonchalantly over my arm and grabbing my bag and briefcase, I headed for the taxi line in full uniform. The taxi took a while but I used the time wisely writing notes to myself about things I did not want to forget. Amongst the notes on the radiological concerns at Runit Dome, the state of the program, and other worries, I wrote a reminder not to wipe the grease off of my lips with the sleeve of my suit jacket. I never wore make-up and the lipstick was driving me crazy- the first omen of the day ahead. Continue reading

Treaties and Personalities

The post on The Nuclear Hydra – Proliferation is one line of sight on the Cold War tb02Legacy of treaty mentality. There are many others equally compelling and each adds dimension to the Cold War culture that pervades the foreign policy issues of today.  Following are two excellent reads from some of my favorite reading and research sites for your curiosity’s pleasure. The picture to the right is the signing “…of the Limited Test Ban Treaty on 24 September 1963, President Kennedy signed the treaty into law on 5 October. From left, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director William C. Foster, Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield (D-Mt), Chairman, General Advisory Committee to ACDA John C. McCloy, Vice Chairman Joint Committee on Atomic Energy Senator John Pastore (D-RI), ACDA Deputy Director Adrian Fisher, Ambassador-at-Large W. Averell Harriman, Senator Fulbright, Senator George Smathers (D-Fl), Secretary of State Dean Rusk (head showing), Senator George Aiken (R-Vt), Senator Humphrey, Senator Everett Dirksen (D-lll), and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson….” [Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Division, Department of State Collection 59-0, box 23.]

National Security Archives (GWU)

The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963; William Burr and Hector L. Montford, editors

Restricted Data The Nuclear Secrecy Blog

Restricted Data is a blog about nuclear secrecy, past and present, run by Alex Wellerstein, an historian of science at the American Institute of Physics. Wellerstein’s latest post offered a fascinating insight into the personality and character of Leo Szilard, a central player in obtaining the authorization to proceed with the atomic bomb development and a strong opponent of its use.

Leo Szilard, war criminal?

Belfer Center For Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Gorbachev Calls for the Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons

 

We’d love to hear your view about the future of treaties in today’s world.

 

The Nuclear Hydra – Proliferation

The nuclear dawn’s light powered-up the ethics banks of the self-assembling supercomputers

Alumni of the Met Lab pose on the steps of Eckhart Hall on the campus of the University of Chicago on December 2, 1946 (the fourth anniversary of CP-1 first going critical).  Front row, left to right: Enrico Fermi, Walter Zinn, Albert Wattenberg, and Herbert Anderson.  Middle row, left to right: Harold Agnew, William Sturm, Harold Lichtenberger, Leona W. Marshall, and Leo Szilard.  Back row, left to right: Norman Hilberry, Samuel Allison, Thomas Brill, Robert Nobles, Warren Nyer, and Marvin Wilkening. The photograph is courtesy the Argonne National Laboratory.

Alumni of the Met Lab pose on the steps of Eckhart Hall on the campus of the University of Chicago on December 2, 1946 (the fourth anniversary of CP-1 first going critical). Front row, left to right: Enrico Fermi, Walter Zinn, Albert Wattenberg, and Herbert Anderson. Middle row, left to right: Harold Agnew, William Sturm, Harold Lichtenberger, Leona W. Marshall, and Leo Szilard. Back row, left to right: Norman Hilberry, Samuel Allison, Thomas Brill, Robert Nobles, Warren Nyer, and Marvin Wilkening. The photograph is courtesy the Argonne National Laboratory.

within the Manhattan Project scientists’ brains.  The scientists that rode the Manhattan Project from the laying of the first brick in 1941 to Trinity’s detonation in 1945 were arguably the single largest aggregation of brilliance the world has ever seen.  These were the foundering brothers who built the atomic bomb.  They also realized the raw power they had unleashed would never be controlled by them.  Many members of the founding brothers awakened during the final stages of the bomb’s development.  The amoral need to find the answer just because it needed finding morphed into the question of ‘what have we done?’.  The awakening began a quest to neutralize the power of their scientific discoveries and the quest was at odds with the political and military objectives of the day.  They were heroes, physics and chemistry’s answer to Hercules, fighting for the survival of the human race bound in the chains of secrecy.  Although this group of scientists embodied the idea the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering, they would find the promised reward of fame and immortality a dubious honor.

The first controlled nuclear fission reaction of Enrico Fermi’s pile on December 2, 1942 marked a major milestone in the laboratory underneath the bleachers of the abandoned Stagg Stadium in Chicago. Scientists from the left and right American coasts were assembled in the middle to kick-off the Manhattan Project under the guise of a new “Metallurgical Laboratory”[1] at the University of Chicago.  Most of the scientists and technicians just referred to it as the Met Lab with a wink

Stagg Field (named for coach Amos Alonzo Stagg)

Stagg Field (named for coach Amos Alonzo Stagg)

and a nod as they tore into meeting its three simple objectives with a religious fervor; 1) develop chain-reacting “piles” for plutonium production, 2) devise a method for extracting plutonium from irradiated uranium, and 3) to design a weapon.  They did that.  Not a bad achievement considering that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s approval for the Atom Bomb’s development had been given a little over a year earlier on October 9, 1941.[2]

The Met Lab successes spurred the design and construction phases into overdrive.  Ordinary citizens, whole communities, farmers and ranchers by the dozens were removed from several tens of thousands of acres of land across the country by a government hungry for nuclearX10Complex1 facilities supported by a congress vying for the economic windfalls such sites would produce, and a population terrified and driven by a terrible war.  Nuclear sites sprouted; Oak Ridge in Tennessee, Hanford in Washington, and Los Alamos in New Mexico became working sites. The Met Lab, the mother lab, diversified and became the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

The successful detonation of the Los Alamos’ Trinity test on July 16, 1945 changed the world forever.   Meanwhile back at the Met Lab, six star-studded committees had already been

The Trinity Test It was 5:30 am on the 16th July 1945

The Trinity Test It was 5:30 am on the 16th July 1945

formed and were plotting regularly on how to best influence future nuclear policy.  James Franck, who along with his partner, Gustav Ludwig Hertz, won the 1925 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in 1912–1914 supporting the Bohr model of the atom, headed the Committee on Social and Political Implications, one of the six committees.  Other Met Lab Social and Political Implications Committee members included:

  • Glenn T. Seaborg who together with Edwin Mattison won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for their discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements”.[3]
  • Donald Hughes who specialized in neutron physics.[4]
  • James J. Nickson who influenced the handling and management of radioactive waste at Met Lab.[5]
  • Eugene Rabinowitch a Russian born American biophysicist who went on to become a founder and editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.[6]
  • Joyce C. Stearns who was the Met Lab Director between November 1944 and July 1945.[7]
  • Leo Szilard, one of the physicists who along with Einstein petitioned FDR to begin the search for the Atom Bomb, was adamant that the A-Bomb should not be used.[8]    Continue reading

The Admiral Dismantles the DOE’s Nuclear Empire

Admiral James D. Watkins took the helm of power at the Department of Energy (DOE) on

Watkins is sworn in as Energy Secretary. From left to right: James Watkins, Sheila Watkins, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, President George H. W. Bush. (Wikipedia)

Watkins is sworn in as Energy Secretary. From left to right: James Watkins, Sheila Watkins, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, President George H. W. Bush. (Wikipedia)

March 1, 1989. Appointed by President H.W. Bush, Admiral Watkins replaced President Reagan’s appointee, John Harriman. It only took about three months for the 100,000 or so DOE government employees and the contractors to realize they were in a different world and it wasn’t going to be fun anymore.

A change in presidents means changes at the secretarial level in most major departments and almost always at the DOE. During the 1989 Admiral Watkins transition, all DOE and contractor management bureaucrats were as meerkats on a mound in Namibia, standing erect, necks extended and heads stretched for the least sound, smell or other clue as to direction. The adjective, hyper-vigilant, became an understatement.

Watching Washington, D.C. for a sign.

Watching Washington, D.C. for a sign.

The lesser workerkats kept on trucking because, in the seventeen installations, test sites and plants scattered over twelve states that was the DOE nuclear world, it always worked out. Workerkats believed that once the president and new members of congress figured out that President Carter’s renaming of the Energy Research and Development Administration to the Department of Energy did not really change anything, all would be well. Irrespective of the happenings back in Washington, D.C. schedules at the working level never changed; there was always going to be the next production run or the next test.  They could not have been more wrong.

By March 1, 1989, The DOE nuclear body politic was already dead, it was to be maintained on

Color photo of the exterior of the Chernobyl power plant shortly after the explosion, just outside the Russian town of Pripyat. How shortly is unknown.  (http://gallery.spaceman.ca/v/interests/chernobyl/)

Color photo of the exterior of the Chernobyl power plant shortly after the explosion, just outside the Russian town of Pripyat. How shortly is unknown. (http://gallery.spaceman.ca/v/interests/chernobyl/)

life support for dismantlement and shut-down prior to burial. In retrospect, the demise of the nuclear infrastructure seems clear but at the time it was anything but clear. Contractors knew that the DOE was pathologically afraid of failure and of accidents. The horror of Chernobyl’s 1986 accident was fresh in everyone’s mind. The EPA wanted behind the veil of secrecy. As it played out, the EPA interest was mostly to secure a seat at the power table rather than any real concern about the environment. The protestors were the same people who carried a variety of different signs but it was known that they were funded largely by the soviets and so were ignored. The Savannah River facility, which produced tritium and plutonium-239, for nuclear weapons production, experienced another failure in 1988 and three of its five reactors (K, L, and P) were shut down. K Reactor produced tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, used to increase effect of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile.  Since the K reactor went down in 1988 no new tritium has been produced. Tritium decays about 5 percent per year and must now be recovered and recycled from disassembled nuclear weapons. At the moment, the U.S. cannot maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile at the level called for in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II but President Obama signed a New START treaty in February 2011 calling for further stockpile reductions so tritium recycling can continue to support the nuclear stockpile for a while longer.

Rocky Flats Plant

Rocky Flats Plant

The Admiral took the helm in the middle of all this chaos at the direct request of President H.W. Bush.  His marching orders were to clean up the DOE mess. During his confirmation hearings, the Admiral took DOE to task for a 35-year culture of bad management and out-of-date technology. In May 1989, Watkins’s second in command, Henson Moore, led a team of 70 FBI and EPA officers on a raid of the Rocky Flats facility on allegations of environmental crimes. Gross criminal malfeasance could never be proven but when the Rocky Flats incident was over, EPA had a full-time seat at the table and DOE would never enjoy the freedom from scrutiny they had previously enjoyed.

The distinct line drawn between military and civilian nuclear capability roles during the Truman administration would also be blurred and, in some cases, be erased. DOE’s government workforce went into g-fib. Government fibrillation (g-fib) is just like ventricular fibrillation (v-fib) except instead of muscle cells all vibrating incoherently it is government employees who sit at their desks and vibrate incoherently. When the government goes into g-fib, contractors just have to wait until it is all over. Someone will either get the paddles and shock them back into harmony or the body politic will disintegrate.

Government workers in G-fib

Government workers in G-fib

Continue reading

Nuclear Candy-A Cold War Truth of Sorts

The Nevada Test Site is beautiful.  Others have officially re-named it The Nevada National

Test Structure

Test Structure

Security Site, but I shall never call it by that name because it wasn’t.  It was a test site or a proving ground not a politically correct plot of land.  Weighing in with over 1350 square miles in the high Nevada desert, the Test Site is geographically packed with dry lakes, hidden valleys, eroded shield volcanoes and mesas hidden from prying eyes by rugged mountains and bombing ranges.  For over 40 years between 1952 and 1995 the Test Site was the private playground of physicists, chemists, and other ‘ist’s who were into nukes.  The only requirements were brilliance, curiosity and the ability to pass a security clearance process.  The Test site possessed a natural dignity, a proud history, drama, and a tortured soul revealed in the familiar pockmarked landscape and skeletal remains of test platforms.  It was also the home of the new flavors of nuclear candy made ready for the military and political bureaucracies.  Grab your favorite beverage-mine is coffee-sit down and relax, I have a tale to spin about the Nevada Test Site, battling nuclear fathers, a president, and mankind’s baby step in a positive ethical direction.

T-Tunnel: Typical tunnel layout for the Minute Gun series of horizontal line of sight experiments. A Historical Evaluation of the U12t Tunnel, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada, Volume 1, DOE/NV/26383–109

T-Tunnel: Typical tunnel layout for the Minute Gun series of horizontal line of sight experiments. A Historical Evaluation of the U12t Tunnel, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada, Volume 1, DOE/NV/26383–109

It was a bright spring Saturday morning in the late 1980s in P-tunnel at Rainier Mesa in Area 12 and I had several hours of free time before the alcove I was as-building was to be grouted.   I threw my safety gear in the truck alongside my lunch and took off for the top of a mesa.  Pahute Mesa remained largely unexplored in my wanderings but I wasn’t sure what Livermore was doing over there and, anyway, I loved the old structures on top of Rainier Mesa so, Rainier it was.  I found an old shed decorated with dusty pinups from the 1950s and loaded with abandoned, musty smelling logs of an event long past.  This crumbling piece of history, probably a watchman’s shed over T-tunnel was from a time when the instrumentation cables ran from ground zero straight through the top of Rainier Mesa’s cap rock.  What could those broken cap rocks tell me?  I grabbed my sandwich and drink and headed for a comfortable looking tree to lean against.  I could see Sedan crater in the distance and hear the haunting cry of the many raptors riding the mesa’s thermal currents.  Perfect!

Continue reading

China: A Morphogenetic Creation

[Author’s Note: A special word of thanks is due John Malch and the Webmaster at the Full-Spectrum-Dominance docking site for forcing the questions that needed asking.]

For 2,000 and more years China lived under imperial rule.  China’s silk, tea and the sciences

The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1911. (Source: Shutterstock / Hung Chung Chih )

The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1911. (Source: Shutterstock / Hung Chung Chih )

brought home to Europe by Western explorers donated fuel to restart the engine of Western civilization after the dark ages.  Thanks to China’s development of the compass, gunpowder, paper making, and printing,[1] we in the West  have been able to find ‘the war’, wage it, record it and get the word out to everyone else about how well it all went.  Like any other large central government, Chinese imperial rule bred massive corruption, a military turned inward on the people, a nanny-state to keep the citizenry predictable and rebels easily identifiable, and the required surveillance to calm the state’s paranoia.  And then, in 1912, the 2,000 years of imperial rule was over; ousted by a few insiders that liked the ring of the word ‘republic’.

Morphogenesis

The three-year old Pu-Yi, Emperor of China (standing); his father, Prince Chun, and his younger brother.

The three-year old Pu-Yi, Emperor of China (standing); his father, Prince Chun, and his younger brother.

The embryo of the Chinese republic was an interesting hybrid.  As the cells of the new body politic came alive, “the embryological processes of differentiation of cells, tissues, and organs and the development of organ systems according to the genetic “blueprint” of the potential organism and environmental conditions”[2] began to unfold; the morphogenetic creation that is China today was underway.  China’s imperial rule ended bathed in corruption rather than blood.  The Qing/Manchu Dynasty’s Aisin-Gioro PuYi, China’s last emperor, abdicated the Dragon Throne by proxy; the Empress Dowager Longyu, the mother who adopted him, signed the paperwork.

The Set-Up

China was up to its imperial neck in debt when the toddler, PuYi, assumed the Dragon Throne in 1908.  Foreign entanglements, particularly with Britain, had “humbled the Qing in

Sun Yat-sen (seated, second from left) and his revolutionary friends, the Four Bandits, including Yeung Hok-ling (left), Chan Siu-bak (seated, second from right), Yau Lit (right), and Guan Jingliang (關景良) (standing) at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese.

Sun Yat-sen (seated, second from left) and his revolutionary friends, the Four Bandits, including Yeung Hok-ling (left), Chan Siu-bak (seated, second from right), Yau Lit (right), and Guan Jingliang (關景良) (standing) at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese.

battle, carved out rich territories and extracted huge payments”[3]. The imperial goods were pawned for state income because income from other sources had slowed to a trickle. Provinces separated from the empire, citizens revolted and demanded a republic.  The revolutionaries were rewarded on October 10, 1911 in Nanjing when Sun Yat-sen was installed as the first president of the Republic of China. In a last ditch effort to regain central control, General Yuan Shikai became the court appointed prime minister.  General Yuan Shikai wasn’t overly attached to the idea of a republic but he did want the Qing dynasty gone by whatever means necessary.

General Yuan Shikai (1859-1916)

General Yuan Shikai (1859-1916)

Shikai made an offer the imperial family could not refuse.  When faced with beheading, Empress Dowager Longyu, Prince Yikuang, and the Empress Dowager’s head eunuch, Xiao Dezheng each took over $1.6 billion in silver to the bank.  The rest of the royal court was given the leave-or-lose-your-head option only.  PuYi left the Forbidden City, and as he grew into manhood ruled a Japanese controlled corner of North East China briefly.  Later, Chairman Mao allowed PuYi to work in the Botanical Gardens until his death in 1967, from complications of kidney cancer and heart disease.  We know this history through Jia Yinghua’s, The Extraordinary Life of the Last Emperor.[4]  An historian and former government official, Yinghua, compiled the fascinating history of China’s pivot point between imperial rule and a republic from the secret archives at Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound, and from interviews with relatives of the imperial courtiers. Continue reading

Tonopah Test Range

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. — Eric Hoffer

One clear Nevada evening in the late 1980s, I wheeled my government vehicle out of the

Yucca Flats at night...back in the day.

Yucca Flats at night…back in the day.

Area 6 parking lot located on the ridge between Yucca Flats and Frenchman Flats on the Nevada Test Site. Thinking that this job had become less of a job and more of a lifestyle, my main concern was to slide into Mercury before the cafeteria closed and I was forced to make an evening meal of Cheetos and Coca-Cola out of the machines one more time. My egocentric meanderings abruptly ended as I noticed helicopters, a lot of them, lined up and hovering along the ridges. Something very cool was up so I eased my vehicle onto the first available off-the-road flat spot, stopped, lit a cigarette, and settled in to wait.

The stars fairly danced a jig in the dry, clear desert air and the seven sisters of the Pleiades constellation sparkled

Pleiades: Dance of the seven sisters

Pleiades: Dance of the seven sisters

like sunlight playing off of water. Once again, I examined the curiosity that kept getting me in trouble. And once again, I found that it didn’t matter to me whether or not I got into trouble for asking too many questions. I loved what I was doing, the toys were astounding, winning the Cold War was important, and very smart people were doing very interesting things, which brought me back to the helicopters. I decided to try to count them. By the time I got to twenty-five helicopters, a large, black, triangular flying machine came roaring across the ridge between the flats at an incredible speed. “Well, hello”, said I.  Continue reading

The Foreign Policy and FUBAR Correlation

News Year’s Eve has found its way to Arizona’s outback and, although I haven’t checked,FE_121025_globe425x283 probably to the rest of the world this side of the International Dateline.  While the celebrations wind-up, my thoughts turn to the legacy of the Cold War and what we may have learned.  A likely candidate for consideration is the U.S.’s foreign policy and the accompanying foreign relations.  I love the rich, stand-up comedy fodder the subject offers until thoughts of the millions of affected people sober the tone.  The Cold War became the test bed for ‘new’ foreign policy trials. As newly deployed policies failed and yielded to military adventures, the federal government ‘doubled-down’ rather than admit an error.  As bad foreign policy and relations are implemented they come back to haunt ordinary U.S. citizens and the citizenry is being engulfed by its own government’s fear and paranoia; FUBAR.

FUBAR

This post will discuss wars and some of the dumb decisions (in my opinion) that were made by policy makers who did not have the moral backbones to stand up and take the heat.  It is not about the honor and integrity of American soldiers, who fought; many of whom died or were wounded physically or emotionally.  I am grateful to you for your service. It is also not about the millions of civilians who were carried by the tide of policy into harm’s way.  And it is not about the policy decisions currently in the public debating forums.  The post is about the past that brought us to where we are today.

The Greek army opening fire on guerrilla troops during the Greek Civil War.

The Greek army opening fire on guerrilla troops during the Greek Civil War.

In Greece, the U.S. threw its policy weight and money at the Greek Civil War with the passage of The Truman Doctrine in 1946 by the Republican Congress.  Oops, the Soviet Union had already refused to assist the Greek Communists in the struggle so the Civil War was just that.  The Truman Doctrine set the tone of American interference in other countries’ business going forward, though.

The Marshall Plan in 1947 seems to have worked out well for everyone concerned, although Asia, without a ‘Marshall Plan’, did even better and faster.

The battle over Berlin took a hard turn straight into crisis on June 23, 1948 when the U.S. and

Berlin Partition

Berlin Partition

its allies, England and France, talked about forming a federation with their three slices of the Berlin pie.  The allied discussions spooked the Soviet Union so they closed the Berlin border to allied vehicle and rail traffic.  The confrontation over the closures was passive/aggressive; the Berlin airlift response kept Berlin provisioned-just barely.  The airlift was sufficient, however, for the Soviets to assess the will and capacity of the allies and they came to the table after seven months. The result was years and years of tension over the East-West German borders. Millions of American soldiers’ rite of passage to man and womanhood occurred under the constant, unrelenting threat of World War III at the German border as they stared into the eyes of their counterparts under the same pressure.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Mutually Assured Destruction

The sustained tension at the German border coupled with the assumed military strength of the Soviet Union was the genesis of the nuclear arms race and the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine (MADD).  It was the second plank in Eisenhower’s New Look National Security Policy in 1953: “relying on nuclear weapons to deter Communist aggression or, if necessary, to fight a war”.[1]  Both sides geared up and built tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that could be fatefully delivered on any platform.  It also spurred the unanticipated consequence of everybody wanting a nuke.  Now, twenty six nations are capable of exercising the incredible destructive force of the nucleus of an atom.

Let us not forget NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. sponsored joint military that has grown in both size and strength.  NATO clung to its initial policy of not attacking

NATO

NATO Aircraft

unless attacked as long as the Soviet Union was a force to be reckoned with.  On the sidelines, those of us old enough to remember, watched helplessly and in horror as our Western governments let calls for help from East Europeans challenging the Soviet iron fist go unanswered; Czechoslovakia in 1948, Hungary in 1956, the Czechs again in the Prague spring of 1968 and the Poles in the 70’s.  After the Soviet Union fractured and retreated, NATO changed its tune and went aggressive.  NATO beat up feckless Yugoslavia in Kosovo and sent troops into Bosnia and Afghanistan.  The neighborly NATO took U.S. taxpayer money by the wheelbarrow but decided not to replace or augment U.S. troops in Iraq. NATO has also stimulated a new arms race:

“…The treaty between west European nations, inaugurated as a barrier to Soviet aggression, graduated to new prominence in 2011 with establishment of a “free fly” zone for Libyan insurgents, and aerial attacks on Libya. The spread of NATO actions to several continents redefines NATO as an arm of western political and military policies, and replaces the policy of deterrence against a defunct Soviet Union. Coupling that with the anti-missile system the U.S. and NATO allies propose to deploy in Eastern Europe, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian First Channel program Cold Politics (Kholodnaya Politika) and exclaimed that this anti-missile system “is undoubtedly aimed at neutralizing the nuclear rocket capability of Russia.”[2]

Russia has fought back with its recently announced initiative to place nukes along its border to defend itself from NATO.[3]  Game On. Continue reading

A Christmas Island Tale

Dedicated to the Memory of Jack Livingston (1921-2007) and all the other ‘Rocket-Men’ of the Pacific

Jack Livingston told me about Christmas Island.  He’d been there in the 1960s with Holmes &

Christmas Island is the largest coral atoll in the world, measuring 248 square miles (642 square kilometers) including a large infilled lagoon. (Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.)

Christmas Island is the largest coral atoll in the world, measuring 248 square miles (642 square kilometers) including a large infilled lagoon. (Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.)

Narver preparing the abandoned island for the scientists, engineers and technicians who would run the atmospheric nuclear tests that were part of Operation Dominic.  It was the late 1980s when Jack told me his tale.  He was sitting in his office on Johnston Island and I had wandered in from down the hall to see him.  Before we venture to Christmas Island, there are some things you ought to know about Jack.

Jack managed ‘real property’ on Johnston Atoll and did so in accordance with the Air Force regulations on such things.  Holmes & Narver, the company we both worked for, was a Department of Energy, DOE, Management and Operating Contractor, but on Johnston Island, we worked for the Air Force.  Of course, an on-island DOE Contracting Officer Technical Representative made certain the contract

Mike Boat

Mike Boat

boundaries were maintained.  I was in Jack’s office because a rule change that expanded the definition of real property was being met with some resistance.  Jack was not happy.  He kept track of all real property on 3X5 ruled index cards and his space looked like a rogue library card catalogue.  If, however, you needed a 40-year old propeller for a Mike Boat, Jack could produce one in no time from one of the many places he squirreled away inventory.

Jack had his back to me as I walked into his office.  He was in uniform; an Aloha shirt-out-and a pair of Bermuda shorts, brown shoes, white socks.  Our offices were inside an old, windowless, steel building.  The mish mash of ages and types of fluorescent lights coupled with the smell of ancient paper in a humid environment provided a unique ambience.  Jack growled at me about having to keep track of chairs on an island.  He was old then, mid to late 60s, wizened and bent with curly gray hair and a yellowed complexion from too many bouts with his liver.  His face bore deep furrows born of 40 years of curing in the tropical sun.  I suggested we procure an automated property management system like the government wanted us to do.  He turned then, and I braced for the onslaught.  The old curmudgeon was smiling but there was an edge in his voice as he commanded me, “sit”.  I sat, struggling to remember I was supposed to be the boss and in charge.  Jack advised me that he and a small team had prepared, inventoried and cataloged Christmas Island for nuclear testing in a very short time period without so much as a telephone and certainly no damn computers. Continue reading

A Bikini Night

Sunset over lagoon at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, Micronesia.

Sunset over lagoon at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, Micronesia.

Those who know me are aware that I am a slow learner – a pedantic, trudging engineer who likes toys and shiny things.  It is a thread woven through the fabric of my being.  In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of attending the big Atlas Foundation meeting back East courtesy of an innovative free thinker, Ricardo Valenzuela.  Among those people, I found myself at home with the ideas and philosophies that had nettled my soul and kept me restless for decades before and I knew for a certainty that I was not alone with my books and philosophy.  Many of the people I met and admired were going on from the Atlas conference to the Mont Pelerin Society meeting. My chosen profession, Cold War itinerant engineer supporting the government, was a source of unabated internal conflict; the locus of my personal philosophy at odds with the locus of my profession.

A few days ago I read Alberto Benegas-Lynch, Jr.’s article On Selling Classical Liberalism in this month’s The Freeman published by FEE.  As a former board member of the Mont Pelerin Society, it seemed reasonable that he might provide some insight in how to communicate ‘my’ thoughts without someone throwing something at me.  The insight was definitely there.  Benegas-Lynch’s observations on the difference between selling goods and ideas were as clear as the finest crystal and as well crafted.  Why did understanding come now, when I am well into my sixth decade, rather than the time I most needed it – on Bikini when Charles asked me for advice and I had little to give.

As the day surrendered its light and heat that summer in 1991, the stars reported to their appointed posts to cast the world in a less harsh relief.  About an hour earlier, I had left my teammates barbecuing the tuna caught on the last trip out in the boat.  I set out from the project camp at a good clip headed for my favorite spot on the ocean side of the north end of Bikini Atoll. It was a bit of a hike and no one would miss me for a long time; tales and beer were already flowing and the fish was on the barby. It was a rare chance for private reflection.  The outer reef broke the waves and the tide was low.  The tidal pool I occupied was warm and the gentle surges from the great Pacific soothed my tired, aching body.  My mind focused on what I would say to Charles the next day. But wait, there’s more!