What Happened, Harry?

“[we are] going to continue to fight communism. Now I am going to tell you how we are not going to fight communism. We are not going to transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police. That is what some people would like to do. We are not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. We are not going to turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat.” ― Harry S. Truman

It’s been a short 66 years since you made this statement and it has all come undone. Remember

Harry S Truman 33rd President of the United States In office  April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953

Harry S Truman
33rd President of the United States
In office
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953

those folks you mentioned that would like to do the things you said were not going to happen? Well, they outwaited, outlived, and out plotted you. Right now those people are changing our country so quickly it is making my head spin. Harry, I respectfully disagree with you that there is any big difference between a right or left-wing totalitarian country. Our little Republic is disintegrating rapidly into totalitarianism.

You had your hands full when they threw the presidency at you after FDR died. You were dealing with the end of WWII and you were right on about not trusting old man Stalin. You decided the best way to deal with the Soviet Union was the Cold War and containment. You were a firm leader when the country needed one. You accepted responsibility and were accountable for your actions. Above all, you were a man of action. I respect and admire you for that.

Harry, the problem was that once the horse was out of the gate and you no longer controlled the jockey, there is no way you could be responsible or accountable for the decisions you made. At that point, you were out of control and, for a control freak, it is the worst thing that can happen. You would be shocked to witness the legacy of your actions. Hell, Harry, I am shocked at the changes that have occurred during the past ten years.

You’d be pleased, I think, at the progress that has been made to reduce the number of drunks driving cars. It’s gone way over the edge lately, though. A great little gadget was invented to determine how drunk a person is; a breathalyzer. Now the police set up random roadblocks and stop everyone. If the police think you’re drunk you have to breathe into this breathalyzer gadget. It’s easier, you see, if they just stop everyone and guess if you have been drinking. It beats the reasonable cause thing hands-down. Did you know that if you refuse to breath into their tube, in Texas, they will force you out of your car, strap you to a gurney and take your blood; like it or not? Ten years ago, Harry, I’d have laughed at the person who told me such a tale. That wouldn’t happen. Not in the USA!

I think this one will floor you, Harry. In 1971, President Nixon, you remember him, right? Yes, he became president but had to resign. President Nixon took your Cold War idea and tried to apply it to illegal drugs. He called it a Drug War.  So far, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion without much affect. In 1980 about 50,000 people were in prison for drugs. Today, over 500,000 people are in prison for drugs.[1] It is indeed sad is that for all the dollars spent, lives lost, and people imprisoned, the Drug War has not made any difference; drugs are more available than ever.

What is even more shocking is that people accused, not convicted, of drug crimes have their property seized. Can you imagine? According to Scott Ehlers, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Drug Policy Foundation, “In 1978 and throughout the 1980s, Congress passed a number of “anti-drug” laws that expanded the government’s power to seize and forfeit property.”[2] Now the federal government has expanded the forfeiture laws so that they encompass many ‘crimes’. The state, it seems, found itself an easy way to steal people’s money and ‘stuff’. We have friends who allowed their granddaughter and her husband to live with them on their little five-acre property in Arizona. The young couple was arrested on drug charges, DEA busted in their door and rummaged through the house (no search warrant). They found drugs in the kids’ room. The government confiscated everything those two lovely grandparents had worked for their entire lives. Now their house is used to train officers of all stripes how to assault a property.

Harry, I hate to tell you but that is not even the worst of it. Remember that bunch of talented people that used to listen in on foreigners’ conversations and break codes? On November 4, 1952, your Secretary of Defense proudly named the National Security Agency, NSA, and appointed its first director.[3] Through the years, the American people have been told over and over that the ears and data nets were pointed outward to protect the country. Not so since 2001. The abuses were turned inward and they are into everything, telephone conversations, Internet communications and data grabbing. They have so much data they just opened a 1 million square foot facility close to Bluffdale, Utah armed with supercomputers that cover 100,000 square feet to process it. When the citizens complain, the federal government assures us that they just collect and won’t ‘read’ or ‘listen’ unless they have a ‘good’ reason to do so. Would you believe them, Harry?

So what happened in 2001 to change things so radically? Some terrorists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, flew planes into the World Trade Center Towers in New York and into the Pentagon in Washington, D. C. It was terrible and the whole country was in shock and mourning. Suddenly, the federal government was in a War on Terror and the U.S. ended up attacking Iraq and Afghanistan. No, Harry, we never did a thing to Saudi Arabia. Somehow, they decided to use the War on Terror to take American citizens’ rights away so we could all be safe. They forced a bunch of agencies-Border Patrol, Customs, the Coast guard, FEMA, et cetera- to consolidate. They called the new department, Homeland Security. Homeland Security invented some new agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, for airports so about 300,000 people now work at Homeland Security. Can you believe that? The name is hauntingly familiar because it comes straight out of Nazi Germany. It does not make sense but that is what happened.

What has happened to your ‘fine FBI’, Harry? You said they would not become the Gestapo but they are. Back in the early 1990s, they killed a bunch of people in a religious compound in Waco,

Texas[4] and shot a guy’s wife and child in Ruby Ridge, Idaho[5] after they had entrapped him. More recently, the FBI can’t seem to locate real terrorists so they harass local militias and entrap

The Spokesman Review Spokane, Washington Ruby Ridge, Idaho

The Spokesman Review
Spokane, Washington
Ruby Ridge, Idaho

stupid teenagers by convincing them they are great terrorists. The FBI even has to give them the bomb-making material. The FBI is far from being alone, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, ATF. Well, under the direction of the Attorney General, AG, of the United States, they ran a sting operation, Fast and Furious, which so far has killed a U.S. Border Patrol officer and a Mexican police chief. The ATF forced gun shops to sell marked weapons to known drug types. Can you believe the AG believed this sting would prove Americans were the cause of Mexican drug cartel violence?[6]  So far, all they have proved is the AG’s office is filled with criminals. Harry, if the FBI and the AG have to provide the encouragement and the means to do harm, do you really think the citizens are to blame or is it the federal government?

Harry, if you recall we were all taught that policemen were there to protect us and they were our friends. I do think many would agree with that assessment any more. Recently, Homeland Security

Modern Police with Federal Toys To protect and serve?

Modern Police with Federal Toys
To protect and serve?

has outfitted and trained local police departments all over the country. The police are more like the military than the police. They all have license plate readers. They just read plates so they know where you are at any given time. Natural News’ Mike Adams wrote a great article giving the background and consequences  “Right now, cops are exhibiting thuggish, out-of-control “mafia” behavior as they run loose across America, terrorizing innocent citizens, shooting up the vehicles of people who are merely driving cars on public roadways, taking warrantless blood draws from drivers, shooting pet dogs of people who are merely filming police, raiding farmers at gunpoint over raw milk and terrorizing young women for buying bottled water and cookie dough.”[7]

I could keep going, but this is enough to give you the idea. I think I would have liked you, Harry S Truman.  You believed completely in what you were doing. I probably would not have agreed with you, but I would have respected you. With 20-20 hindsight, the massive policy overhauls you completed in your administration have led us to this place in time. Did you know that a whole bunch of our fellow citizens signed a petition to eliminate The Constitution’s Bill of Rights? Yes, it is true. Fortunately it was a ruse to see if folks would even question the action.[8] If the polls are to be believed, most people in our country believe The Constitution should be rewritten.[9] Those, such as veterans, who support The Constitution and believe that good laws are enacted to protect natural rights are on the Department of Homeland Security’s watch list of potential terrorists.[10] Harry, your path of good intentions has led us straight to hell.

[1] Drug Policy Alliance; Wasted Tax Dollars; http://www.drugpolicy.org/wasted-tax-dollars

[2] Drug Policy Foundation; Scott Ehlers, Senior Policy Analyst; POLICY BRIEFING; Asset Forfeiture; http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/Asset_Forfeiture_Briefing.pdf

[4] PBS; Frontline; Waco: the Inside Story; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/waco/

[5] Reason.com; Jesse Walker; Ruby Ridge Is History, But the Mindset That Led to Ruby Ridge Is Thriving; http://reason.com/blog/2012/08/22/ruby-ridge-is-history-but-the-mindset-th

[6] CBS News; Sharyl Attkisson; Documents: ATF used “Fast and Furious” to make the case for gun regulations; http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-57338546-10391695/documents-atf-used-fast-and-furious-to-make-the-case-for-gun-regulations/

[8] Obama Supporters Sign Petition to Repeal the BILL OF RIGHTS to Support the President; http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=k0he0cqHH20

[9] PBS; Margot Adler; Reconstituting The Constitution: How To Rewrite It?; http://www.npr.org/2011/12/10/143354018/reconstituting-the-constitution-how-to-rewrite-it

[10][10][10] Americas Watchtower; Homeland Security Classifies Returning US Veterans as Potential Terrorist Threat; http://americaswatchtower.com/2009/04/14/homeland-security-classifies-returning-us-veterans-as-potential-terrorist-threat/

Korea; A Game Changing Legacy

June 25, 1950 dawned cool and cloudy like the day before and the day before that at the 38th parallel, an invisible but very real line across the Korean Peninsula. Like the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, seasons in Korea change smartly. In October, the Manchurian

Map of the Korean War

Map of the Korean War

and Siberian gates open, releasing bitter cold and icy winds from the northwest. In May and June the winter gates are forced shut by the southerly monsoon flows and Korea becomes hot and humid. In June the days are mostly cloudy and 98 percent comfortable, except for June 25, 1950, when the North Koreans swept across the 38th parallel and caught almost everyone by surprise. The North Korean invasion heated up the South Koreans and the remaining U.S. forces. In two days, the North Koreans were knocking on Seoul’s back door.

Gaining the reigns of Korean War history and legacy approximates the challenge of bringing a run-away 24-mule team back under harness. Everything—Korean Peninsula historical context, foreign policy, post WWII military mission re-alignments, Communist hysteria, egos, and politicians—played into the complexity. Once the U.S. finally decided the Korean situation was serious and it really, really wanted to contain the ‘communist’ threat, it came very close to having its hind-quarters kicked courtesy of politicians passing the general-for-a-day card around a table.

Historically, the poor little Korean Peninsula has been on somebody’s ‘to occupy’ list for centuries but it has been a tough nut to crack. It always amuses me to read about China’s lack of imperial ambition. Imperial ambition is why China’s boundaries are in place and it still fights for more. The Sui, Tang, Ming and Manchu Dynasties of China all had eyes on the Korean Peninsula and tried, with various degrees of success, to take it. Japan recognized the strategic value of Korea as a buffer from and path to conquer China. In the late 1500s, Hideyoshi mounted Japan’s first effort at Korean conquest. Through the centuries, Japan’s Yamato emperors, who still rule today, also tried at various times to occupy Korea. Japan, in fact, had control of Korea at the end of WWII in the Pacific. Japan was ousted by the allies and Korea was divided roughly according to the two ancient original Korean countries and is the North and South Korea we know today. In 1950, North Korea was ruled by the government the Soviet Union had enthroned. South Korea had held a successful elections and the U.S. was on its way out.

The U.S. considered Korea a victim of Japan, not an ally. The United States, China, and Great Britain issued a joint statement in December 1943, after the Cairo Conference, which said: “The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.”[1] As a victim, South Korea was assisted back to independence. The South Korean army was built to a point the U.S. considered adequate for self-protection and, beginning in 1947, the U.S. military began to withdraw to its home with the 8th Army in Japan. The Soviet Union went a different direction in North Korea and by 1947, the Soviet’s hand-picked leader, Kim Il Sung, had violently suppressed any opposition. The U.S. did not view Korea as a strategic area but it knew that Russia did. Korea, like many countries freed from the Germans or Japanese, was at risk of becoming a political football in the rising tide of American-Soviet interests, which was apparent well before WWII ended.[2]

U.S. foreign policy was in the shop for a major overhaul in 1950. The Truman administration was re-tooling for the Cold War (1947-1991). The primary mechanics were George C. Marshall and Dean G. Acheson under the direction of Truman. Their work was mostly focused on the perceived Communist threat to Europe but they also had an opinion or two on Asia. Right up until June, 1950, the folks ‘in the know’ were convinced the U.S. would not defend South Korea in the event of an attack by North Korea.

“The decision to intervene in Korea grew out of the tense atmosphere that characterized Cold War politics. On the eve of the North Korean invasion, a number of events had made Truman anxious. The Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949, ending the United States’ monopoly on the weapon. In Europe, Soviet intervention in Greece and Turkey had given rise to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, which funneled aid to war-torn Europe in the hopes of warding off communist political victories. In early 1950, President Truman directed the National Security Council (NSC) to conduct an analysis of Soviet and American military capabilities. In its report, known as “NSC 68,” the Council recommended heavy increases in military funding to help contain the Soviets.”[3]

The U.S. Military was in transition in Japan as well as in Korea on that fateful June day in 1950. Kim (don’t forget last names are first in Korea) had asked Papa Stalin for permission to invade South Korea many times before he received the two thumbs up in 1949. Stalin had waited for the U.S. to withdraw the last of its ground troops before approving any aggression. In support, Stalin sent significant amounts of both supplies and ‘advisors’ to support Kim. The U.S. was of the general opinion that the Soviets would not risk WWIII over the likes of Korea. The U.S. was wrong.  The U.S. was also of the general opinion that it could not lose, militarily. The U.S. was almost wrong; it was close.

The North Koreans were well supplied. Kim, in possession of a Soviet invasion plan, controlled an

A member of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion at the 38th Parallel in Korea. (Courtesy of George Brooks)

A member of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion at the 38th Parallel in Korea. (Courtesy of George Brooks)

invasion force of 135,000, about half of whom were trained veterans. He also controlled eight complete divi­sions and two half-strength divisions, an armored brigade with 120 Soviet tanks; and 5 border constabulary brigades. The Soviets also supplied 180 Soviet aircraft, mostly fighters and attack bombers, and a few naval patrol craft. However, Stalin drew the line at permitting the Soviet advisers to accompany the North Koreans once they crossed the 38th parallel.

The South Koreans, on the other hand, controlled an Army of 95,000 men, which was a light infantry force. Its artillery totaled eighty-nine light 105-mm howitzers, which could shoot farther than North Korea’s artillery, which is handy. Unfortunately, South Korea had no tanks or antitank weapons that could have countered the Soviet tanks. While the North and South Korean navies were fairly evenly matched, the South Korean Air Force had only a few trainers and other light airplanes. “U.S. equip­ment, war-worn when furnished to South Korean forces, had deterio­rated further, and supplies on hand could sustain combat operations no longer than fifteen days.”[4]

The ranking U.S. officer in South Korea was Major General William F. Dean and, according to

Major General William F. Dean

Major General William F. Dean

military historians, he fought gallantly as the U.S. rushed to fortify the south. Eventually, he was wounded and captured. General MacArthur’s Pacific survey showed he had limited capacity to respond. He would be able to muster the “1st Cavalry Division and the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions, all under the Eighth U.S. Army in Japan, and the 29th Regimental Combat Team on Okinawa”, according to the military records. It took until about the middle of July to even mount a faint-hearted counter attack.

Meanwhile back at the United Nations, UN, fifty three countries ratified United Nations Security Council Resolution 82 on June 27th, 1950 clearing the way for an internationally sanctioned military response. Twenty nine of the approving countries offered a variety of types of support that ranged from medical and logistical support to full military support. The Soviets could have blocked the resolution with a veto but did not do so because they were, at the time, boycotting the UN. Truman was in a tough spot. Senator Joseph McCarthy was ramping up his anti-communist rhetoric. Then, too, the Alger Hiss espionage trial was fresh. Truman certainly didn’t want to come across as ‘soft’ on Communism and, like Stalin, he did not want a third world war. Both leaders danced. Stalin refused to have his Soviet troops cross the 38th parallel and Truman stopped just short of saying the Soviets were behind the June 25, 1950 invasion. Instead, the invaders were labeled ‘communists’ and the Soviets were never directly blamed.

The Korean War’s legacy continues to define today’s conflicts. It was a political war fought to ‘contain’ an enemy; not to win. Today Korea looks very much like it did 60 years ago. The 38th parallel still cuts the country in half, including the road and railway infrastructure and over 50 rivers. There has never been a peace treaty so the war never officially ended and no one ever won; the Soviets were not out by the end of 1950, the Koreas were not united, and the U.S. did not significantly impede the progress of ‘communism’. A Kim ruled North Korea and repeatedly made threats, eventually carrying one out. A Kim still rules North Korea and repeatedly makes threats but, so far, has not carried any out. Political wars fought with political egos playing general-for-a-day do not accomplish anything except the loss of American service members. Over 50,000 died in Korea. The U.S. maintained in Korea but lost in Viet Nam, and accomplished little in Bosnia. The U.S.failed in Nicaragua and the Congo, and broke even in Panama and Grenada. At the moment the U.S. is engaged in another political war it has no intention of winning, just fighting. So far, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade with no end in sight and little progress. The only difference is the technology. Now the politicians can ‘see’ what each soldier ‘sees’ and direct the soldiers’ actions on a moment-by-moment basis without ever leaving the comfort of the command center. As John Wayne would say, “that is a helluva way to run a railroad.”



[1] Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, Dept., of State Publication 7187 (Washington, 1961), p. 448.

[2] American President: A Reference Resource; http://millercenter.org/president/truman/essays/biography/5

[3] National Archives; Teaching With Documents: The United States Enters the Korean Conflict; (Originally published in Social Education, the Journal of the National Council for the Social Studies).

[4] The US Army Center of Military History; Chapter 8, the Korean War; http://www.history.army.mil/

Choice of Legacy

Choices, the exercises of an individual’s free will, are the stepping stones that line the paths of our lives. Once made, the path that follows is fairly well defined. Barring unforeseen storms, or other intervention, the only way to avoid the path’s destination is to modify the original choice. So, too, it is with a country’s destiny. Today the U.S. trudges along such a path. The last big change in the path’s direction occurred in 1947with Truman’s decision to enter the Cold War (1947-1991).  Harry Truman could have chosen the ‘damn-the-torpedoes’ route and told the U.S.’s Josef Stalin to return our POW’s or the U.S. would come and get them. “Here’s the deal. Both ways, Joe, we will bring our soldiers home and only then will we go our separate ways,” he could have said. But he did not.

One of my indulgences is wondering. What might have happened if the U.S. had chosen to ‘go its own way’ after WWII? The big military contractors could have returned to what they had done best before the War. Raytheon might have continued manufacturing transformers, power equipment, electronics and vacuum tubes. With their employees’ creativity and skill, who can guess what wonders would have been performed in the market place. Northrop Grumman might have teamed with Martin Marietta and Lockheed for the Mars terraforming project. Cold fusion could have been pursued and solar paint perfected so, by now, we all could generate the energy we use in the closet or by painting the house. Instead of dreaming up biological weapons and their antidotes, medical research could have teamed with nano-tech developers to solve the ills of the world.

The tens of thousands of returning WWII veterans would have joined the manufacturing and development boom in response to a need for skilled, hard-working employees. Disposable incomes would have risen and the economy would be healthier. Of course, the hard part for government would be staying out of the way and allowing the winnowing process to occur. Crony capitalism and the unholy matrimony of corporations to government would have to die. Big bloated companies would fail without their political patronage and individuals with new and creative ideas could sew the fields and grow.  Okay, so we might have done better but what about the rest of the world?

Europe was reconstructed with a large influx of U.S. Marshall Plan dollars. Asia essentially brought itself back by its bootstraps. Guess which geopolitical area won the race of most improved living condition for the most people? Once ‘Communism’ was no longer defined as a national security issue, the trillions of dollars in foreign aid could have been saved. There would be no demand for the ‘pathological altruism’ that drives billions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of people who openly call us ‘enemy’. The CIA would have had no need to overthrow governments or back cruel, corrupt ‘leaders’. Yes, the world would still have had to ‘settle out’ from the colonial legacy. Then again, it is ‘settling out’ anyway in countries and continents like India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Africa. Energy could have been spent on encouraging free and open trade and manufacturing. It is the one thing we know works. China, Russia, and Taiwan are all examples where markets drive a culture forward for more people faster than bureaucracies ever could. No, these countries’ cultures do not look like the U.S. culture but they do not have to look the same to be successful.

With Communism off the national security table, there is no justification for stationing the military in over 200 countries across the globe. To illustrate, the U.S. has three bases in Bulgaria. Bush wanted the bases ostensibly to rapidly deploy troops to the Middle East where, of course, we have no national security dog in the fight. For goodness sake, why on earth does the U.S. want or need to maintain three military bases in Bulgaria?  In the meanders of my mind, the Navy would be committed, as it was, to keeping the lanes of commerce open. The war knowledge, competencies, and lessons learned would have been continued through the marines, surface, naval air, and submarine services. The other services could have been reduced in force to a minimum. Oh we would still be playing tit-for-tat on weapons development but no arms race means the effort would have been reduced by orders of magnitude. There is no need to police the world and try to make it over in our own image. Many think tanks and foundations work and play better with our brothers and sisters across the globe than the government ever could.

None of it happened. We chose to engage the Cold War and are living the legacy of that choice. In the U.S. effort to defeat Communism, the country has embraced socialism. The U.S. can be likened to a big fish with a line of lamprey eels locked on and sucking its life blood. The lamprey eels even have names; agriculture, health care, education, military/industrial, federal lands, environment, big pharma. No matter how much the big fish eats there is not enough to feed the parasites so the big fish begins to devour its young. As the big fish slowly dies, all energy is focused on survival not creative problem solving. The federal government has indebted the young, innocent, and upcoming taxpayers to a point where none may draw a breath free for their own choices.

Unrealistic, you say. Perhaps it is, but I venture to guess that if Harry Truman knew the destination of the path his choice made, he’d have laughed in disbelief. The U.S. is a lousy imperialist. Others, such as the European nations, Russia, and the remnants of Persia have been at the imperialism game for centuries and are much better suited to the role. Imperialism is not a part of the U.S.’s culture heritage, yet here it is, playing imperialist. The U.S. is so inept that it cannot even understand it has lost the game so it keeps trying harder.

One thing the U.S. has historically done well is to breed and foster individual exceptionalism.  The individuals, who dream, build, excel, and fail with equal enthusiasm only to tackle the challenge anew or again, built this land; rooted in industry, farming, mining and business. It is they, with their creative sweat, who laid block upon block to build the greatest country in the world. Even today, during some tough times, most of us have no concept of real poverty or pain. Instead of embracing what it does well, building a working environment fit for an exceptional people, the federal government appears bent on complete annihilation of the individual.

Once each individual is pushed, pulled, compressed or stamped into the federal government’s ‘ideal’ bottle, we’ll all be on the pills seventy percent of us already take. Once the individual allows the theft of the creative sweat that provides the unique nature of each person, the nation will die. I do not like to be labeled. I like chocolate and cupcakes, kids who climb trees and play Jedi knights in shining armor saving a world. Sometimes I choose to engage in ‘high-risk behavior’ like not fastening my seat belt or playing with nukes. I do not want my refrigerator to make my grocery list or report its contents to the government (just in case I am not following my dietary restrictions). All of these labels are defined by someone else who thinks they know best. How I spend my money, what I write to my friends is my business; not the federal government’s business. I love the current hue and cry and all the scandals for they encourage a long overdue dialog among the American people on the role of their government. I hear individual voices choosing to rise in a chorus, rather than be told to sing in a predefined harmony. It is the music of the streets and it is beautiful; it is the choice being made for the future’s path.

Cowboys and the Collective

Cowboy, whether the term is used in admiration or derision, brings to mind a ruggedCowboy throwing lasso individualist doing ‘his own thing’, as in the idealistic memories of the Old West. Collective, on the other hand, consists of individuals, or groups of individuals, with different skills banding together to achieve one or more objectives as in a bee hive.  America’s greatness, in my opinion, derives from cowboys working within a framework of good policy. The Cold War (1947-1991) radically changed American Policy (Foreign, Domestic and Military) but it wasn’t without several rounds of fisticuffs amongst the cowboys.

Setting the table for this discussion is an excerpt from Norman Podhoretz’s 2012 article Is America Exceptional? [1]

“…First of all, unlike all other nations past or present, this one accepted as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. What this meant was that its Founders aimed to create a society in which, for the first time in the history of the world, the individual’s fate would be determined not by who his father was, but by his own freely chosen pursuit of his own ambitions. In other words, America was to be something new under the sun: a society in which hereditary status and class distinctions would be erased, leaving individuals free to act and to be judged on their merits alone. There remained, of course, the two atavistic contradictions of slavery and the position of women; but so intolerable did these contradictions ultimately prove that they had to be resolved—even if, as in the case of the former, it took the bloodiest war the nation has ever fought….”

Cowboys and collectives came into sharp focus during the late 1980s with my assignment to

Johnston Atoll

Johnston Atoll

Johnston Atoll to support the base command through the Department of Energy (DOE) Management and Operating (M&O) contract. My job was to manage the technical operations; air field, marine operations, engineering, construction, water and electrical production and distribution, wastewater, petroleum, oil and lubricants, the RCRA Part B facility, and other duties as assigned. Johnston Atoll was a beehive of activity but certainly not a collective. Bear in mind that this atoll has three islands, the largest of which, Johnston Island, is ½-mile wide and a mile long.

The Air Force hosted the base and provided an Air Force Colonel as the base commander; he spoke with the authority of a one star general. The Army was constructing the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS), the U.S. Army’s first chemical munitions disposal facility. The Army provided a Colonel to oversee this important project. In the event of a

Chemical munitions awaiting disposal at JACADS

Chemical munitions awaiting disposal at JACADS

chemical incident, the colonel spoke with the authority of a two star general and took over the island until someone with more rank actually arrived from Honolulu.

The Coast Guard ran the Long Range Aid to Navigation (LORAN) station, that was the precursor to the Global Positioning System (GPS) and they didn’t appear to report to anyone but they kept an account with DOE so the M&O contract provided support to them. Several military and other contractors showed up from time-to-time to perform tasks like cleaning up plutonium or building gymnasiums. NOAA had a station there and also did not appear to report to anyone but was supported through the DOE M&O contract.

The LORAN station on Johnston Atoll c.1963

The LORAN station on Johnston Atoll c.1963

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service person was there to take care of the birds and fish. The military and contractor personnel could be seriously disciplined if they killed a bird but the wildlife guy did it all the time. While I was there, a banded bird destroyed a jet engine during a landing of an Air Micronesia flight en route to Kwajalein and Majuro. The wildlife guy and the pilot almost came to blows over the incident and we, the DOE M&O contractor, had to feed, house and shelter about 60 people as well as several pigs and chickens for a couple of days in a

Wildlife sanctuary on Johnston Atoll

Wildlife sanctuary on Johnston Atoll

very confined space (we were, after all, a closed base that did little, if any, secret squirrel stuff) so a new engine could be flown in and mounted. When the Pacific Missile Range lit up for a mission, those people walked in and did their thing without so much as a by-your-leave. The turf battles on Johnston Island were awesome as a spectator sport. They also gave rise to my question, ‘How can this be happening?’ It made no sense at the time.

The answer to my question can be found in the history of Harry Truman, James Forrestal and

SecDef James Forrestal

SecDef James Forrestal

the frame work of policy or lack thereof to enter the Cold War. Harry Truman became President upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in April of 1945. By 1947, most of President Roosevelt’s cabinet and appointees were gone. One notable exception was James Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy. Forrestal came from the ‘private’ sector. His father owned a construction company and he cut his teeth at Dillon, Read and Company, an investment banking house where he became a partner in 1923. He never finished college but he had a flair for management and administration and an excellent reputation. In 1940, Roosevelt tapped Forrestal to become his special assistant and later that year nominated him for the first Under Secretary of the Navy. Forrestal assumed the Secretary of Navy role in 1944 upon the death of Knox following a heart attack. Forrestal’s reputation as a highly capable administrator and manager continued to grow.

The end of WWII hostilities signaled an escalation of the voices of the American people to reduce the military. After all, the only standing military authorized by The Constitution is the Navy, which made the people correct; the time was right to ramp down. The politicians were in a swivel chair moving between their constituents’ calls for cutting the military and their natural inclination to keep it in place. WWII had provided the politicians an eye-opening, new view of the world and their power in it. Why would they want to give up all that good stuff? Harry Truman’s predilection for balanced budgets, Forrestal’s predilection for tidying-up and making processes work, and Congress’s desire to keep the good stuff generated by the WWII came together to drive the chaos of Johnston Island in the 1980s and the world we live today.

Although Forrestal was against joining the branches of the military together, when Truman asked him to do so, he agreed, and did the job well.  Forrestal was prominent in developing the National Security Act of 1947 and the National Military Establishment (NME), which was to become the Department of Defense (DoD). Forrestal was, you see, conflicted. The

Forrestal, part Cowboy, part Borg

Forrestal, part Cowboy, part Borg

administrator in him wanted nice tidy processes but his cowboy cried for independence.  In this case the administrator won. Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson was Truman’s first choice to head the new unified NME but Patterson wanted to return to the private sector. In spite of his resistance to the armed forces unification, Truman’s second nod was to Forrestal because of his knowledge of Defense infrastructure and dedication to government administrative processes.  Forrestal accepted the challenge and, over the next several years, drove close coordination of defense and foreign policy as well as for the use of the National Security Council (NSC) as a facilitator.  By 1950, the rudimentary processes were in place.

In 1948, the Soviets became the unwitting foil that allowed the U.S. to solidify its huge departure from past military and foreign policy. The Soviet Union completed its network of satellite nations in Eastern Europe, seized control in Czechoslovakia and blockaded land routes from the western zones of Germany to Berlin, forcing the U.S. and its allies to begin the Berlin airlift to supply the city, which lasted more than 10 months until Moscow relented. At the same time, in 1948 and 1949, the world went a bit nuts: war broke out in the brand new country of Israel; Congress approved the Marshall Plan, providing economic aid for 16 European nations; the Senate adopted the Vandenberg Resolution, encouraging the administration to enter into collective defense arrangements and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was born; and in 1949, in China, the Communists’ final victory over the Nationalists ushered in the People’s Republic of China. Nothing in the world would ever be the same again.

Back on the home front, Forrestal was still trying to convince the branches of the military to work together and Truman was still dedicated to keeping budgets down. Budget food fights drove the branches of the military to entrench themselves by designing intricate missions and needs for each service. A good example is the Navy and the Air Force dispute over delivery of atomic weapons. Forrestal discussed this, among other agenda items, with the Joint Chiefs at the Naval War College in 1948. They decided that the Air Force would have interim operational control of atomic weapons, but that “each service, in the fields of its primary missions, must have exclusive responsibility for planning and programming and the necessary authority.”[2] For the Navy and Air Force, the Newport agreement meant that the Air Force should use any strategic bombing ability developed by the Navy, whatever that means. The result of this and similar budget food fights was the bedlam of the Johnston Island commands. Those of us with game cards could keep track of the command plays, those without would be lost.

Resistance to the collective is NOT futile.

Resistance to the collective is NOT futile.

As a nation, we remain conflicted about our role in the world. Either we look to the roots, The Constitution, for guidance or we wander into a wilderness using our machetes to make the trail as we go. At the moment we are lost. Our history goes unstudied by the vast majority of Americans even as it is criticized. There may be a clear vision of the U.S. role in the world around us but it is not a shared vision. Our national ‘will’ tracks our physics. It is relative. It is also dangerous to wander without order from one conflict to another. If the people, as individuals, will not grab the responsibility for our destiny, if we leave destiny in the hands of politicians, our nation will cease to be exceptional; we will become the collective. What a terrible loss to the world that would be.