Cold War Warrior

About The Cold War Warrior

“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strangely, I am ungrateful to these teachers.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

This Blog is about the learning. It is also about the men and women from all the cold wars who worked so hard for something they believed in and played so hard they forgot the pain. They were the Cold War Warriors. They lived at missile sites, on nuclear subs, sat on little and not so little islands that were either too hot or too cold but always isolated. They were the doers and the watchers. Oh, by the way, they still are.

Recent Posts

Storm-Tossed Seas

By |March 25th, 2019|Cold War Legacy|0 Comments

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”— Vincent Van Gogh, Painter

One might make the same claim for politics in the Republic.  Reading the daily political news is tantamount to sailing a mono-hull in a hurricane. It leaves the intrepid reader hungering for relief. Giving voice to an opinion, one way or another exposes the intrepid individual to assault from both sides. Extremism hangs in the air like pollen on a humid spring day. It permeates every barrier. People who are not allergic are surprised by the sudden attacks of sneezing while experienced allergy sufferers head to the stock of allergy pills.  The negative energy pervading the air is the greatest I’ve felt since the riots of 1968. Frightening for those of us who lived through the insanity.

The vitriol of 1968 was coherent; it was a policy donnybrook. The current chaos appears to be cultural. The rise of Donald Trump as a Republican caught me by surprise. A darling of the Democrats and a friend of several Civil Rights activists, he donated loads of money in those directions. His statement of policy direction, particularly economic and trade policies, worried my little head.  Oh, by the way, I found his persona unpalatable, but there he was-brash, braggadocio, and paternal. Following the election, I settled in with popcorn to see what would happen next. The plot took one surprise turn after another. I must say, I didn’t see any of it coming. As a president, he performed as well as or better than most. A surprise because business is radically different from good policy. The din from the gallery did not settle as I expected. The tempo picked up and continues accelerating. I backed off smartly to review, consider and reflect.

American voters appear to consciously, or unconsciously, crave balance. On average they change executive leadership focus every eight years. The same voters change the balance of power in the Senate and House with the same rhythm. Rhetorical crescendos are beating politics into a gale rise and ebb to the beat of the elections every couple of years. Pattern disruptions such as Johnson, Nixon, and Carter add interest, vitality, and sometimes great national sorrow as in the loss of President Kennedy.  We, the American people, have learned to sail in these storm-tossed seas.

This storm is different. Gale force winds are tearing the sails. High seas are breaking the ship apart. The anger between individuals and groups is deep and unyielding. Friendships are ending, and people are drawing into themselves in fear. The drop in the barometric pressure of freedom and liberty is alarming.

I love this country not because it is perfect, but because it keeps trying. I love the ideal of not agreeing with someone and defending that someone’s right to say it. The pressure to erase and change history demeans the continuing lessons that can be learned. The pressure to deny a culture demeans potential growth. We are Americans, not hyphenated ancestry. Our culture is the product of all cultures blended in a cauldron over a fire of freedom. No one is absconding with another’s culture by cooking its food or learning its dances. We are honoring its advent to America. People’s private lives are their private lives, and now it’s codified…why not celebrate the formal acknowledgment?

Before we rip this country to shreds and each other with it, take a step back. Look at where we came from and where we want to go. Thanks to this country, more people in more countries vote than have ever had a say in the future before. Slavery has been eliminated except in a very small geographic corner of the world. The fight to eradicate must be carried on. The USA has done some evil deeds, but the system has exposed the evil, tried to punish the evil doers and modified the processes to prevent a future of those same evils. The USA has conquered many lands and returned them to their peoples. The returns were sometimes clumsy and bedeviled, but returned they were. The USA has done and continues to do great good. When the world is hungry, we do our best to feed it. When the world suffers great pain and suffering, the USA sends its best.  We need to keep that pattern alive and well.

As for the Chief Executives, the Presidents, I haven’t liked any in totality. I don’t think I’d like Donald Trump personally, but I certainly can’t say he’s evil or vile. I think he’s performed better than many.  I thought I’d like to meet President Eisenhower until I understood fully what he allowed Dulles brothers to pull. Talk about falling off a pedestal. I think George W. Bush is probably a very nice person, but his actions as President were unforgivable no matter his intentions (the Patriot Act, NDAA, DHS, the invasion of Iraq).  President Obama didn’t seem to like the USA or its people very much, but he did some very positive things. President Clinton made me crazy, but he balanced the budget and successfully sorted out several knotty issues. I loved President Reagan, but he made some monumental mistakes. They are all just people shopworn by life in the political lane. Some aspire and even reach greatness, but most simply succeed in keeping the Ship of State upright.

The Republic works. Millions wish to enter the United States because the Republic works. The execution is not perfect, but the framework is sound.  Let us not allow the Ship to founder on the shoals of chaos.


Walls and their Straphangers

By |February 5th, 2019|Cold War Legacy|0 Comments

Walls support the straphangers of “things” in life.  Walls spin tales of what existed, what is and what might be in that life or the lives of those who live within the walls.  Homes of the 300 plus million people of the United States of America host walls containing a living archeological record of individual residents.  And they are as unique as each person.

Walls in our home are such a record. On a mint green wall in a room reserved for writing and drawing hangs a watercolor, a gift from a treasured friend.  Other walls boast family pictures, oil paintings by a long-dead Aunt, images of the dogs, cats and goats who have graced our lives, marionettes from the kids’ youth, and Tom’s photographs. One wall, however, is mine alone.  The framed pictures gracing that space are chosen from my past to remind me of what once was and what must never be again if I can stop it. It is a personal bookmark in history and reminds me that the ‘Arc of the Moral Universe’ may be long, but it bends toward justice; toward the positive.

At the upper right is an image of the Baker event of Operation Crossroads conducted at Bikini Atoll in 1946.  In the 1990s, my job was to provide logistics support to the scientific teams working to restore the Atoll. Of course, there is no complete restoration of Bikini Atoll. A few of the little islands that made it up disappeared forever in the nuclear firmament.  Back in 1946, the 167 people who called Bikini home believed a yarn about their part in nuclear history for a tiny sacrifice of time.  They left their islands singing and smiling with the certain knowledge they would return shortly. After all, how often does the entire Atoll get to take a short vacation on Rongerik Atoll traveling in a big ship the likes of which was a tale to be told by old men late at night? The people of Bikini bought a bill of goods believing they were helping. Bikini Atoll is now habitable thanks to the passage of time. To the left is a Marshallese navigation aid.  It is the device the Marshallese used to navigate the Pacific for a trade that no longer exists, and the old sailors are dead. The original adult evacuees are long gone, and their grandchildren grew up on Spam and Coke and in another world entirely.  I promise I will do everything in my power to prevent something like this from happening again. The Marshallese are a bigger people-they still sing.

A little further to the left is a picture that could be the Jersey shore at night but isn’t. You are looking at the JACADS (Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System) plant on Johnston Atoll. The JACADS plant neutralized the chemical agents left over from WWI and WWII in Europe. It is impossible to overstate or exaggerate the horror of chemical agents. They are our worst nightmares, the most grisly horrors that you can imagine; GB, VX and mustard gas. Atmospheric nuclear weapons and chemical agents wreak terrible damage to human beings, animals and the environment. Another of my ‘never again’ moments

The last picture is of Johnston Atoll, the center of my life, one way or another, for many years. Johnston Atoll is a grouping of four coral islands, two of which are mostly artificial. They lie about 750 nautical miles west of Hawaii. Johnston Island is the largest of the islands in the atoll and shaped like a caricature of an aircraft carrier. Mostly constructed from fill, the island is about 2 miles long and, at the widest point, measures a scant half-mile in width. Splitting the island lengthwise is an 11,000-foot runway. When I lived and worked on Johnston Island in the late 1980s, about 1,400 other souls called it home. In 2004, after about seven decades of military use, most signs of human habitation, excluding the runway, were obliterated. Currently occupied by the occasional sunning Hawaiian Monk Seal, Johnston Atoll also hosts fourteen species of seabirds and five species of wintering shorebirds.

Little Johnston Atoll had earned its place in the sun and heartily contributed to the securing the United States’ role as a superpower. The rock’s isolation and ready infrastructure and contract format made it shovel ready to support the Army’s mission to demilitarize nerve agents, store Vietnam era Agent Orange, support down-range programs, host the Coast Guard’s LORAN station, and still keep its atmospheric nuclear readiness mission alive, while simultaneously maintaining the sanctity of the Wildlife Preserve.   It was one square mile where everyone got along to get whatever or whoever’s mission accomplished.   Cooled by a tropical breeze, the last crew marveled at a glorious, meaningful, and exciting past; and lamented the immediate loss of infrastructure and history.  It’s that ‘Arc of the Moral Universe’ tending toward justice, toward the positive, that makes Johnston Atoll part of the past…as it should be.

Walls are uniquely personal and Stanley A. McChrystal, Retired United States Army general, wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly in which he shared that “At 63, I Threw Away My Prized Portrait of Robert E. Lee”.  McChrystal states that “On a Sunday morning in 2017 I took down his picture, and by afternoon it was in the alley with other rubbish awaiting transport to the local landfill for final burial. Hardly a hero’s end.” Naked truth.

McChrystal shares his ‘Lee’ journey from hero worship to disillusion with the reader. He openly addresses the complexity of the Lee, the man, and the glow of Lee, the myth.  A methodical and eloquent writer, McChrystal states, “…Although it was a portrait of a man, to many it evoked wider ideas and emotions. For like an object bathed in the light of the setting sun, Robert E. Lee’s shadow took on exaggerated size and grew steadily as America’s Civil War retreated ever further into the softer glow of history…”

McChrystal summarizes the complexity of such decisions “…The picture of fellow soldier Robert E. Lee that hung in my home and inspired me for so long is gone, presumably crushed and buried with the other detritus of life. But the memory remains. The persona he crafted of a disciplined, dutiful soldier, devoid of intrigue and strictly loyal to a hierarchy of entities that began with God and his own sense of honor, combined with an extraordinary aptitude for war, pulls me toward the most traditional of leadership models. I try to stand a bit straighter. But when I contemplate his shortcomings, and admit his failures, as I must my own, there is a caution I would also do well to remember.”  Robert E. Lee was, after all, just a man.

McChrystal and I each battle for the continued extension of the ‘Arc of the Moral Universe’ toward justice, toward the positive on the axis of life. I choose to highlight the complexities of human nature. My fallen heroes, Oppenheimer, Teller, Heisenberg, et al. were not evil men and women. They were merely men and women driven, perhaps amoral, definitely flawed to achieve something amazing. They didn’t think about the bloodshed, but we must never forget that it came anyway and the carnage was gruesome. Regardless of what one thinks of Lee, the side he took, the slavery, his side lost and the slaves freed. Lee’s former land now cradles our war dead. The price paid for the Civil War was gruesome, but the ‘Arc’ prevails. We must never return.

My wall is a teaching wall. I taught our children from that wall. Strangers and friends who wander through stop, stare and are treated to historical perspective, horror and the many lessons we must learn. General McChrystal’s wall is empty; nothing to begin needed discussions from which learning emanates. Different people, with different views about what is needed to learn the lessons of history and continue the journey toward justice.

Walls. Are they not interesting to ponder?

An Idle Hour

By |January 2nd, 2019|Cold War Legacy|0 Comments

Have you noticed? The normal Christmas bustle of packages, decorations, great food, and friendships rekindled drowning in one political panic attack or another.  The joy of Christmas dinner dampened by the melodious voices of talking heads incessantly admonishing the people to beware of bacteria and the sins of gluttony is routine now. This new din from those same sources hints at a far more important question. Which road does this country wish to travel?

Does the country wish to remain a collection of sovereign individuals consenting to be governed? Or, does the country want all blessings to flow from a government that determines what is ‘best’ based on our class, ethnicity (our race), or our religious belief? Are we individuals with all the messiness that demands or are we part of a collective with all the horror that represents? We fought a century of overlapping wars-WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam-over this question without a clear winner.  This century isn’t starting much better-Iraq and Afghanistan. Courtesy of the incredible strides in technology, last Century’s wars killed a mind-boggling number of warriors and civilians. Stalin killed millions, Hitler killed millions, Mao killed millions, Pol Pot killed millions and millions died on the battlefield. Humanity’s gene-pool became measurably smaller last century. We will never know where those beautiful minds might have taken us.

Does the United States wish to remain a beacon of freedom and hope, with all that entails? Embedded in the last clause of the preceding question is the strife currently filling the airwaves from campuses, government, streets, and dinner tables. I’d love it if the fishmongers of the airways were hawking ideas, but, for the most part, they are not.  Smaller voices, like Victor David Hansen, James Bennett, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams traffic in ideas but it is increasingly difficult to hear them.  Some institutions like Hillsdale College and St. Johns retain their academic freedom from the government, but most do not.

A rising sea of voices is challenging the underpinnings of freedom, free speech, personal responsibility, a law that applies to all, and, yes, the right to bear arms. There is an acceleration in what needs to be ‘fixed’ within ethnic groups, religion, and class. If we could only get rid of old, white guys, toxic masculinity, marriage, Christianity, certain ‘trigger’ words and phrases, Western Culture, or the crass middle-class everything would be wonderful. They boast, ‘We, in academia, know how to do that because we are certified ‘smart.’ We in government have the stick to make it happen.’

Well, they don’t and they can’t. Over and over, collectivists believe their way works and, once they do it their way, the right way this time, the world will be wonderful. And, most of these people are good people who believe their own words. Unfortunately, the outcome of collectivism is always the same. Many individuals and ideas die, and their losses go unlamented because they didn’t comply. The Czar and his class had to die, the farmers in the old Soviet Union had to starve, the Uighurs in China must be re-educated and used as slave labor to learn the beauty of collectivism, Chinese citizens live or die by a social scoring system aided and abetted by American technology, Venezuelans retain only a memory of a pretty good life 20 years or so ago, Cuba requires its artists to get permission and still jails its dissidents, radical Islamists have eliminated millions of fellow Muslims, Christians, and those associated with other cultures. The depressing list continues. Collective regimes remain in a constant state of rebellion because, gosh darn it, people are individual unique entities. Individuals are not defined by their class, race or religion, although they may be influenced by the culture of each.

In 1970 when I arrived back in the United States after the arrogance of youth became worn with reality, I was so relieved, so profoundly grateful for the bounty and freedom of this country. I drank gallons of milk, then proceeded to strive for the American dream. I found my dream and this country allowed me to work hard, fail, rise again and finally to attain it. I was an individual.  I am not alone, to this day people flock to this country because historically here we make it or break it of our individual accord. It is changing as it should change. Which direction will we choose?

As the rising tide of collectivism takes an increasingly strong hold of our youth, our government, our speech, our law, and our educational resources, I worry. As the lessons of history are erased and replaced, I worry. The struggle of individuals to find their way is messy, but it progresses forward in morality. Does that mean this country is doomed to be a collective? I hope not.

Unfortunately, the headlight of the Collective express has been growing stronger since my awareness perceived it in the 1960s under President Johnson. The headlight became stronger under Presidents Clinton and Bush. President Obama disdained America as a bad country. The reaction was for the country to elect President Trump is a hope and prayer that a father figure knew the answers and could ‘fix’ it.  He cannot. It is not clear that he even understands the issues. A good businessperson can fix business stuff. Understanding the underlying philosophy of ‘good’ public policy is a whole different skill set.

Is the die cast? Is collectivism the logical conclusion of individual freedom and Natural Law. Churchill asked these questions and was hopeful. Now, before you go non-linear, Churchill was flawed and not at all politically correct-like most great thinkers. Churchill believed in the individual, the need to strive, struggle and, yes, even to suffer to create the ‘masterpieces’ of the mind.

“…In Great Britain, the United States, Germany, and France, the decline in personal pre-eminence is much more visible than in societies which have less wealth, less power, less freedom. The great emancipated nations seem to have become largely independent of famous guides and guardians. They no longer rely upon the Hero, the Commander, or the Teacher as they did in bygone rugged ages, or as the less advanced peoples do today. They wend their way ponderously, unthinkingly, blindly, but nevertheless surely and irresistibly towards goals which are ill-defined and yet magnetic. Is it then true that civilization and democracy, when sufficiently developed, will increasingly dispense with personal direction; that they mean to find their own way for themselves; and that they are capable of finding the right way? Or are they already going wrong? Are they off the track? Have they quitted the stern, narrow high-roads which alone lead to glorious destinies and survival? Is what we now see in the leading democracies merely a diffusion and squandering of the accumulated wisdom and treasure of the past? Are we blundering on together in myriad companies, like innumerable swarms of locusts, chirping and devouring towards the salt sea, or towards some vast incinerator of shams and fallacies? Or have we for the first time reached those uplands whence all of us, even the humblest and silliest equally with the best, can discern for ourselves the beacon lights? Surely such an inquiry deserves an idle hour….”

Winston Churchill, Mass Effects in Modern Life, 1925

Merry Christmas!

Guam and the rising Storm

By |December 29th, 2018|Cold War Legacy, The Pacific|0 Comments

Guam wanders in and out of the news feeds with the regularity of a failing Christmas tree

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

light.  Because I was there and because people I still care greatly about are there, I grab any posting about Guam tossed out from the world’s media like a lifeline.  I like Guam.  From its natural beauty and its people to its place in the historic context of humans and their wars, Guam is compelling.  I doubt that the Russian jets that periodically circle the island figuratively mooning the U.S. military[1] are there for snapshots of the magnificent and imposing cliffs.  And I don’t think that the Chinese siting of ICBMs placing Guam in the crosshairs is accidental.[2]

Once again, I feel the effect of impotent anger surging through the twists and turns in my brain awakening my desire to protect my country and the rainbow of people who I love.  The anger I sense is not directed toward Russia or China; countries do what countries do.  The anger is directed to the U.S. central government whose policy decisions a decade or more ago have come to fruition, cost a bloody fortune, and weakened the U.S.’s ability to protect itself, and I was part of the process.

Hafa adai is Chamorro for ‘hello’ and the first words I heard as I stepped into the terminal at Guam International in Agana, Guam in late 1997.  As one of the forward troops for a business development team, I was on the island to explore local partnering potentials for a Base Operating Support (BOS) contract that was expected to be awarded sometime around the turn of the new century. The 1997 study submitted to Congress to consolidate base operations and transfer about 2,300 military and civilian jobs to a private contractor was the result of a commercial activities study to compare costs between government and private sector providers.

The size of the potential contract definitely had the big boys’ attention.  The retired generals, astronauts, and high-ranking former government officials who inhabit the upper echelons of defense contractors’ ivory towers were working their political contacts in Washington, D.C. We foot soldiers were exploring the local possibilities. There is a great deal of money involved in the acquisition of one of the big BOS contracts and, once everybody teams up for the kill, the doors of each contractor’s business development team are incarcerated; the doors are retrofitted with cipher locks and redecorated as war rooms. Business development at this level is fun and exciting and the foreign policy decisions driving the acquisition are not even on the radar. (more…)