Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World
Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.
(‘Project B’ tests of aerial attacks against surface ships in 1921. Billy Mitchell had a point).
The first proposal to test nuclear weapons against naval warships was made on August 16, 1945, the day after the announcement of Japan’s surrender. There was a lot going on, now that the need to continue the war for another few years had suddenly- surprisingly- evaporated. Everything was different, a yawning chasm between everything that came before and what was going to come after.
Along with that came a host of altogether new issues with the now-public knowledge that the power of the Atom had been unleashed, and history itself seemed to have changed.
(Brevet Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. Photo US Army Air Corps).
The formal surrender in Tokyo Bay had not even occurred before the bitter infighting began behind the scenes in Washington. One of the first big scuffles was essentially about what proponents of an Air Force independent from the Army had been saying for years, which was the simple proposition that Air Power had just demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ground forces and navies were now obsolete and irrelevant.
(Command of the Air theoretician Giulio Douhet).
Billy Mitchell had said the same thing years before, and with increasingly intemperate terms about the wisdom- in fact, the very patriotism- of those who opposed the ideas of Italian military theoretician Giulio Douhet. In his seminal book, Douhet argued that the power who controlled the air controlled the conduct of war itself.
The Secretary of War in 1921 was the Honorable Newton Baker, who quipped about Mitchell’s proposal to bomb ships from the air, “That idea is so damned nonsensical and impossible that I’m willing to stand on the bridge of a battleship while that nitwit tries to hit it from the air.” Likewise, the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Josephus Daniels, would issue the ultimate denigration of Mitchell’s vision of the potential of air power with the words, “Good God! This man should be writing dime novels.”
In so advocating the doctrine of Air Power, Mitchel increasingly angered the powers in Main Navy and the Munitions Building, who first stripped him of the brigadier star he earned for his distinguished service in France. Ultimately, they booted him out of the service itself.
Before he left active duty, Mitchell rocked the boat thoroughly. He managed to get the Army and Navy to conduct a series of joint exercises in the summer of 1921 known as “Project B.” In the trials, surplus or captured WW I warships would be used as targets to demonstrate whether they could be attacked and successfully neutralized from the air. In early tests, Mitchell’s aircraft sank a captured German destroyer and light cruiser. On July 20-21, they attacked the German battleship Ostfriesland. While the aircraft did sink it, in so doing they violated the rules of the exercise, and the Navy huffed that the demonstrations were hardly a realistic simulation of “wartime conditions.” All the target vessels were stationary and supine- defenseless.
(An air corps biplane drops a white phosphorus bomb on ex-USS Alabama, September 1921).
Mitchell was dogged in his insistence that the battleships were obsolete and a wasteful diversion of resources from military aviation. For the cost of a single battleship, a thousand bombers could be procured, and the nation protected by land-based aviation. To add insult to Navy’s injury, Mitchell repeated his initial success later in September of that year by sinking the retired battleship USS Alabama (BB-8).
In the course of his scorched-earth campaign against the Generals and the Admirals doing, he incurred not just the wrath of Main Navy and the Munitions Building, but of the occupant of the White House.
President Warren Gamaliel Harding desperately wished to avoid any show of naval weakness prior to the Naval Conference to be held in Washington in late 1921. He wanted to negotiate from a position of strength, and his “return to normalcy” for America was not going to be helped by a runway international naval arms race. Harding was concerned that limits needed to be established for warship construction and tonnage.
The United States, Great Britain, and Japan had all commenced large-scale programs of capital ship construction immediately after the end of the Great War. In the United States, this took the form of a building program to produce five new battleships and four battle-cruisers.
(A model of the never-built G3 Battle-cruiser).
In the UK, the preeminent global maritime power, the Royal Navy was preparing to build its series of G3 battle-cruisers and N3 battleships. For the Japanese, opportunistic member of the Allied cause, a program called for eight new battleships and eight new battle-cruisers. One of the former would live to be the last dreadnaught of the Imperial Fleet, ex-IJN Nagato which lay in Yokosuka harbor in 1946.
The Navy understood the implications of the Atomic test based on the hard lesson provided by Billy Mitchell a quarter century earlier. This was about the survival of the institution itself. The message is in the framing, of it, after all. This plan would be to demonstrate the survivability of the ships against the power of the atom.
But first, of course, someone had to get the ships the 2500 nautical miles from Yokosuka to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands where the test would occur. And as part of that little task, accomplish the voyage with a Japanese battleship years past any regular maintenance, sporting unrepaired combat damage and manned by a skeleton crew of sailors with uncertain motivation, none of whom could read a word of Japanese.
Captain William J. Whipple, USN, was just the man to get the job done. At least, that is what Ed Gilfillen thought.
We will get to that tomorrow.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Water Water Everywhere
(A colorized shot of IJN Nagato in her better days with a real crew and a war that was yet to be lost. Photo National Archives).
Editor’s note: Early in my naval career I had the rare opportunity to serve in a World War Two warship. Commissioned in 1945 as a “CVB,” (aircraft carrier- armored) USS Midway (CV-41) was built tough and built to survive anything the Japanese could hurl against her. She had steamed hundreds of thousands of miles and served in two wars by the time I met her, and suffered the indignity of dozens of ship-alts that would have made her unrecognizable to her original builders. Moreover, since she had been ordered to Yokosuka to serve as the centerpiece of the Overseas Family Residence Program (OFRP) all her yard work was performed by Japanese craftsmen, and her inner workings were best known to the little men in their breeches and tabi shoes.
One interesting feature of life aboard was the peculiar taste of the water, which varied seemingly by time of day. All the pipes and tanks were cross-connected against the eventuality that some might have to be flooded to keep the mighty ship upright, even if the hull’s integrity had been breached. That meant that there were valves that connected fuel and water, and in a ship that was already more than thirty years old, some had been opened when they should not. The most graphic demonstration of that was the ability to light off a pale flickering blue flame on the top of a cup of Mission Planning coffee. I have no idea of the long-term implications of drinking a modest amount of kerosene (JP-5) each day, but we learned not to worry about it overmuch. For the rag-tag pirates of the ex-IJN Nagato, the matter was much more personal, and even the location of the pipes was an unknown factor. Join Ed Gillfillen this morning as he describes the men and the situation aboard the battleship.
(The reality of Nagato in 1946. “Rode hard, put away wet” would be the best way to describe her last days. Photo National Archives).
The officers who were rounded up to command the last Japanese battleship soon found that the men in their charge could not be driven. The war was over, after all, and all the imperatives to duty had been minimized. There was no enemy, except the mighty sea herself. I found I could call for a working party to muster and get it; but the minute my look was turned, the men would melt away into the caverns of the ship, where no one could find them.
Another officer would explain how he wanted a thing done and go to the wardroom for a cup of coffee, but nothing would come of it; he could inquire why and be told that the necessary materials could not be found. Being sure that the men know full well where the materials were was no help – he didn’t. Any attempt to stand by and instruct the men step by step was frustrated by passive resistance; they would stand, helpless, asking, “What do I do now, Sir?” as though they had never seen anything done like that before. In time, even the dumbest officers realized that the men could not be driven, and only one or two of them found that they could be led.
The situation with respect to water and oil tanks was a nightmare. Most of the valves controlling the fluids were inaccessible and one could never be sure they were completely closed. There was no reliable way to find out what or how much was in the tank. Oil circulated through the ship continuously; it might be anywhere. From the same tank one night got oil one day, nothing the next, the salt water and perhaps after a week oil again. We kept watch over the side and know that all the oil we took stayed with us until it went up the stack. We did not know how much was in the ship to start with, nor could we be sure how much of the tanker pumped in was actually salt water. Some of the most conventional-minded officers had difficulty adjusting to the situation.
(What is connected to what? The only certainty was that it all was, somehow).
The idea of shortages of fresh water brings sailing vessels and oak casks to mind, but we had the same problem with a modern twist in the Nagato. We were distilling five or six tons an hour from seawater. Much of that went into the boilers. Theoretically, they use the same water over and over again, but some was lost each pass through the mass of not-so-tight steam pipes. What did come back was always contaminated with seawater. This would make the boilers sick and they would vomit to the sky as the steam roiled and have to be purged into the bilges.
We would have liked to use water drained from the boilers in the laundry, but never found a practical way to get it there. What would be spared from the boilers was pumped into the fresh water arteries of the ship and some of it actually got to faucets, but most of it mixed with saltwater seepage in remote compartments. We were always looking for those leaks, forming the habit of tasting anything that dripped, and we finally stopped many of the leaks, but our fresh water accounts never came anywhere near balancing, and in the end, it was not as much about balancing the accounts, but keeping the mighty ship herself balanced and upright.
That actually became on of the real problems.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
My initial sight of the massive hill and pagoda of the ex-IJN Nagato had come after arriving at Yokosuka by sea-plane. My next sight of her came as an incident of a scheduled air-voyage to Hokkaido.
We were weather bound a day in port, as nothing was flying to get us to the inspection sites up north. Fascinated by the big ship, I asked how I might get aboard for a tour. I was informed that visitors were not permitted on the Nagato, but after hooking a ride on a passing Mike boat, I found no resistance was actually offered at the gangway.
If I had known to look, I might have seen a signal flag run up from the flag bag on the pagoda to signal that an unknown officer was coming aboard, and any unscheduled non-regulation activities should be suspended immediately.
Nothing was quite what it seemed on the battleship, and I found that an un-conducted tour of the ship was depressing, since it reflected the filth, destruction, confusion and all the drabness of war. The thrill of treading the deck of a Japanese Battleship lasted but a moment.
After a brief inspection, I was ready to go back ashore, and was intensely annoyed when I could not get a boat. As I paced off my bad humor on the forecastle, I was respectfully joined by a little Japanese fellow in curious black leather, split-toed shoes called “tabis.” These were a type of unique outdoor footwear which had been worn by construction workers, farmers, painters, road workers, rickshaw pullers and others since the late Meiji Period in Japan.
The most distinctive characteristic of tabi shoes is the split-toe design that separates the big toe from the other toes. This feature enhances their comfort and stability, important qualities in a shipboard environment. The sole of traditional Tabi shoes are made of pliable natural rubber which is soft enough to be flexible, but stiff enough to protect the wearer’s foot from ground debris.
The little fellow wore a frayed mustard-colored uniform with a matching cap with a short brim, almost like Japanese military fatigues. His face was nearly toothless and his skin was as gray as a mouse.
In a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian he related who he was. He gestured as he said his name was Matano, and that he was an electrical engineer who had graduated from the University of Sao Paulo, and had practiced his profession twenty years in Brazil. Returning to Japan for a visit in the fall of 1941, he had been caught in the toils of the war.
Strange phenomena and tales of harrowing adventure were no longer a novelty to me; I listened to his tales of bomb-dodging not out of interest but from sheer boredom as I scanned the harbor for a boat to hail and return ashore. If I had thought about him at all, it was to tick him off subconsciously as one of the resident ghosts of the massive haunted warship. But I was to think much of him, and his formidable skills, later on in a desperate dark night far from shore.
And to be intensely thankful I had made his acquaintance that foul day at the anchorage in the Sagami-wan. At that point, I had no idea I was to be the Executive Officer of this ghost ship, or custodian of the well-being of the merry pirates who would take her on her last voyage.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
All Bets Are Off
Editor’s Note: We resume the saga of the last cruise of the last battleship of the Imperial Navy this Thanksgiving morning. I am thankful for all things: for friends, for the gift of life, for healthy kids and grandkid, and my best wishes of this most American of holidays to you all!
That said, I am a bit weary of trying to write around what appears to be a world gone mad, and prefer, events permitting, to venture back to earlier times when things appeared to have been settled. There were a lot of people who gave thanks for the speedy end to war, the big one, by whatever means necessary.
Our pal Mac Showers had all the “points” for war service to immediately return to the States with the Magic Carpet that swept east across the Pacific, taking the combat soldiers, Marines, Airmen and sailors home. Instead, he returned to Hawaii, since he had no job back in Iowa, and the taste of the life as an intelligence officer seemed to appeal to him.He was thankful.
Others, like my Dad, were in the pipeline to provide the fodder for the expected fierce battle to conquer the Home Islands. Dad was lucky. He got his Wings of Gold, third to last class of Aviation Officer Cadets to complete the formal course of instruction. He was offered the choice to join the peacetime Fleet, or simply stay in the reserves and go home to New Jersey. He quite sensibly went home, quite thankful.
Others were not so lucky. We return to the story of Edward Smith Gillfillen, Jr., LCDR, USNR, and his narrative of the time he served as the last XO of the Last Battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
(IJN Sakawa, fitting out at Sasebo Naval Base in 1945. She never fought, but served to bring home some of the 3.5 million Japanese troops stranded overseas at the end of hostilities in a great arc from Manchuria to the Solomons, and across the islands of the Central and Southwest Pacific. Photo USN from IJN archives).
Ed continues, setting his drink down on the table between us. “I was part of the technical collection team tasked with examining the war machine we had just defeated…”
Not long after returning from the snow-buried villages of Hokkaido on an inspection tour to collect and assess items of Japanese war technology, I was ordered to the Sakawa, the only remaining Japanese cruiser. She was an Agano-class cruiser, second of her class. Named after a river in Kanagawa Prefecture, she would wind up with us at Bikini. Sakawa had been intended for use as a flagship for a destroyer flotilla, but never saw combat duty, since she was completed at the yard in Sasebo in 1945. She had a graceful and uncluttered deck line with a single stack and had suffered no war damage, so she was a rare pristine example of the Japanese shipbuilding art, at least from a distance.
At the time of her surrender, her guns were removed; later she had made two trips to Wekwak and one to the Palava returning Japanese prisoners to the homeland. When I boarded her with a group of American officers, the Japanese flag was still flying from her masthead, which may have made her the last actual IJN ship afloat. It was a bitter winter day. Sleet and sheets of spray were driven over the bow of the boat. It was painful to look ahead. Sakawa’s decks were deserted. We waited a moment, looking for the Officer of the Deck, but seeing no one, we entered the superstructure.
At the top of a ladder, we found a little blue-uniformed Japanese boy who stared at the group of us uniformed Gaijins for a moment and then ducked below. Presently, a middle-aged Japanese in a formal blue uniform with chrysanthemums in his collar appeared and motioned us to descend. He was the Captain. We entered his cabin, an elegantly furnished compartment complete with portholes, a fine mahogany table, upholstered settee and an ornate desk of the type so often seen in the Orient.
Whiskey was served all around as the Captain introduced his senior officers. Then we made a tour of the ship. The decks, navigation spaces, and radio rooms were in perfect order with al fittings and instruments visible and working. Engineering equipment and spaces were modern and well kept up. There was some poor welding in evidence, but that was to be expected in a vessel finished so late in the war.
The living spaces, however, were neither clean or in order. In most of them an extra wooden desk had been inserted, doubling the sleeping space but leaving little head room. The whole ship smelled horrible of human bodies and stale food. On the fantail were wooden troughs for washing and wooden privies that hung out over the water. Such were the necessities of the reparation services. In spite of the smell and improvised nature of the accommodations, there could be no doubt that the Sakawa was a going concern.
I became quite well acquainted with these officers and others, including a rear admiral who helped us on the Nagato. No amount of prejudice could disguise the fact that they were capable professionals would do well in any navy in the world.
At the high levels of the Occupation there were policy debates about what should be done with the captured materiel of the war machine. Clearly, these relics of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere would have to go- and perhaps a test of the new Atom Bomb might be the best use for them.
As the largest remaining capital ship, it was decided that Nagato should be manned by a brave band of American volunteers and adventurers who could accommodate the unexpected and unusual with aplomb, and none-the-less completely be completely Navy in terms of the orthodoxy of their views, and more than capable of sustaining any difficulty which might be in the offing. The officers would lead harassed subordinates who cherished the “points” they had accumulated to prioritize their eligibility for demobilization and a trip back to the land of the Big PX.
The sailors were uniformly were tired of the war, the Navy and Japan, in that general order, and their main object was to get home without a nervous breakdown. The problem of building a crew for the last battleship was a challenge. They had to get a list of 189 names from a naval establishment desperately short on men. They would do it in such a way as to minimize contact with angry individuals. By one of those bits of luck (without which nothing works in this man’s Navy), we got a handful of petty officers just in from de-commissioned vessels. About a third of the rest came straight from Boot Camp, while the remainder were Shanghaied by levey imposed on the commanding officers of ships currently in the harbor.
It would have been more than human for officers in that position not to send their boat-adjusted men and these skippers were very human. Many whose points would come due in a few months were included. Not one man aboard was a volunteer.
This was an era of corrosive cynicism on the waterfront in Yokosuka. Everyone as concentrating on getting home, and when frustrated on that front, the quest to find their own souvenirs. Any old excuse for disobedience of orders would be accepted by officers, who feared that any official motion they might take might delay their own release to deal with holding mast or bringing a court-marshal.
(View from Nagato’s damaged Pagoda of USS South Dakota. Watercolor on Scratch Board by Standish Backus; 1945. Image Naval History and Heritage Command).
It was from this atmosphere that men came to the Nagato, a ship stripped by scavengers and herself being the biggest souvenir ever lifted. It is not surprising that all of us considered that all bets were off. Sailors and officers proceeded to adjust themselves pragmatically to conditions as they found them.
Their first impression of the Nagato was not reassuring. Everything but the hull seemed damaged beyond repair. In fact, it was hard not to believe the scuttlebutt that the battleship would never steam again under her own power, and that all this was just another foul-up, and that what they did really did not matter. Before the arrival of responsible officers, they sensed a lack of leadership and lack of plan, and were morally damaged thereby.
Enterprise and ability to adjust to circumstances are American characteristics. These men did not long waste time being sorry for themselves. They found a diesel-electric plant on board. It was intended for emergency use, but they started and ran it until it wore out. Meanwhile they had lights and electric heaters in every room, hotplates on which to cook chow, and so were able to live in comfort. By the time the emergency diesel was burned out, they had a boiler operating on salt water and one of the steam driven electric generators working. The salt water ruined the boiler, but before it was completely gone, they had distilled enough to start another boiler on fresh water, and after that they could make enough fresh water for washing and cooking.
They selected the best staterooms in the ship – those having portholes – scrubbed and painted the walls, arranged places of honor for their precious pin-ups, ransacked the rest of the ship for furniture and found that the rapacious souvenir hunters had overlooked much good stuff including Japanese food.
Soon they were living better than anyone afloat in the bay. They reconstructed the radios left on board and got them working for entertainment and a loose command and control. They rearranged the ship’s public address system to pipe music everywhere. All the while, they were exploring the more remote fastness of the ship. The ship-fitters discovered a store of grain alcohol, had it analyzed, found it drinkable. Later I tried hard to find it, but never did. There are some secrets Sailors know to keep to themselves.
There was no need to bother with the formalities of the Plan of the Day, like reveille, Quarters for muster, or liberty lists. Instead, they got up when it felt right, ate and went ashore as they pleased. It was a sailor’s dream, clouded only by the thoughts that someday someone might want them to do something.
Let him who rails against the ancient officer’s caste-system first live in an unsupervised detachment of enlisted men. He will find out how hard class distinction can really be driven. The crew broke up into little groups of professional people intensely jealous of their prerogatives. The signalmen took over the pagoda and industriously got the Japanese signal lights going. They rigged a flag-bag and signal pennants, and thus got in touch with other similar groups of signalmen all over the harbor.
Once established in the larger brotherhood of those who know what is going on, they were able to warn of impending visits by dignitaries and of the birth of policy.
The ship-fitters were a hunter clan – the only ones who knew exactly where all the desirable stores were, and ready to tell the right people for a consideration in kind. Under the spur of private enterprise, they became more thoroughly familiar with the ship than any regular regime could have made them. That intimate knowledge of detailed arrangements was later to save her from sinking.
Under the stimulus of professional rather than material motives, the electricians likewise put forth a mighty effort during those free-and-easy days. They had a sound appreciation of the principles of electricity, but therefore little practical experience. On a proper man-o-war they would have been rewarded for good conduct by being allowed to knock off paint-chipping once in a while to screw in electric light bulbs. In Nagato they could do anything that struck their fancy, and they did.
All conceivable material was there at hand: big generators, wire of all sizes, motors, vacuum tubes, batteries, communication circuits. They could work with thousand amperes or a thousandth of an ampere, as they pleased. Their services were in demand; they could ask and get anything they wanted for rigging hot plates, radios, special telephones, etc. When something went wrong and burned up, as so often happened to the electrical equipment, it was only to be expected in view of the rundown condition of the ship. If a motor went “phut,” they knew just where there was another like it.
Giving their imaginations full reign, they produced some weird Rube Goldberg contraptions to make life easier. Experience gained during this period of experimentation paid off later when the electrical system became a menace to the survival of the ship. No one could tell them what to do then, and no one had to. You would see them plodding wearily along the dripping corridors, tired, grey-faced, streaked with dirt, but carrying on whole days without sleep, doing all that would be done.
The ship had had an elaborate communication system; there were several control switchboards and phones hanging on almost every bulkhead in battle clamps from which they could not be dislodged by the shock of gunfire. Whether the electricians ever understood this system completely I did not know, but probably they did. They never put the switchboards into full operation but, grudgingly it seemed, they connected permanently the few lines needed to operate the ship. Phones so activated officially were tagged Most of the untagged phones hanging on the bulk heads were dead, but not all; each clan of enlisted men had its own private system known only to its members. Those were used mostly to prevent narrow-minded individuals from seeing anything that might disturb them.
Such was the situation facing Captain Whipple when he took over. Neither the ship nor the crew were ready for sea. The one had to be got in condition mechanically and the other brought to the state of discipline without which any ship is but a floating coffin.
Discipline must be tough with bread in one hand and a stick in the other: privileges to grant and punishment to inflict. Neither was easy. You cannot offer thrills to a man who believes that the great and final adventure of his life will be his return home. You could not offer privileges ashore. The town of Yokosuka and the Honcho-ku ginza outside the gate was so depressing that most men preferred to remain onboard.
The usual Navy punishment for minor offenses is extra duty, but the smallness of this crew and the bulk of the ship made it necessary to demand extra work of everyone. To have used confinement as a punishment would have required setting a guard on this brig – there were just not enough men to do it. The final resort of a bad-conduct discharge would not only lose a irreplaceable man, but is scarcely applicable to youngsters – it is wrong to mark a man for life for a minor indiscretion of youth.
Captain Whipple’s status was further complicated by the anomalous status of the ship. Though not a ship of the US Navy, it was flying the Jack forward; aft, she flew the Stars & Stripes without being recognized under them. She had been officially declared not a prize of war, but no one had said just what she was. She was a study in ambiguity. Captain Whipple had been designated commanding officer, but not by the President, whose prerogative that is.
Courageously laying himself open to actions in the civil courts, he decided to assume the disciplinary duties of a regular commanding officer. My own theory was that since the ship was not registered under any flag, she was subject only to the unwritten law of the sea – that her officers were not bound by the troublesome restrictions of Navy Regulations or union contracts, and in fact – but never mind that now.
We were all going to learn a lot on the last cruise of the Nagato.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
(Russian SU-24 Fencer twin engine attack jet. Photo Wikipedia Commons).
I was electrified when I heard the news yesterday morning: the Turks had dispatched two F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to bushwhack the Russian aircraft that have been conducting bombing missions over northwest Syria- and incidentally crossing Turkish Airspace.
It is a tickling bit of business. I have supported tactical jets in the region before. We had to take meticulous notes about our regular flight operations near what former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi had termed the “Line of Death” in the Gulf of Sidra. We deliberately crossed it to affirm our position that the concept of “Straight Baseline” definition of territorial waters and airspace was totally bogus.
Later in the same Med Cruise, we were conducting an exercise with the Israelis in the incredibly constrained airspace over the Jewish State. I got word from Combat that there had been a breach of Egyptian airspace in the Sinai by one of our jets. I went down to the CAG-6 space to find the air wing commander and let him know we might have some problems coming.
CAG Richardson looked at me sheepishly and said: “I know. It was me. I got wrapped up in a target run and couldn’t bend it around again fast enough. Let me know if the Ambassador calls.”
Thankfully, the Egyptians chose not to protest and the matter blew over. But that is not always the case.
Here is the deal: the Turks claim they repeatedly warned the Russians that they were heading for their territory. Here is the geography, as depicted in the radar chart released by the Turkish Defense Ministry yesterday:
(Turkish air defense tracking. The red line is the flight path of the Russian jets. Photo Turkish MOD).
You can see the problem. There is a little chunk of Turkey that pokes into Syria, and the racetrack the Russians were using to hit whoever it is that they are targeting this week.
The result was significant. The video images of the SU-24 Fencer going down in flames got my heart racing. The idea of an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air Infrared missile entering your tailpipe is not a pleasant one, and the Russian yet was burning all the way down. It crashed in Syrian territory, near Turkman Mountain, and had been in Turkey for all of seventeen seconds.
(The SU-24 going down in flames. Screen grab courtesy the Independent Balkan News Agency).
The repercussions were immediate. Videos released by Syrian rebels appeared to show one pilot dead after being shot after ejecting. His co-pilot was captured, which prompted a twelve-hour rescue operation, probably conducted by elite SPTZNAZ soldiers. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this morning that the guys who rescued the surviving pilot will receive decorations and the one who was killed will get a posthumous Hero of Russia medal.
One of the two rescue helos was also forced down and destroyed by a U.S.-built TOW anti-tank missile, killing a “Marine.” I take that to mean SPETNAZ, since they wear a characteristic striped naval jersey under their cammies. I have a lot of respect for them. They are very capable people.
So, later, I am sitting with Jon-without at the Front Page, wondering about the consequences. “So, let me get this straight,” Jon without said, straightening his bow tie. “We have Russians, Americans, Syrians and Turks all flying in the same general area. The Russians have been over-flying Turkish territory and have been warned. Isn’t there the possibility that someone may make a miscalculation?”
I nodded grimly into my vodka and diet tonic with lime. “Yeah. I have been wondering if this was going to happen to us,” I said. “Or them by us.”
“But don’t we all want to crush ISIS?” asked lovely Jamie, who was a little frazzled by her new commute from Chantilly and was using the Front Page as a lilly-pad before completing the journey to Woodbridge.
“Well, sort of.” I said. “We have Russia and Iran who want to prop up the Assad regime, and everyone else wants to topple the butcher. That includes, in general order, the French, the Brits, the Turks, the Israelis, the rebels and us. I have never quite seen anything like this. There are at least two wars going on, and the Saudis and the Emirates are backing whoever is Sunni, which includes ISIS, and the Iranians who are backing the Shias. Except it also seems that our NATO ally Turkey may actually have been the one that trans-shipped the weapons from Benghazi that were supposed to go to the rebels and gave them to ISIS instead.”
“Wasn’t it a lot simpler when it was just us and the Russians?”
“Sure seemed like it. But back then, both sides were professional. We knew what was at stake if someone screwed up. This seems more like the eve of World War One, when no one was quite sure about what was going to happen, didn’t actually want to plow Europe into a zone of fire, end all the empires and dislocate whole populations.”
“Well, is this the Guns of November then?”
“I dunno. The only ones with nukes at the moment are the Russians, the French, the Brits and the Israelis. Unless the Iranians have bought one from the Pakistanis or the North Koreans, I think that will still be a ways off for them.”
“So no Armageddon, right?” Jon looked concerned.
“Hopefully not. But there is still some angry rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin and I have every confidence there will be a tit-for-tat. But remember, there is oil and gas in this big time. The Russians are using our targeting information to hit the tanker trucks we wouldn’t in order to hurt ISIS financing. Then, there is the regional issue. Russia’s cancellation of the South Stream natural gas pipeline project, which was going to go under the Black Sea, has had substantial ripple effects on the energy dynamics on the European continent. The Russians and Europeans have schemes to replace it, but in any event that is going to put Turkey in a pivotal position for the alternate Southern Corridor route or the TANAP- the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline. That would get natural gas to Europe from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to the EU.”
Jamie nodded, since she analyzes these sorts of things. “Moscow can’t easily give up the European market where demand for natural gas is growing, especially at a time when low oil prices have hammered its export-dependent economy. There is a cost to adventurism.”
“So what do you think the Russians are going to do?” asked Jon, looking concerned. “Mr. Putin sounded pissed off yesterday when he said that the Turks had stabbed him in the back?”
“They have an old helicopter and missile cruiser in the east Med, the Moskva, and they are moving it in closer to the waters north of Latakia on the coast. Then they can provide missile coverage and start escorting the Fencers with air superiority Flankers. They are also going to beef up their air defense by deploying the S-400 missile system. Trust me, I would not like to be flying inside the envelope of that thing. It is deadly. They say, “if it flies, it dies.””
“And that means they could shoot down Turkish jets, which could cause them to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which would put NATO at war with Russia.”
I waved my glass at Bryan behind the wide dark wood bar. “One more for me, Bryan,” I called out. Then I turned to Jon and said: “We haven’t even considered what the Kurds and the Iraqis might have to say about any of this. I have been in favor of an independent Kurdistan for a long time, but that means parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey would have to secede from where they are.”
“Oh, crap.” Said Jon.
“No shit,” I said. “There are way too many variables in this one, and I don’t have a good feeling anyone is in charge at the Capital of the Free World.” Bryan slid a drink in front of me. I eyed it carefully. “It reminds me of the line from Animal House.”
“Which one?” asked Jon.
“My advice to you, Son, is start drinking heavily.”
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Beasts, Boats and the Road
When I come over Town Hill just south of Breezewood, PA, the big wind farm doesn’t quite shout out “you have a friend in Pennsylvania.” It actually makes me uneasy, since the great ominous blades slicing ponderously through the air makes it appear that the aliens have landed, and they mean us no good.
I am still processing the trip, a rapid drive up and back to Michigan to attend a very special first birthday party for a special friend of mine, and naturally there were some interesting events in between the bookends of a long weekend behind the wheel.
First, weather: I hadn’t been thinking of snow. It had been in the fifties in the Old Dominion the last week or so- certainly cooler and seasonably so as we pressed up against the Turkey Day holiday. I glanced at the extended forecast on Friday, the day I was going to take off, and blanched when I saw the blob of weather arcing across lower Michigan from Chicago.
Not much good comes out of there these days, and the prediction of four-to-six inches of white stuff forced me to adjust my leisurely speed of advance. I still stopped in Newton Falls, at the Holiday Inn Express, but eschewed a night on the town in the Covered Bridge City and got on with night’s rest in order to clear the place and be on the road again at first light.
That knocked me off the production schedule for Saturday, when I would have talked with you about the wonders of the alternate road west through the panhandle of Maryland and north into Pennsylvania via I-79 to intersect the Turnpike north of Pittsburgh.
It is a little longer than the all-turnpike route, but it is not so mind-numbingly familiar.
The snow started at Monroe, Michigan, boyhood home of General George Armstrong Custer and not far from the Raisin River Battlefield where Tecumseh’s American Indian confederation inflicted the greatest defeat upon U.S. forces in the west during the War of 1812, and certainly the most definitive until the Little Bighorn.
A few random observations from behind the wheel:
American Society and current events: Everyone seems to be a little on edge these days. Debbie, the diminutive blonde sandwich lady at Al’s Corner in Beaver Falls, PA, fixed me with an intense stare and announced that she is prepared for any contingency. She is convinced the government is coming to get her, and probably before the election. She mentioned that she had buried two husbands, and her eyes gleamed as she drew a sharp knife along the spine of hoagie roll in which she deftly inserted a bit of fried perch, and I considered possible defensive strategies, just in case. Good sandwich, though.
Automotive: Visibility declined, but the Panzer’s 4Matic all-wheel drive made the car handle like a dream. A really good performer in the snow. I was very impressed I got in while the snow was just starting to accumulate. It was an excellent afternoon to get on the floor and play with the Grandbaby with the football games murmuring in the background.
So, let’s just note that “Grandkids are cool,” and a miracle, and seeing your son be a great Dad is one of the wonders of the world.
So, that was the reason for the trip, but I drove because I hate flying these days, and there was an audio book I wanted to listen to.
So, oddly, there was a literary aspect to the weekend, and what is more, it all resonated with the strange and unsettling backdrop of terror attacks and histrionic rhetoric.
It was a total accident. I had been hooked on Erik Larson’s narratives since I read “Devil in the White City,” his masterful and compelling account of a serial killer who preyed on women visiting the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Earlier this year, when the pool was opening and glittering, I listened to his latest, “Dead Wake,” the account of the sinking of the Lusitania by Unterzeeboot-20.
Writing “In the Garden of Beasts,” Larson takes on the rise of Hitler in an intimate portrait. Listening to “The Boys in the Boat” (Daniel James Brown) on my iPod dragged me back to the period of the rise of the Nazis, and in perfect sequence.
If you have not read them, I strongly recommend both. Larson’s “Beasts” concentrates on 1933 and ’34, the years of the consolidation of the office of Chancellor and President in the person of Herr Hitler. It is an intensely personal account, drawn largely from the letters and papers (man, did they keep papers!) of the William Dodd family, and the Nazis with whom they socialized as Dodd served as US Ambassador for FDR.
He is an Ivory Tower Liberal of the Wilsonian school, an ardent New Dealer, intent on making his meager circumstances a badge of honor against the wealthy Foreign Service Officers over whom he is appointed. His daughter- a product of the Roaring Twenties and quite the Flapper, cuts a swath through the young men of Berlin, and winds up as the lover of the Third Secretary of the Soviet Embassy. The account rises to a cloud of violence that culminates in the purge of the Sturm Abtielungen- the Brown Shirts of Ernst Roehm’s SA- and the mass executions that went along with them.
Brown’s account is even more powerful, if possible, and overlaps the period. It is the saga of a group of hard-rowing of working-class State of Washington lads who beat the world in the eight-man crew race at the 1936 Olympics.
Along the way, we encounter the Dust Bowl, the accounts of which are horrific, and make the minor variations in the weather of recent history seem like very small potatoes indeed. Not to mention the nationwide heat wave (1936 is still the hottest on record here, regardless of the tinkerings with the temperature record at NOAA and NASA), and set against the backdrop of the machinations of Avery Brundage, chairman of the American Olympic Committee, the cinematic genius of Leni Riefenstahl who willingly threw herself into the service of the monsters by filming the most intense documentary films in history: the 1934 Riechspartitag in Munich in “Triumph of the Will” and the dizzying montage of “Olympia,” the astonishing cinematic documentation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the greatest public event held on earth up to that time.
The parade of Nazi officialdom- Goebbles and Goring and the rest- is depicted in both books with similar style and caustic foreshadowing of what the horrors that these men would foist upon a world that could have stopped them, had it cared to do so.
Oh, and the accounts of what the Boys themselves had to ensure in the Depression? It makes you realize how soft our society has become. Food stamps? How about scouring the woods around Sequim, seeking edible mushrooms to supplement the occasional egg from the hens that the mink have not killed in the coop. Working on rock faces with jackhammers while suspended on harnesses to build the Grand Cooley Dam, for example, or a boy being abandoned by a family that has too many mouths to feed.
Superb story telling in both books. Listening to the story of what the boys did on the massive construction required to build the dam to provide power to the West, the vision to have a public works project to bring work to the men, and to bring electricity to the rural folks is inspirational.
And of course, we could not do anything like that today. Hell, we can’t even build a little pipeline without anguishing for years. It is a different- and more timid- world these days.
Meanwhile, Ohio rolled by in a daze of waving swastikas and bombast and marching athletes. Pennsylvania was the same, all the contours and grades familiar as old friends. The compulsion to finish “Boys” on the drive back to Virginia was compelling. That, in turn, made it a straight-through trip yesterday, since I could not stop listening until it was all done and the only bit left was the 120 miles down Sideling Hill and into the Capital.
Anyway, when the book was done and the tears- no kidding- were dried, I went back to satellite radio and listened to the incredible events that are swirling. That, and the growing realization that I would hit the Beltway mid-way through the rush hour, and the nagging of the GPS that strove mightily to route me around the rest of the delays. I saw parts of surburban Maryland I had never seen before under the silver night of a gibbous moon.
When I got back to Big Pink last night, my legs were cramping from operating the pedals. The night in my own bed included wild Technicolor dreams that included feral criminals and a road incident that accidentally placed my Police Interceptor on the roof of a cathedral under construction near the Pentagon, of all places. My legs hurt when I got out of bed and contemplated the morning.
I assume this all will get clearer with time, and this should be an interesting week. More as I process this mess. In the meantime, I can’t say enough about those two books. History doesn’t repeat itself, as Twain noted. But there are some really crazy things going on that sure as hell rhyme.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @ jayare303
Send Them to Detroit
It will not come as a gigantic surprise that I am appalled by how our nation is responding to all this terror nonsense. Or not responding, as the case may be. Our President, according to reports by crusading journalist Sheryl Attkisson, will not even take briefings on organizations that are on our official list of such organizations, since he doesn’t believe it.
Think bout that for a moment. Our Secretary of State is living in some parallel dimension. He says ISIS has been “neutralized,” which would come as a surprise to the allied Boko Haram thugs in Mali, who seized the Radisson Hotel and took 170 hostages, killing three. And during the very weekend of the attacks in Paris, five more terrorists were released to the Emirates, since they are “no longer a threat.”
So, I am about out of righteous indignation. This is intolerable. So, since I am on the road today, I will leave you with this gem from my go-to inside baseball web connection for military satire.
Back in 1979, there was a film making the rounds of the Battle Group as we steamed doughnuts in the greasy blue swells of the Indian Ocean. It was a bit of cinematic fluff called “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” a series of madcap vignettes directed by John Landis. The consensus in Ready Room Two was that it was hysterical. One of the bits was a parody of Kung Fu movies called “A Fist Full of Yen.”
In the story, a warlord is inflicting rough justice on captives. He gets pretty worked up about it, and with spittle flying, pronounces the grim sentence: “Send them to Detroit!”
It was funny at the time, and I guess it still is.
Anyway, back then we knew who the bad guys were and had no qualms in dealing our own sort of rough justice. But those were different times.
I see from the weather forecast that I will encounter the first snow of the season on my drive. I will keep you posted on what winter looks like.
Pain in the Neck
The driver-less Klown Kar of State, powered by some arcane Google algorithm, continues to hurtle down the road this morning, and needs no comment from me, though you know I will anyway on the way to something else.
I mean, really. The Secretary of State of the United States of America actually stumbled through some mangled syntax the other day about the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists being justified- or justifiable. He caught himself, but his correction was almost as bad, and betrays the goofy worldview that got us in this mess. Seeking to differentiate the kinds of murder Islamic terrorists conduct, he issued a weird statement. I will let the Secretary speak for himself, though he probably shouldn’t:
“There’s something different about what happened (in Paris) from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that.”
“This, and that” as grounds for justifiable homicide. Or sending James Taylor to France to sing them “You’ve Got A Friend” to demonstrate solidarity against murdering low-life scum. There appears to be a lot of that delusional thinking going around, since it sounds painfully like the tortured logic uttered by the front-runner in the Democratic Presidential campaign last December, when she described her ideas about Soft Power, a concept that succeeded so well in the disastrous Arab Spring:
“This includes leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view.”
Gosh, I would hate to leave anyone on the sidelines, particularly homicidal barbarians. All we really need to do is crush them like the cockroaches they are. It is absurd. I could go on with quotes from all over our Government that demonstrate pretty graphically that the real threat to the national security is not ISIS, but people who are concerned about who comes to our shores. And Republicans, of course.
Insert Standard Declaimer Here: I am not a frigging Republican. I lean libertarian, but I retain something that apparently the Progressives have forgotten, or better said, never learned: Critical Thinking. This stuff is way easy.
Let’s try a simple exercise. Western Civilization is pretty cool. It has had its moments over the last two millennia, but in any modern criteria, it is better than an alien social-religious system largely unchanged from the 7th Century. I am not particularly religious, but I recently found proof of this in the soaring beauty of the Catholic Funeral Mass I attended before news of the Paris butchery began to spread, and the marvels of the Brahm’s Requiem at the Kennedy Center on Sunday.
Christians are not a bigger problem than Muslims, and there is no moral equivalency between them, as hard as tortured leftist syntax might try to assert. In fact, I don’t find Christianity to be a threat to anything in particular, except maybe not issuing marriage licenses in one county of a rural coal state where all the rest of them will, and happily. If you find that rises to the same level of insanity as throwing Gay people off buildings, or lopping off their heads, I would suggest therapy.
On the other hand, I consider a waxing Islam to be a threat to the way I like to live my life, gay, cisgender, purple or polka dot. Christians, writ large, accord women something approaching equality much more than the oppression and slavery with which they are treated by Islam. Oh, I do not accept Sharia Law, and will fight to the death any attempt to replace our Constitution and the rule of law with its tenets.
Which is sort of an odd way to get into a discussion about pillows, but trust me, this whole thing has been a real pain in the neck. Have you taken the pillowcase off and looked at your pillows lately?
I did the other day. I have been enjoying the slow decline into senility. There is something new and surprising to learn every day, which I promptly forget. The aches and pains are the most enjoyable. All the old injuries and insults to my body are back, crowding around one another to provide entertainment. The knees, the shoulders, but bum leg. The neck.
There doesn’t appear to be much I can do to remediate most of the sources of pain. I ran too much, crashed into too many immobile objects to expect that the joints would have survived undamaged. My brother Spike is exploring some options to deal with the knees, and I will allow him to blaze that particular trail.
The neck is something peculiar, though. I don’t know if the spreading paralysis that came on when Raven and Big Mamma were dying was from stress, or ancient blunt trauma, or a combination of both. It comes and it goes. One time, preparing for the 800-mile drive from the Old Dominion to The Little Village By the Bay, I had to painfully twist my entire torso to try to catch a glimpse of the passenger-side mirror in the Hubrismobile.
That eventually subsided to a dull ache, but like I said, it comes and goes.
I was listening to satellite radio on the way down to the farm the other day. I love the various genres that all have their own channels, country to old alt rock, classical, talk and everything. I think there is a Catholic channel; probably one with learned commentary by an Imam, too. That is what America is about, right?
The target demographic is mostly people like me, and long-haul truckers. We tend to be people of a certain age, and the potions and nostrums advertised are targeted at the aches and pains of entropy. I don’t listen to them very closely, and my eyes glaze over when a familiar one starts to ooze out of the dashboard, which can be a distinct threat to navigation. One struck me as being of immediate utility.
There is a guy named mike Lindell who sells pillows from his web site at www.mypillow.com. Odd line of work, but he is a specimen of the kinds of entrepreneur who made this nation great. His product is proudly made right in the USA- in Minnesota, where people spend a lot of time in bed in the winter. His ads talk about reducing arm and neck pain, and his ten-year quest has been to produce and distribute pillows that will alleviate it.
My particular pain in the neck may be exacerbated by the stress of living in one of the proclaimed ISIS targets, or not, but the steady low-level ache made the ad resonate.
I did some basic due-diligence on the matter (there are apparently people who did not read the instructions for initial use) and discovered my size and sleeping habits were suitable for a “White” model pillow- they have several, depending on your body mass and preferred position. I wound up ordering two of the queen-sized pillows for Big Pink and the farm. You can order direct from Mike, and get a two-for-one deal, but try as I might, I could not find the offer code and wound up buying from my go-to e-vender instead.
They arrived with that new Amazon speed of heat delivery. The pillows are constructed of a unique octo-surfaced foam filling and were rolled into two plastic-covered cylinders in the iconic brown box. I released them, saving the instruction that told me to run them in the dryer on regular heat for fifteen minutes.
Later, I did so, after watching them swell and recover their intended shape. I stripped the covers off the existing pillows and marveled at what was underneath them. They are old friends, and well used, but will need a trip to the dry cleaners before I get anywhere near them again.
I was actually looking forward to getting back from Lyon Hall and trying them out.
I am here to report on the results of day two of the trials. I successfully slept through the night twice. No shit. Down at 2130 and up at 0500. Relaxed, refreshed, and ready to believe two or three impossible things before breakfast.
Considering the number of pains in the neck we are expected to deal with each day, that is a real accomplishment. I give “My Pillow” five stars, and may go back to bed right now.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Editor’s Note: The Nagato saga will resume just as soon as the world settles down a bit. Probably before the election, ins’hallah.
(Flag of the American Party- the “Know Nothings,” who opposed all immigration in the mid-19th Century. Photo WikiComons).
Nope- if you expected me to analyze what the French police are likely to do now that they are going to have State of Emergency powers for three months, I am not going to cooperate. The French are pretty good at kicking in doors and dispensing rough justice, like they did in the Battle for Algiers. Of course they lost that one, and Algiers wound up moving to Marseilles.
There is anxiety abroad in the land this morning. Several of my pals woke to unease this morning, since News-and-Traffic on the Eights was murmuring about gunfire in Paris for a second time this week. This time it was law enforcement on the offensive in the north suburb of St. Denis. The operation started before dawn and continued for hours as at least two terror suspects were killed and seven were detained.
A woman detonated herself with a suicide belt. That sort of terror diversity is rare but not unprecedented, since Chechen women long ago struck a blow for diversity and inclusiveness in suicide bombings. It could be a new feature of the current ISIS offensive.
Nor am I going to launch off on a tirade about the strange system that administers refugee transport to the United States. It is what it is, and has been this way for a long time. Still, there seems to be a misunderstanding about what Americans think about immigration- legal, illegal, or that covered by the legislation about Refugees.
Despite those who quote the plaque on the Statue of Liberty about huddled masses, the public view has always been more nuanced. Back in the day, it even caused the rise of the American Party, a group better known now as the “Know Nothings.” You might even say it is back right now, since there is rising concern about the evidence that a Syrian passport discovered near the partial remains of one of Friday’s suicide bombers may mean they were deliberately infiltrated to France to conduct the attack.
In simpler times it was about jobs. In the middle of the 19th Century, the Know-Nothings strongly opposed immigrants in general and Roman Catholics in specific. Hell, I remember when that was an issue in JFK’s campaign against Dick Nixon. Seems kind of quaint now, the notion that the American President would be more loyal to the Pope than to the United States. More radical members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that the Catholics intended to take over the United States of America. The Catholics would then place the nation under the Pope’s rule. If anything sounds familiar, I am sure it is a coincidence.
Of course, ISIS says that is exactly what they intend to do, and I am inclined to take them at their word.
In the here-and-now, the Administration has said it has a goal of bringing in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, that number being in addition to the 60,000 already in the pipeline under the provisions of Ted Kennedy’s Refugee Act of 1980. You may have heard that dozens of State Governors, mostly Republican though not all, wanted to know a little more about who is coming and where they are going to be placed.
Sorry, Governors. That is not how it works.
I don’t have time to get bogged down in the details of what Teddy did to us- but it was certainly a lot. In a nutshell, the Act of 1980 raised the ceiling for refugees from 17,500 to 50,000, put the criteria for being designated a legitimate ‘refugee’ in the hands of the UN High Commissioner for those sorts of things. Currently that is a former Portuguese prime minister named António Guterres, who is the tenth official to head the UNHCR, and has been on the job for ten years.
(Elected Official Guterres. He is elected by the UN, that is.)
I am a little foggy on how the UNHCR got inserted into the process of bringing people we may- or may not- like to have as neighbors, but everyone is saying the “vetting” process is robust, and can take two years, so it is perfectly safe. And that is perhaps true, though in addition to the Tzarnaev brothers, the Daily Mail reports that 66 other people have been arrested over the last 18 months for ISIS-related plots in the US. There were several who arrived via the refugee resettlement program.
Once the list of names arrived here in America, the Departments of State and Health and Human Services swing into swift and decisive action: they turn the settlement process over to contractors. This is who they are, at the moment, with links to their organizational home pages:
Church World Service (CWS)
Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) (secular)
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM)
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
International Rescue Committee (IRC) (secular)
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) (secular)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
World Relief Corporation (WR)
The interesting feature of the Act is that the local municipalities that will be receiving the refugees are not notified who they are, where they came from or where they are going.
Bloomberg reported there was a conference call Tuesday night between the Administration and the Governors who have to answer to their constituents. Several of them “demanded they be given access to information about Syrian refugees about to be resettled by the federal government in their states. The White House officials refused.
The administration officials participating included White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, State Department official Simon Henshaw, FBI official John Giacalone, and deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, John Mulligan.
On the call were several Republican governors and two Democrats: Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and noted California conservative firebrand Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown. The governors repeatedly pressed Administration officials to share more information about Syrian refugees entering the United States. The governors wanted notifications whenever refugees were resettled in their states, as well as access to classified information collected when the refugees were vetted.
According to a state participant on the call:
“There was a real sense of frustration from all the governors that there is just a complete lack of transparency and communication coming from the federal government.”
I don’t blame them. I just discovered that our Governor McAuliffe supported the resettlement of six Syrians in Falls Church, just up Rt 50 from Big Pink, a dozen more in Fairfax County, and another group down by the farm in Charlottesville. I thought perhaps I ought to go down and welcome the one in Falls Church. You know, just say “howdy.”
Anyway, this is going on all across the country, essentially without comment, without the participation of the local entities that are going to wind up hosting them, or the knowledge of the citizenry.
But I am not going to get into it. Speaking from the Philippines, the President told us that “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if they’re based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. That’s how you defeat ISIS, not trying to divide the country or suggesting that our tradition of compassion should stop now.”
What exactly is exaggerated about the risk of getting hit- again- by Islamic Radicals? No one I know is anything but fatalistic about the likelihood that it is going to happen again, and next time right here in DC. I am as compassionate as anyone, but the President invoked the memory of what happened after the Tzarnaev brothers blew holes in the Boston Marathon, and how we courageously went on with life after they killed women and children and maimed hundreds. Wouldn’t it have been easier to go on with life without anyone dying for it?
Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a discussion about the best way to handle refugees in what is plainly a war of religions. Just ask the opposition. They are perfectly frank about explaining what they are up to.
And why do they have to come here, anyway? The European experience suggests that permitting large numbers of Middle Easterners into their societies might have a couple of real and significant problems beyond people producing Kalashnikovs and belt bombs. Some cultures do not share our values, and that is a plain fact.
I mean, why would Sunni refugees not want refuge in a primarily Sunni nation near their original homes in the Middle East? Where are their co-religionists on the whole compassion thing?
It’s puzzling, but as Sergeant Schultz used to say on “Hogan’s Heroes:” I know nothing!
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
(25th Reunion of the Lehigh University School of Engineering? Undated, possibly 1924? J.B. Socotra is in the middle, 5th from the left, second row).
It was an emotional weekend, with barbaric Islamic terror against innocent civilians sandwiched between a soaring and somber Catholic Funeral Mass and the dramatic strains of angelic voices rising in praise of God at the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center resounded with the ethereal sound of praise to God in the original German of the Brahm’s Requiem.
The three events made me consider that the legacy of Christianity and the civilization of the West is a pretty cool thing, and Islamic terrorism is not. We have been fighting it since
It is a sign of the times that I weighed the options of being armed myself, and getting in deep trouble with the District, or accepting the idea that if the assholes decided to attack the crowded venue- as they mentioned again was their direct intent- I would be in less legal trouble if I just got shot than attempted to fight back. In the end I decided to obey the law, and did not hear until later that the city of Washington had been specifically threatened by the dirt-bags. A factor for future travel planning, for sure.
But for all that, it was, on the whole, a marvelous weekend to treasure the civilization of the West, and to show contempt for the barbarians who think they will overwhelm us this time. They have tried so many times before, after all, and after writing about the triumph of arms that won the war against Fascism so much, it is a little surreal to beleive that we are like the good citizens of Vienna with the Sultan at the gate. Only the City Council opened it to him.
I think they are of the opinion that Europe is tired, and ill, and they can fill it up and replace the citizens of those former Imperial powers with their own, impose Sharia Law, and establish their Caliphate.
Apparently they think that about us, too. I am going to demur on that point, but will concede that until we can actually say what it is that we are fighting, it might be a little difficult. You know I don’t want to be insensitive or fail to check my free-citizen privilege or challenge the jihadi safe place.
I know, I know. Even making fun of the stupidity is galling. Life in America is not supposed to be a suicide pact.
But between the Christian bookends of the weekend, I happened upon something that sparked some memories. I was able to get all the cars out of the garage so I could start sorting the pile of stuff that has not been looked at since I closed the estate in the Little Village By The Bay. I didn’t make much of an impact- last cutting of the pastures and lawn at the farm took precedence- but I actually looked at the big laundry hamper that Mom had filled with envelope and papers. I took the large dark one on top, that being my usual response to crisis, and pried open the little brass clasp that held it closed. Inside were four mounted pictures that had obviously once been in frames, probably on the walls of my grandfather’s office in New Jersey. I challenge you to look at these and not recall an America that was confident, had a visual, worked hard and knew the value of an education that was paid for.
Grandfather was “J.B.,” from “James Burr Socotra,” He was an engineer- a practical one- with training at Lehigh University, Class of 1899. Grandfather wound up leaving the central Pennsylvania farm country of Shippensburg to join the Western Electric Corporation, the equipment arm of The Bell System in New Jersey, where he was what we would call today a network engineer. He traveled the world as part of his job, installing the telephone systems in Panama, Bermuda, and Rio de Janeiro, among others. The motion pictures of his departure for Bermuda, complete with pith helmet (we were always early adopters of technology) are in the family archives someplace, and should be digitized. it was always a show in West Webster, New York, when we visited and Uncle jim would drag out the antique 35mm film projector to show us Grandfather sailing away on the steamship to bring technology to a developing world.
That is what these men did. I came across them in a dark envelop at the top of a stack of such envelops in the estate office where they had been placed with the detritus from Mom’s office. I did not have time this weekend to get into detail on the contents of anything else- the pastures needed their last cut of the season. There are notebooks and diaries and many more pictures in the basket, but this set was the first.
They are the evidence of the reunions in the middle age of these classmates, as they made their mark on the world- marrying, raising children, and bringing on the wonders- and horrors- of the 20th century.
Class of ’99 gathers for their 30th reunion in Jume of 1929, just before the Stockmarket Crash that ushered in the Great Depression. James Burr is second from right in the second row.
A more intimate touch for the 35th reunion of the Class of ’99 at the residence of Mr. E. J. Grace on June 9th, 1934. That was the year Adolf Hitler consolidated his power as Chancellor and President in Germany and the world began to unravel. J.B. is second from right in the top row.
The last in the series. The 40th Reunion on 10 June 1939. The Japanese are already at war in China. The Nazis are about to blow Europe wide open. J.B. is at the extreme left of the first row. There are no more photos in the stream, since Grandfather would not survive to attend another.
These are times that make me think those old challenges were fairly straightforward, but you have to forgive me. I think the ones we face are, too.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra