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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.

A Tale of Two Cities – Part Two

Here is the second part of the story about my experiences in dealing with the Russians, this time the return trip in 1995. In the true sense of contrasting the difference between two cities, Part One was more centered on Moscow; the highlights of Part Two center more on St. Petersburg. In that regard, allow me to quote Charles Dickens as he resonates remarkably with our present day situation of political gridlock in the imperial city:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities

Moonrise, St. Petersburg, Russia

In Part One, I recounted my Russian experience as a student at the Naval War College during the summer of 1994.

Following graduation in November of that year, I transitioned to the ONI Detachment with the War Gaming Department. From this organization, it was tradition to assign a mid-grade officer (Lieutenant Commander) to act as the Executive Assistant to the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG), sort of a mini-Capstone for a dozen senior Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Captains awaiting flag selection or not, as a facilitator of all things intel and also a step-n-fetch it for all sorts of adminsitrivia such as coordinating travel, finishing the SSG final report, etc.

We had pretty much an unlimited travel budget to carry out our mandated task for the CNO – this time it was to look at the future security environment in 2005 – ten years ahead. While this was a relatively easy lift, it didn’t stop the SSG Fellows from traveling far and wide. We had a new leader that transition year of 1995, ADM James “Boss” Hogg, whom I had met more than a decade earlier when he was then a three-star and COMSEVENTHFLT; he retired several years later as the four-star US MILREP to NATO in Brussels. He was an interesting study in executive leadership – he would not read e-mail nor take phone calls directly, almost a Luddite, claiming they were a distraction. Everything he did was hand-written, very old school. He had disdain for senior leaders who used cell phones and computers. He loved meetings and the longer, the better. He drove the more Type A SSG Fellows (i.e., the two Marine Colonels) crazy by presiding over never-ending debates. I managed to invent admin bullshit to get myself out of most of the extended sessions or when directed to go brew a fresh pot of coffee. God they grew to hate to hear that phrase.

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Admiral James R. “Boss” Hogg (USN Ret.)

He acted like a total gentleman but I don’t think he liked me that much. I found him to be a bit snobby and condescending and I will leave it there. What are you supposed to do when you’re an 0-4 and your boss, albeit retired, still thinks, acts, and demands to be treated like he is still an active duty four-star with a direct reporting relationship to the CNO and you don’t?

Suck it up and put up with it, of course – you can always go out back and vomit later.

In order to accomplish our year-long task given to us by the CNO, Boss Hogg had a very ambitious travel schedule and was delighted to learn that I had been to Russia and knew the ground. I was directed to first plan a two-week European trip, with stops in Naples, London, Brussels, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. He also wanted to go to China. We were able to do both, and maybe the China trip will be the source of another Socotra. I dutifully bent to my tasks.

The first thing I did was call the Captain at the War College who had set up our 1994 trip to get his contact info, and in a mind-numbing month of paperwork and overseas calls, I scored both Nunn-Lugar funding for that portion of our trip, made the Russian connections, and the attendant diplomatic approvals, country clearances, etc., for the whole thing. We tried to price commercial airfare and the cost estimates were hideous, not to mention the connections, so the next trick was to secure air transportation, which we did via the SECNAV’s office. We were granted access to a 26-seat Gulfstream-4 (C-20) executive business jet for both of our overseas trips. For the European swing, VR-46 out of Honolulu-Hickam provided us with air services. Their Washington-Andrews VR-48 counterparts would return the favor for our trip to Asia. Their logic being that it would give both squadrons exposure to parts of the world that they would not normally fly.

I could identify with that.
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USN C-20 Executive Transport Jet

At the appointed date and time, we mustered at Sims Hall on the Naval War College Campus, loaded our gear into a couple of vans, and drove to T.F. Green Airport just south of Providence, RI, where we met our crew, took pictures, and then departed mid-morning for a long flight to Naples, Italy. This flight was fairly uneventful, except for when we were about an hour out over the Atlantic when the flight crew made the following announcement:

“Look outside the windows and up to the East. We are at Flight Level 510 and the Concorde heading to New York is about to cross over us at Flight Level 720 at over Mach 2.” We crowded around the windows and watched as we got thumped by the iconic aircraft four miles above us trailing smoke, and absorbed the double shock wave from its sonic boom.

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Concorde at Mach 2, FL720 over the Atlantic.

We arrived in Naples a little before sunset and were met by ADM Snuffy Smith’s COMNAVSOUTH NATO folks. There’s probably another Socotra yarn in this story that describes this part of our trip which will also have to wait for later. After a couple of days in Naples, we flew up to London for two days of meetings with MODUK and Ambassador Crowe at the US Embassy, among others, and then we flew back south to spend the weekend in Brussels, which was going to be pretty boring.

The rest of the SSG fellows and me would rather have stayed in London for that weekend; going to Brussels on Sunday afternoon. We were over-ridden on that decision by Boss Hogg, who wanted to go to Brussels so he could have his ass kissed by his old NATO buddies. We tried to drink our way around the Grand Plaza and gorged ourselves on moules and frittes, washed down by the wide varieties and flavors of Lambic. After a couple of days at NATO (which included a side trip to Waterloo and a chance meeting with Senator John Glenn (yes, I shook his hand)), we departed on a fine Fall morning with the leaves changing, headed for Moscow.

Our arrival and reception at Sheremetyevo Airport were much different from the year before – a breeze. Once again, we were ensconced in the Radisson Slavyanskaya, and the ambience with the Russian mafia, their unbelievably hot girlfriends, the armed bodyguards, and the atrium lobby bar were much the same.

It was what had happened outside this American oasis that was stunningly different, amazing. Gone were the homeless people in the park, gone was the trash, the roads were freshly paved, the cops were on duty, and there were no bands of marauding gypsy kids. I wondered where they had gone.

Yuri Lushkov had been elected as Moscow’s mayor the year before on a campaign that promised to clean up the city – and he did. There were construction cranes all over town, and the vibe and hype were on. During the day, we met with many of the same parts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Navy, and other bureaucracies that we had engaged the year before – but this time all of the presenters were PhDs, and they made a point of letting us know that their academic and intellectual achievements were much greater than ours collectively.

Our primary interlocutor was once again Igor Sutyagin, with Sergei Rogov making cameo appearances. Thus passed three days. Having no fear, I found myself out a couple of late nights in some of the trendier Moscow discos, as well as revisiting the great Georgian restaurant from the year before. I got to know the Moscow Metro pretty well, and the stations are as glitzy as advertised. The stations with major rail connections had trains going to places you couldn’t believe. It’s a huge country. As one War College professor who had been part of the START negotiations declared, Russia is “hypnotic.”

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Igor Sutyagin as we knew him

Our time in Moscow passed without major incident, and we were driven back out to Sheremetyevo Airport for the relatively short flight to St. Petersburg. Once again, we were billeted in the Kempenski Hotel. This portion of the trip was intended to be strictly mil-to-mil, and our Russian Navy hosts hustled us to meetings at the Baltic Fleet HQ, a meeting with their deputy CNO onboard the Aurora, a jaunt out to Kronstadt for a ship visit and to see the sorry state of their Baltic Fleet rusting at anchor, and group sessions at their Naval War College.

There, I had my full frontal picture taken openly for the second time by Russian intelligence (the first being in Berlin in 1985 in the Pergamum Museum; they also got pictures of me walking down the Ku’damm with bottles of Stoli in each hand). It was clever how they got me – I was stepping off the bus so couldn’t do very much to duck and cover. They also didn’t take pictures of any of the rest of our crew, which was curious.

Our talks with the Russian Navy were very interesting. It was clear that they wanted to engage with us, and didn’t want to lose the special status they had attained during the Cold War. They objected to the idea of being treated as just another country in the EUCOM AOR. The hinted that they were delivering a message from their General Staff as well as their Navy that they wanted to have a close, friendly, even allied-type relationship with us, possibly even to join NATO, and were open to more high-level staff talks/visits on the basis of equality and mutual respect. For what it’s worth, we took that message back to the CNO and JCS staffs and it was roundly rejected.

The usual response was “Fuck them, we won the Cold War. No way are we doing that. They’re a Third World country, why would we want to treat them as equals? Hell, their nukes probably don’t work anymore.” I was dismayed by the great strategic thought and foresight displayed by our senior leaders. I thought their attitude was a mistake then – and just look where we are right now strategically vis-à-vis Russia – really? I think we fucked that up big time.

There was someone else who didn’t want to see us cozying up to the Russian Navy and military in general. That would have been Vladimir V. Putin, former FSB Chief in his hometown of St. Petersburg and at that time the Deputy Mayor and head for international relations, but still likely a wheel at the local FSB.

He decided to send us a message during our return from Kronstadt for a final meeting with the Russian Navy Deputy CNO. We had two medium-sized buses as our transportation. One was mostly for baggage for the 16 people in our travelling party (where I rode), and one for the SSG Fellows, the Admiral, etc. On that final afternoon, we were travelling through a residential neighborhood; I was sitting in the front bench seat of the lead van hauling the baggage, in the middle between the driver and one of the Marine colonels who was getting tired of the endless banter in the second bus. We weren’t wearing seatbelts because there weren’t any.

At this point, we had a bunch of bags filled with gedunk in addition to clothing. We were probably four blocks from the Russian Navy HQ when I heard a car engine burst to life on a side street off to the left, a high rev with tire squeal, and then out of the side street the lead bus got T-boned smack on the driver’s side door by a mid-sized car accelerating at full throttle, I’m guessing it was a Skoda. The impact was tremendous – it knocked the van sideways and the burly driver into my lap, his head just missing cracking me in the skull, and the Marine Colonel banged his head on the C-pillar. Both buses came to a halt, and even though a bit dazed, we got out and assessed the damage.

Podpolkovnik Vladimir V. Putin

The folks in the second bus witnessed the crash, and were pretty gobsmacked, and all trying to talk at once. We pulled the driver out of our bus, got him on the ground, and got someone to administer first aid. It took several minutes but finally the police arrived. There were some suspicious-looking guys loitering around, including the driver of the ramming vehicle (he at least had a seat belt) who seemed to be very fit and just fine. The first problem we had to solve was how to get to the final meeting. Sensing the relative collective paralysis, I took the initiative:

“Everyone’s all right, we have 20 minutes until the next meeting and only about a quarter mile walk to get there. I recommend we put all of the bags in the good bus and then we can walk to the HQ building for our meeting. Our sponsors can get us another bus before we have to go out to the airport.”
The Admiral at this point climbed out of his stupor and declared “That’s a great idea, let’s do it.”

We formed a bucket brigade and had the bags transferred to the good bus in no time. We then walked to the HQ and just made it on time for the meeting, which went well. Afterwards, we were transported back out to the St. Petersburg airport for our long trip home.

Looking back, it was obviously a hit job by the FSB, probably directed personally by our pal Vladimir Putin as the head of “international relations.” It was a naked attempt to harass, intimidate, maim, and possibly kill someone in our group and create an international incident. That we were able to overcome this final difficulty was probably not anticipated by the FSB, but their message was sent and understood. We took this home to Newport, and prepared for our trip to Asia – which I now will have to write about given the current state of our relations with China.

Naval War College, Newport, RI

The return trip was uneventful but due to headwinds, took twice as long. We stopped for gas in Ramstein, and spent the night in Lajes in the Azores, landing in a driving rain storm. Once the storm had cleared, I led a strike team out into to town for Portuguese food, and brought back a big ball of queijo d’lha, a cheese made in Madeira which my wife and I had come to covet when we were in Rota and visiting her home base in Cascais outside of Lisbon.

After almost two weeks away, we touched down at T. F. Green International Airport in Providence and after smuggling my cheese as well as all of our other accumulated swag through Customs; we met our return transit to Newport. MC.

Copyright 2018 Point Loma

A Tale of Two Cities – Part One

Editor’s Note: We lurch into the second day of the Federal Government Shutdown. Days ago, we wondered if anyone would notice if the Feds were not working. It suddenly comes to a dramatic revelation: the Commonwealth of Virginia maintains it historic blue laws on the commercial sale of bonded spirits on Sundays.Naturally, this does not apply to federal reservations like the Shoppette/Class 6 store are Fort Myer. But with the Government shutting down, suddenly this is a crisis….

In the meantime, Point Loma visits us with a two-part tale from the days after the Soviet Union collapsed…and some useful travel, cultural and career tips for our young naval officers…

– Ed

A Tale of Two Cities – Part One

I will try my best here to keep closer to being true to the spirit of providing value-added to the almost lost art of Naval Operational Intelligence, in addition to tales of liberty and other tomfoolery. So, here is the story of my experiences in dealing with the Russians, who have reappeared as our primary adversaries once again. It’s sort of like the lyrics from the Jackson Browne song:
“Last night I watched the news from Washington, the capitol
The Russians escaped while we weren’t watching them, like Russians will
Now we’ve got all this room, we’ve even got the moon
And I hear the USSR will be open soon
As vacation land for lawyers in love”

I will tell the entire story in two parts during two visits to Russia in 1994 and 1995; two very different experiences. I will try to put these into the proper context and shed some light on what we are experiencing today in dealing with these very worthy and worrisome opponents.

Red Square at Sunset

Like all good sea stories, let me start it off properly – “This is no shit…”

In November of 1993, I arrived in Newport, RI, as a student in the College of Naval Command and Staff at the Naval War College. In the process, I was re-visiting my commissioning site of 13 years previous; now married, mid–career, perfect. I was coming off what was a very satisfying Westpac combat tour of duty aboard USS MIDWAY and USS INDEPENDENCE. I was feeling pretty good about getting a second bite at the educational apple – and it was time. I liked it so much that I signed on for a three-year shore duty tour at the War College after graduation.

Note: For you young JO readers out there, here is some career advice. First, you want to go to junior and senior service schools. They are a good deal and it is beyond nice to be able to take a year off to think and re-charge. Second, you want to do at least one of these at Newport. Disregard what BS the detailer is telling you and insist on Newport. If all of those other pretenders out there (i.e., Carlisle, Leavenworth, Montgomery) are the “good deals” on the plate, extend for a year. I wound up doing a three-year tour in Japan, just to get to Newport – because it’s a GREAT deal. And in going to Newport, for us Navy guys there is the option of inserting yourself into the rotation in March or November and getting to “summer over.” You want to do this, because summers in Newport are terrific. It’s not a party foul to game the system and remember, it’s you career and you need to manage it, the Navy doesn’t give a shit. And if you want a GREAT deal, don’t be afraid to ask – they may say “no” but they also may say “yes.” Pick and choose your moments as only the detailers get to write their own “good deal” orders, at least once. And the real estate principle applies – location is everything. Now, I have to put it into context since I did senior service school at Harvard. Bottom line: you have to be fucking shit-hot during your sea duty tours to get to grab the brass rings when they are offered. And when they are, take them.

During the summering over at Newport, we were offered via e-mail with the opportunity to go to Russia for two weeks, Moscow and St. Petersburg, sponsored by the Russian Academy of Sciences USA and Canada Institute to learn about Russia, and the Russian Navy. There were eight open spaces and the competition was War College wide for those of us summering over; we had to submit an application accompanied by a short essay on why we should be chosen. I was selected.

The progenitor of this good deal was a Navy Captain on the staff who had supported START negotiations while on the OPNAV staff in a past life, and who also had knowledge of Nunn-Lugar and how to get funding. Our chosen team met a couple of times to go over the ground rules before we left for Moscow. All of the Navy war fighting and support communities were represented. I was the token intel officer, and quickly bonded with a former Tomcat pilot with whom we had some common friends; I got to be his wingman for most of the trip, and vice versa.

On the appointed date on a Saturday, we flew commercial from Providence to New York JFK and from there to Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, where we got held up for several hours while our bonafides were examined. It was our first welcome to Russian bureaucracy. After running the gauntlet through Russian customs and immigration aided by the US Embassy Naval Attaché’s office, we were ushered to our digs at the only US-sponsored and owned hotel at that time in town, the heavily-guarded Radisson Slavyanskaya, on the left bank of the Moscow River. I noted then that the square across from the hotel was populated by a large number of homeless-looking people, and it was going to get worse. Finally at the hotel, ensconced in our rooms and in a sanctuary of sorts, we of course rallied in the bar for the security briefing from the Naval Attaché. He told us that Moscow was “rough” and a little like the Wild West, he admonished us to use the “buddy system” when going out of the hotel compound on liberty.

The Bar at the Radisson Slavyanskaya in Moscow

The hotel featured a work-out gym and also a disco in the basement. We guys had already started to notice the very attractive young and mostly blonde women passing by the bar, which was in sort of a central atrium setting, and also the presence of a lot of serious-looking security dudes. As it turned out, the hotel was where all of the Russian mafia guys housed their girlfriends, justifying the quality of the spectacular eye candy. Since the timing of this trip was just after the spying revelations of Marine Corporal Clayton Lonetree, I engaged the attaché who was a former West Coast naval aviator:

“I think I can now see what the problem was with the Marines. Good Lord, look at these Russian chicks. I, myself could have the same problem keeping my dick in check. What is the deal?”

He thought for a moment just as the latest stunning blonde, supermodel specimen walked past, and said:

“Officially, the policy is that you can’t have “intimate relations” with a Russian. That said, the Marines have a disco at the Embassy Annex where they live and the Russian girls line up to get inside on the weekends, sort of like the WXOFF at Miramar or the MCRD club in San Diego back during the day. Here, the girls show up at the gate and tell the security folks that they are Ukrainians since they speak Russian down there – and there are no rules saying that you can’t fuck a Ukrainian.”

On Sunday, we met our counterparts. By and large, they were good folks. However, the leader of their group, the rough equivalent to the Center for Naval Analyses, was Sergei Rogov. Sergei was a tall, ugly, and imposing guy, of whom I could only describe as an arrogant prick.

Sergei Rogov, Director of the USA-Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

They had put together a quality curriculum for us to learn about the vagaries of the Russian government and social systems. It was an interesting week. His chief lieutenant for handling us was a young analyst named Igor Sutyagin, whom we got to know and like a lot. We sort of considered him a FSB guy based on his line of questioning but he was subsequently arrested and imprisoned a few years later for suspicion of being a spy. He was a good guy, albeit a bit pushy. He was released in the big trade of spies a few years ago in the Anna Chapman case. He now works for a Brit think tank group in London. We liked him, either way, and I am glad to see him and his family doing well now that he is a free man once again.

Anna Chapman – Sleeper Spy

On Monday, we began a week of serious instruction on how the Russian system operated, and in the process, gained an appreciation of how complicated their lives were. If you think living in the USA is hard, it pales in comparison. And by the way, every instructor we had was a PhD and was published, both male and female; they were well-schooled and good. If you think that these people are backwards and thereby lesser, then you make a huge mistake; they were good. Those were long days at the Institute, but we also were afforded afternoon tours at various landmarks around Moscow to include the Kremlin, Red Square, Lenin’s tomb, and Saint Cyril’s’ with its iconic turrets. These attractions were a short distance away, and we took buses for the most part. Otherwise, we stayed in the relative safety of the hotel. But we did make several sorties both supervised and not.

It was during one of these excursions that we were offered the chance to dump the bus and walk back from Red Square to our hotel, through the walking shopping mall that the Russians were establishing with western assistance. For once, we were free, after class hours, to do as we pleased so I wanted to get out and see the people; my wingman for this outing was another Navy LCDR. We strolled through the couple of miles or so through the shopping mall area back in the direction of our hotel. After the walking mall, we encountered numerous police cars with officers sitting in the back seats either dealing drugs or with hookers, and people wandering down the streets with bleeding head wounds, no doubt recently beaten. And by the way, the roads were shit, full of potholes and the traffic was hellish. We navigated all of this after exiting the relative calm of the walking mall area and were cruising across the bridge over the Moscow River with our hotel in sight. Then, we encountered one of the bands of marauding gypsy kids, who were holding up people all across the city. We had been warned about them and here they were – oh shit.

We were obviously the target. Their MO was out of Gulliver and the Lilliputians, where the smaller kids would surround and grab you, rendering you immobile, and then the older kids would snatch your wallet, camera, etc. I warned my buddy once I realized that we were in danger and assessing the situation, I told him that we should charge them and be aggressive, basically turning their attack tactics 180. I started running at them, swinging my arms wildly and giving them a good southern Rebel Yell; I tried my best to run the kids out into the bridge traffic where they would get hit by cars – I didn’t give a shit. My wingman, unfortunately, chose to not follow my lead (he was a shoe), turned tail and ran. The gypsies didn’t want any part of me and I blew through them like shit through a goose. They instead turned their attention to my former wingman, who got cornered a few blocks up the street later and had to fight them off by removing his belt and using it like a whip. I walked to the hotel and he showed up 30 minutes later, after taking a taxi back. We met up in the bar and after exchanging survival stories, we laughed this one off.

There were organized outings for the group – we went to the Moscow Circus one night, for example, and I braved the Moscow Metro another afternoon and went to the Moscow Museum of Art to see the Salvador Dali exhibit that was in town, when I got there, the line ran around the block, and after checking out the entrance and heading towards the end, I was grabbed by a couple of guys who were Georgians since I was so obviously American. They were really funny and no doubt hated the Russians. We were speaking Pidgeon English but I got it. They told me that they were Georgian, and driving it home by saying, “…you know Scheverdnazye?” I nailed them with my response “Stalin.” I got slapped on the back for that and after some more conversation, I asked them for some tips for a good place to go. They gave me the name and address of what turned out to be great Georgian bar and restaurant. Damn, was I having fun or what? My Tomcat friend was the only one willing to go out and brave the city after dark. We went, that night, and it was awesome.

At the end of that week, we took an overnight train to St. Petersburg. After the relative cosmopolitan Moscow, the Russian countryside offered a stark contrast – very poor. What we could see in the daytime portion of the trip was a lot of small homesteads with garden plots, very little signs of urbanization like streetlights, paved roads, etc. Upon arrival in St. Petersburg, we were taken to the Kempenski Hotel, which had recently been redone in anticipation of well-heeled guests in town for the upcoming Goodwill Games.

Our schedule in St. Petersburg was mainly focused on cultural events – visits to the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, the Aurora, etc., and mil-to-mil exchanges. We spent a couple of days in seminar at the Russian Naval War College and in the process, delivered a year’s worth of contraband anti-cancer drugs for the benefit of a senior Russian Navy captain named Viktor – I can’t remember his last name now). He was the first visiting Russian professor in Newport, and had been diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after his arrival during a physical. He wound up spending two years there due to his surgery and recovery time. The cancer drugs we smuggled into Russia were generally unavailable there, so we were very welcome guests indeed.

My personal cultural highlight was attending a Russian Orthodox Church service at the open-air Kazan Cathedral right up the road from the hotel. If you haven’t been, the service is sung, and hauntingly beautiful. Also, no kneeling – you stand during the entire service.

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Kazan Cathedral – St. Petersburg

The trip home was relatively uneventful except for having our aircraft break down in Helsinki. We were 15 minutes from crew rest necessitating an overnight there – which I definitely wanted since that is where my father’s family is from but alas, the goddamn Delta mechanics managed to rain on that parade. I did get to drink cold vodka and eat reindeer at a good restaurant in the airport, but I wanted more. So, we flew most of the day and night back to New York and from there to Providence – mission complete.

I did not know at the time that in a little over a year, I would be re-creating that same trip but in a different capacity after graduation from the war college. While the locations and some of the players were much the same, it was going to be a very different experience. To be continued…

Copyright 2018 Point Loma

Japan Gazer Update: What If A North Korean Missile Hit Something In or Around Japan?

What If A North Korean Missile Hit Something In or Around Japan?

Editor’s Note: I got a call on Saturday from Honolulu from my son saying it might be his last call, since missiles were inbound. It brought back memories of the calls from the jets and the towers on 9/11. Hard stuff.

– Vic

COMMENT: The article below by Takao YAMADA, from Mainichi Shimbun, examines some aspects of what might happen after a North Korean missile landed in Japan. YAMADA-san does a good job of laying-out the issues which would emerge in the wake of a North Korean missile “attack” — Such as JSDF’s basic inability to do a counter-strike, and expectations that U.S. Forces would (be forced to) do what JSDF could not do, and, for example, launch Tomahawks at the guilty launch site…

However, I think there is another plausible scenario which ought to be examined (and I assume those who are paid to think about these kinds of things are doing so) — and that scenario is: A North Korean missile test results in an inadvertent impact onto Japanese land, or a ship at-sea.

The world can be a chaotic place, and strange things happen all the time — So, while chances are very small that a North Korean missile, or parts of it, could smash into something, the risk cannot be completely discounted.

So, if such an accident were to happen, and especially if someone got hurt or killed, tensions would obviously rise to crisis levels, and the media would have a field-day selling the story and fanning the flames. My opinion is that the most influential actions to deescalate things after such a “missile accident” would be: (1) North Korea admits it was unintentional, and (2) North Korea issues an apology. —– But what if it doesn’t? What would happen then? I guess that is the situation which needs to be examined by smarter people than me…

– – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –
== Japan Political Pulse: What if a North Korean missile landed on Japanese soil?

(April 17, 2017; Mainichi Shimbun)

What would happen if a North Korean missile were to land not in the ocean, but on the Japanese archipelago? What if people were injured or killed? Would Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) leap into action? Would the U.S. military respond? Would U.S. President Donald Trump, despite his slogan of “America First,” defend Japan? Would he attack a military base in North Korea, like he did in Syria?

I posed these questions to a senior Japanese government official and a former senior JSDF official.

Missiles are a threat, but it’s human nature to underestimate them if they land in the ocean one after another.

Since the beginning of this year, North Korea has shot eight missiles on five separate occasions. Three, including the most recent one, misfired, and the rest fell into the ocean. Last year, North Korea shot 38 missiles on 19 occasions. Nine misfired, while the remaining 29 landed in the ocean.

The Japanese archipelago is completely within range of North Korea’s missiles. The North Korean government is said to have claimed that it is targeting U.S. military bases in Japan, but there’s no guarantee that outside of those bases, Japan would be safe.

Japan’s two-tiered anti-missile defense comprises Japanese and U.S. Aegis vessels (high-performance escort vessels, destroyers and cruisers) that can detect and intercept missiles, and ground-based interceptor missiles.

Most experts say it would be difficult for a missile to land on Japanese soil without it being intercepted, but there is a possibility that even if a missile were detected, it could get past Japan’s defense system.

Let’s suppose that a missile does land on Japan. If it fell on a highly populated area it would injure and kill many people — even if it weren’t mounted with a nuclear or chemical weapon.

If that were to happen, the prime minister, based on the Civil Protection Act, would recognize the incident as a “situation in which Japan has come under military attack,” order JSDF troops to mobilize, and inform the United Nations that Japan is exercising its right to self-defense.

However, because the JSDF has a defense-only policy, it cannot retaliate. JSDF escort vessels are not equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles that the U.S. military recently used against the Syrian regime. (The missiles have a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers, can read terrain, and are operated remotely.)

The JSDF does have bombs. It would be technically possible to load F-15 fighter jets with bombs and drop them on North Korea, but the JSDF is not trained to carry out a mission like that. Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly in possession of 3,400 missiles that can shoot down aircraft invading its airspace, of which 1,700 are said to be fully deployed.

“Doing something like that would be a suicide mission,” the former senior JSDF official said. “No JSDF pilot is going to agree to do that.”

That’s where the U.S. military comes in. Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty states, “Each party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”

“In such a situation (as the landing of a North Korean missile on Japanese soil), the Japan-U.S. alliance would end if the U.S. were to say, ‘We’re having no part of this. That’s why I think the U.S. military would act,'” remarked the senior government official.

The aforementioned former senior JSDF official said, “The U.S. Seventh Fleet will spring into action and fire Tomahawk missiles. What’s likely to unfold is what the U.S. recently did in Syria.”

However, North Korea is in possession of nuclear weapons. How do we assess the situation with that in mind?

The international community today effectively accepts retaliation by countries that are subjected to a military attack and their allies, if the attack results in injuries and deaths. There is debate about whether the retaliatory actions are valid under international law, but such debate exists only as a side note.

This trend toward the tacit approval of “justice through force” has grown more prominent since 1999, when NATO bombed Kosovo in the final years of the armed conflict in former Yugoslavia, citing humanitarian reasons. North Korea also operates under the banner of “justice through force.” Japan and the U.S., meanwhile, say that North Korea’s threats are ineffective against their bilateral alliance.

Japan may be a country of peace but it does not have the option of abandoning self-defense. At the same time, the world is utterly worn out by a chain of retaliation. What is up for discussion is not merely one’s ability to retaliate. What we need is the wisdom to promote peaceful change.

(By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)


Japan Political Pulse: What if a North Korean missile landed on Japanese soil? – The Mainichi
What would happen if a North Korean missile were to land not in the ocean, but on the Japanese archipelago? What if people were injured or killed? Would Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) leap into action? Would the U.S. military respond? Would U.S. President Donald Trump, despite his slogan of

Life & Island Times: 1968

thor’s Note: As an antidote to the daily chaos we have been experiencing, I took a brief look at what I still remember and feel today was the prologue to the End of the World back then. We kids of today will be alright once again, methinks.

– Marlow

Editor’s Note: That was unquestionably the strangest time in which I was privileged to exist. Marlow is right on.

– Vic


1968 was a year of protest, a year of change, a year of deadly sadness, and a year of strange.

It was the start of what some see as America’s Second Revolution. This revolt played out over the coming decades in the destruction of old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. What was created in their place was a mixed bag of great things — rising incomes and equality across race, creed, sexes, and sexual orientations — and some more mundane replacements — new and different names for people of their own creation and spelling, long hair, metrosexuality, smooth jazz . . . .

Fifty years ago a fascinating, tumultuous, at times eloquent and violent discussion of the place, direction, aims and dangers of American life began. When the year started most of my cohort was 18, in college, barefoot in summer and clad in casual blue jeans. Most of us had not yet turned on, tuned in or dropped out. That would come later. By the end of the year many had been turned off. Many more became a silent majority that would remain so until decades later.

I recall hearing an evidently mildly high Timothy Leary during a 1968 speech at the University of Notre Dame declare: “ Fifty years from now, everyone will be on drugs.” Who knew that this avowed stoned tripper would be so prescient?

Timothy Leary’s 1966 album L.S.D. on the Pixie Records label

Before the year ended, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated; U.S. troops would suffer their deadliest year yet in Vietnam; US troops would massacre scores of civilians at My Lai; the Democratic Party courtesy of street riots during its Presidential Convention would tear itself apart on live TV; Richard Nixon would be elected president; Americans would orbit the moon; American Olympic medal winners in Mexico City would raise their fists in a black power salute; millions would die of starvation in Biafra; and the Beatles would release their White album.

STREET EXECUTION DURING THE TET OFFENSIVE, VIETNAM. South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, fires his pistol, executing suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem on a Saigon street on February 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. Lem was suspected of commanding a death squad which had targeted South Vietnamese police officers that day. AP image.

PRAGUE SPRING. Czechoslovakia pro-democracy uprising would be put down by Soviet union tanks and soldiers. AP image.

MLK (l) & RFK (r) ASSASSINATIONS. Life Magazine images.

WHITE ALBUM. The Beatles released the White Album in 1968. I bought an original copy in France. Along with the Steven Stills’ Super Session and Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced albums, the multi-platter White was all we listened to during our sophomore year taking classes at a Frnech unversity. French students thought us square midwestern American students revolutionary

MY LAI. “Was is necessary to destroy the village and its people to save it?” Dead Vietnamese bodies lie by a home, set on fire by American troops — stark evidence of the My Lai Massacre. Image taken from the Report of the Department of the Army Review of the Preliminary Investigations into the My Lai Incident, photographed by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle.


BIAFRA. Between 500,000 and 2,000,000 Nigerians, mostly children, slowly died from starvation and malnutrit.ion. Biafra was a breakaway state within Nigeria that fought a war for independence from 1967 to 1970. Life Magazine image.

TOMMIE SMITH & JOHN CARLOS. These winners of the gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter run at the 1968 Olympic Games, engaged in a victory stand protest against unfair treatment of blacks in the United States. With heads lowered and black-gloved fists raised in the black power salute, they refused to recognize the American flag and national anthem. Australian Peter Norman was the silver medalist. Getty image.

APOLLO 8 CIRCLING THE MOON. Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, the three astronauts read on live American TV three segments from the book of Genesis. NASA image.

“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

These slices of 1968 hopefully provide some perspective to the coming events of 2018.

Copyright © 2018 From My Isle Seat

Japan-gazer Update – 30th Year of HEISEI Era, 1st Month, 16th Day

平成30年1月16日 = (30th Year of HEISEI Era, 1st Month, 16th Day)


– – – – –
= This week’s poem:

The Way It Happens

Sometimes the best
Things a day can confer,
Have no reason,
They simply occur,
And the rest
Is just a blur…

{ From my Blog: https://carllafong.blogspot.jp }
– – – – –

= 5 Things Going On Lately:

(1) Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is conducting surveillance activities off the Korean Peninsula to watch out for North Korea’s possible oil smuggling at sea, government officials said Saturday (13 JAN). The activities are being conducted in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan from last month, and JMSDF sends a destroyer if a P-3C patrol airplane finds any suspicious ship. In November last year, the U.S. government said that a North Korean ship had carried out a ship-to-ship transfer of what appeared to be oil in a suspected effort to evade sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolutions. JMSDF is watching out for similar ship-to-ship transfers to North Korean vessels at the request of the United States. JMSDF takes images of suspicious ships and provide necessary information to the U.S. Navy. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: “Extra eyes” are always a good thing, and can be a force-multiplier … and no one does maritime patrol & reconnaissance better than JMSDF. However, it has been reported elsewhere that JMSDF cannot stop and board suspicious ships, so, obviously, that could limit the tactical effectiveness of the operations.

– – – – –
(2) The Japanese government is considering adding in the future a function to intercept cruise missiles to the AEGIS Ashore land-based missile defense system the country plans to introduce to enable it to shoot down ballistic missiles from North Korea, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday (12 JAN). The move is aimed at strengthening Japan’s deterrence against not only North Korea but also China and Russia, both of which are expanding the ranges of their cruise missiles. China and Russia have cruise missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometers and 4,500 kilometers, respectively, with both capable of reaching Japan. “It’s possible to add a function to intercept cruise missiles to the Aegis Ashore system,” Onodera said at a press conference. “We’ll study measures necessary to protect Japanese citizens from the threat of various missiles.” Compared with ballistic missiles, which descend from high altitudes to strike targets, it is believed to be difficult to track cruise missiles on the radar because they fly at low altitudes. Intercepting cruise missiles is difficult because of this. In addition, they can change courses during flights. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: So many types of missiles, and how to deal with them (!) … Is Japan faced with an insurmountable threat? All the more reason to solve things through diplomacy & non-kinetic means, as the alternative would seem to be too dreadful…
– – – – –
(3) The government is considering temporarily evacuating Japanese and U.S. nationals and others in South Korea to Tsushima island in Nagasaki Prefecture via Busan Port, if airports in South Korea are closed due to a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. After temporarily evacuating people to the island with the help of JMSDF vessels and U.S. forces, the government plans to then shuttle them to Kyushu. The South Korean government has not agreed to the dispatch of JSDF to its country, but a plan has surfaced to bring a JMSDF ship alongside a U.S. military vessel docked at Busan Port and board Japanese nationals and others onto the JMSDF ship. In the case of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, top priority will be given to people’s evacuation to Japan. In that case, the government plans to have the evacuees stay on the island, the Japanese territory located closest to Busan, for one or two nights. As U.S. civilians residing in South Korea are also supposed to evacuate to Japan, the government intends to transport them on ships of U.S. forces and JMSDF from Busan Port to Tsushima, and then take them by ship to Moji Port in Fukuoka Prefecture and other places in Kyushu. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

* COMMENT: This scenario and operation is emotionally and politically volatile … and would be a media magnet. Humanitarian, security, and medical issues galore, not the least of which is “What to do with the pets?” Add to the mix the possible flow of third country nationals, displaced Koreans, and possible North Korean special operations forces, and the stage is set for a very complicated evolution.
– – – – –
(4) The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) is considering adding up to four new base facilities in Japan for seven large-scale patrol ships, which are to be newly built. The new bases would make it possible for JCG to swiftly deal with an increasing number of intrusions by Chinese government vessels in Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and illegal operations by North Korean fishing boats in the Sea of Japan. After consulting with local municipalities, among other procedures, JCG intends to start constructing the bases within fiscal 2019. There are only two facilities under JCG’s jurisdiction where several large patrol vessels of over 1,000 tons are able to dock — Yokohama and Ishigaki-jima island in Okinawa Prefecture. Four candidate locations have emerged for new bases — Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which faces the Sea of Japan; the city of Kagoshima, from where JCG vessels could quickly reach the East China Sea and the Senkakus; Ishigaki-jima; and Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture. Currently, JCG has about 60 large patrol ships, including two helicopter-carrying destroyer-sized ships of about 6,500 tons. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

* COMMENT: A reminder that Japan’s front-line force to deal with the ongoing “territorial chicken game” around the Senkaku Islands is JCG (not JMSDF.) Happily (for now), it appears that Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are being careful to leave the assertion of maritime territorial and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claims to the “white-hulled vessels” of their respective Coast Guards.
– – – – –
(5) Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is developing a radar that will be capable of detecting space micro-debris of about 10 centimeters (3.9 inches), local media reported on Monday (08 JAN). According to the Yomiuri newspaper, the current JAXA’s radar is capable of finding the debris only of over 150 centimeters in Earth orbit, whereas the future radar, that is expected to be put into operation in 2023, will be about 200 times more sensitive. The new device will aim to study the ways of preventing the collisions between the space debris and the satellites that are operating at the height of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles). The Japanese Defense Ministry is preparing to construct in Yamaguchi Prefecture another radar that will be capable of detecting the space debris in geosynchronous orbit at the height of around 36,000 kilometers. (SputnikNews.com)

* COMMENT: Japan’s space operations capability continues to grow. A recent trend has been the growing involvement of the Ministry of Defense (MOD.) Assume Tokyo does not want to fall too far behind China in this area.
– – – – –

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit Okinawa Prefecture in late March, it was learned Friday (12 JAN). As part of the tour, the Emperor and the Empress are expected to make their first-ever visit to the island of Yonaguni, the country’s westernmost point, Okinawa prefectural government officials said. The upcoming visit to the southernmost Japan prefecture will be the couple’s sixth since the Emperor’s accession to the throne in 1989. This is expected to be their final Okinawa visit as the Emperor and the Empress.

* COMMENT: Wow, the Emperor will finish-up official duties by visiting Japan’s southernmost (and strategically located) island (population 1,850.) Quite a feather-in-the-cap for Yonaguni Mayor HOKAMA, who helped gain local approval for the first-ever deployment, a few years ago, of a JGSDF surveillance & security unit to the island. Prior to that, it was said that the physical protection of Yonaguni consisted of two policemen, who shared one pistol.

Original content: copyright Carl LaFong

Postcard from the Swamp #29

Do you suppose anyone would notice if the Government actually shut down at Midnight this Friday?

So much stuff flying around this week, including the snow that always panics residents of the Swamp. We got only a dusting in placid Arlington, with the heavier concentration to the east in Maryland. Traffic was predictably awful regardless, and with a monthly luncheon meeting out in the wolds of Reston. Shivering, too, with temperatures not expected to get above freezing until tomorrow.

Georgia is going to get more than a dusting, and flights out of Hartsfield International are already being cancelled to get prepared.

There is plenty of warming to go around, mostly in some blunt talk that the President either did or did not say, which might have discussed the places that some immigrants come from. The whole thing seems unseemly, considering we might have a reasonable expectation that prospective new Americans have some sort of useful skill. I mean, it only seems fair, right?

I imagine we will get all this sorted out, somehow. I remember a time when Authorizors and Appropriators actually did their jobs, don’t you?


Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Life & Island Times: Dive Bar Vision

The Commodore – Charleston SC dive bar

Author’s note: We were lounging in a Charleston SC dive bar — the Commodore — on icy slick Meeting Street two Saturday nights ago, sad that this former jazz bar had morphed into a millenial 1970s music venue. This dilapidated place may not last long, since urban development of tony condos and apartment buildings was marching quickly northwards from the historic downtown of this paragon, New South city. We cheered ourselves as the band began to play funked up versions of that long ago music after repairing a smoking speaker amp that they had spectacularly fried during their sound checks. As the smoke cleared, the music began to blare and the young’uns began to groove as a group on the dance floor, potential coming times came into clearer focus.

We were sitting in a dive bar
When the band started
On Charleston’s Meeting Street.
Uncertain but unafraid
Our hopes for soothing jazz expired.
We nursed heavy pours of rye whiskey over ice
Deadening our unease for these low dishonest times:
Absent were anger and fear
Circulating over distant
And darkened lands of Asia and
Possessing our private lives.
An unhearable march of boots
Might offend this joyful January night.

Simple wiki scholarship
Unearths the mistakes
From Bush Senior until now
That have rendered America sightless
Finds what occurred at the DMZ and near shore seas:
Psychopathic Kims and the power mad Communist Chinese.
Our soldiers and the public may soon know
What all school children used to learn:
Those to whom evil is done
Will do unspeakable evil in return.

Into this crisp winter night air
Where charming downtown lofts
Cozy, artful design declaims
The desires of comfortable Free Men,
Believin we can live forever
In euphoric dreams.
In the bar’s darkened restroom mirrors we might see, if we looked,
Totalitarianism’s ghostly faces staring back
And the coming international troubles
Half a world away.

Faces along the bar
Fling their cares away
As the lights never come on,
The music always plays.
All our networked inventions conspire
To make we revelers assume
The good future of our homeland
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost as the hunted in a dark woods.

Tis true of our normal hearts
The error was bred in the American bone
Like Jefferson, America’s men and women
Crave what we cannot have,
Not universal peace and love
But just to be left alone.

Sleepy under night skies
America in stupor lies
Unseeing here and there
Small red dots of light
Dance about as events occur
Predisposed to ignore them
Perferring tales of gossip and lust
We, beleaguered by our games
Which turn our minds into mush,
Flit about their warm affirming flames.

Dancers flit about the Commodore’s dance floor

Copyright © 2018 From My Isle Seat

Arrias: The Watchman

Editor’s note: This one is personal.

– Vic

The Watchman

I used to keep a sign in my office, where the watch officers could see it, a line from the Old Testament: Ezekiel 33:6:

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life… I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”

The point is simple and clear: The real world has some harsh realities, everything isn’t win-win, every situation can’t be “worked out,” every situation doesn’t have a silver lining. In fact, the entire concept of intelligence is about decidedly Win-Lose situations. If you get intelligence wrong, bad things can happen. In some cases, truly horrific things can happen. At the very top of the pyramid of this process is that particular slice of intelligence called “Indications and Warning,” (I&W).

I&W is exactly what it sounds like, the process of watching a specific problem, looking for any hint that something is going wrong (Indications) and, when the situation warrants, blowing the horn and providing “alertment” to those who need to be alerted (known as Warning.)

The obvious problem of I&W is knowing when to sound the alarm, when to, as Ezekiel noted, to blow the trumpet. You never want to miss sending out a warning when one should have been sent out. But, you don’t want to sound the alarm unless it’s necessary. Crying “Wolf” not only degrades the system, in the modern world, crying wolf can lead to a self-generated crisis; and such mistakes aren’t particularly well tolerated.

This past weekend in Hawaii the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency – a state agency – put out the following false text during a drill:


Several points come to mind.

1) The director of HEMA needs to be fired and the person who sent out the message needs to be fired; a detailed investigation is needed to make sure everyone knows precisely what happened. People inside the system need to understand both what went wrong and that mistakes of this sort simply won’t be tolerated. Want a worker-friendly job? Go someplace else.

2) Containing North Korea must be job one. As much as everyone wants to blame Mr. Trump, this is not Trump’s fault. This is primarily Mr. Kim’s fault, he’s the one building the nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles. Is there more blame to share? Certainly. Begin with the Clinton agreement in 1994 to fund peaceful nuclear reactors in North Korea, with an inspection regime inadequate to preventing North Korea from continuing its nuclear weapon development program. (I can hear someone crying now: “It wasn’t inadequate.” Yes, it was. North Korea has nuclear weapons. The program lived. Inspection failed.)

There’s more fault to go around. Both the Bush and Obama administrations had clear indications that the regime had continued the weapon development programs and essentially did nothing. How clear? Underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2 in 2016. When Trump came to office North Korea already had nuclear weapons; the test last September was a test of a larger weapon.

3) As horrible as a nuclear strike would be, civil defense has a role. A nuclear detonation over Hawaii would kill many people. But many more would live. A well-rehearsed civil defense system would maximize the number who lived, and improve the process of providing aid and relief to survivors. What happened in Hawaii is a lesson to us all that we need an effective public warning system, and we need a revamped civil defense system nation-wide; the world we live demands that we all address this heightened risk.

4) Expanded Missile Defense is needed now, one that provides a high degree of reliability, one that would make it unlikely that a single missile or even an attack of several missiles could actually reach US territory.

5) Finally, the US deterrence force, our nuclear arsenal, must be modernized. The paradox of deterrence is that the more reliable, capable and flexible the nuclear force, the more effective its deterrent effect.

What happened in Hawaii was a serious mistake. We need to recognize and accept that our nation’s defense, civil and otherwise, has problems and move forward and fix those problems.

Copyright 2018 Arrias

Phone Call From Paradise


Well, I suppose it was more like a phone call from Detroit, circa 1960. I was dozing in the brown chair, watching the cable news and watching the new cold air chase away the moisture of the temporary January thaw.

1960 was the year that our Scout Troop (#1032, Methodist Church, Lincoln St, Birmingham, MI) got a tour of the local Nike-Zeus defensive missile battery in the suburb where we lived. Cool field trip. The gear was spit-shined and the soldiers appeared squared-away. Apparently, at the time we were concerned about defending ourselves from attack by nuclear-tipped weapons aimed at what had been, a couple of decades before, something dubbed “The Arsenal of Democracy.”

That is a long time ago, and I had my time later to cuddle with our nukes on the off chance we had to use them. Thank God we didn’t.

Then yesterday.

I was just waiting for football to start, waiting for things to dry out after the rains, thinking of entropy, and particularly that part of the process of progressing from the vigor of young humanity to something less than that. So, then the phone goes off. I am not all there, but close enough to answer the phone. I consider that to be professional.

It was the LT, calling from his new digs high above Ala Moana Blvd in Honolulu. He said they just got the Civil Defense alert that missiles were inbound, and this might be the last time we talked. Having actually lived in the last time we paid any attention to this stuff, it did not surprise me. We used to get alerts on Iraqi Missile activity almost on the intercom at the Pentagon during the Gulf War, and sometimes fifteen minutes is a useful amount of time.


You can get to cover, for example, which can even mitigate the effects of high-yield explosions. On 9/11, I was not far from the impact point at the Pentagon only two cups of coffee before it happened.

But naturally, my son was busy yesterday, having less than a coffee break to get ready for eternity, and I let him go.

I did some immediate searches, but didn’t see anything that indicated the NORKS had anything road-mobile to throw at us, so I was cautiously optimistic my son would survive the morning. But really, here we are again. What did we used to say? “Duck and cover?”

I don’t think we needed to come to this place again, but there it is. I know we made a decision to close down our defenses a long time ago. but maybe we ought to re-think that. I don’t want to lose Honolulu for real.

Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Pick Up Day

It was pick-up day. The on-line auction was done, the winners notified, and man, I was sweating this one- suppose I forgot? That has happened more frequently than I like to admit over the holidays. I treasure my friends, not to mention the rigid professional obligations of the last almost 41 years of service. But I remembered almost immediately upon rising this morning shortly after 0445.

So I knew what I had to do- catch up on the messages and get presentable to go outside. Then go over to the Front Page shortly after 0900, and pick up what I had purchased at the big auction.

The minor problem was I did not know what I had purchased. I bid on five objects in the Ras Mus on-line site, and apparently had won three of them- Course of Action One, COA 2, and the throw-away, just like my days back on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon.

It was rainy, gray, and there was no liquor at the bar. George the owner (or about to be former owner, though it was good to have a discussion about the perils of Escrow, $55K checks and attendant lawyers while I tried to find a Philipps-head screw-driver to remove my new possessions from the walls).

It was a bit early to feel really right about standing on the seat of a booth in the back bar to remove the new impediments to streamlining my life, but here they are:


The auctions are always a crap-shoot, but I like the Ras Mus auctioneers. I no longer have the discretionary income to just do what I want, and plus, I have no wall-space remaining to fill, really, and this was a sort of token effort to preserve the memories of what is now officially a memory. Oh well. I knew people would want the framed Front Page of the Titanic sinking, since the existing bid was already $250 bucks, last time I checked. I bit my lip and bid on the Lucky Lindberg one that commemorated the Lone Eagle’s flight to Paris, and then the fall-backs that resonated from my time here in the Swamp.

Since they only gave me the catalogue numbers on the invoice, I wasn’t quite sure what I had won. I certainly got some strange stuff from the Willow auction, including a 24-inch skillet that I will never use, and hoped the brusk auctioneers could help me out when I got there. I was mildly surprised, after sloshing over in the rain. Lindy escaped my clutches, but I did have two that surprised me at bargain prices- it was only $17 bucks to have a framed recollection of Mr. Clinton’s public humiliation, something I shared while attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces down at Fort McNair, and the earlier $24 Nixon thing that ripped us apart as a nation.

We used to think that sort of behavior was like criminal. How quaint the past seems now.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I spent only $5 for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s announcement that air mail could now get from the Mainland to the Lovely Islands in only a little more than twenty hours. I used to jog from our place in McGrew Loop on Honolulu out to Pearl City and around the old Pan Am compound that served the big silver seaplanes and think how times have changed since those amazing days. I think I know who is going to get stuck with this one, ultimately. But enough. I had done what I did, and needed to make it complete. There are consequences to not complying with the terms of Pick Up Day.

Once I found someone from whom to borrow the Philips screwdriver and locate the artwork (it was complex), things were fairly easy. There were some teams of Asian men taking down the flat screen TVs, Hispanic men dismantling restaurant stuff and cabinets and fixtures being wheeled out despite the specific instructions not to bring two-wheeled carts. George, the Greek owner, was keeping his composure as the parts of his business life exited the building.

My three things fit under my arm, and despite the still spritzing skies, I got my stuff and got out of there without apparent injury or dampness. I would admonish prospective bidders in futures auctions (I can’t imagine many more bars to close down, personally, to make me want to care) to bring their own frigging tools. It is unmanly to not be prepared.

At home, I looked at the images that had been seared into our lives in their time. I don’t need any more crap, we both know that, but to have something that says “Front Page” around the house will remind me of the first times I sat at that bar, and the people who served the drinks and sat by my side, alive and well and happy. Or depressed. We had it all there, just as we did at the Fabulous Willow Restaurant and Bar a few blocks away, and the beginning of the diaspora of the Willow Refugees.

I wish I had been fresher on the case, but it was a busy week. Leo, the former Big Pink Building Engineer, had been ailing this flu season, but was well enough to get back to work on his rehabilitation business. He picked up the new closet door the day before, and Miguel was back from Salvador, and both showed up shortly after the Thursday Business Development and Operations call concluded at 1100 the day before.

I am not completely sure this was the vision, but the workmanship was great, the re-framing of the apertures of the closets to fit the doors, and those appalling ceiling-height metal bi-folds were gone, and I could stop looking at all my clothing every time I changed rooms.


I think life is good, but I was pinned to the TV all day waiting for the work to be done, paid for and inspected, and the immigration issue was blaring as Miguel labored on my behalf. Yeah, I know. Irony is something, ain’t it?

I thought it was entirely appropriate to find myself unscrewing the artwork from the Front Page walls, tucking the long wood screws into my jeans, thanking the nice auction lady, and heading back out into the rain to go home with my treasures.

What the hell am I going to do with this crap? In only a couple decades it is all going to look like science fiction.

Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra