OK- so it is a holiday week and I am not traveling. I still feel a little woozy, and after a half-century on the road, I just don’t have the fire in my belly to saddle up the Panzer and spend a few nights in a series of Holiday Inn Express cookie cutter motels.

So it is likely to be a quiet and tranquil Thanksgiving, one in which a buffet at a local watering hole might feature prominently. Too bad- it has been a while since I celebrated with the full repertoire of holiday feasting, embarrassing relatives and shrieking children, but it is what it is.

It is the clash of the generations that is most enlightening. My Navy time was mostly spent with younger sailors. Even the alleged grown-ups now look embarrassingly youthful these days. It was interesting to see how the kids- and I am not patronizing- got along in highly structured situations.

When I came in the service, we still had old-timers with more in common with the Greatest Generation than us Baby Boomers who constituted the bulk of the population. As I reached the end of my time in uniform, I was intrigued by the constantly changing demographics of the military and the larger society from which we came.

The Traditionalists- the Old Schoolers- and the Boomers certainly had their differences and approaches to life (Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll!) but they were relatively homogenous in the way we understood our culture and work ethic. That did not mean we necessarily liked it- but we shared a lot. We were educated in actual classrooms, were expected to stay awake, do our homework and participate in discussion.

After being in the business world after turning in my bridge coat, I found myself in the annoying position of drafting and submitting proposals to provide staff augmentation to some of the three-letter Agencies scattered around town. In the course of so doing, I became increasingly aware of even more diversity in the field of potential employees. I reviewed the resumes of hundreds of Boomers, most retired from the military, Generation X’ers, and Millennials.

To simplify, social scientists have sliced and diced us as:

Traditionals (pre-1946 birthdays)
Boomers (1946-1964)
GenX (born 1965 to 1976)
Millennials, sometimes GenY(1977-1995)
iGen sometimes GenZ, but we are running out of alphabet (1996-?)

It was a challenge to deal with the Millennials. The youngest of them were in their early twenties, just starting out, and with less than 1% of the population having served in the military, little exposure to the kinds of jobs I in which I was trying to place them.

Beyond the Millennials was the ‘iGen,’ born after 1996, and just graduating from high school and college.

It brought something home to me in interacting with the generations. Prior to Gen X, there was no internet and mobile phones were a novelty. After them, there was no separating the individuals from the smart phone, laptop or tablet. These prospective workers had never known an unwired world, or one in which any question could be answered via the network, and were in constant communication with the wider world.

The question is not that the later generations are different- a better question is “Why are they like they are?”

There were distinctive changes in the way these people learn. Older generations were taught in brick-and-mortar schools and often instructed by rote learning. The Millennials did not learn that way, gulping knowledge in a blur, skimming and texting. Is that an efficient and effective strategy?

I don’t know. It certainly is a different one than the Boomers had- though each generation adds to the legacy of those passing and past.

There is more than just communicating and learning, to all this generational change, as though the devices themselves were altering our relationship with the natural world, and Millennials have a distinctly different attitude about it. reflects a distinctly different view of the world- and how we operate in society.

With the notable security breaches caused by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as backdrop, it appears that there will be deeper challenges in our brick-and-mortar based institutions. I marveled at the determination of Reality Winner to expose classified information that she felt had to be leaked to the press. Did she now what she did was wrong? That there are digital logs that reflected what machine had sent the message to the printer?

Better training might be an answer, of course, but like I say, this generation perceives things differently, and acts accordingly.

We are in the process of figuring all this out, and some of the characteristics of the Millennials will be more robustly displayed in the coming flood of iGens.

I am naturally interested in how this will affect all of our institutions and how they intersect in a global wired world. I would explore that concept more deeply but I need to go out on my porch and yell at the next generation to get off my yard.

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Dumb Luck

Editor’s Note: Here at Socotra House, we passed a significant milestone on Friday of last week. I had grown weary of toggling through a 600-odd page manuscript. It was time to whack it into more manageable chunks. I broke it chronologically into the Pacific War years of RADM Donald “Mac” Showers, then his time in the age of Hot & Cold Running Wars, and finally his time at Langley and retirement to become a mentor and care-giver. He was superb at them all. Now it is time to print a hard-copy of the thing and do a close edit and see where we go from here. This chapter from the book is from one of the earlier interviews we did, and provides a sort of road-map to the astonishing careers he had. I will keep you posted on the continuing journey about a good friend who saw some extraordinary things.

– Vic


This was at the beginning of my decade-long friendship with Mac, and just at the time we started to take on the project of looking at his amazing life with an eye to telling the story.

It had been a strange day in Arlington, though things are strange enough in Washington that only the addition of nuclear weapons could really give it some pizzazz. The Nuclear Conference wrapped up downtown at the convention center. First Lady Michele Obama made a dramatic appearance in devastated Port au Prince. The talking heads are speculating on the impact of the retirement of Associate Justice John Paul Stevens from the high court.

Mac and I got seats half-way down the Willow’s bar, being just a bit ahead of the rush. The place is quite fashionable these days, and maybe it is a sign the Recession is fading. It was mild in impact around here, though it is hard to say if the people drinking exotic vintages ever noticed it much.

I asked him about Justice Stevens, and remarkably, it turned out he was a wartime colleague in Hawaii. I asked about his involvement in the shoot-down of Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, which featured prominently in the published biography.

“OPERATION VENGEANCE,” Mac said, nodding, “and it was a long-range intercept of the Admiral’s personal aircraft. The mission was based on intelligence derived from decrypted Japanese communications that outlined the itinerary for the Admiral’s inspection trip to several bases in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943. Army Air Corps P-38s operating from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal successfully shot him down.”

(Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. Mac used to dine with him at lunch the O Club near the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Makalapa Crater).

“It was a terrible blow to the morale of the Japanese Fleet,” said the Admiral, “once they had to admit it happened. They kept it secret for a while.”

Justice Steven’s bio notes his contributions to the effort, though Mac doesn’t remember it quite that way, and he is almost the last one in a position to know. He was a Lieutenant with Stevens, who he remembers as a polished lawyer and gentleman from Chicago. They were in the same unit at Pearl during the war, and often had lunch at the bar at the club attached to the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters.

Admiral Mac is approaching his 91st summer in this world, and is still chugging merrily along. He broke his elbow in a fall a month or so ago, which resulted in surgery and a marked diminution of his communications, since he was reduced to one-handed typing.

He does not drink any more, on orders from his oncologist, though he doesn’t mind watching. He enjoys a Virgin Mary with olives and lime and horseradish, or just a ginger ale. We had begun to meet to talk about the events of his distinguished and highly secret career, since most of the great events may still remain classified but are hardly a threat to anyone left alive.

I picked him up in the covered circle at the front door to The Madison high-rise assisted living facility where he lives, and we drove across the street to the Willow.

“Stevens was a good man,” said Mac. “Though I have to say the modern story of his involvement in the Intelligence Community is a little overblown. I know something about that, since I helped establish the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts later in the 1970s.”

Mac went to say that Stevens might have been recruited to be an Air Intelligence Officer rather than a cloak-and-dagger Spook like the published biography implies.

Mac looked thoughtful as he recalled and I dodged pedestrians to try to get parking at the curb directly in front of the door to the bar.

“Admiral Forrest Sherman created the whole air intelligence program,” he said. “Sherman believed that the perfect AI was a lawyer by training, and he was right. They know how to listen, take depositions, and speak succinctly in a briefing. Admiral Forrest Sherman wanted orderly legal minds to take care of his cadre wearing the Wings of Gold. That is probably why they approached John Paul. I don’t recall him being around in early 1943, but it is possible.”

“It is probably why they all got out at the end of the war to go back to lawyering,” I said with a laugh.

(Fleet Admiral Yamamoto)

“You might be right. LT Stevens was a new guy when I was there, and I had literally months of experience. I had reported to the code-breaking unit at Pearl (Station HYPO) in February of 1942 when the ships were still on the bottom of the harbor. That unit’s unclassified name was the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC) and was already humming when Mac arrived in February 1942.

Mac hadn’t mentioned the dumb luck of it all. I started jotting notes on bar napkins, which surround me now. Long story short, he had never been ‘destined’ for anything like the illustrious career he had. It was completely by chance that he was selected to go to the six-week Investigations Course at Seattle after commissioning on 12 September of 1941.

The 90-wonder course in Chicago was intended to produce Deck Officers for the growing Fleet, and it was complete chance he did not get orders to a ship, as most did. Some of them had enough time after commissioning to arrive at their first duty stations in Hawaii to die under the Japanese bombs.

The December 7th attack happened just after he completed the investigations course; he served briefly in the Public Affairs office in Seattle. His duties included resettling Alaskan families in the Pacific Northwest, due to the threat of war. And then it began in earnest.

All the Ensigns immediately were given orders west, toward the crisis. Half were assigned to the 16th Naval District in Manila, the other half to the 14th ND in Honolulu. Dumb luck, or it could have been the alphabetic order in which they were issued.

“Showers” fell in the second tranche of orders, and he was headed for Honolulu.

The 16th Naval District was in Manila. The kids who got those orders took the train down the coast to the Sea Port of Embarkation (SPOE) at San Francisco to the Philippines, and arrived just in time to proceed directly from the docks at Manila into Japanese prison camps- the hellholes of the South China Sea.

Some of them lived. Just Dumb Luck that Mac did not have to endure the horrors.

Mac instead got orders to the 14th Naval district in Honolulu. There was no Waikiki in those days; that was just a swamp west of Downtown and the Aloha Tower and the Matson passenger terminal. He was billeted in the YMCA near Hotel Street and the Aloha Tower where the Matson Liners landed.

The day after arrival, he walked in the soft breeze amid the scent of flowers from the ‘Y’ to report to the District Intelligence Officer as ordered.

The District Intelligence Office was in a hotel the Navy had requisitioned to accommodate wartime needs, and Mac was startled to note that the Assistant DIO who received him wore two pearl-handled pistols on his belt due to his perceived threat of domestic Japanese terrorists.

“The guy was a regular Cowboy,” said Mac. “He got right to the point, too. He asked me how much field investigation experience I had. I told him I had successfully completed the six-week course in Seattle, but otherwise had none. The Cowboy positively fumed.” Mac chuckled, remembering the interview. “It was a guy named CDR Pease, and he was the Deputy in charge of counterintelligence, among other things.

“So, the Cowboy kind of sneered at me, saying “I need men with experience, and you are worthless to me.” Mac said he rocked back in his chair and the pearl handles of the pistol poked out. “He said he had a billet out at the Shipyard he had not been able to fill since he needed all the experienced help downtown. Then he said he had just found someone he didn’t need.”

Next morning, Mac had orders to the Shipyard, and found Station Hypo in the basement of the Administration Building, near the bustle of the recovery efforts to salvage the stricken ships that leaned crazily at the piers or had capsized at their berths in the harbor.

By noon, Mac found himself reporting to a Navy Commander named Joe Rochefort, one of the small handful of men who understood radio, codes and the Japanese language and culture. His little unit made critical breakthroughs on the Japanese JN- 25 code system, but it came at a cost.

Mac was put to work immediately, experience or no. There was a war on, after all. As mid-1942 approached, FRUPAC was literally under the gun. There were periods of round- the-clock work on intercepted messages.

(Charleton Heston (l) and Hal Holbrook as Joe Rochefort (r) in the 1976 film “Midway”).

“Did Commander Rochefort work in his bathrobe, showing up for briefings at the CINCPACFLT HQ up at Makalapa Crater late and disheveled, like actor Hal Holbrook played him in the movie “Midway?””

“We did what we had to do in The Dungeon,” replied Mac. “But do not make the mistake of thinking that Joe Rochefort was anything like the crypto-mystic Holbrook made him out to be. Joe was a pro.”

I kept writing on the growing pile of napkins in front of me. Mac sipped ginger ale and told me he had been working there about three months when the frantic effort climaxed with the decryption of just enough JN-25 traffic to understand the objective of the Japanese attack.

Washington thought the Japanese were headed for Alaska, having detected the movement of a diversionary force intended attack American interest away from the actual objective. Washington had it wrong, and that was going to be the basis of animosity and jealously that would last decades.

If you had not heard, Washington hates to be wrong.

The main body of the Japanese Navy was going to strike and seize Midway Island, and establish a bastion from which they could threaten the Hawaiian Islands.

Rochefort, with Fleet Intelligence Officer Edwin Layton, convinced Admiral Nimitz that Midway Island was the real objective. In an act of serene confidence, the Admiral gambled on the ambush that resulted in the Battle of Midway, 4-7 June, 1942. In the fight, the Japanese lost four carriers and most of their skilled naval aviators.

It was the turning point of the Pacific War.

Mac eventually transferred from FRUPAC to be Eddie Layton’s assistant, and to deploy forward to Admiral Nimitz’ forward HQ at Guam. He worked as chief of the forward Estimates Section on what would happen with the land invasion of the Home Islands, that helped make the decision to debut the use of the (atomic) Gadgets against Japan.

Five days after the surrender, with the help of his Boss CAPT Layton, Mac made a visit to Yokosuka Naval Base, from which the Imperial Navy ships had departed to strike Pearl four years before.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work with the code breakers. It was all just dumb luck that he was not in the half of his class that reported direct to be prisoners of the Japanese.

LT John Paul Stevens, USNR, finished up his time at FRUPAC, which had moved from the basement at the shipyard to the temporary building in back of the PACFLT Headquarters. He demobilized and got on with his life as a lawyer. As it turns out, he did pretty well.

Mac stayed in the Navy, of course, and joined the people at Langley after he retired, and then retired again, and is busier in the third part of his life’s work than he ever was.

(Justice John Paul Stevens on the High Court).

He is still occasionally in touch with his old wartime buddy, and told me when I dropped him off at The Madison that he would ask him how he was planning on enjoying his retirement.

I smiled and was already compiling another list of questions. This had been a stratosphere-level. Now, we could come back and get into the weeds. I said: “We need to get together again soon, if you would be willing.”

“I would be happy to,” said Mac.

“I have some follow-on questions, Sir, and I want to ask them one at a time, rather than a whole war in just a few drinks. Or ginger ales, as the case might be. The one I will leave you with is this: was it all just dumb luck?”
“You don’t know the half of it, Vic,” said Mac. “I would be happy to continue to get together. There are a couple things I would like to get straight, while there is still time.”

Then he turned and walked briskly into the lobby of the Madison, his posture perfect, except for the slight list from the weight of the cast on his arm.

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Why Cats Rule the Universe as We Know It


I haven’t written a Socotra piece for a long time. My usual excuse is time, actually a lack of it like all of the rest of us who labor in what Vic terms the Imperial City. The money is why we are here and a necessary blessing; the traffic, assholes and bureaucracy are the curse. I have several pieces in work that I’ve been sitting on, one for well over a year, but I felt compelled to capture the last couple of interesting days in writing. I’m no Hemingway but ole Ernie and I share the same passions – a love for beautiful women, booze, good literature, and cats. I could also throw in exotic locations, but where the genesis of this story started; it would be hard to it put on your hit list for places to have fun – Dayton, Ohio. This is a love story.

Dayton is the birthplace of aviation – you people in North Carolina sit down. Ohio is where the dream of flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright originated; Kitty Hawk was the testing range. All of the intellectual and ground-breaking engineering thought to get humans into the air happened in Dayton. I had driven through Dayton several times and aside from stopping to take a piss or get a burger on I-70 while driving across the country, I never gave it a second thought. So, on this trip with some time to kill, we carved a couple of hours out of our meeting schedule to visit the National Museum of the USAF. I highly recommend it – time well spent. The other thing that I discovered was that the people of the mid-West, Ohio being a Red State, are not all that vain or pretentious, but rather are decent and possess gentle souls – unlike the assholes we contend with every fucking day in DC, or what they like to increasingly call “the DMV.”

My traveling companion and I arrived via air about the same time at Dayton International, and completed a fam trip to Wright-Pat AFB before checking into our basic business hotel in the outskirts of Dayton. I had researched good restaurants in the area and we found a gem – an old-world style Eastern European eatery which featured a smorgasbord of sausage, potato, and schnitzel treats – Elinor’s Amber Rose.


The Amber Rose was built in 1910 and features a bar with what at the time was luxurious Turkish marble. Their menu included turtle soup – where can you find that? It was definitely a neighborhood place and while we were there, about a dozen blue-collar guys rolled in to take a big table next to us.

After returning to our hotel, my travel partner retired to his room, and I decided to walk off dinner. After strolling around the hotel grounds, I encountered a white black-spotted cat who was trolling for someone to pet him, and then take him in. we overseas people have seen it before – a family adopts a pet, gets orders, and decides to dump it because they don’t want to pay the freight, medical, and other expenses. Heart-breaking.

It was pretty obvious that this feline character was from the same ilk, and he was looking for shelter, food, and love since he was obviously not feral, and unskilled in living off the land. He came right up to me, rubbed my legs – marking me as his territory, and then rolled around on the ground looking for reciprocation – which I obliged, being a cat person. After a few minutes of that, I went inside, with him trying to follow, and went upstairs for the night – troubled.

The next day, we completed our meetings, and I drove my traveling companion back to the airport for his return flight to DC, as I had some unscheduled business meetings the next day. After dinner at a great Colombian restaurant, I returned to the hotel and retired to the back patio for an after dinner drink. Who shows up but my new best friend, who camped out on my feet and stuck his claws into my pants as if to say “I’m not going to let you go.” I needed more information so I went back into the lobby, leaving my feline friend sitting at the door watching me, and asked the front desk guy what was the story with this cat. He told me that it had been hanging around the hotel for about three weeks, and a lot of the guests had expressed concern about him. It was forecasted to freeze that night and the desk guy said that the owner of the hotel was calling Animal Control to pick him up the next day, tomorrow. At that point, action was called for, and I was the right person at the right time. I asked the desk guy what the hotel policy was for pets. He said that they were not pet friendly, but added he had to leave the desk to inspect the grounds and corridors. It was time to make my move. I told him that I would shut the cat into the head, and clean up any mess.

I had previously told my wife about this cat, sent her a picture, and that I was thinking about bringing him home. She is also a cat person, and agreed to me taking the chance. I went back out back, tucked the cat into my jacket, and took him up to the room. Then I went out to a 24-hour store and bought a cat carrier, portable litter box, dried cat food, and bowls for food and water. I should have bought a poop scoop – more on that later.

The next morning, I called and cancelled my informal appointments, cancelled my return flight and extended my rental car to drop it in DC. I snuck the cat out of the hotel, checked out, and departed for what turned into a 12-hour journey back home.
I put the cat into the back of my rental car, and he didn’t like it one bit. Just outside of Columbus, he started to go ballistic, bucking up in his cage in an effort to get free, so I had to stop and get him out of there. I held him for a bit, his heart going 200 mph, and calmed him down. Then, I put him back into his carrier in the back seat so he could see me, and I could reach back and put the fingers of my right hand through the cage bars so he could nuzzle them. It worked.

About an hour later, he started to meow real loud. I found a truck stop off I-70. By this time, he had pooped all of the food he had been scarfing down from the night before. I called my wife with the opening line “I just scooped cat shit out of a litter box with my bare hands.” Yuck. However, my new friend slept pretty much the rest of trip, trusting to fate.

A couple of hours later and still in Ohio, I needed a pee break and something for lunch. I stopped in Morristown and spotted Schlepp’s Family Restaurant. It was the quintessential diner and by happenstance, the owner was sitting at the bar. I asked him what they were known for and what they offered off the menu that was good. It became a choice between a deep-friend cheese burger or a fried bologna sandwich on home-made bread. Since I haven’t had a bologna sandwich since I was pre-teen and never seen it on a menu, I chose that – awesome with their hand-cut fries. Great place to stop on your next trip out west. And the bonus is that it hasn’t been ruined by Guy Fieiri or any of the other clones on the Food Network.


The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. The fall colors had mostly gone from the mountains of West Virginia and Maryland by then, but still beautiful. I made my way through Morgantown, Cumberland, Hagerstown, Frederick, and to BWI without issue; dropped the rental car and loaded up the Tacoma for the short drive home. I called my wife and told her to lock our other cat into the basement since I was concerned that the new one might have feline leukemia – a deal breaker if there ever is one.

We got home, everyone got familiarized, the other cat very unhappy, and I slept on the couch with my new best friend curled up next to me.

The next day, my wife took the new cat to his vet appointment, women being the stronger sex. There are some things that I don’t like and make me afraid and this was one of those things – I had too much emotion invested in this little character and I feared the worst. I invented an excuse to be elsewhere; someplace I could have a couple of drinks, and then waited for the news. The first text from my wife was that he weighed 7 pounds, 7 pounds of pure love. The second brought me to tears– he had tested negative for feline leukemia. I got down on my knees and cried, and thanked God for that gift. I’ve got tears in my eyes as I type this now. Every once in a while, you roll the dice, and this time my number came up. So, we have a new family member, and he is a little heartbreaker. If you are a cat owner or lover, you will understand why I say that cat’s rule the universe. Have you ever gotten a cat to do anything? Well, I had a cat get me to move a little bit of heaven and earth to save his life, and get him a new loving home. I’m still awed by how he did it.


So, we don’t know what we are going to call him. According to Old Possum’s book, all cats have three names, including a secret one. There are some obvious choices – Dayton being one. We are taking a family vote later today. One of the exhibits I saw at the Air Force Museum featured their two greatest aces from WWII, Thomas Maguire, who has an AFB named after him, and Richard “Dickie” Bong – their greatest ace – but the only thing named after him is the access road to the Air Force Museum. He had 40 confirmed kills flying the P-38 Lightning in the SW Pacific Operating Area – more than any USAF fighter pilot ever, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for those feats. However and despite his aerial achievements and being named as one of our first test pilots, he committed the cardinal sin of crashing an F-80 Shooting Star on an acceptance flight on the same day that Birdy Tibbetts dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. Like all of the services then and today, the Air Force didn’t brook failure. That’s why there is no Bong AF, unlike his ace counterpart Maguire who had 38 kills in Europe.


There are several other name candidates – I like Dickie but my wife prefers Lucky, since he is lucky to have survived once he was abandoned. We still need to finish the work to de-flea and de-tick him since he picked both up while he was homeless. Either way, he is one happy camper given his circumstances 48 hours ago, and now where he is today. He is sleeping at my feet as I write this. The vets say he is between 7 and 8 months old so still a kitten. He will sleep in the crook of my arm for the rest of my life. I grieve for what I feel was a little girl who used to own and love him, but I am pissed off at her parents who hard-heartedly decided to dump his ass, for whatever reason. I truly believe that God has a purpose and a plan for everything and everybody. Everyone wants to win the lottery, sometimes you do, but maybe in ways that you never expected.

Epilogue: I wrote this last Saturday and it has been waiting in the Socotra line for posting. Lucky gets his little nuts cut tomorrow so now the little fucker has cost me around $500 – all worth it.

Copyright 2017 Point Loma

Postcard from the Swamp #23

A Slight Break

Our seventy-year-old president completed his 12-day tour of Asia as we slept, Mr. Trump hurtling east on Air Force One from the Philippine Islands, as they were quaintly called back in the day.

I am not sure I could do it, and he has a couple years on me, but Joe Biden is talking about running for President in a couple years, and Hillary seems kinda, well ominous.

Is there anyone not under Social Security Eligibility that might like to take a chance?

And what is up with men? Jeeze. You would think we had been misbehaving for forty years. Or longer.

So, with the President airborne and hopefully tweet-free for a minute, here is a relatively quiet Swamp Postcard. I could go on about the Big Pink hot water outage yesterday, the removal of the old refrigerator and the delivery of the new one, the simultaneous arrival of the maids and the subsequent dental appointment that hung in the balance (I lied about letting them take X-rays for the tenth time) but you have your own issues.

We can deal with it, I am confident. But it was quite a day.

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here!



Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Growing Like Topsy

(On the rim of Makalapa Crater at Pearl Harbor, this semi-permanent wooden structure was built in 1943 to house the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Areas (JICPOA), where intelligence was collected, evaluated, and disseminated throughout World War II.)

“The joint intelligence center is responsible for providing and producing the intelligence required to support the joint force commander and staff, components, task forces and elements, and the national intelligence community.
– Joint Publication 2-01

I confess Mac’s account of the removal of Joe Rochefort from command of station HYPO got me riled up, and it took a while to settle down again.

Reading the account of the DC perfidy that occurred in the last few weeks in September and October of 1942 was profoundly depressing, since it was exactly the story of how things work in a bloated and bureaucratic system that exists, over time, mostly to feed itself.

Before he was ordered back to Washington for his Star Chamber, Joe was the interim Office in Charge of the new Intelligence Center-Pacific Ocean Area (IC-POA). According to Elliott Carlson, Joe hated the additional duty, and viewed it ass a distraction from the critical work being done by Station HYPO’s cryptanalysts and linguists. I think Joe had a point, at that point in the conflict, but things were going to grow like Topsy, and that is just the nature of things.

I base that on analogous experience. I reported to the Pentagon in the early stages of DESERT Shield, in the Fall of 1990. I had accepted ores to the Joint Staff JS organization before deploying to the Med the year before, in USS Forrestal (CV-59). I think I was supposed to be assistant chief, Middle East, North Africa Branch, working for the legendary Andrea Arnstett, but I had a scheme, as every good careerist must, that I would synchronize with the likely assignment of whoever the new intelligence flag officer was going to be.

In those days, it was usually a show-down for selection to Flag rank between the Fleet Intelligence Officers (N-2s) of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. I had worked for the PacFlt N2 before, and made a mental wager that he would be the community pick, and further, the most likely assignment would be as the Flag officer assigned to support the Joint Staff.

Ask anyone- the concept of the “Flag Chase” never works out. If you wait to negotiate for orders to work for someone you know, once you know where they are going, by the time you can extricate yourself from the assignment you are on, and actually get there, the person you wanted to work for is probably packing bags to move on.

In this case, my scheming actually worked out, though it could have been a disaster that would have buried me in the bowels of DIA.

Here is how it worked out. The new JS was indeed the PacFlt N2, and I got to the Pentagon just a month after he reported for duty to General Colin Powell. It is a good thing to be able to skip all that relationship-building nonsense, and being at war- or preparing to go to war- provides a marvelous focus on real things.

In this case, it was clear that a central clearing-house for collections and analysis was going to be needed, and a dank space on the Pentagon Mezzanine level was identified to house the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC). It had a variety of growing pains. Privately, some called it the “Teenage Mutant NMJIIC” after the popular cartoon of the day, but grow it did. Groups of Army, Navy and Air Force people began to appear with alarming regularity, equipped with computers and telephones.

The mission was constantly changing- defense of Saudi Arabia was the beginning, and sanctions enforcement against Saddam’s government was a big deal, since that is what we were doing at the time.

That rapidly changed. Sanctions, first, then mine warfare, and Air Order of Battle, and SCUD-hunting and ground combat all followed with dazzling speed. Once the fight was on, and STORM followed SHIELD, we concentrated on Bomb Damage Assessment and mobility studies, and target nominations. The crisis de jour depended on what the forces in the field required, and of course feeding the decision-making beast in the Building.

It was the same deal it was when Joe Rochefort was sent packing in the Pacific in late 1942. Jasper Holmes reported that changing from defense to offense required new kinds of intelligence support to the operating forces.

IC-POA was cursed to attempt to meet the burgeoning requirements of the amphibious forces who were tasked to storm the beaches. That meant that the vital code-breaking had to be supplemented by skilled imagery analysts, area studies experts, map-makers, and craftsmen who could turn the maps into physical models of the objective atolls.

The only constant in the changing mission swirl was the constant change.

The initial request by the Marines was to create the IC-POA with more than 200 personnel. Only about 40 were actually available when the organization stood-up, which was a blessing, since Jasper Holmes and Mac commented that The Dungeon rhythm was upset with the arrival of all the new faces, and the sensitivity of the code-breaking made security a real concern.

The solution was to move all the IC-POA desks to the far end of The Dungeon, creating an artificial separation between HYPO and IC. With the concentration on tracking IJN naval units through the beginning of 1943, many of the original cadre of intel center officers had moved on to other priorities of the moment. By February 1943, the pipeline for linguists had begin to produce graduate. Twenty of them arrived in February, and CAPT Goggins was put in charge of both.

The organization had shops for an Objective Data Section; a Language Section; and the Combat Intelligence Unit, which was nominally a part of ICPOA but functioned as a part of HYPO. The Photographic Reconnaissance and Interpretation Section (PRISIC) was over on Ford Island, but moved to the second deck of the Kodak Hawaii Building downtown for the obvious reason- access to film.

The organizational contortions continued to lurch forward as Joe’s relief, a CAPT Bill Goggins settled into Joe’s desk. Mac recalled that the transition was aided by Joe Rochefort’s let to Jasper, urging the team to support the new guy.

HYPO itself was having growing pains. Its ranks began to swell after the Battle of Midway. The machine room was “bursting at the seams” according to Jasper, and since it required air-conditioning to make the machines happy, a new facility outside the dank Dungeon was needed.

Jasper described how the seams in The Dungeon were being stretched: “Our plotting facilities, with their expanded collections of charts and maps, required more space. The manifold file of hectographed Japanese messages, a basic source of information for the Japanese naval order of battle, grew to occupy more space than had originally been allotted to the entire unit. Even the card file of place-names had grown to more than twenty thousand cards.”

Accordingly, a building designed specially to handle the IBM machines was constructed on the rim of Makalapa Crater, immediately adjacent to the CINCPAC HQ. HYPO and IC-POA moved out of the bustling Ship Yard their new digs in April of 1943. Mac once told me at Willow the requirements for IBM punch cards were so large that the warehouse next to the new building was filled with nothing but card stock.

The building is still there, something I find remarkable. The new facility was- and is, when I stood there a couple weeks ago- isolated on a dead-end road. Then, it was surrounded by a high chain-link fence and equipped with armed Marines at the gate.

On 7 September, 1943, the tempo of offensive operations jumped into high gear. To serve the planning staffs that rotated through O’ahu, the intelligence section of Admiral Nimitz’s staff was reorganized to cope with the accelerating OPTEMPO. HYPO was administratively separated from IC-POA and transferred to the Pacific Fleet as the Fleet Radio Unit, Pacific (FRUPac).

(Captain William Goggins, the non-cryptologist selected by Washington to lead HYPO. Mac said he was a pretty good guy and didn’t have anything to do with the coup d’etat. His style was more old-school Navy than Joe Rochefort’s was. Photo USN).

Captain Goggins remained with the unit as officer-in-charge of FRUPac. IC-POA was placed directly under the assistant chief of staff for intelligence (ACOS/J-2), Joint Staff, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (CinCPac-CinCPOA). To accommodate the new Joint nature of the reporting chain, it was rechristened as the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area (JIC-POA).

Brigadier General Joseph J. Twitty, was appointed J-2 and officer-in-charge of JICPOA. Captain Eddie Layton remained as Fleet Intelligence Officer. The Combat Intelligence Unit of ICPOA became the Estimate Section of JICPOA, which Jasper led, supported by Mac Showers.

The war in the Pacific was hurtling forward, and the institutions had to change and grow, just like Topsy.

It is the way it works.

(The former JIC-POA Building was sinking into Makalapa Crater in the early 2000s when the Navy actually did something to preserve its history. JIC-POA and Station HYPO were here longer than they were in the famed dungeon. The blue shells on either side of the door are from the super-battleship IJN Yamato. At 18.1 inches, they were the largest ship-borne artillery ever forged).

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

We were at Willow, like duh, and the folks up and down the bar from the Amen Corner were a shifting lot, but the core group was mostly there. Left Coast Guy was talking to Old Jim. The Lovely Bea was snapping pictures, and Jon-no-H was standing in fashionable dishabille, his bow tie elegant but his jacket draped informally across a chair.

There was a new face behind the bar, that of an athletic Hispanic guy with dark good looks and an efficient manner. He joined Liz-with-an-S and Jasper in trying to meet the needs of the thirsty happy hour crowd. I was having a hell of a time with his name. I finally asked him to write it down, and he carefully wrote “Gerber,” like the baby-food, but pronounced, as best I could tell, Gaaar-Bear. I fingered I could work with it, if he could.

Patrick and Tina blew through the crowd. They were in from Annapolis, Socotra tourists in a way. They are leaving The Swamp for life in the Rockies, and wanted to catch up with the Admiral while they could. Jon-no-H was surprised when they called him that, but we all seem to be getting used to being characters in an on-going mini-series.

P&T were in from Annapolis, part of Admiral Mac’s growing fan club.

Mac himself was seated next to me, enormously satisfied with the consistency of his second Sierra Nevada lager, which Liz-S had thoughtfully stocked just for him.

The manila envelope on the bar in front of me, next to the tulip glass half-full of a modest but tasty Pinot Grigio, that held the obituaries and the copy of Arlington Magazine with the article about executive chef Tracy O’Grady was nearly covered with random notes and quotes.

“So, the most famous picture of world War II went through you for release,” I said in wonder.

“Yes,” said Mac briskly. “Certainly did in my capacity as security review for PubInfo. Nothing classified in the picture, and so it went on the wire and was in hundreds of newspapers the next day.”

“As the most famous picture of the biggest conflict in Human History, arguably, it might be the most significant picture ever taken.”

“Until the next one,” said Mac with a smile.

“It is incredible,” I said. “I just wanted to track down the story of the two Japanese super battleships. The other night you said Station HYPO had a role in sinking them both.”

“That is not exactly what I said. I said we got two of them. There were three.”

“I looked it up, Admiral. There were only two ships of the Yamato-class super dreadnaught- her and the Musashi.”

“That is right, as far as it goes, but therein lies the story. There was a third hull of the class, but they altered the design to make it an aircraft carrier after the loss at Midway. It was to be a huge ship, capable of ferrying aircraft, parts and pilots to other fast carrier operating forward. She was the Shinano.” Which he then spelled for me, a great aid when I look at the scrambled notes over a cup of steaming hot Dazbog-brand Russian roast coffee the next morning.

“These ships were post-Treaty of Washington ships, right?” I asked.

“Yes. They were enormous- and we knew nothing about them.”

“Even with American officers like Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton studying the Japanese language there?”

“They were very clever about hanging bamboo curtains around the building ways at Nagasaki and Yokosuka when they abandoned the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. They built them under great secrecy.”
“I remember the ratio from a college course I took,” I said. “5:5:3 for the Brits, us and the Japanese.”
“And 2 and 2 for the French and Italians,” said Mac with a smile. “Not that it had anything to do with the Pacific War, except that most of the ships in the early days were still the ones limited to 35,000 tons and equipped with main batteries that could not exceed 16-inches.”

“How big were the Yamato hulls?” I asked.

Mac wrinkled his brow in concentration. “Massive. They were at least 850 feet, length overall, and more than 70,000 tons. That is longer than our Essex-class fleet carriers were, and twice the displacement.”

“Jesus. That is huge.”

“Oh, yes. We discovered later that the launch of Musashi was such a massive effort that when the hull slid into the water it created a small Tsunami. They covered the whole thing by staging a city-wide air raid drill in Nagasaki to keep everyone in their homes.”

“So when did HYPO identify them?” I asked, putting down my pen and taking a sip of wine.

“Some time late in 1942, I think. Mushasi was handed over to the Navy for commissioning in June or something. We started to identify the call-signs in the JN-25 radio traffic and finally correlated them to the super battleships. We were not spoiled like you guys were by having satellite imagery of the ports and building halls.”

“That did make a lot of things easier,” I said, picking up the pen. “But the Russians were pretty cagey about building their submarines in covered building halls.”

“They have to come out sooner or later. And that was the issue with the Yamato-class ships. They spent most of their operational lives in port at Brunei, Truk Atoll and Kure.”
(IJN Musashi and Yamato in port Brunei 1944.)

“The Germans had the same problem with the pocket battleship Tirpitz. She got bottled up in Norway and they never accomplished anything with her.”

“No, not quite true. The very existence of those ships made us consider them a threat at any time.”

“But they were dinosaurs, right? Even if the main guns could shoot for 35 miles, that is nothing compared to the range of carrier aviation.”

Mac nodded. “And after Midway and then the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, the IJN was essentially out of the carrier business. They threw Musashi into the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and Naval air sank her when she was in the San Bernadino Strait as part of Admiral Kurita’s Center Force.”

“Did HYPO provide locating data on her?”

Mac shook his head. “I am sure we helped with Kurita’s general intent, but the Airdales got her dead to rights. They sank her on 24 October.”
“So that is one that HYPO can’t take credit for.”

“Yes, but we had the new carrier nailed. She was built in Yokosuka, and we decrypted the OpOrder directing her to proceed to the Inland Sea for fitting out. We managed to get her navigation plan to Archerfish, a fleet boat that was providing SAR services for the bomber crews that had to ditch. There were no raids scheduled that day, and Joe Enright managed to get six torpedoes into Shinano. It was the largest aircraft carrier ever sunk, and only ten days after her commissioning. Joe got the Navy Cross for that one.”

(IJN Shinano on sea trials.)
“Ok,” I said. “So HYPO was one for two. Did you identify the plans for Yamato?”

“Yep.” Mac took a sip of Sierra Nevada. “We invaded Okinawa on April Fool’s Day 1945. The Japanese response was to organize Operation Ten-Go, a suicide mission for Yamato. We had her voyage instructions, which were for a one-way mission. She only had enough fuel to get down to the island from Kure. Then she was supposed to expend all her ammunition and run herself aground as an unsinkable gun emplacement and fight to the end.”

“Didn’t work out that way,” I said and drained my glass of Pino Grigio.

“No, it didn’t. HYPO was able to provide the course and timing of her transit and two subs picked her up near the Bungo Strait. They reported contact to the carrier strike force, since they could not keep up with Yamato and her escorts. They were zig-zagging at twenty-two knots. Admiral Marc Mitscher’s group launched nearly three hundred aircraft and caught her about mid-day on the 7th of April.”
(The 72,000-ton Japanese battleship Yamato, pride of the Imperial Fleet, maneuvers evasively at a brisk 15 to 20 knots prior to attack. One fire can be observed amidships from previous attacks, but at this point no list has developed. Photographed from a USS Yorktown (CV-10) plane. Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN.)

“Three hundred aircraft?” I whistled. “Our whole airwing on Forrestal only had around seventy planes. That is impressive.”

“It was. And that was the end of the Yamato, the first and last of her sisters.”

“She is still a popular cultural icon in Japan,” I said. “A symbol of advanced technical capabilities.”

“The word ‘Yamato’ is sometimes used as a poetic name for Japan. So, in a way, the end of the super-battleship Yamato is a metaphor for the end of the Empire of Japan.”
“It is sort of like that Meatloaf song,” I said, waving to get GaaarBears attention and maybe just a finger or two of wine to finish out the session.

Mac looked puzzled. “Meatloaf?”

“Sorry, Admiral. I forget sometimes we are from different eras. Meatloaf was a huge rock star- literally- back in the late seventies when I came into the Navy. His biggest song was “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Mac contemplated that for a moment and then nodded in agreement. “No, I suppose it’s not, is it?”
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Collateral Duty

Editor’s Note: Some moments at Willow pop up in memory. This one seemed appropriate to run today, the day before the real Veteran’s Day, but which we observe today so that much of the Federal Bureaucracy gets a three day weekend.

– Vic

(Mac, Left Coast Guy and Vic at Willow).

Spring was lurking out there in northern Virginia. It was early 2012, the year that Mac left us. For me, it had been one of those awful days of meetings, starting off with a pre-noon meeting out in Fairfax, and the drive revealed nature’ promise that the winter was indeed over. I still had the fancy convertible and was seriously tempted to drop the top coming back.

Daffodils were poking up along I-66 with bright yellow abandon. If the trees have not yet assumed that certain sheen of light green, the time cannot be far off.

The temperature rose slowly through the day and it felt magnificent to be alive. The back of this winter appears to be broken, and there was a spring in my step as I walked over to Willow to meet Mac and Left Coast Guy. LCG was in town checking on a contract, and I was looking forward to catching up.

Liz-with-an-S was enjoying a last smoke by the back door and I walked back to chat before entering the bar. We made some Spring-like resolutions to get serious about the legal flash cards to help her prepare for the Virginia Bar exam later in the year. There is nothing like quizzing her on the finer points on Constitutional Law and Torts to spice up a Happy Hour at Willow.

Not that anyone seems to be paying much attention to the Constitution these days, except as a point of departure for our brave new world, but what the hell.

We parted when her cigarette was done, Liz-S to enter through the back entrance, and me to enter via the front door to assume our appointed roles and positions.

Left Coast Guy was sitting next to Old Jim when I arrived, just minutes before Mac.

I was a little disorganized- go figure- but I don’t like to keep the Admiral waiting. I had printed the Wikipedia articles on the Japanese super battlewagons IJN Musashi and Yamato as aids to ask questions, but they were still sitting on the printer at the office. Mac had told me that the Combat Intelligence Unit (CIU) code-breaking unit at Station HYPO was involved in the sinking of both, and naturally I wanted to know more.

It sort of worked out that way, though as usual there were some of the usual rabbit holes to duck down as Happy Hour progressed.

Mac’s War had been in the background all day.

Someone out there in internet-land had realized that it was the anniversary of the flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, and it started a viral dissemination of a series of images taken by AP photo-hound Joe Rosenthal. The five images depicted the first and second American flags being raised on the height above the pork chop-shaped black sand volcanic island.

The images came without commentary, but the shots of the Marines included the iconic image that became the Marine Memorial that looms next to Route 50 in Rosslyn. It was pretty amazing. I must have got it in the e-mail four or five times as vets recycled it. I sent the files to Mac in the afternoon, 67 years to the day, I thought.

(Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. It is at peace now).

The battle for the island had been raging for four days when the Jarheads seized the peak, and the fight would go on for another month before the island was secured. The SeaBees would start working on the airstrip before the last of the defending Japanese troops were mopped up.

Mac would have been on Guam at the time, I thought, with Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s forward staff. I made a mental note to ask him about it. It was the relatively swift collapse of Japanese forces in the Philippines that advanced the timing of the landings on the first Japanese soil to be occupied by the Americans. Halfway between Japan and the Marianas, Iwo had been a Japanese early warning station to detect the in-bound heavy bomber streams headed for Honshu.

That was over, by the time the flag went up.

Mac was clutching a manila envelope when he arrived, and he slapped it down on the bar as Liz-S appeared to ask him his choice of poison.

“Did you re-stock the Sierra Nevada?” he asked hopefully. Liz-S nodded, her chestnut ponytail dancing over her slim shoulders. “Good. I will take one. I have a case of it back at The Madison,” he declared.

“You must be feeling better,” I said.

“Best in years,” he said. “We need to figure out the arrangements for the trip to Hawaii this summer.”

Then he began to dig through the envelope. He reads the obituaries in the Post religiously. I guess it is kind of a sport at his age, keeping track of those who leave the dance before he does. We discussed whether to run an appreciation of the life of a line officer who had been in the corps of Attaches, though not an intelligence officer, and the spouse of another retired officer who had pulled the plug completely on the community once retired. “Disappeared completely,” said Mac, “Though I understand she still lives in Vienna.”

“I can understand why some folks would want to just get away from the whole thing. But I can’t seem to let it go. Did you get the pictures I sent you from Iwo Jima?”

“Oh my, yes. That is a story.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I was on Guam with Admiral Nimitz,” he said, taking a sip of refreshing Sierra Nevada. He likes it when he can bully the oncologists into have a couple beers.

“Right,” I said, starting to scrawl notes on the outside of the manila envelope. “You were on Nimitz Hill.” Jasper, the best bowler on the island, was behind the bar, and his ears pricked up at the mention of his home on Guam. “That makes both of you guys the locals.”

Mac smiled. “Yes. Although I was a temporary Guamanian. But I had a variety of duties in addition to Estimates and Current Intelligence.”

“Oh, I vividly remember what we called Collateral Duties, or worse, ‘Other Duties as Assigned.’ In Fighter Squadron 151, I was not only the squadron Air Intelligence Officer, but the Squadron Legal Officer, Tax Advisor, Coffee Mess Officer and Wardroom coordinator to ensure everyone had paid for the chow.”

“I did not have it that bad, but there were some jobs that required security assessments and duties like that. I was also the censor for the pictures taken by the war correspondents. We called it PubInfo- Public Information. What you call what the Public Affairs Officers do today. I had to review all the outgoing pictures to determine if they contained any classified information.”

“Wait a minute- you released the picture of the Marines raising the flag?”

Mac nodded. “Yes. Joe Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed. He did not see them while he was on Iwo Jima. Not like today with your digital cameras and instant gratification.”

“So you were one of the first to see the most famous image of the war?”

(Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Photo AP).

“Yep. I think the photo tech was a guy named George- George Tiaden, of Minnesota.”

“What did you think?”

Mac pursed his lips. “I thought it was powerful. I told George it was one for the ages- maybe the best photograph of the war. Once I gave it the OK as not having any classified information in the image, it was distributed by Associated Press within eighteen hours after Rosenthal shot it.”

“That is an astonishingly fast turnaround time for those days,” I said. “Mac, you are incredible,” I said, taking a sip of happy Hour White.

The Admiral just smiled. There is a lot more, of course, but one astonishing thing at a time, you know?

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Swamp Postcard #22

The New Normal?


Good heavens. I had just shuffled out of my office on Sunday to catch a few minutes of football, once I was confident that any political statements had occurred. Instead, I was treated to the unfolding story of yet another brutal massacre of the innocent 26 parishioners- men, women and children- at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The Las Vegas atrocity and the New York Jihadi attack are beginning to slide into primal memory, though they have all happened in the span of less than a month. It suggests we have a severe case of national ADD- or that we are beginning to accept this carnage as the “new normal.” Or both.

I din’t have much doubt that we are seeing the social fabric beginning to fray. A pal suggested that this level of political violence- shooting at Congressmen, assaulting Senators, slaughtering innocents at concerts, on bike paths and in Church- has not been seen since the 1850s. You know how well that turned out.

Everything is hyper political now. Did you note the “scream in” by alleged adults protesting last November’s election? Astonishing. Even things that were as American as Apple Pie and Chevrolet have become social lightning rods. I confess the ongoing controversy has chilled me on the NFL. I used to thrill that Monday Night Football continued Sunday’s gridiron excitement. I have not watched a Monday night game this year, nor the strange new Thursday NFL addition.

The fraying of the nation’s social fabric is continuing and getting stranger. According to the Sacremento Bee, “When California lawmakers return to the Capitol in January, the state chapter of the NAACP will be seeking their support for a campaign to remove “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.”

Of course it is California, but the fact that our social discourse now consists of slander and epithet. The campaign for Governor here was as slimy as anything I have seen. It was a good week for Democrats, except for that Donna Brazile bombshell about the Democratic National Committee shenanigans during the primaries. I suppose the old adage that goes “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin.”

Each time I put one of these post cards together, I think events can’t get any stranger, and each week my finely honed analytic skills are shown to lack imagination.

Is this all just the new normal, or are things accelerating? While the President is spinning around Asia, attempting to get the North Koreans in a box with China’s help, bucking up our regional allies, and fixing trade imbalance, there is something really weird going on in the Middle East, and for me to even say that would imply that what is politically normal in the region isn’t weird already.

The 32-year old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to be behind the arrest of dozens of Royals, some with a personal wealth of billions, to neuter any opposition to his lightening ascent to the pinnacle of power.

But that is not all. Yemeni Rebels lofted an improved SCUD at Riyadh, which was shot down by an American-provided Patriot missile. It is widely suspected that the Yemeni rocket was provided by the Iranians, and a directly threatening escalation in tension between the Sunni and Shia tribes. To demonstrate their contempt for the Iranians, the Saudis fired the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri. I had no idea that was how things worked. Apparently the Saudis were displeased about the fact that who had the gall to include Iranian-backed Hezbollah legislators in his government.

Nuclear-armed Israel, as you might imagine, is aware that there could be 40,000 Iranian-provided Hezbollah pointed at them, too many even for the fine Iron Dome air defense system to fully counter.

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure I don’t like the direction this is all going. Feels like a dusty tome from history classes long past, the ones where you slap yourself in the forehead and say: “How could they have been so stupid?”

Here is the postcard. Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.


Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

Japan-gazer Special — What Are The Real Undercurrents In Japanese Politics?

Editor’s Note: Japan-Gazer provides this particularly relevant analysis, since the President is on a whirlwind trip that passed through Japan and the Republic of Korea before arriving in Beijing. With the continuing crisis with North Korea, the alignment of Japanese domestic politics is a great aid in understanding our biggest regional ally.


What Are The Real Undercurrents In Japanese Politics?


COMMENT: If there is one thing to read & digest about the current state of Japanese politics, it is the very insightful column below from the Yomiuri Shimbun. As the Professors Saeki and Inoue discuss, the political labels “conservative” and “liberal” do not accurately describe what is going on, as Japan navigates through the strong currents of social issues, national security, economics, etc. My personal take is that Japan, as an (insular & resource-poor) island country, faces a constant challenge of how to deal with & adapt to challenges coming from “the outside” — and as those issues arise, Japanese politics is stimulated to take action. I sense that there are still sentiments of wanting to “be left alone” in some Japanese people, which connect back to the �i国 (SAKOKU — closed country) times — 1600’s though mid-1800’s — when Japan shut itself off from the rest of the world.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

== What is conservatism, liberalism in Japan?

(November 01, 2017; The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Kibo no To (Party of Hope) was launched under the banner of the “conservatives working for reform,” while leftist and liberal-minded members of the Democratic Party formed the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (clearly distinguishing themselves from Kibo). The latest House of Representatives election was said to be a battle among three forces, including the ruling parties. Yet what is a conservative and what is a liberal? We asked two experts.

= = = = = = = = = =

— There is no real conservative party

(Keishi Saeki; Professor emeritus of Kyoto University)

Japanese politics have traditionally been portrayed as a conflict between conservatives and liberals. However, this conflict has lost its meaning of late. What’s more, does a conservative party even exist in the true sense of the word?

The Liberal Democratic Party calls itself conservative, but ever since the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, it has adopted neoliberalism, promoting thorough deregulation and market competition, as well as accepting economic globalization.

However, over the last decade and more, excessive growth-oriented principles based on financial markets have seen the widening of the income gap, and young people beset by job insecurity. There are jobs in Tokyo, but regional areas are experiencing economic hardship.

In the midst of all this, the Japanese Communist Party’s policies advocating aid to those who fall through the cracks of competition and emphasizing the value of health care, education and local communities appear far more conservative.

The Abenomics economic policy package of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe depends on growth strategies. It promotes technological innovation through development of artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology. This is a form of progressivism, in that it seeks to reform society through technology. However, if continual growth is difficult because of the shrinking population, it is necessary to withdraw a little from the global economy that forces the nation into excessive competition, provide stability in the lives of the people, and improve social infrastructure such as health care and education.

Kibo no To (The Party of Hope) was born out of grandstanding by [Tokyo Gov.] Yuriko Koike. Koike repeatedly advocates “reform,” but what she intends to reform is unclear.

“Political reforms” began when Ichiro Ozawa split the LDP to form the Japan Renewal Party (Shinseito) in 1993. A single-seat constituency system was introduced to let the public choose a government from two major political parties. Efforts were made to shift policymaking from the hands of bureaucrats to politicians. However, almost all attempts resulted in failure.

Popular sovereignty in which the will of the people is reflected in politics transformed into former Prime Minister Koizumi’s “theatrical politics,” solidifying a populist course in which politics are driven by approval ratings. This trend gave rise to a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, and also led to the advent of Toru Hashimoto’s “Ishin no Kai” (Japan Restoration Party.)

It could be said that Abe’s current dominance is a result of the introduction of single-seat constituencies and politician-led policy. But opposition parties, who are still calling for reform, criticize Abe’s dominance.

With the collapse of the Cold War order, leftists sympathetic to socialism transformed into moderate liberals. Their goal is to aid the disadvantaged within the framework of capitalism. However, if they do not squarely criticize the problems that arise from the global economy and a growth-centered approach, they will be swallowed up by the LDP.

In the Democratic Party leadership election, Seiji Maehara advocated prioritizing social welfare under the slogan “all for all.” Abe has pledged to do the same. He says that the additional revenue from a planned consumption tax hike will be allocated to providing free education and social security programs for low income-earners and young people.

Policies advocated by liberals have, for all intents and purposes, been appropriated by the LDP.

The CDPJ (Constitutional Democratic Party) was hastily formed in an environment in which the survival of the liberal faction was on the line, and its policies are little more than an afterthought, with no initiatives capable of standing up against the administration led by the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito.

As for the Constitution, liberals are anti-revision and Prime Minister Abe is pro-revision. The security-related legislation ― which allows Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense ― has been enacted. If the Japan-U.S. alliance is rock-solid after this, the desire to revise the Constitution will dwindle. Meanwhile, the liberal camp is unable to work out a national security policy in the face of issues such as the North Korea problem.

Japan does not have a conservative party in the true sense of the word.

At the very least, we should debate the Constitution and security within a larger framework. The constitutional issue is not something we should resolve through revisions. We ought to have the will that could result in enacting an independent Constitution and setting the task of exploring the feasibility of independent defense.

We are reaching a crossroads on the response to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

– The first option is to focus on seeking talks.

– The second is to stay under the umbrella of the United States.

– The third, which would be difficult to realize, is for Japan to have its own nuclear weapons.

Liberals are for the first option, but it lacks effectiveness. Realistically, they will be drawn into the second option. Liberals in the United States and European countries emphasize security. It is presumed that citizens will defend their countries on their own.

Whether they are conservative or liberal, if the parties cannot address the truly important issues, the voters have no way to make a choice. We don’t want voters to decide haphazardly based on the mood of the time.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Yasuhiko Mori.)

[* Saeki is also a special appointed professor at the Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University, and a social thinker. In 1997, he received the 7th Yomiuri Rondansho prize for his book “Gendai Nihon no Riberarizumu” (Liberalism in contemporary Japan). He has also written numerous books, including the upcoming “Datsu Sengo no Susume” (Recommendations for leaving the postwar framework). He is 67.]

= = = = = = = = = =
— Battle lines on top law ambiguous

(Tatsuo Inoue; Professor of the University of Tokyo)

In the latest election, voters were forced to choose a government without any choice on policy. While it was supposedly a three-way contest among the main conservatives, the minor conservatives, and the liberals, the reality was different.

First of all, the contention over the constitutional issue was in fact ambiguous. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed adding a provision stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces while maintaining the second paragraph of Article 9, which bans Japan from maintaining war potential. However, this preserves the current ambiguous situation of claiming the SDF does not have war potential. Despite the CDPJ’s opposition to revising Article 9, CDPJ leader Yukio Edano made a personal proposal for constitutional revision in 2013 that was much the same as Abe’s. His proposal leaves the current text of Article 9 intact, appending clauses after Article 9 as Article 9-2 and Article 9-3, and even includes provisions that allow Japan to exercise the right to self-defense jointly with a country, when that country is attacked when it is defending Japan.

This was criticized by the Japanese Communist Party as a right of collective self-defense. JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii has also stated in a party leaders’ debate session that if an anti-LDP coalition government should be formed, his party would go along with the doctrine of the constitutionality of the SDF.

Another axis is taxes and social security. Before the Democratic Party split, it was considering the idea of allocating increased revenues from a planned consumption tax hike to education and social security, rather than to national debt repayment. Prime Minister Abe copied this idea. Each party is trying to distinguish itself on this issue through how to secure revenue sources. However, they are unanimous in advocating investment in people through measures, including free education, and they have shelved fiscal reconstruction issues, obscuring the points of contention on policies.

Ideally, the points of contention between conservatives and liberals should be viewed from three different sides: politics, economics, and military and diplomatic affairs.

– On the political side, conservatives restrict individual freedoms and rights to preserve their country’s traditional religion and culture. Conversely, liberals stress civil and political rights such as separation of state and religion, as well as freedom of expression to protect religious and cultural minorities and dissenters.

– On the economic side, the conflict between liberals and conservatives is changing, even in the United States and European countries. Originally, conservatives protected the vested interests of the privileged classes. Liberals opposed hierarchical privileges and emphasized meritocratic free competition. However, from the end of the 19th century to after the Great Depression, liberalism in Britain and the United States changed to support for a welfare state to aid the socioeconomically disadvantaged. In opposition to this, conservatives ended up stressing “small government” and market competition. However, conservatives have assimilated the backlash to economic globalization, turning toward protectionism. The landscape has become distorted again.

– On the military and diplomatic affairs side, it is inaccurate to say that conservatives are hawks and liberals are doves. Neoconservatives supported military intervention by the U.S administration of George W. Bush, but there are also hawkish liberals who actively support humanitarian intervention.

Ultimately, the clearest distinction between conservatives and liberals is on the political side. This is also the case in Japan.

The conservative LDP limits civil and political liberties to some extent in order to maintain traditions and public order, as can be seen from:

– official Yasukuni Shrine visits,

– opposition to a proposal to allow married couples to use separate surnames,

– establishing the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, and

– criminalizing the planning and preparation to commit such crimes as terrorist attacks.

Critics of these initiatives and positions are the “liberal opposition parties” such as the CDPJ.

Kibo is a mystery: While outwardly conservative, the outcome of the merger with former Democratic Party members remains uncertain.

There is no true liberal party in Japan as yet. The bedrock of liberalism is the concept of justice, which forms the framework for the equitable coexistence of opposing groups. It demands respect for constitutionalism as a means to provide the rules for fair political competition.

Advocates of protection of the Constitution criticize those who support a constitutional amendment as a threat to the Constitution. However, they politically sanction the SDF and Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, provided they are within the framework of the nation’s exclusively defense-oriented policy and the right to individual self-defense, which resulted in them papering-over the inconsistency with Article 9 and its prohibition of maintaining and exercising war potential.

They are also equally guilty of trampling on the Constitution for the sake of political convenience. If they stand for constitutionalism, at the very least they should advocate a constitutional amendment that protects the top law ― which involves amending the provisions of the second paragraph of Article 9 to permit the maintenance of war potential within the limits of the country’s exclusively defense-oriented policy and its individual self-defense right.

Furthermore, despite the current increased tensions over North Korean affairs, Prime Minister Abe is steering clear of recognizing the SDF as having war potential, through his plan of advocating adding new text to the Constitution and leaving paragraph two of Article 9 intact. His stance demonstrates the same complacency about peace as those opposed to constitutional revision.

If conservatives take national defense seriously, then the Abe administration is not worthy of being called conservative. “Surmounting the national crisis” is no more than a slogan, and the public are forced into a fruitless choice. However, the fault for this lies with the public, who have ignored political deception and brought it on themselves. In a democracy, politics will match the people’s standards. To change politics, the people must change themselves.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Haruki Sasamori.)

[* Inoue specializes in the philosophy of law. His books include “Kyosei no Saho” (The etiquette of coexistence), “Ho toiu Kuwadate” (The undertaking of law), “Sekai Seigiron” (The theory of global justice), “Riberaru no Koto wa Kirai Demo, Riberarizumu wa Kirai ni Naranai de Kudasai” (Even if you hate liberals, please don’t hate liberalism), and “Kenpo no Namida” (Tears of the Constitution). He is 63.]

Copyright 2017 Japan-Gazer and Yomiuri Shimbun’ Haruki Sasamori

The Bomb Plot


There have been discussions for seven decades about how we got clobbered at Pearl Harbor. Mac did not arrive there until February of 1943, so he could not comment authoritatively on what was true or not about the claim that Washington short-sheeted the Pacific Fleet Commander on decrypted Japanese messages tracking the mooring locations of the American capital ships in the harbor.

Mac talked to Joe Rochefort about it when memories were still fresh and victory was far from certain. He said Joe wasn’t sure that knowing about the message stream would have changed anything in particular, but I was reading about it again. I had time- we got snow last night, most of this winter, and Washington is Predictably Paralyzed. Willow is closed for an unprecedented second night in a row, and I officially have cabin fever. In the meantime, the memories of the placid waters of Pearl Harbor will not leave me alone. This morning it was the Bomb Plot message.

No, it doesn’t refer to some nefarious scheme or plan. “Plot” is Navy-speak for information placed on a map. Like targets you might want to bomb sometime.

That is the intercepted message that might- or might not- have provided the advance information that the Japanese were interested in the precise locations of the American fleet. It might- or might not- have resulted in a different outcome in the attack. Some say that if the fleet was at sea, and might have tried to engage the attacking Japanese and been sunk in deep water, with thousands more casualties, and the proud ships lost forever, not salvaged as they were.

I got a note a week or so ago from a documentary filmmaker in the UK who is married to a pal who is a journalist based in the UK. Vicki Barker is the voice I trust on the CBS radio network. Her husband is interested in doing a documentary on the appalling way that Admiral Husband Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, and Lt. General Walter Short were hung out to dry in the wake of the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor.

As I have told you (over and over) I lived and worked in the buildings that survived the Day of Infamy, and I was fortunate to have been a drinking buddy and tipsy Boswell to RADM Donald “Mac” Showers, the last of the JN-25 code-breakers at Station HYPO in Pearl.

My stories are sincere, but were never intended to be documentary history. I always liked to get to the loopy aspects of history- like, what was the party like at the quarters of chief code-breaker Joe Rochefort after the amazing results of the battle of Midway became known? (Answer: It was a good one).

Elliot Carlson is a professional historian who was working on his extraordinary biography of Rochefort through the same period, and detailed the scandalous story of Joe’s removal from command of HYPO by ankle-biting careerist hacks in the moment of his greatest triumph.


There is still a lot of emotion in all this. I know a pompous jackass here in town who was going around trying to discredit the story of how Joe’s band of Japanese linguists and cryptologists identified the target of the attack on Midway.

As you may recall, ENS Mac Showers was sitting at his desk in the Dungeon when Jasper Holmes outlined his scheme to tell the Commander at Midway (by way of secure submarine cable) to report by unencrypted radio that the fresh water plant on the coral atoll was malfunctioning. Holmes said that when the Japanese copied the radio transmission, it might reveal the identity of the target for the coming attack, and permit decisive action by the American Fleet.

Joe Rochefort liked the idea, and it worked. Within a few days, an encrypted Japanese message was de-coded that revealed the target- “AF”- was having fresh water problems.

It wasn’t perfect intelligence, but that is about as good as it gets in the world of COMINT. Joe was wary of the testy relations he had with the radio intelligence people back in Washington. He didn’t want the conclusion of the elegant subterfuge to be compromised by suspicion of who figured it out. So he provided the information to the Fleet Radio Unit in Melbourne, Australia, (FRUMEL) to have them report it.

Joe had a sign behind his desk that read: “There is no limit to what you can do, so long as you don’t care who gets the credit.” And so, sixty years after the fight, people were still fighting about stealing credit for what Jasper and Joe did in the basement of the 14th Naval District.

With things like that going on, Elliot relied heavily on Mac’s razor-sharp recollections to keep things straight. We are still attempting to get Mac’s 26-hour oral history transcribed and declassified- money and personnel bandwidth has been a challenge but we continue to press.

Elliot’s interviews with Mac were conducted in a much more focused manner than the ones I was doing, but they were complementary in nature.

I have asserted that the real villain in all this was Admiral Richmond Kelly “Terrible” Turner, who had been Chief of War Plans at Main Navy before the war had been instrumental in denying Hawaii access to the high-level Japanese Diplomatic messages in the Purple intelligence stream. That, and the famous Bomb Plot message are described In “Joe Rochefort’s War.”

The Bomb Plot message is presented on page 154 and onward in the book. The question from the filmmaker was about exactly that. I wrote him back that “Arlington Hall Station (across from where I now live) was where the Army conducted its code-breaking. Their charter- and part of the division of labor with Navy- was to attack the Japanese high-level diplomatic code (Purple) as well as less important cypher systems used by the Japanese diplomatic corps.”

HYPO’s mission was only to track Japanese Naval ships. The Bomb Plot message was in a different cypher system than Purple, known as “J-19,” and was considered a secondary priority to breaking Purple traffic. The message had originally been copied on 24 September at the Army intercept site at Fort Shafter on Oahu. They lacked translators and machine support at Monitoring Station-5 (MS-5), and so the cable in question was shipped back to Washington for processing.

According to Elliot, the message was eventually deciphered a few weeks later and circulated to the Army and Navy Radio Intelligence brass. They determined the request for detailed anchorage positions was routine and the message was then filed away without action.

It did not come to light until the Pearl Harbor inquiries were held- the first in the wake of the attack, and the second, more elaborate one, after the war was over and the sense of urgency slightly less.

Later, when the existence of the messages were revealed, Rochefort himself was not confidant that he would have recognized the Bomb Plot message as significant. He remarked that he might have just chalked it up to the obsessive nature of Japanese collection philosophy.

That was emphatically not true for Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Short were, since they had already been railroaded and scapegoated. Both were back in Washington before the existence of the Bomb Plot message was revealed to either. Eddie Layton would probably have been the one to bring it to Kimmel as his Fleet Intelligence Officer, but it never made it back to Hawaii.

Nor did the high level Japanese diplomatic traffic transmitted in the Purple system. Richmond Kelly Turner made sure those messages did not get to Admiral Kimmel- including the ones that directed Japanese diplomatic staff to have things wrapped up by the end of November 1941. The Kido Butai, the IJN Main Body, sortied for Pearl on the 26th of that month.

At the dawn of the age of machine encryption, special machines had been constructed to assist the laborious process of breaking the contents of the messages- there are some great stories to tell about black-bag jobs and the like conducted by Naval Intelligence to enable the penetration of the codes. Station CAST in the Philippines had one. Station NEGAT in Washington had one.

The one intended for Pearl was in Bletchley Park in the UK. There is a story about that, too, and maybe we will get back to Beach Gradients one of these mornings soon.

But if anyone tells you that Joe Rochefort was wrong, or that the guys in Australia had anything to do with Jasper Holmes and his great idea, just tell them they are pompous partisan windbags.

Oh, and it is good to have friends. Thanks to that, I can give you a look at two of the Great Americans who labored in The Dungeon in the basement of the 11th Naval District at Pearl Harbor:

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Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra