American Thinkers

Einstein and Tagore Square Off …

Posted on November 11, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Guide Posts, Light plus Weighty |

The New York Times wrote an Article with the headline ‘Einstein and Tagore Plumb the Truth’ and a memorable photo (of their New York Meeting) titled “A Mathematician and a Mystic meet in Manhattan.”

Unsurprisingly, this fascinating conversation quickly became a media sensation with many publications across the world carrying the recorded version. Here’s an excerpt from this historic exchange of ideas (published in the January 1931 issue of Modern Review)

TAGORE: You have been busy, hunting down with mathematics, the two ancient entities, Time and Space, while I have been lecturing in this country on the Eternal World of Man, the Universe of Reality.

EINSTEIN: Do you believe in the Divine isolated from the World?

TAGORE: Not isolated. The Infinite Personality of Man comprehends the Universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the Human Personality, and this proves that the Truth of the Universe is Human Truth.

EINSTEIN: There are two different conceptions about the Nature of the Universe — the World as a unity dependent on Humanity, and the World as reality independent of the Human Factor.

TAGORE: When our Universe is in harmony with man, the Eternal, we know it as Truth, we feel it as Beauty.

EINSTEIN: This is a purely human conception of the universe.

TAGORE: The world is a human world — the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man. Therefore, the world apart from us does not exist; it is a relative world, depending for its reality upon our consciousness. There is some standard of reason and enjoyment which gives it truth, the standard of the eternal man whose experiences are made possible through our experiences.

EINSTEIN: This is a realization of the human entity.

TAGORE: Yes, one eternal entity. We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realize the supreme man, who has no individual limitations, through our limitations. Science is concerned with that which is not confined to individuals; it is the impersonal human world of truths. Religion realizes these truths and links them up with our deeper needs. Our individual consciousness of truth gains universal significance. Religion applies values to Truth, and we know Truth as good through own harmony with it.

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove, but I believe in the Pythagorean
argument, that the Truth is independent of human beings. It is
the problem of the logic of continuity.

TAGORE : Truth, which is one with the universal being, must be essentially human; otherwise, whatever we individuals realize as true, never can be called truth. At least, the truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic—in other words, by an organ of thought which is human.

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FBI Battles Child Abuse

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Searching for Success |

Operation Cross Country, the FBI’s annual law enforcement action focused on recovering underage victims of prostitution and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of sex trafficking at home and abroad, has concluded with the recovery of 84 sexually exploited juveniles and the arrests of 120 traffickers.

Now in its 11th iteration, Operation Cross Country has expanded beyond the United States, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand undertaking similar operations. Their efforts were coordinated with the FBI and its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners — along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)— during the four-day law enforcement action that ended October 15.

‘There are Many More Victims That We Need to Reach’

As part of Operation Cross Country XI, FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Calvin Shivers and Victim Specialist Anne Darr describe the primary role of the FBI’s national multi-agency initiative—to recover children who are being trafficked.

“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested—and the number of children recovered—reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work.”

This year’s Operation Cross Country involved 55 FBI field offices and 78 FBI-led Child Exploitation Task Forces composed of more than 500 law enforcement agencies. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and through social media sites frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers.

All of the recovered minors were offered services by specialists who are either part of the FBI’s Victim Services Division or members of other local and state law enforcement agencies. More than 100 victim specialists provided on-scene services that included crisis intervention as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.

During operations by FBI Denver’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, for example, a 3-month-old girl and her five-year-old sister were recovered after a friend who was staying with the family made a deal with an undercover task force officer to sell both children for sex in exchange for $600.

“The threat of child sex trafficking is something the FBI works on every single day,” said Calvin Shivers, special agent in charge of the Denver Division. “Operation Cross Country gives us the opportunity to shine a light on this threat and to educate the public.” He added that while the focused law enforcement action has “an immediate impact” of recovering a significant number of juvenile victims, “we recognize that there is a lot more work to be done to identify and recover even more victims.”

“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm.” FBI Director Christopher Wray

Ali’s Story

Ali grew up in a middle-class suburb outside Philadelphia with parents who loved her and a wide circle of friends. She played sports and was a good student. In high school and in college—where she received an undergraduate and master’s degree in criminal justice—she drank alcohol and experimented with marijuana and other drugs, like many of her friends. Then she tried heroin.

William Johnson is a deputy sheriff with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and a member of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force in Philadelphia. One of the task force’s priorities is to combat human trafficking.

Although Johnson says he was just doing his job, Ali credits him with saving her from a life of addiction, prostitution, and being on the streets—a life, she believes, that would not have lasted much longer.
Operation Cross Country is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, which began in 2003. Since its creation, the program has resulted in the identification and recovery of more than 6,500 children from child sex trafficking and the prosecution of countless traffickers, more than 30 of whom have received life sentences for their crimes.

“Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America,” said John Clark, the CEO of NCMEC. “We are working to combat this problem every day,” he explained, adding that NCMEC is “proud to work with the FBI on Operation Cross Country to help find and recover child victims.”

“This operation isn’t just about taking traffickers off the street,” FBI Director Wray said. “It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse.”

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S Chandrasekharan – Indian Scientist …

Posted on October 20, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Indian Thought, Personalities |

Professor Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Why Google honours him today?

In his honour, Google is changing its logo in 28 countries to a doodle, or illustration, of him and the Chandrasekhar Limit.

Described as a “child prodigy” and hailed as the first astrophysicist to win a Nobel Prize for his theory on the evolution of stars, Diwali on Thursday would have been Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s 107th birthday.

But in his lifetime, the Indian American astrophysicist was not always recognised for his achievements. This is his story:

Born in Lahore in 1910 to a Tamil family, Chandrasekhar was home tutored until age 12. In his autobiography, Chandrasekhar referred to his mother as “My mother Sita was a woman of high intellectual attainments”. His uncle, Sir CV Raman, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. Also in 1930, Chandrasekhar completed his bachelor’s degree in physics at the Presidency College in Madras, India (known today as Chennai).

Chandrasekhar was then awarded a scholarship by the government of India to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the UK. He completed his PhD studies in 1933.

Married to Lalitha Doraiswamy in the southern Indian city of Madras, Chandrasekhar praised his wife’s “patient understanding, support, and encouragement” and called those the “central facts of my life”.

Working as a researcher at Cambridge University, Chandrasekhar made his most significant discovery, which became known as the Chandrasekhar Limit. But his colleagues were sceptical of his discovery and sought to discredit it. According to the Open University, English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington persuaded Chandrasekhar to present his findings at the Royal Astronomical Society in London on January 11, 1935.

At the astronomical society, Eddington then gave a lecture to “demolish the young researcher’s calculations and theory, dismissing it as mere mathematical game playing”.

More than 30 years later, in 1966, scientific research with computers and the hydrogen bomb gave credit to Chandrasekhar’s calculations. Black holes, central to Chandrasekhar’s theory, were identified in 1972. His calculations contributed to the understanding of supernovas, neutron stars and black holes.

In 1937, Chandrasekhar emigrated to the US and started working at the University of Chicago. During World War II, he was invited to join the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos to make a nuclear bomb, but delays in the processing of his security clearance prevented him from joining.

Chandrasekhar contributed to the war effort, working for the Ballistic Research Laboratory in Maryland. In 1953, 16 years after he came to the US, Chandrasekhar was granted US citizenship. He died in Chicago at the age of 85.

In his book, Truth and Beauty, he offered his advice to aspiring scientists, “What a scientist tries to do essentially is to select a certain domain… and see if that takes its appropriate place in a general scheme which has form and coherence; and, if not, to seek further information which would help him to do that.”

In his autobiographical sketch for the Nobel Prize ceremony, he described what motivated his scientific quest, “When, after some years of study, I feel that I have accumulated a sufficient body of knowledge and achieved a view of my own, I have the urge to present my point of view, ab initio, in a coherent account with order, form, and structure”.

In an interview, Chandrasekhar praised the US, “I have one advantage here in the United States. I have enormous freedom. I can do what I want. Nobody bothers me. What a scientist tries to do essentially is to select a certain domain … and see if that takes its appropriate place in a general scheme”

When Chandrasekhar was 43, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. At the age of 56, he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his numerous contributions to stellar astronomy, physics and applied mathematics.

At the age of 61, he was honoured with the Draper Medal from the US National Academy of Science for his leadership in, and major contributions to, the field of astrophysics.

In 1983, at 73 years of age, Chandrasekhar shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with William Fowler for his “theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars”. That is, how shining stars eventually become “black holes” or “white dwarfs”.

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Clinton on Grant …

Posted on October 15, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

GRANT By Ron Chernow – reviewed by Bill Clinton.

This is a good time for Ron Chernow’s fine biography of Ulysses S. Grant to appear – as we live with the reality of Faulkner’s declaration, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

We are now several years into revisiting the issues that shaped Grant’s service in the Civil War and the White House, from the rise of white supremacy groups to successful attacks on the right of eligible citizens to vote to the economic inequalities of the Gilded Age. In so many ways “Grant” comes to us now as much a mirror as a history lesson.

As history, it is remarkable, full of fascinating details sure to make it interesting both to those with the most cursory knowledge of Grant’s life and to those who have read his memoirs or any of several previous biographies.

It tells well the story of a country boy’s unlikely path to leadership, his peculiarities, strengths, blind spots and uncanny powers of concentration and courage during battle. It covers Grant’s amazing feats on horseback at West Point, where in jumping hurdles “he exceeded all rivals,” clearing the bar a foot higher than other cadets.

His mediocre grades have long obscured his interests and abilities: He was president of the literary society, had a talent for drawing and was trusted by classmates to mediate disputes.

His service in the Mexican War is covered briefly, but it contributes to our understanding of his later military and political life. Grant’s often harrowing experiences and extreme efforts to care for the wounded still on the battlefield taught him both about the conduct of war and about war’s political implications.

He believed that the victory over Mexico, with its huge territorial gains, intensified disputes over slavery and led directly to the Civil War.

The major encounters of the Civil War are deftly included, as are the business failures and bouts of drunkenness — never proved to have happened during major military campaigns, despite what his enemies often asserted.

Chernow, the author of “Alexander Hamilton” and other biographies, judiciously quotes from Grant’s own memoirs, and he also shows how they were a miracle of sorts, produced by a dying man racked with pain from throat cancer, in a final effort to leave his family some amount of financial stability. “Somehow,” Chernow writes, “in agony, he had produced 336,000 splendid words in the span of a year.”

“The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant” ends shortly after the surrender at Appomattox Court House, and as Chernow states in his introduction, many biographies of Grant skip over his presidency as an “embarrassing coda” dominated by multiple scandals.

As Chernow puts it, “It is sadly ironic that Grant’s presidency became synonymous with corruption, since he himself was impeccably honest.”

For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark.

Considered by many detractors to be, as a general, little more than a stoic butcher, Grant, in the written terms of surrender at Appomattox, showed the empathy he felt toward the defeated and downtrodden — conditions he knew from harsh personal experience.

The terms presented to Robert E. Lee carried “no tinge of malice” and “breathed a spirit of charity reminiscent of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.”

He notably allowed the exhausted and starving Confederate regulars to keep their mules and horses, knowing from the rough experience of his failed Missouri farm (Grant presciently named its log cabin “Hardscrabble”) that only by putting in a crop as soon as they returned home would these destitute farmers — and their families — have a chance to survive the coming winter.

Grant also knew that if the country had any chance of being brought back together, it needed something other than a harsh peace. In making national healing a priority, he — like Lincoln — took the long view.

Grant’s tendency toward empathy with the downtrodden and defeated would return again and again, and not always to his advantage or credit.

He didn’t hesitate to appoint family and friends far above their abilities, and to remember even the smallest favor done on his behalf while he was a struggling civilian.

There’s a wonderful exchange in the book when Grant as president offers a political appointment to a friend from his prewar days in St. Louis, when he was broke and dependent on his slave-owning (and openly contemptuous) father-in-law. Grant reminded the friend that “when I was standing on a street corner … by a wagon loaded with wood, you approached and said: ‘Captain, haven’t you been able to sell your wood?’ I answered: ‘No.’ Then you said: ‘I’ll buy it; and whenever you haul a load of wood to the city and can’t sell it, just take it around to my residence … and I’ll pay you for it.’ I haven’t forgotten it.”

After Appomattox, and the assassination of Lincoln, Grant moved to what he then called Washington City to lead the Army through the war’s aftermath. Chernow notes that, as a general, Grant had nearly always fought on unfamiliar ground, which required a kind of concentration that could support a state of continuous reassessment.

Washington was also unfamiliar ground, and continuous reassessment was just as vital to political success as it had been to victory on the field. Grant proved a quick study, even after he had professed to be “no politician.

For example, he saw early on that the new president, Andrew Johnson, who many feared would be much harsher on the South than Lincoln would have been, had begun to lean hard — and dangerously — in the opposite direction.

“Mr. Johnson,” Grant writes in his memoirs, “after a complete revolution of sentiment, seemed to regard the South not only as an oppressed people, but as the people best entitled to consideration of any of our citizens.”

Needless for Grant to say, this favor of Johnson’s fell to white Southerners only. He began to bring the weight of the presidency down on the side of those who championed what became the infamous Black Codes, designed to force freed slaves to continue to work on plantations in conditions much like those before emancipation.

As Grant’s and Johnson’s political differences grew wider, Grant, as General of the Army and immensely popular, began to suffer the ire of the increasingly besieged Johnson, who demanded fealty and, when frustrated and convinced of disloyalties real or imagined, tended to lash out.

“It grated on Johnson that Grant,” Chernow says, “a mere subordinate, had been endowed with … godlike powers over Reconstruction.”

Contrary to Johnson’s claim, the power Grant had to oversee the fate of the postwar South was hardly godlike. A former social club named for the Greek word kuklos, or circle, the Ku Klux Klan had begun “to shade into a quasi-military organization, recruiting Nathan Bedford Forrest as a leader” — and vowing “to ‘support a white man’s government’ and carry weapons at all times.”

By the time of Grant’s election as president in 1868, the Klan was targeting black voters and their supporters with “murders and mutilations in a grotesque spirit of sadistic mockery.” The Union that Grant had been instrumental in saving as a general was splintering anew even before he took his oath of office.

As Chernow writes, “If there were many small things Grant didn’t know about the presidency, he knew one big thing: His main mission was to settle unfinished business from the war by preserving the Union and safeguarding the freed slaves.”

And there was a very real chance Grant, and with him the country, would fail.

For that new mission, Grant needed cabinet members, staff and advisers every bit as masterful as his wartime lieutenants. His choices were notably hit-and-miss, but his very first appointee from a Confederate state proved to be one of his best. Amos T. Akerman of Georgia, Grant’s second attorney general, was “honest and incorruptible” and “devoted to the rule of law.”

When Congress created the Department of Justice the same week as his appointment, the attorney general became overnight the head of “an active department with a substantial array of new powers.”

Those powers were sorely needed to fight the Klan and what Chernow appropriately calls “the worst outbreak of domestic terrorism in American history.”

Grant signed three bills, collectively known as the Enforcement Acts, to strengthen federal powers in combating Klan terrorism, which had already claimed thousands of lives – the vast majority of them black. After the laws were in force, “federal grand juries, many interracial, brought 3,384 indictments against the K.K.K., resulting in 1,143 convictions.”

Almost as important as the convictions was the message they sent. As Akerman told his district attorneys, “If you cannot convict, you, at least, can expose, and ultimately such exposures will make the community ashamed of shielding the crime.”

By the end of his first term, scandals had begun to take their toll, but at the same time the Klan — at least in its original incarnation — had been essentially destroyed.

“Peace has come to many places as never before,” declared Frederick Douglass, an ally and admirer of Grant’s. “The scourging and slaughter of our people have so far ceased.”

However short-lived, it was an important victory not only for an enlightened version of Reconstruction but also for the beneficial use of the powers of the federal government to promote the general welfare and safety of all Americans – not just some.

As president, Grant appointed a record number of African-Americans to government positions all across the board, including the first black diplomat. Douglass once noted “in one department at Washington I found 249” black appointees, “and many more holding important positions in its service in different parts of the country.”

Early in his presidency and at the height of his popularity, Grant had also been a booster of the 15th Amendment, giving former slaves the vote, and many believe his support was key to its ratification by the states, which was far from guaranteed.

Grant himself minced no words in describing the magnitude of the amendment’s passage, saying in a message to Congress upon its ratification, “The adoption of the 15th Amendment … constitutes the most important event that has occurred, since the nation came into life.”

He knew the right to vote is the heart of democracy and did not hesitate to defend it, a legacy today’s Supreme Court and Republicans in Washington and across the country should embrace, not abandon.

Chernow shows a fine balance in exposing Grant’s flaws and missteps as president, and the ill-fated turn that Reconstruction took after a promising start, while making it clear that Grant’s contributions after Appomattox were as consequential to the survival of our democracy as any that came before.

As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance.

If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.

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With Words we Rule Men or like Trump we seek ‘Trouble’ …

Posted on October 3, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Public Speaking |

In the Bible, reticence is a virtue. “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent,” we are told in Proverbs 17:28. “With their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”

An Americanized version of this saying, often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain, is that it is better to remain silent and appear foolish than to speak and remove all doubt.

Or as Winston Churchill purportedly said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who served in key policy roles at the White House, Pentagon and Foggy Bottom during George W. Bush’s presidency, explained why Trump’s “fire and fury” threat was so dangerous back in August. Her piece for the Atlantic is as relevant today as it was seven weeks ago. This is the key paragraph:

“In 1949, the United States withdrew its military forces from the Korean Peninsula. Secretary of State Dean Acheson then gave an important speech defining American national-security interests — which notably excluded Korea.

‘It’s not the drawing down of U.S. forces but rather Acheson’s speech that is commonly cited as the signal of American abandonment of South Korea. Words matter: Acheson didn’t cause the Korean war, but his words are remembered as the provocation.

‘Words especially matter between societies that poorly understand each other’s motivations and intentions, as do North Korea and the U.S. We can afford to be sloppy in our formulations among friends, where cultural similarity or exposure give context, but neither of those circumstances pertain with North Korea.”

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Viet Nam War – What Americans did Wrong …

Posted on September 22, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, From a Services Career, Searching for Success |

George C. Herring, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Kentucky, is the author of “America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

From the early stages of the Vietnam War, American officials insisted that winning the hearts and Minds (WHAM) of the South Vietnamese people was the key to victory.

But the Americans tasked with carrying out that strategy were ill equipped, linguistically and culturally, to make it work. And in the end, that deficit destroyed whatever good will might have existed on either side and doomed America’s foray into Vietnam to failure.

Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s ambassador to Washington from 1965 to 1972, once called the two countries “peoples quite apart.” And indeed, American and Vietnamese culture had little contact before 1950. Americans understanding of the country’s language, history, religious traditions, etiquette or politics was abysmal.

The cultural disjunction was exacerbated by a strategic one: While the two nations agreed on the fundamental goal of preserving an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam, the stakes of the war for each were grossly disproportionate. The United States sought merely to uphold its credibility – South Vietnam fought for its existence.

Theirs was a patron-client relationship. The United States, the world’s strongest country and still riding high off its victory in World War II, was confident in its power — and its virtue. It expected to lead and to be followed. In contrast, the South Vietnamese, citizens of a fragile state newly freed from colonial rule and threatened by internal insurgency and external invasion, recognized their desperate need for American help but they were also acutely sensitive to dominance by an outside power. They struggled to uphold their dignity and autonomy.

Between 1950 and 1965, America’s role in the region, while significant in terms of money and matériel, occupied a limited footprint in the lives of everyday Vietnamese. That changed between 1965 and 1967, when the Americanization of the war brought hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians into the country and put an American face on the increasingly widespread destruction wrought by both sides.

Bui Diem noted the absence of communication between the two peoples during the major escalation in 1965, the “un-self-conscious arrogance” of the Americans and the impotence of the South Vietnamese. “The Americans came in like bulldozers and the South Vietnamese followed their lead without a thought of dissent.”

After 1965, the United States took on the burden of defeating the enemy militarily. It declined to establish a combined command structure with the South Vietnamese – as it had in Korea. It relegated the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to pacification, a task many Vietnamese considered demeaning. Americanization of the war also produced among South Vietnamese a “takeover effect,” by letting the Americans fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

Tragically, American actions encouraged dependency in a nation whose independence it sought to sustain.

As the American presence swelled, tensions between the two peoples grew. Vietnamese resented the way their visitors looked down on them and imposed their ways on a presumably inferior people. They were annoyed by American impatience.

Some envied the opulent lifestyle of the Americans, with their enormous bases equipped with all the conveniences of home, including air conditioning, shopping centers and movie houses. Others protested that the troops acted “despicably” toward them, speeding their trucks and cars through traffic at life-threatening speeds.

Some claimed that America dispensed aid as though it were being “given to a beggar.”

Most of all, many South Vietnamese resented their dependence on their ally and its suffocating presence in their lives. Some labeled the “American occupation” a “demoralizing scourge.”

Vietnamese recognized that the Americans were not “colonialists,” the journalist Robert Shaplen observed, but he perceptively added, “there has evolved here a colonial ambience that can sometimes be worse than colonialism itself.”

In the bonanza atmosphere that followed Americanization, South Vietnam’s economy centered upon serving the needs of the new arrivals. Prostitution became a special problem. As the number of Americans in Saigon surged into the tens of thousands, the number of houses of ill repute expanded proportionally, provoking criticism in the United States and South Vietnam.

Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas fumed that Saigon had become an “American brothel.” South Vietnamese Catholics and President Nguyen Van Thieu were especially concerned about prostitution and pleaded with American officials to do something about the suffocating presence of so many troops.

The result was Operation Moose (Move Out of Saigon Expeditiously), implemented mostly during 1967. Thousands of G.I.s moved to base camps outside the city (where the prostitutes soon followed), some joking that they had been “Moosed.” Saigon was also declared off limits for R & R. The pace was sufficiently slow that the operation was unofficially tagged Goose (Get Out of Saigon Eventually).

The exodus left around 7,900 American soldiers in the city. Moose did not satisfy President Thieu and it provided no more than a partial solution to the prostitution problem. It also left Saigon more vulnerable to the urban attacks launched by the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet offensive.

The American way of war also inflicted a huge toll on village life in South Vietnam. To limit its own casualties and cope with unfamiliar and often inhospitable terrain, the United States unleashed extraordinary firepower on the country it was trying to save. Areas of suspected enemy strength were bombed and shelled and burned with napalm, often with little consideration of its impact on civilians. Defoliants were used to deny the enemy food and cover, with horrific short- and long-term consequences for Vietnamese.

American firepower destroyed homes, villages and crops and alienated those whose hearts and minds were to be won. American commanders declared entire areas free-fire zones.

Troops would round up villagers, burn their hooches and relocate them from their ancestral lands into squalid refugee camps. The area would then be bombed and shelled.

During Operation Cedar Falls in 1967, Americans forcibly relocated some 6,000 civilians from the village of Ben Suc. Caught between the Viet Cong and the Americans, villagers who wanted only to be left alone became sullen or outright hostile. By early 1967, over 1.5 million refugees had drifted into urban slums, where they were susceptible to Viet Cong propaganda.

To be sure, many Americans developed close ties with Vietnamese. Many also committed acts of kindness such as providing medical care and food to people in need. Especially in the early years and in remote areas, American advisers formed attachments with Vietnamese soldiers and villagers. Thousands of troops married Vietnamese women.

Still, most Americans arrived in the country without knowledge of the land and the people. “My time in Vietnam is the memory of ignorance,” one soldier later wrote. Not knowing the language or culture, the Americans did not know what the people felt, or even at times how to tell friend from foe. “What we need is some kind of litmus paper than turns red when it’s near a Communist,” one officer half-jokingly told a journalist.

Relations with South Vietnamese soldiers were likewise strained. Unaware of the difficulties their counterparts labored under, American troops disparaged their fighting qualities. The newcomers expected the people they were defending to offer the sort of gratitude they believed their fathers had gained for liberating France in World War II. When instead they encountered indifference or even hostility, they grew resentful.

For many Americans, the South Vietnamese became an object of contempt, even hatred. “The people were treacherous,” one soldier later recalled. “They say ‘G.I. No. 1’ when we’re in the village, but at night the dirty little rats are V.C.” The ability of the villagers to step around mines and booby traps that killed and maimed Americans provoked suspicion of collusion — and anger.

Americans also brought with them deeply entrenched racist attitudes that prompted the use of slurs such as “gook” and “dink,” which they applied to enemy and friend alike.

Contempt could quickly change to a rage that might be turned on Vietnamese civilians. During the summer and fall of 1967, the notorious Tiger Force, an elite commando unit, was assigned to remove civilians from the Song Ve River Valley, suspected to be a source of rice for Viet Cong units. The very name of the mission, Operation Rawhide, suggested a cattle roundup, which had a dehumanizing effect.

When the civilians resisted, the Tigers vented their rage by burning their villages. Unhappy with the assignment and under constant fire from enemy snipers, the Americans declared the area a free-fire zone and shot anything that moved, resulting in the brutal killing of numerous civilians.

Nevertheless, the Tigers were assigned another, similar mission, to remove civilians from Quang Tin province. Early in the operation, they were caught in a deadly ambush and suffered heavy losses. After that, all restraints came off. Commanders abetted their vengeance by setting a body count goal of 327 kills (to match the number of the 327th Infantry Regiment, of which the Tigers were a part).

The Tigers proceeded to kill hundreds of civilians and compounded their crime by mutilating the bodies of victims, including old women and even babies. The carnage stopped only when the operation ended in November.

The actions of the Tiger Force were replicated with even more savage results at My Lai, in Quang Ngai province, in February 1968, where American soldiers killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. Such atrocities were not typical of American behavior, and even at My Lai there were soldiers who pushed back against their commanders’ orders to kill.

Nevertheless, the atrocious violence reflected attitudes toward Vietnamese that divided the two peoples and made the Vietnamese subservient to Americans. Given the frustrations and failures and mounting casualties of the American war effort, atrocities were perhaps only a matter of time.

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Environment and Economics …

Posted on September 20, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Business, Guide Posts |

George Monbiot in The Guardian

There was “a flaw” in the theory – this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had been proved wrong.

Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting for some time.

Similarly, Milton Friedman, an architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided.

But there’s a flaw.

Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it.

It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction.

The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

Environmental collapse does not progress by neat increments. You can estimate the money you might make from building an airport: this is likely to be linear and fairly predictable. But you cannot reasonably estimate the environmental cost the airport might incur.

Climate breakdown will behave like a tectonic plate in an earthquake zone: periods of comparative stasis followed by sudden jolts.

Any attempt to compare economic benefit with economic cost in such cases is an exercise in false precision. Even to discuss such flaws is a kind of blasphemy, because the theory allows no role for political thought or for action.

The system is supposed to operate not through deliberate human agency, but through the automatic writing of the invisible hand. Our choice is confined to deciding which goods and services to buy. But even this is illusory.

A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions.

After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse.

You can now buy a selfie toaster, that burns an image of your own face on to your bread – the Turin Shroud of toast.

You can buy beer for dogs and wine for cats; a toilet roll holder that sends a message to your phone when the paper is running out; a $30 branded brick; a hairbrush that informs you whether or not you are brushing your hair correctly. Panasonic intends to produce a mobile fridge that, in response to a voice command, will deliver beers to your chair.

Urge, splurge, purge: we are sucked into a cycle of compulsion followed by consumption, followed by the periodic detoxing of ourselves or our homes, like Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in.

Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated.

Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element. The environmental crisis is an inevitable result not just of neoliberalism – the most extreme variety of capitalism – but of capitalism itself.

Even the social democratic (Keynesian) kind depends on perpetual growth on a finite planet: a formula for eventual collapse. But the peculiar contribution of neoliberalism is to deny that action is necessary: to insist that the system, like Greenspan’s financial markets, is inherently self-regulating.

The myth of the self-regulating market accelerates the destruction of the self-regulating Earth. What cannot be admitted must be denied.

Ten years ago this week, Matt Ridley – as chair of Northern Rock – helped to cause the first run on a British bank since 1878. This triggered the financial crisis in the UK. Now, in his new incarnation as a Times columnist, he continues to demonstrate his unerring ability to assess risk, by insisting that we needn’t worry about hurricanes: as long as there’s enough money to keep bailing us out, we’ll be fine.

Ridley, who helped destroy the hopes of millions, is one of the faces of the New Optimism that claims life is becoming inexorably better. This vision relies on downplaying or dismissing the predictions of environmental scientists.

We cannot buy our way out of a process that could, through a combination of heat stress, aridity, sea level rise and crop failure, render large parts of the inhabited world hostile to human life; and which, through sudden jolts, could translate environmental crisis into financial crisis.

The sigh of relief from insurers and financiers when Irma changed course could be heard around the world. In April Bloomberg News, drawing on a Report by the US Federal Mortgage Corporation Freddie Mac, investigated the possibility that climate breakdown could cause a collapse in real estate prices in Florida.

It looked only at the impact of sea-level rise – hurricanes were not considered. It warned that a bursting of the coastal property bubble “could spread through banks, insurers and other industries. And, unlike the recession, there’s no hope of a bounce back in property values.”

The sigh of relief from insurers and financiers when Hurricane Irma, whose intensity is likely to have been enhanced by global heating, changed course at the last minute could be heard around the world.

This year, for the first time, three of the five global risks with the greatest potential impact listed by the World Economic Forum were environmental; a fourth (water crises) has a strong environmental component. If an economic crisis is caused by the environmental crisis, it will be the second crash in which Ridley will have played a part.

They bailed out the banks. But as the storms keep rolling in, you’ll have to bail out your own flooded home. There is no environmental rescue plan: to admit the need for one would be to admit that the economic system is based on a series of delusions.

The environmental crisis demands a new ethics, politics and economics. A few of us are groping towards it, but it cannot be left to the scattered efforts of independent thinkers – this should be Humanity’s Central Project.

At least the first step is clear: to recognise that the current system is flawed.

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China – Malaysia Stands Up …

Posted on September 12, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Chinese Wisdom |

When Indonesia recently — and quite publicly — renamed the northernmost waters of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea despite China’s claims to the area, Beijing quickly dismissed the move as “meaningless.” It is proving to be anything but.

Indonesia’s increasingly aggressive posture in the region — including a military buildup in its nearby Natuna Islands and the planned deployment of naval warships — comes as other nations are being more accommodating to China’s broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The two countries had three maritime skirmishes in 2016 involving warning shots, including one in which Indonesian warships seized a Chinese fishing boat and its crew.

Indonesia is challenging China, one of its biggest investors and trading partners, as it seeks to assert control over a waterway that has abundant resources, particularly oil and natural gas reserves and fish stocks.

The pushback from Indonesia takes direct aim at Beijing’s claims within the so-called “nine-dash line,” which on Chinese maps delineates the vast area that China claims in the South China Sea. It also adds a new player to the volatile situation, in which the United States Navy has been challenging China’s claims with naval maneuvers through waters claimed by Beijing.

Indonesia “is already a party to the disputes — and the sooner it acknowledges this reality the better,” said Ian J. Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, where he researches South China Sea issues.

The dispute largely centers on the Natuna Sea, a resource-rich waterway north of Indonesia that also lies close to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Before naming part of the contested waterway the North Natuna Sea “to make it sound more Indonesian,” Mr. Storey said, Indonesia last year began beefing up its military presence in the Natunas. That included expanding its naval port on the main island to handle bigger ships and lengthening the runway at its air force base there to accommodate larger aircraft.

For decades, Indonesia’s official policy has been that it is not a party to any territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, unlike its regional neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Last year, however, Indonesia and China had the three maritime skirmishes within Indonesia’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands, which lie northwest of Borneo.

After the third skirmish, in June 2016, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which it claimed for the first time that its controversial nine-dash line included “traditional fishing grounds” within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

The administration of the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, whose top administrative priorities since taking office in October 2014 include transforming his country into a maritime power, has ordered the authorities to blow up hundreds of foreign fishing vessels seized while illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

Mr. Joko, during a visit to Japan in 2015, said in a newspaper interview that China’s nine-dash line had no basis in international law. He also chaired a cabinet meeting on a warship off the Natunas just days after last year’s third naval skirmish — a move analysts viewed as a show of resolve to Beijing.

On July 14, Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries held a conspicuously high-profile news conference to release its first national territorial map since 2005, including the unveiling of the newly named North Natuna Sea. The new map also included new maritime boundaries with Singapore and the Philippines, with which Indonesia had concluded agreements in 2015.

Arif Havas Oegroseno, a deputy minister at Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told journalists that the new Indonesian map offered “clarity on natural resources exploration areas.”

That same day, Indonesia’s Armed Forces and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources signed a memorandum for warships to provide security for the highly profitable fishing grounds and offshore oil and gas production and exploration activities within the country’s exclusive economic zone near the Natunas.

Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, the commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, said at the time that offshore energy exploration and production activities “have often been disturbed by foreign-flagged vessels” — which some analysts took as a reference to China.

Although several countries take issue with China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, few do so publicly, and the Trump administration has recently sent mixed signals about how willing it is to challenge China on its claims. That has made the Indonesian pushback more intriguing.

Frega Ferdinand Wenas Inkiriwang, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, said Indonesia’s public naming of the North Natuna Sea “means that Indonesia indirectly becomes a claimant state in the area, perhaps due to territorial integrity issues.”

“It’s in the vicinity of the Natunas,” he said, “and the Natunas contain natural resources which are inherited and will be beneficial for Indonesia’s development.”

Analysts say that the Indonesian Navy would be no match for the Chinese Navy in a fight, although the first of last year’s clashes involved only a Chinese Coast Guard ship and an Indonesian maritime ministry patrol boat. It is unlikely that the two countries’ navies would clash within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, according to analysts.

Members of the 10-state Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, have repeatedly expressed concern about China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea, including its naval standoffs and land reclamation projects in disputed areas, and the stationing of military personnel and surface-to-air missiles in the Paracel Islands — which are controlled by China but are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Indonesia, the grouping’s largest member and de facto leader, had in the past remained on the sidelines of the various South China Sea disputes and offered to help mediate between Asean claimant states and Beijing.

Given that China is among Indonesia’s biggest investors and trade partners, some analysts say Jakarta will go only so far in challenging China’s territorial claims, at least publicly. But its more aggressive military posture and other moves regarding the Natunas are nonetheless sending signals to China.

“It doesn’t make Indonesia a claimant state,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia, who follows the South China Sea disputes. “They’ve never accepted the legitimacy of the nine-dash line, which is why they say there’s no overlap” with its exclusive economic zone.

“China says it has ‘traditional fishing rights,’ but Indonesia is doing things in a legalistic way right now,” Mr. Connelly said. “This is a more effective way of challenging it.”

Evan A. Laksmana, a senior researcher on security affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, agreed that the naming of the North Natuna Sea was not specifically done to trigger a dispute with China.

“But the international legal basis underpinning Indonesia’s new map is clear,” he said.

“We do not recognize China’s claims in the Natuna waters — we don’t feel like we should negotiate our map with Beijing or ask their

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China Japan Relations …

Posted on September 10, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Chinese Wisdom, Searching for Success |

From WSJ …

Put yourself in the shoes of a Chinese strategist, pondering ways to check and undermine the dominant role that the U.S. has maintained in East Asia since the end of World War II.

Beijing has already built a navy to challenge the U.S. on the oceans and established military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea. As President Donald Trump causes alarm among U.S. allies world-wide, China is also trying to peel Asian neighbors like the Philippines away from the U.S. and bring them into a new Sinocentric club.

But Beijing has never really tried the one move that could, at a stroke, devastate American interests in the region and, by extension, the world: disentangling Japan from its longtime security alliance with the U.S. If China could reassure Japan about its security, Washington’s standing as Asia’s superpower would be gravely diminished.

Why, then, has China so consistently radiated hostility toward Japan instead of trying to seduce it?

The conventional explanation is that Beijing doesn’t dare reach out to Tokyo because the Chinese remain collectively furious over Japan’s aggression and atrocities during World War II and the country’s subsequent refusal to apologize for them. But this view doesn’t hold up.

For decades after 1945, China didn’t seek an official apology. Beijing changed its tune only when it became more powerful from the 1980s onward and found a source of strategic leverage in reminding Japan of its past crimes. More to the point, since Beijing started demanding apologies for Tokyo’s wartime behavior, Japan has repeatedly given them—but to little effect.

The real obstacle to a reconciliation between China and Japan lies in the way that their toxic wars over history have become caught up in both countries’ domestic politics, exacerbating their natural rivalry as Asia’s two great powers.

In the early 1990s, with China’s Communist Party seeking to rebuild its credentials after the bloody 1989 crackdown on antigovernment demonstrators across the country, Beijing sanctioned a relentless diet of anti-Japanese propaganda. A besieged party eager to rally the masses saw no better vehicle than reviving attacks on the “historical criminal,” Japan.

Over time, policy toward Japan has become so sensitive that any Chinese official who advocates reconciliation risks career suicide. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also Beijing’s pre-eminent Japan expert, speaks Japanese well— but he avoids doing so in public, lest he draw personal attacks.

Chinese diplomats and scholars know the dangers of advocating rapprochement with Tokyo. “If you [say] any nice words about Japan, then you will get an angry reaction from students,” said Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University.

Studying America is less fraught, he adds: “People might not agree with me, but they never call you a traitor.”

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Trump toys with Afghanistan …

Posted on August 27, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

From toe New York Times –

Here was Donald Trump tethered by his generals. The new-old Afghan war strategy set out by the president Monday night contained a Trump line or two — terrorists as “losers,” the nixing of “nation-building” — but was the work of the adults in the room. They forced the commander-in-chief to curtail his wilder instincts.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, both have bitter experience of Afghanistan. John Kelly, the chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, there. They were not about to let Trump declare Afghanistan “a complete waste,” as he did in 2012, and walk away.

In a sense this is reassuring. Trump is not home alone. He fires off, gets a lesson on the real world, bridles again, and is momentarily muted. Qatar, North Korea, Iran and Charlottesville: the pattern repeats itself. It’s ominous but it has not sent the world over a cliff, yet.

And now we have Afghanistan, the nearly 16-year-old war that just became Trump’s war, against the wishes of Steve Bannon, his ousted chief strategist.

The decision not to leave was the right decision; and Trump was also right to note that telegraphing future pullout dates for American troops, as President Obama did, is military folly. Ashraf Ghani, the embattled Afghan president, needs United States help in holding the line against an invigorated Taliban. But what Trump announced did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one. It amounted rather, in the tweeted words of Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, to “a set of incoherent slogans.”

When we went into Afghanistan, we were told of the importance of rooting out Al Qaida and finding Ben Laden. Those were doable and…

Trump talked plenty about “victory” but did not even attempt to define what would constitute it. That’s because there can be no military victory in Afghanistan. The best that can be hoped for is keeping the Taliban from power, and bolstering government forces to the point the Taliban can be persuaded to sue for peace. In other words, the end game can only be diplomatic.

Yet Trump has eviscerated the State Department. He has not named an ambassador to Afghanistan; he has eliminated the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has shown no inclination to engage allies or Afghanistan’s neighbors on ways to end the war.

While the President talked distantly of reaching “a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was explicit about supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “without preconditions”: the usual disconnect.

Iran could have been helpful; Trump has rebuffed it in his Saudi love trance. Russia could have been helpful; Trump is paralyzed by his Moscow secrets with respect to President Vladimir V. Putin. So Iran and Russia will do their worst in Afghanistan. As for China, another important regional player, it did not even get a mention.

Trump invited India “to help us more with Afghanistan” — effectively holding a red rag to the Pakistani bull. The military in Pakistan will be enraged by the combination of Trump’s blunt (if justified) criticism and blandishments to India. This looks like sheer diplomatic stupidity. I wonder if the State Department, whose expertise has been flouted since January, even got to vet the speech.

The Afghan war could have been ended a long time ago when people still remembered what it was about. But the United States diverted its forces and treasure to Iraq. Then Obama, in preparing to withdraw from Iraq, tried to compensate with a hapless “surge” in Afghanistan. This is a zigzagging chapter in American military history that soldiers are not about to resolve now. The mission became a mess; some 2,400 American troops have given their lives for a moving target. Trump’s words did nothing to redress this shame.

“Trump put forward no coherent plan for finishing the war,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me. “He needs a serious diplomatic tack.”

The problem is Trump has no notion of diplomacy. He looked like an impersonator as he spoke, a man pretending to be something we know he’s not. A man of such evident moral shallowness, to whom personal sacrifice is a stranger, cannot speak of valor, bravery and heroism without becoming cringe-worthy.

He spoke of “principled realism.” His presidency has been about unprincipled recklessness: allies shunned, dalliances with dictators, environmental sabotage. The man who earlier this month could not distinguish between neo-Nazi white supremacists with blood on their hands and leftist protesters calls for America’s soldiers to come home to a country that rejects bigotry and “has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty.”

Really?

Shortly after Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his son in Afghanistan, he gave a eulogy for two marines killed in Iraq. Kelly described how, confronted by a suicide bomber in a truck, “they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight.”

For that brave act, of course, they needed something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.

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