Book Review: Michoud Assembly Facility

“Michoud Assembly Facility” by Cindy Donze MantoIn March, 1763, King Louis XV of France made a land grant of 140 square kilometres to Gilbert Antoine St Maxent, the richest man in Louisiana Territory and commander of the militia. The grant required St Maxent to build a road across the swampy property, develop a plantation, and reserve all the trees in forested areas for the use of the French navy. When the Spanish took over the territory five years later, St Maxent changed his first names to “Gilberto Antonio” and retained title to the sprawling estate. In the decades that followed, the property changed hands and nations several times, eventually, now part of the United States, being purchased by another French immigrant, Antoine Michoud, who had left France after the fall of Napoleon, who his father had served as an official.

Michoud rapidly established himself as a prosperous businessman in bustling New Orleans, and after purchasing the large tract of land set about buying pieces which had been sold off by previous owners, re-assembling most of the original French land grant into one of the largest private land holdings in the United States. The property was mostly used as a sugar plantation, although territory and rights were ceded over the years for construction of a lighthouse, railroads, and telegraph and telephone lines. Much of the land remained undeveloped, and like other parts of southern Louisiana was a swamp or, as they now say, “wetlands”.

The land remained in the Michoud family until 1910, when it was sold in its entirety for US$410,000 in cash (around US$11 million today) to a developer who promptly defaulted, leading to another series of changes of ownership and dodgy plans for the land, which most people continued to refer to as the Michoud Tract. At the start of World War II, the U.S. government bought a large parcel, initially intended for construction of Liberty ships. Those plans quickly fell through, but eventually a huge plant was erected on the site which, starting in 1943, began to manufacture components for cargo aircraft, lifeboats, and components which were used in the Manhattan Project’s isotope separation plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

At the end of the war, the plant was declared surplus but, a few years later, with the outbreak of the Korean War, it was re-purposed to manufacture engines for Army tanks. It continued in that role until 1954 when it was placed on standby and, in 1958, once again declared surplus. There things stood until mid-1961 when NASA, charged by the new Kennedy administration to “put a man on the Moon” was faced with the need to build rockets in sizes and quantities never before imagined, and to do so on a tight schedule, racing against the Soviet Union.

In June, 1961, Wernher von Braun, director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, responsible for designing and building those giant boosters, visited the then-idle Michoud Ordnance Plant and declared it ideal for NASA’s requirements. It had 43 acres (17 hectares) under one roof, the air conditioning required for precision work in the Louisiana climate, and was ready to occupy. Most critically, it was located adjacent to navigable waters which would allow the enormous rocket stages, far too big to be shipped by road, rail, or air, to be transported on barges to and from Huntsville for testing and Cape Canaveral in Florida to be launched.

In September 1961 NASA officially took over the facility, renaming it “Michoud Operations”, to be managed by NASA Marshall as the manufacturing site for the rockets they designed. Work quickly got underway to set up manufacturing of the first stage of the Saturn I and 1B rockets and prepare to build the much larger first stage of the Saturn V Moon rocket. Before long, new buildings dedicated to assembly and test of the new rockets, occupied both by NASA and its contractors, began to spring up around the original plant. In 1965, the installation was renamed the Michoud Assembly Facility, which name it bears to this day.

With the end of the Apollo program, it looked like Michoud might once again be headed for white elephant status, but the design selected for the Space Shuttle included a very large External Tank comparable in size to the first stage of the Saturn V which would be discarded on every flight. Michoud’s fabrication and assembly facilities, and its access to shipping by barge were ideal for this component of the Shuttle, and a total of 135 tanks built at Michoud were launched on Shuttle missions between 1981 and 2011.

The retirement of the Space Shuttle once again put the future of Michoud in doubt. It was originally tapped to build the core stage of the Constellation program’s Ares V booster, which was similar in size and construction to the Shuttle External Tank. The cancellation of Constellation in 2010 brought that to a halt, but then Congress and NASA rode to the rescue with the absurd-as-a-rocket but excellent-as-a-jobs-program Space Launch System (SLS), whose centre core stage also resembles the External Tank and Ares V. SLS first stage fabrication is presently underway at Michoud. Perhaps when the schedule-slipping, bugget-busting SLS is retired after a few flights (if, in fact, it ever flies at all), bringing to a close the era of giant taxpayer-funded throwaway rockets, the Michoud facility can be repurposed to more productive endeavours.

This book is largely a history of Michoud in photos and captions, with text introducing chapters on each phase of the facility’s history. All of the photos are in black and white, and are well-reproduced. In the Kindle edition many can be expanded to show more detail. There are a number of copy-editing and factual errors in the text and captions, but not too many to distract or mislead the reader. The unidentified “visitors” shown touring the Michoud facility in July 1967 (chapter 3, Kindle location 392) are actually the Apollo 7 crew, Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham, who would fly on a Michoud-built Saturn 1B in October 1968.

For a book of just 130 pages, most of which are black and white photographs, the hardcover is hideously expensive (US$29 at this writing). The Kindle edition is still pricey (US$13 list price), but may be read for free by Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Manto, Cindy Donze. Michoud Assembly Facility. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1-5316-6969-0.

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This Week’s Book Review – An Anxious Peace

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘An Anxious Peace’ looks at the Cold War

By MARK LARDAS

June 8, 2019

“An Anxious Peace: A Cold War Memoir,” by Hans Mark, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 688 pages, $47

Hans Mark entered the United States as a refugee from Austria, immediately before the United States entered World War II. He went on to a career where he was a key player in technologies critical to the United States’ success during the rest of the century: atomic physics, aerospace engineering and space exploration.

In “An Anxious Peace: A Cold War Memoir,” by Hans Mark, he tells his story.

Mark’s family fled Austria after the German Anschluss. Mark’s father, a noted polymer chemist and professor, had been imprisoned by the Nazis, escaping with a former student’s assistance. The family spent time in Britain and Canada. In 1940, Mark’s family came to the United States after his father became a chemistry professor at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

Hans grew up in New York attending Stuyvesant High School, a school focused on science and technology. Attending the University of California Berkeley, and MIT, he earned a Ph.D. in physics.

He spent his life showing his gratitude to the country that adopted him by protecting it from its enemies, especially the Soviet Union. Mark viewed communism as little different from the national socialism he had fled.

Mark’s next 50 years found him at the tip of the current hot technology battle of the Cold War. He designed helped nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. He led NASA-Ames Research Center, pioneering airborne astronomy, space exploration (including three Pioneer probes) and cutting-edge aeronautics. He served as an undersecretary and secretary of the Air Force, deputy administrator of NASA and chancellor of the University of Texas.

Along the way he influenced some of the technologies and tools critical to eventual U.S. victory in the Cold War: stealth technology, the B-1, orbital intelligence gathering, the space shuttle, the space station and parallel processing computers. He seemed to be at the right place at the right time.

The book is long, 650 7-by-10 inch pages. Yet it’s never dull. It’s a fascinating read, perhaps the most engaging memoir since “The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.” Readers will be rewarded with an intimate yet comprehensive account of the Cold War.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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It’s been 50 years already?

I got something in the mail the other day, it was a notice that if I wanted to attend my high school reunion I needed to remit $55 for myself and another $55 for my guest.

Huh? Where is it at etc….

Seems like the first letter, sent some time in February just didn’t make it to my mailbox. That is according to a phone call to one of the organizers.

But 50 years already! It seems like only yesterday… The old high school building is gone, burned down in the early 90’s.  A lot of memories went with that building.

I just can’t get over the time passing.

Well I’m going to attend.

Just as a topic of discussion, how many other Ratburgers found that they can’t get over the time passing ? How many attended a class reunion? Was it fun? Did they discuss what one did in one’s life? etc etc etc

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This Week’s Book Review – Painting War

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Painting War’ a fascinating, meticulously researched work

By MARK LARDAS

May 25, 2019

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” by Kathleen Broome Williams, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 312 pages, $29.95

George Plante was a commercial artist before World War II. From Scotland, he was in London illustrating advertisements when World War II started. He wanted to serve his country.

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” a biography by Kathleen Broome Williams, tells what happened next.

Plante discovers that the RAF, the Navy and even the Army were uninterested in him in the spring of 1940. A navy recruiter suggested Plante volunteer for service as a radio operator aboard merchant ships. Wartime requirement tripled the needed number of radio operators. Plante applied, went through training, and served from 1941 through 1943 as a radio operator in the North Atlantic.

It was the most dangerous period of the war to serve in the Merchant Marine. Plante’s ships, tankers, were twice torpedoed and sunk (the second sinking occurred while he was on leave awaiting the birth of a child). Plante spent his spare time between watches painting. His artwork came to the attention of the British Information Service. The BIS’s role was shaping American public opinion in Britain’s favor before American entry into World War II. The BIS wanted Plante’s artwork and Plante for propaganda purposes. The America-loving Plante made a great interview subject.

After Plante’s second tanker sank, Ian Fleming recruited Plante into the Political Warfare Executive. Plante finished the war in the Mediterranean illustrating propaganda leaflets and newsletters. The material was parachuted into the Balkans and Occupied Italy. Plante’s activities remained classified for years.

Once the war ended he returned to life as an adman, enjoying a successful career. He retired to the United States, settling in Hilton Head.

Kathleen Williams, a professional historian, was also Plante’s stepdaughter. She grew up entertained by her stepfather’s amusing stories of his wartime experiences, but in the universal manner of children, thought them just stories. After his death, realizing their significance, she set about writing a serious biography of his life. The result, “Painting War,” is both a fascinating and meticulously researched work. It also shows that sometimes the best history comes from the stories you grew up hearing.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Book Review: Churchill: Walking with Destiny

“Churchill” by Andrew RobertsAt the point that Andrew Roberts sat down to write a new biography of Winston Churchill, there were a total of 1009 biographies of the man in print, examining every aspect of his life from a multitude of viewpoints. Works include the encyclopedic three-volume The Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid, and Roy Jenkins’ single-volume Churchill: A Biography, which concentrates on Churchill’s political career. Such books may seem to many readers to say just about everything about Churchill there is to be said from the abundant documentation available for his life. What could a new biography possibly add to the story?

As the author demonstrates in this magnificent and weighty book (1152 pages, 982 of main text), a great deal. Earlier Churchill biographers laboured under the constraint that many of Churchill’s papers from World War II and the postwar era remained under the seal of official secrecy. These included the extensive notes taken by King George VI during his weekly meetings with the Prime Minister during the war and recorded in his personal diary. The classified documents were made public only fifty years after the end of the war, and the King’s wartime diaries were made available to the author by special permission granted by the King’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

The royal diaries are an invaluable source on Churchill’s candid thinking as the war progressed. As a firm believer in constitutional monarchy, Churchill withheld nothing in his discussions with the King. Even the deepest secrets, such as the breaking of the German codes, the information obtained from decrypted messages, and atomic secrets, which were shared with only a few of the most senior and trusted government officials, were discussed in detail with the King. Further, while Churchill was constantly on stage trying to hold the Grand Alliance together, encourage Britons to stay in the fight, and advance his geopolitical goals which were often at variance with even the Americans, with the King he was brutally honest about Britain’s situation and what he was trying to accomplish. Oddly, perhaps the best insight into Churchill’s mind as the war progressed comes not from his own six-volume history of the war, but rather the pen of the King, writing only to himself. In addition, sources such as verbatim notes of the war cabinet, diaries of the Soviet ambassador to the U.K. during the 1930s through the war, and other recently-disclosed sources resulted in, as the author describes it, there being something new on almost every page.

The biography is written in an entirely conventional manner: the author eschews fancy stylistic tricks in favour of an almost purely chronological recounting of Churchill’s life, flipping back and forth from personal life, British politics, the world stage and Churchill’s part in the events of both the Great War and World War II, and his career as an author and shaper of opinion.

Winston Churchill was an English aristocrat, but not a member of the nobility. A direct descendant of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. As only the first son inherits the title, although Randolph bore the honorific “Lord”, he was a commoner and his children, including first-born Winston, received no title. Lord Randolph was elected to the House of Commons in 1874, the year of Winston’s birth, and would serve until his death in 1895, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer, Leader of the House of Commons, and Secretary of State for India. His death, aged just forty-five (rumoured at the time to be from syphilis, but now attributed to a brain tumour, as his other symptoms were inconsistent with syphilis), along with the premature deaths of three aunts and uncles at early ages, convinced the young Winston his own life might be short and that if he wanted to accomplish great things, he had no time to waste.

In terms of his subsequent career, his father’s early death might have been an unappreciated turning point in Winston Churchill’s life. Had his father retired from the House of Commons prior to his death, he would almost certainly have been granted a peerage in return for his long service. When he subsequently died, Winston, as eldest son, would have inherited the title and hence not been entitled to serve in the House of Commons. It is thus likely that had his father not died while still an MP, the son would never have had the political career he did nor have become prime minister in 1940.

Young, from a distinguished family, wealthy (by the standards of the average Briton, but not compared to the landed aristocracy or titans of industry and finance), ambitious, and seeking novelty and adventures to the point of recklessness, the young Churchill believed he was meant to accomplish great things in however many years Providence might grant him on Earth. In 1891, at the age of just 16, he confided to a friend,

I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world, great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be in danger — London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London. … This country will be subjected, somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and England from disaster. … I repeat — London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the capital and save the Empire.

He was, thus, from an early age, not one likely to be daunted by the challenges he assumed when, almost five decades later at an age (66) when many of his contemporaries retired, he faced a situation uncannily similar to that he imagined in boyhood.

Churchill’s formal education ended at age 20 with his graduation from the military academy at Sandhurst and commissioning as a second lieutenant in the cavalry. A voracious reader, he educated himself in history, science, politics, philosophy, literature, and the classics, while ever expanding his mastery of the English language, both written and spoken. Seeking action, and finding no war in which he could participate as a British officer, he managed to persuade a London newspaper to hire him as a war correspondent and set off to cover an insurrection in Cuba against its Spanish rulers. His dispatches were well received, earning five guineas per article, and he continued to file dispatches as a war correspondent even while on active duty with British forces. By 1901, he was the highest-paid war correspondent in the world, having earned the equivalent of £1 million today from his columns, books, and lectures.

He subsequently saw action in India and the Sudan, participating in the last great cavalry charge of the British army in the Battle of Omdurman, which he described along with the rest of the Mahdist War in his book, The River War. In October 1899, funded by the Morning Post, he set out for South Africa to cover the Second Boer War. Covering the conflict, he was taken prisoner and held in a camp until, in December 1899, he escaped and crossed 300 miles of enemy territory to reach Portugese East Africa. He later returned to South Africa as a cavalry lieutenant, participating in the Siege of Ladysmith and capture of Pretoria, continuing to file dispatches with the Morning Post which were later collected into a book.

Upon his return to Britain, Churchill found that his wartime exploits and writing had made him a celebrity. Eleven Conservative associations approached him to run for Parliament, and he chose to run in Oldham, narrowly winning. His victory was part of a massive landslide by the Unionist coalition, which won 402 seats versus 268 for the opposition. As the author notes,

Before the new MP had even taken his seat, he had fought in four wars, published five books,… written 215 newspaper and magazine articles, participated in the greatest cavalry charge in half a century and made a spectacular escape from prison.

This was not a man likely to disappear into the mass of back-benchers and not rock the boat.

Churchill’s views on specific issues over his long career defy those who seek to put him in one ideological box or another, either to cite him in favour of their views or vilify him as an enemy of all that is (now considered) right and proper. For example, Churchill was often denounced as a bloodthirsty warmonger, but in 1901, in just his second speech in the House of Commons, he rose to oppose a bill proposed by the Secretary of War, a member of his own party, which would have expanded the army by 50%. He argued,

A European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heart-rending struggle which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community. … A European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors. Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.

Bear in mind, this was a full thirteen years before the outbreak of the Great War, which many politicians and military men expected to be short, decisive, and affordable in blood and treasure.

Churchill, the resolute opponent of Bolshevism, who coined the term “Cold War”, was the same person who said, after Stalin’s annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1939, “In essence, the Soviet’s Government’s latest actions in the Baltic correspond to British interests, for they diminish Hitler’s potential Lebensraum. If the Baltic countries have to lose their independence, it is better for them to be brought into the Soviet state system than the German one.”

Churchill, the champion of free trade and free markets, was also the one who said, in March 1943,

You must rank me and my colleagues as strong partisans of national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave. … [Everyone must work] whether they come from the ancient aristocracy, or the ordinary type of pub-crawler. … We must establish on broad and solid foundations a National Health Service.

And yet, just two years later, contesting the first parliamentary elections after victory in Europe, he argued,

No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, or violently worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance. And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of Civil servants, no longer servants and no longer civil.

Among all of the apparent contradictions and twists and turns of policy and politics there were three great invariant principles guiding Churchill’s every action. He believed that the British Empire was the greatest force for civilisation, peace, and prosperity in the world. He opposed tyranny in all of its manifestations and believed it must not be allowed to consolidate its power. And he believed in the wisdom of the people expressed through the democratic institutions of parliamentary government within a constitutional monarchy, even when the people rejected him and the policies he advocated.

Today, there is an almost reflexive cringe among bien pensants at any intimation that colonialism might have been a good thing, both for the colonial power and its colonies. In a paragraph drafted with such dry irony it might go right past some readers, and reminiscent of the “What have the Romans done for us?” scene in Life of Brian, the author notes,

Today, of course, we know imperialism and colonialism to be evil and exploitative concepts, but Churchill’s first-hand experience of the British Raj did not strike him that way. He admired the way the British had brought internal peace for the first time in Indian history, as well as railways, vast irrigation projects, mass education, newspapers, the possibilities for extensive international trade, standardized units of exchange, bridges, roads, aqueducts, docks, universities, an uncorrupt legal system, medical advances, anti-famine coordination, the English language as the first national lingua franca, telegraphic communication and military protection from the Russian, French, Afghan, Afridi and other outside threats, while also abolishing suttee (the practice of burning widows on funeral pyres), thugee (the ritualized murder of travellers) and other abuses. For Churchill this was not the sinister and paternalist oppression we now know it to have been.

This is a splendid in-depth treatment of the life, times, and contemporaries of Winston Churchill, drawing upon a multitude of sources, some never before available to any biographer. The author does not attempt to persuade you of any particular view of Churchill’s career. Here you see his many blunders (some tragic and costly) as well as the triumphs and prescient insights which made him a voice in the wilderness when so many others were stumbling blindly toward calamity. The very magnitude of Churchill’s work and accomplishments would intimidate many would-be biographers: as a writer and orator he published thirty-seven books totalling 6.1 million words (more than Shakespeare and Dickens put together) and won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1953, plus another five million words of public speeches. Even professional historians might balk at taking on a figure who, as a historian alone, had, at the time of his death, sold more history books than any historian who ever lived.

Andrew Roberts steps up to this challenge and delivers a work which makes a major contribution to understanding Churchill and will almost certainly become the starting point for those wishing to explore the life of this complicated figure whose life and works are deeply intertwined with the history of the twentieth century and whose legacy shaped the world in which we live today. This is far from a dry historical narrative: Churchill was a master of verbal repartee and story-telling, and there are a multitude of examples, many of which will have you laughing out loud at his wit and wisdom.

Roberts, Andrew. Churchill: Walking with Destiny. New York: Viking, 2018. ISBN 978-1-101-98099-6.

Here is an Uncommon Knowledge interview with the author about Churchill and this biography.

This is a lecture by Andrew Roberts on “The Importance of Churchill for Today” at Hillsdale College in March, 2019.

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Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends….

We have reached a nexus, a tipping point, where one deflection may echo down the centuries.

As the remnants of national democracy align against elite totalitarian rule, USA, Japan, India , Brazil and Trump versus China and the Globalists….

As the media/democrat/deep state complex holes up in the Fuhrerbunker of Impeachment…

Trump has unleashed the BARR and given him the power to destroy by truth.

A mistake or overreaction could result in blood in the streets or worse, legal action.

Tread lightly, trust no one, always have an exit plan.

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The Un-Terminator

Today I am recovering from eye surgery.

So by now I have two artificial lens in my eyes, several stainless steel bolts in my arm and a sensor patch on my left arm for monitoring blood sugar.

I wear a biostrap, shoepod and chest unit which records blood oxygen, resting heart rate, active heart rate, heart rate variability, steps taken, sleep levels and reads my workouts individual exercise data. I have an ekg unit that reads a two lead ekg and connects to the web for AI based analysis, soon to be replaced by a six lead unit.

Ah, the brave new world that has such creatures as us…

We are well on our way to cyborg living.

It beats driving your body without gauges.

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Kindle Deal: The Marcos Dynasty

The Marcos Dynasty: The Corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos 

Like the typical American, I knew little of the ruling Filipino pair except some breathless news items years ago about Imelda’s scandalous shoe collection, and fragments about the couple’s downfall. When I saw this book for sale for less than two dollars, I wondered whether I wanted to take my historical knowledge in this direction. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about the Philippines, carrying with me some childhood impressions of English-speaking Filipinos in Thailand and recent understanding that the Spanish had somehow been tied up with the country. But a sincere Amazon review said that the writer was very good, so I decided I could risk two dollars on this.

Sterling Seagrave is an outstanding story teller. However, be prepared, because he a curmudgeon extraordinaire. Reading his work is like sitting across the table from a wry, cynical man who nonetheless is intent on delivering his eloquent narrative. The story pours forth from him, and no player in it comes out looking good. Seagrave is brutal, not just on the Marcos couple, as the title suggests, but on the Americans, the workings of American and Filipino political systems, and on MacArthur. If Seagrave is right, MacArthur might just be the most avaricious, ambitious actor in the whole story.

I am not quite a third of the way through what turns out to be a thick volume, but I have already encountered a great deal of history that I never knew. I’m taking the author’s perspective with some skepticism–not only because he’s harsh toward Americans while fair-minded, even sympathetic, toward the Japanese–but also because he does not reject conspiratorial-flavored stories to explain events. Since he doesn’t provide documentation, I don’t know what his sources are. On the other hand, he is so fluent in layers of historical detail, and such an able communicator, that I gamely go with him in his exploration.

He is possibly too detailed in his approach to the era, so we take some historical side trips into events such as Japanese treasure-hoarding, another phenomenon that was new to me. However, I can’t say that any of this is dull. The side details are what I come for in these historical works–there are always startling bits of background information that recreate my understanding of history. This volume does not disappoint in that respect. I have to admit that before I read this, I had no idea that the US wrested the Philippines from Spain and then managed the islands in a manner not unlike a colonial possession.

If Seagrave is right, the US didn’t help much with the level of corruption from the ruling class–in fact, US political dealing complicated matters that were already negative. There was a landed, privileged class indirectly left over from Spanish rule (it’s complicated, and included Chinese clans) and underhanded ways of getting things done, with leading families who got by on their connections. There were also criminal bosses who liked to run affairs their way. After World War II, money and power continued to drive politics. War time plunder did nothing to help this dynamic, and individuals could win for themselves ridiculous accumulations of wealth. All along, according to Seagrave, the US pursued a dishonest and self-seeking political agenda. And far from the brave hero we learned about in our history books, Douglas MacArthur ambitiously sought wealth and position to the detriment of the country, while maintaining excellent PR staff.

It was from this milieu that Ferdinand and Imelda emerged. The author follows the couple as they were shaped by historical events, Ferdinand involving himself in a number of dubious endeavors in World War II that he later characterized as unlikely heroic feats. Already, only partway into the book, the identity of this couple and their trajectory of wealth accumulation, self-glorification, corruption, and ruin is becoming clear.

I recently talked to an acquaintance who settled here from the Philippines, thinking that her outlook would be along the lines of this book. Did our country take political advantage of hers? Was MacArthur a scoundrel? Was the Philippines best left independent after the Spanish? But no–she said that she had grown up with a positive view of the United States. MacArthur was a hero. The US was a place they could dream of moving to for a better life. Our country was a friend. Perhaps we are, in the long view. But when studied under a magnifying glass, history is always messier than what we first learned.

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William Phelps Eno’s Rules of the Road

This is a post prompted by questions from Ms. Sawatdeeka about traffic flow and traffic rules. Where did the rules of the road come from? Our story begins in New York City in the 1870s. A nine-year old boy was riding in a carriage with his mother and they got caught in a traffic jam. Horses had to be backed up with a wagon and another carriage, and an hour was spent sorting things out before anyone could proceed.

That was typical for any city and had been the way of things for centuries. People would go the best way they could. Traffic was a problem wherever you went, but at the speed of horsedrawn carriages and wagons, crashes were rare.

That traffic jam really impressed young William Phelps Eno. He thought about the problem many times over the years. His father and his mother’s father were both growing wealthy in real estate, and after going to Yale he joined the family business and prospered.

When he was forty years old, in 1900, Eno published an essay about his proposal for rules of the road. He said that if the rules were simple, easy to understand and follow, and were enforced, that movement on all city streets could be improved.

He provided such eloquent arguments and the problems of traffic congestion were so severe that his proposal quickly was circulated among the city fathers. They decided to adopt Eno’s proposed rules of the road as an ordinance. After much debate and a flurry of articles in the newspapers, the rules of the road were implemented in 1903.

It was an instant success. In fact, it was so successful that people were amazed at the difference it made in the time it took to go a few blocks through the city. Stop signs were an innovation of the rules of the road. Everyone driving on the right side of the road, with faster traffic passing on the left, were innovative. City life was much improved.

Eno’s proposed rules adopted the general practice of driving on the right. That had been general practice for a very long time, lost in the dim mists of the past, but it had never been law, except on a few toll bridges.

To that, Eno added the stop sign. If you are on a minor street, you have to yield to the traffic on the major street; you don’t get to dart out and jam your way into the traffic flow. Pedestrians have to wait until there is a gap, but then once they get out into the street, carriages or cars have to yield to the pedestrian. If you are going to park so you can load or unload at a business, you have to be parked in the direction of travel on the right.

The improvement was so dramatic that visiting Frenchmen begged Eno to present his scheme to the Académie Française. Paris hosted a demonstration project at the Arc de Triomphe in early 1905, and adopted Eno’s rules of the road later that year. Soon, the rules of the road were being implemented all over the world, including lots of places that never bothered with formal adoption.

One of the graybeard professors who taught traffic to me in the 1970s said that when the British adopted the rules of the road, of course they chose the opposite side, because they were not going to do anything the French and American way. But I have seen historians say that keeping left was an old British tradition, and that it was the Americans who switched the pattern. (Evidently, the way a Conestoga wagon was constructed lent itself to keeping right, on account of the location of the brake lever, and this was in imitation of earlier carriage designs, so that passing on the right had been an old tradition in America. But it had not been a rule, just the common way things were done.)

Eno’s simple project brought order into the chaos of traffic just in time for the motor age. I do not see how the automobile could have flourished as it did without the rules of the road. The 1908 Model T was built with the driver position on the left, and American cars from all other manufacturers soon followed suit.

Eno continued to develop his ideas and wrote subsequent papers. He wrote a bulletin for police enforcement. He wrote a paper about harbor traffic. In 1921 he made a grant to set up a foundation to work to improve traffic safety. The Eno Transportation Foundation still works to improve traffic safety. They moved their headquarters to a suburb near Washington, D.C. about thirty years ago.

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When did the future become “futuristic?”

It recently occurred to me that people in the past didn’t always anticipate the future with such optimism, nor did they try to predict what great developments would be in store in years to come. Furthermore, even though we would expect to be dazzled if transported to the future, if an individual centuries ago were bumped from one era to one several hundred years later, he might well be unimpressed and far prefer the technology of his own time to what he was seeing from his descendants.

On the other hand, even though in some ways, pre-steam engine, electric lights, germ theory, indoor plumbing, and photography eras are all alike to us development-wise—pretty flat until the spike of the last couple hundred years—there could be significant changes that a time traveler from one past era to another would encounter. What developments from the past do we take for granted, but would impress and intrigue a newcomer to the era? What would be unimpressive?

I think our concept of a bright future, with technology continuing to develop and improve, has enriched our lives. I can’t imagine not thinking this way, but surely for most of the past, there was no reason to project much beyond one’s own children and grandchildren.

Perhaps this idea of a more sophisticated future began with the advances in science in the late 1700’s. The public was interested and excited by the work going on. And then popular science fiction from maybe the late 1800’s (?) through the fifties helped readers imagine a faster, sleeker life beyond their era. It seems like Disney’s parks did much to propagate these hopes of the future.

This sparks other interesting questions. How much did the popular engagement with science and technology drive its rapid development? Surely the degree of interest would influence where private and public monies would be invested.  Popular entertainment and technological development might have a somewhat symbiotic relationship. On the other hand, maybe the public could only be engaged when a significant number could live beyond survival mode. The discovery of circulation of the blood wouldn’t make much impact on me if I’m thinking about my next meal. But wait a century, and the latest papers from the Royal society would be a great hobby to one with a full belly, warm clothes, and transportation.

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Does This Sound Familiar?

“Preaching against capitalism and a racist America”
“A socialist utopia in South America.”
“A San Francisco-based cult.”
“[It] had political clout at the time. The political power base… that looked the other way.”

Sharyl Attkisson is talking about Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre but she might as well be describing present-day Silicon Valley plutocrats. Except that in this case the political power base are cheering it on. Plus ça change…

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Book Review: Stalin, Vol. 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941

“Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941” by Stephen KotkinThis is the second volume in the author’s monumental projected three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin. The first volume, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 covers the period from Stalin’s birth through the consolidation of his sole power atop the Soviet state after the death of Lenin. The third volume, which will cover the period from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 through the death of Stalin in 1953 has yet to be published.

As this volume begins in 1928, Stalin is securely in the supreme position of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and having over the years staffed the senior ranks of the party and the Soviet state (which the party operated like the puppet it was) with loyalists who owed their positions to him, had no serious rivals who might challenge him. (It is often claimed that Stalin was paranoid and feared a coup, but would a despot fearing for his position regularly take summer holidays, months in length, in Sochi, far from the capital?)

By 1928, the Soviet Union had largely recovered from the damage inflicted by the Great War, Bolshevik revolution, and subsequent civil war. Industrial and agricultural production were back to around their 1914 levels, and most measures of well-being had similarly recovered. To be sure, compared to the developed industrial economies of countries such as Germany, France, or Britain, Russia remained a backward economy largely based upon primitive agriculture, but at least it had undone the damage inflicted by years of turbulence and conflict.

But in the eyes of Stalin and his close associates, who were ardent Marxists, there was a dangerous and potentially deadly internal contradiction in the Soviet system as it then stood. In 1921, in response to the chaos and famine following the 1917 revolution and years-long civil war, Lenin had proclaimed the New Economic Policy (NEP), which tempered the pure collectivism of original Bolshevik doctrine by introducing a mixed economy, where large enterprises would continue to be owned and managed by the state, but small-scale businesses could be privately owned and run for profit. More importantly, agriculture, which had previously been managed under a top-down system of coercive requisitioning of grain and other products by the state, was replaced by a market system where farmers could sell their products freely, subject to a tax, payable in product, proportional to their production (and thus creating an incentive to increase production).

The NEP was a great success, and shortages of agricultural products were largely eliminated. There was grousing about the growing prosperity of the so-called NEPmen, but the results of freeing the economy from the shackles of state control were evident to all. But according to Marxist doctrine, it was a dagger pointed at the heart of the socialist state.

By 1928, the Soviet economy could be described, in Marxist terms, as socialism in the industrial cities and capitalism in the agrarian countryside. But, according to Marx, the form of politics was determined by the organisation of the means of production—paraphrasing Brietbart, politics is downstream of economics. This meant that preserving capitalism in a large sector of the country, one employing a large majority of its population and necessary to feed the cities, was an existential risk. In such a situation it would only be normal for the capitalist peasants to eventually prevail over the less numerous urbanised workers and destroy socialism.

Stalin was a Marxist. He was not an opportunist who used Marxism-Leninism to further his own ambitions. He really believed this stuff. And so, in 1928, he proclaimed an end to the NEP and began the forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculture. Private ownership of land would be abolished, and the 120 million peasants essentially enslaved as “workers” on collective or state farms, with planting, quotas to be delivered, and management essentially controlled by the party. After an initial lucky year, the inevitable catastrophe ensued. Between 1931 and 1933 famine and epidemics resulting from it killed between five and seven million people. The country lost around half of its cattle and two thirds of its sheep. In 1929, the average family in Kazakhstan owned 22.6 cattle; in 1933 3.7. This was a calamity on the same order as the Jewish Holocaust in Germany, and just as man-made: during this period there was a global glut of food, but Stalin refused to admit the magnitude of the disaster for fear of inciting enemies to attack and because doing so would concede the failure of his collectivisation project. In addition to the famine, the process of collectivisation resulted in between four and five million people being arrested, executed, deported to other regions, or jailed.

Many in the starving countryside said, “If only Stalin knew, he would do something.” But the evidence is overwhelming: Stalin knew, and did nothing. Marxist theory said that agriculture must be collectivised, and by pure force of will he pushed through the project, whatever the cost. Many in the senior Soviet leadership questioned this single-minded pursuit of a theoretical goal at horrendous human cost, but they did not act to stop it. But Stalin remembered their opposition and would settle scores with them later.

By 1936, it appeared that the worst of the period of collectivisation was over. The peasants, preferring to live in slavery than starve to death, had acquiesced to their fate and resumed production, and the weather co-operated in producing good harvests. And then, in 1937, a new horror was unleashed upon the Soviet people, also completely man-made and driven by the will of Stalin, the Great Terror. Starting slowly in the aftermath of the assassination of Sergey Kirov in 1934, by 1937 the absurd devouring of those most loyal to the Soviet regime, all over Stalin’s signature, reached a crescendo. In 1937 and 1938 1,557,259 people would be arrested and 681,692 executed, the overwhelming majority for political offences, this in a country with a working-age population of 100 million. Counting deaths from other causes as a result of the secret police, the overall death toll was probably around 830,000. This was so bizarre, and so unprecedented in human history, it is difficult to find any comparable situation, even in Nazi Germany. As the author remarks,

To be sure, the greater number of victims were ordinary Soviet people, but what regime liquidates colossal numbers of loyal officials? Could Hitler—had he been so inclined—have compelled the imprisonment or execution of huge swaths of Nazi factory and farm bosses, as well as almost all of the Nazi provincial Gauleiters and their staffs, several times over? Could he have executed the personnel of the Nazi central ministries, thousands of his Wehrmacht officers—including almost his entire high command—as well as the Reich’s diplomatic corps and its espionage agents, its celebrated cultural figures, and the leadership of Nazi parties throughout the world (had such parties existed)? Could Hitler also have decimated the Gestapo even while it was carrying out a mass bloodletting? And could the German people have been told, and would the German people have found plausible, that almost everyone who had come to power with the Nazi revolution turned out to be a foreign agent and saboteur?

Stalin did all of these things. The damage inflicted upon the Soviet military, at a time of growing threats, was horrendous. The terror executed or imprisoned three of the five marshals of the Soviet Union, 13 of 15 full generals, 8 of the 9 admirals of the Navy, and 154 of 186 division commanders. Senior managers, diplomats, spies, and party and government officials were wiped out in comparable numbers in the all-consuming cataclysm. At the very moment the Soviet state was facing threats from Nazi Germany in the west and Imperial Japan in the east, it destroyed those most qualified to defend it in a paroxysm of paranoia and purification from phantasmic enemies.

And then, it all stopped, or largely tapered off. This did nothing for those who had been executed, or who were still confined in the camps spread all over the vast country, but at least there was a respite from the knocks in the middle of the night and the cascading denunciations for fantastically absurd imagined “crimes”. (In June 1937, eight high-ranking Red Army officers, including Marshal Tukachevsky, were denounced as “Gestapo agents”. Three of those accused were Jews.)

But now the international situation took priority over domestic “enemies”. The Bolsheviks, and Stalin in particular, had always viewed the Soviet Union as surrounded by enemies. As the vanguard of the proletarian revolution, by definition those states on its borders must be reactionary capitalist-imperialist or fascist regimes hostile to or actively bent upon the destruction of the peoples’ state.

With Hitler on the march in Europe and Japan expanding its puppet state in China, potentially hostile powers were advancing toward Soviet borders from two directions. Worse, there was a loose alliance between Germany and Japan, raising the possibility of a two-front war which would engage Soviet forces in conflicts on both ends of its territory. What Stalin feared most, however, was an alliance of the capitalist states (in which he included Germany, despite its claim to be “National Socialist”) against the Soviet Union. In particular, he dreaded some kind of arrangement between Britain and Germany which might give Britain supremacy on the seas and its far-flung colonies, while acknowledging German domination of continental Europe and a free hand to expand toward the East at the expense of the Soviet Union.

Stalin was faced with an extraordinarily difficult choice: make some kind of deal with Britain (and possibly France) in the hope of deterring a German attack upon the Soviet Union, or cut a deal with Germany, linking the German and Soviet economies in a trade arrangement which the Germans would be loath to destroy by aggression, lest they lose access to the raw materials which the Soviet Union could supply to their war machine. Stalin’s ultimate calculation, again grounded in Marxist theory, was that the imperialist powers were fated to eventually fall upon one another in a destructive war for domination, and that by standing aloof, the Soviet Union stood to gain by encouraging socialist revolutions in what remained of them after that war had run its course.

Stalin evaluated his options and made his choice. On August 27, 1939, a “non-aggression treaty” was signed in Moscow between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But the treaty went far beyond what was made public. Secret protocols defined “spheres of influence”, including how Poland would be divided among the two parties in the case of war. Stalin viewed this treaty as a triumph: yes, doctrinaire communists (including many in the West) would be aghast at a deal with fascist Germany, but at a blow, Stalin had eliminated the threat of an anti-Soviet alliance between Germany and Britain, linked Germany and the Soviet Union in a trade arrangement whose benefits to Germany would deter aggression and, in the case of war between Germany and Britain and France (for which he hoped), might provide an opportunity to recover territory once in the czar’s empire which had been lost after the 1917 revolution.

Initially, this strategy appeared to be working swimmingly. The Soviets were shipping raw materials they had in abundance to Germany and receiving high-technology industrial equipment and weapons which they could immediately put to work and/or reverse-engineer to make domestically. In some cases, they even received blueprints or complete factories for making strategic products. As the German economy became increasingly dependent upon Soviet shipments, Stalin perceived this as leverage over the actions of Germany, and responded to delays in delivery of weapons by slowing down shipments of raw materials essential to German war production.

On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, just a week after the signing of the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. On September 3rd, France and Britain declared war on Germany. Here was the “war among the imperialists” of which Stalin had dreamed. The Soviet Union could stand aside, continue to trade with Nazi Germany, while the combatants bled each other white, and then, in the aftermath, support socialist revolutions in their countries. On September 17th the Soviet Union, pursuant to the secret protocol, invaded Poland from the east and joined the Nazi forces in eradicating that nation. Ominously, greater Germany and the Soviet Union now shared a border.

After the start of hostilities, a state of “phoney war” existed until Germany struck against Denmark, Norway, and France in April and May 1940. At first, this appeared precisely what Stalin had hoped for: a general conflict among the “imperialist powers” with the Soviet Union not only uninvolved, but having reclaimed territory in Poland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia which had once belonged to the Tsars. Now there was every reason to expect a long war of attrition in which the Nazis and their opponents would grind each other down, as in the previous world war, paving the road for socialist revolutions everywhere.

But then, disaster ensued. In less than six weeks, France collapsed and Britain evacuated its expeditionary force from the Continent. Now, it appeared, Germany reigned supreme, and might turn its now largely idle army toward conquest in the East. After consolidating the position in the west and indefinitely deferring an invasion of Britain due to inability to obtain air and sea superiority in the English Channel, Hitler began to concentrate his forces on the eastern frontier. Disinformation, spread where Soviet spy networks would pick it up and deliver it to Stalin, whose prejudices it confirmed, said that the troop concentrations were in preparation for an assault on British positions in the Near East or to blackmail the Soviet Union to obtain, for example, a long term lease on its breadbasket, the Ukraine.

Hitler, acutely aware that it was a two-front war which spelled disaster to Germany in the last war, rationalised his attack on the Soviet Union as follows. Yes, Britain had not been defeated, but their only hope was an eventual alliance with the Soviet Union, opening a second front against Germany. Knocking out the Soviet Union (which should be no more difficult than the victory over France, which took just six weeks), would preclude this possibility and force Britain to come to terms. Meanwhile, Germany would have secured access to raw materials in Soviet territory for which it was previously paying market prices, but were now available for the cost of extraction and shipping.

The volume concludes on June 21st, 1941, the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. There could not have been more signs that this was coming: Soviet spies around the world sent evidence, and Britain even shared (without identifying the source) decrypted German messages about troop dispositions and war plans. But none of this disabused Stalin of his idée fixe: Germany would not attack because Soviet exports were so important. Indeed, in 1940, 40 percent of nickel, 55 percent of manganese, 65 percent of chromium, 67% of asbestos, 34% of petroleum, and a million tonnes of grain and timber which supported the Nazi war machine were delivered by the Soviet Union. Hours before the Nazi onslaught began, well after the order for it was given, a Soviet train delivering grain, manganese, and oil crossed the border between Soviet-occupied and German-occupied Poland, bound for Germany. Stalin’s delusion persisted until reality intruded with dawn.

This is a magisterial work. It is unlikely it will ever be equalled. There is abundant rich detail on every page. Want to know what the telephone number for the Latvian consulate in Leningrad was in 1934? It’s right here on page 206 (5-50-63). Too often, discussions of Stalin assume he was a kind of murderous madman. This book is a salutary antidote. Everything Stalin did made perfect sense when viewed in the context of the beliefs which Stalin held, shared by his Bolshevik contemporaries and those he promoted to the inner circle. Yes, they seem crazy, and they were, but no less crazy than politicians in the United States advocating the abolition of air travel and the extermination of cows in order to save a planet which has managed just fine for billions of years without the intervention of bug-eyed, arm-waving ignoramuses.

Reading this book is a major investment of time. It is 1154 pages, with 910 pages of main text and illustrations, and will noticeably bend spacetime in its vicinity. But there is so much wisdom, backed with detail, that you will savour every page and, when you reach the end, crave the publication of the next volume. If you want to understand totalitarian dictatorship, you have to ultimately understand Stalin, who succeeded at it for more than thirty years until ultimately felled by illness, not conquest or coup, and who built the primitive agrarian nation he took over into a superpower. Some of us thought that the death of Stalin and, decades later, the demise of the Soviet Union, brought an end to all that. And yet, today, in the West, we have politicians advocating central planning, collectivisation, and limitations on free speech which are entirely consistent with the policies of Uncle Joe. After reading this book and thinking about it for a while, I have become convinced that Stalin was a patriot who believed that what he was doing was in the best interest of the Soviet people. He was sure the (laughably absurd) theories he believed and applied were the best way to build the future. And he was willing to force them into being whatever the cost may be. So it is today, and let us hope those made aware of the costs documented in this history will be immunised against the siren song of collectivist utopia.

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin, Vol. 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-59420-380-0.

Author Stephen Kotkin did a two-part Uncommon Knowledge interview about the book in 2018. In the first part he discusses collectivisation and the terror.

In the second, he discusses Stalin and Hitler, and the events leading up to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

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This Week’s Book Review – Taking Flight

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears, I post the review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Taking Flight’ explores the beginning of commercial aviation

By MARK LARDAS

May 5, 2019

Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938 by M. Houston Johnson V, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 300 pages, $44.96

Today we go to the airport, hop a jet and fly anywhere in the nation secure we will arrive swiftly and safely. In 1919, commercial air travel fit Hobbes’s definition of a state of nature. It involved continual fear and danger of violent death, and was nasty, brutish and short.

“Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938” by M. Houston Johnson V, explores the beginnings of aviation’s transition to a safe, effective mode of transportation.

Its focus is the years between the end of World War I and the start of World War II. This period established the commercial aviation infrastructure still used today. The heart of the book examines establishing federal control of commercial aviation starting in 1921, in the Harding administration.

The most compelling reason for federal control of commercial aviation was it would soon be interstate commerce, a federal responsibility. The question was what form of federal control was appropriate? Did the government establish airways with local communities taking responsibility for airfields? This was the model followed for ships. The government developed the navigation lanes. Cities built ports and docks.

Another issue was how to foster commercial aviation. In Europe, governments subsidized or even owned airlines. This model ran counter to American sensibilities. In the United States there was a desire for privately-owned and operated airlines.

Johnson shows how the federal government answered those questions. The Department of Commerce set aviation policy from 1921 through 1925 until the Air Mail Act of 1924, and the Air Commerce Act of 1926 emerged. He also looks at the Air Mail hearings in 1934, and the use of the WPA in airfield construction.

The book’s unlikely hero turns out to be Herbert Hoover. As commerce secretary between 1921 and 1928, he created the foundation of today’s aviation transportation network. Airmail subsidies allowed the government to encourage privately-owned airlines without imposing government ownership. Hoover also oversaw creation of aircraft and pilot certification systems still used today.

“Taking Flight” is a fascinating look back at American aviation’s infancy. It shows how much went right, and what could have gone wrong.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Admiral Gorshkov

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears, I post the review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Admiral Gorshkov’ a biography of the Soviet Navy’s architect

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 28, 2019

Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy,” by Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks, and George E. Feederoff, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 304 pages, $39.95

Historically, Russia has been a land power, with large armies and limited mobility. Yet during the 1960s and 1970s, during the Soviet era, it built an oceangoing navy to challenge the United States at sea.

“Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy,” by Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks, and George E. Feederoff, is a biography of the architect of that Soviet challenge.

Born in 1910, Sergei G. Gorshkov grew up in the new Soviet Union. He bypassed the university to enter the Frunze Naval Academy in 1927. When a Communist Party screening committee asked why, a then-teenaged Gorshkov replied, “I will be more useful serving in the Navy than doing anything else.”

As this book shows, he proved correct, rising to be the longest-serving commander of the Soviet navy and the longest-serving admiral to command the Soviet navies since its establishment by Peter the Great.

After a brief period as a navigation officer in the Black Sea, he spent his career before World War II, from 1932 through 1939 in the Pacific, where he rose to command of a destroyer brigade. Reassigned to command of a Black Sea cruiser brigade in June 1940, he spent World War II in the Black Sea, the one theater in which the Soviet Union could significantly challenge the Axis at sea. Gorschkov amassed a remarkable record of achievement during the war years, gaining the trust and friendship of Nikita Khrushchev, then a senior political officer.

Remaining in the navy at war’s end, his career took off after Khrushchev took charge of the Soviet Union in 1956. Gorshkov was given command of the Soviet navy and the freedom to rebuild it as he saw fit. During the next decade, he created a navy that threatened the supremacy of the United States navy — then the most powerful in world history. Gorshkov did this by creating a force balanced between submarines and surface ships, one providing a serious challenge within the limitations of Soviet resources and goals.

“Admiral Gorshkov” is a fascinating portrait of a man who was the U.S. navy’s most dangerous 20th century adversary.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Curmudgeon Musings -Weekend Edition

How do we heal this nation?

Can this nation heal and become a shared society?

Looking at the long game ahead, I do believe this country is the most divided and polarized it has been since 1860.

We have people who view themselves as Americans. We have people who happen to live in America.

We have enclaves of intolerance, we have thoughtcrimes and we argue over words versus deeds as the primary concern.

We have the most incompetent and greedy political class since Versailles.

While all this is underway, cities are becoming economic dinosaurs, attracting the young adults. the poor and the wealthy while corporations and the middle class flee to financially advantageous locales. The urbanized municipalities and heavily urbanized states are breaking down with fiscal contradictions.

Higher education has priced itself out being a reasonable investment for all but a handful. Public education is mired in a labor intensive model that is more focused on public sector employment than results.

Society will rebuild itself whether we want it to or not, it cannot remain static while these trends are underway.

We will emerge as a balkanized nation or a single one at some point. The road there will be quite rough.

All we can do is help the children of today acquire the skills they need to thrive. The ruling class has given up on them.

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