This Week’s Book Review – Winning Armageddon

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

‘Winning Armageddon’ offers new insights into the Cold War

By MARK LARDAS

June 22, 2019

“Winning Armageddon: Curtis LeMay and Strategic Air Command, 1948–1957,” by Trevor Albertson, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 304 pages. $40

The United States won the Cold War, a victory so complete its main adversary, the Soviet Union, vanished, replaced by a collection of independent nations. The foundation of that American victory was the security provided by the Strategic Air Command.

“Winning Armageddon: Curtis LeMay and Strategic Air Command, 1948–1957,” by Trevor Albertson, tells how that foundation was built.

LeMay took charge of the Strategic Air Command in 1948. It was then an organization unable to achieve its mission — protecting the United States by deterring attacks from the Soviet heartland. LeMay left SAC in 1957. It had become a world-spanning unit with outstanding discipline and readiness.

Albertson shows how this transformation took place. Under LeMay’s prodding, inadequate B-29 and B-50 bombers were replaced by the more advanced B-36, followed by the B-47, and ultimately the B-52 jet bombers, which remains in use today.

Albertson also demonstrates LeMay’s emphasis on infrastructure and training. LeMay arranged for creation of air bases and supply centers to support SAC. This wasn’t limited to infrastructure supporting the aircraft, such as runways and hangers. LeMay actively pursued better quality enlisted housing and mess halls. Improving his men’s quality of life was a priority. In return, LeMay demanded competence. This was developed by incessant training.

Albertson reveals the evolution of LeMay’s strategic thinking. When LeMay took command of SAC, emphasis was on targeting enemy population centers, the major cities containing industry and government. LeMay shifted that to a focus on destroying the enemy’s capability to strike the United States. A first strike would be made at enemy aircraft and missile bases, not cities. He also favored preemption — striking before a potential enemy launched their first strike.

“Winning Armageddon” reveals LeMay as more nuanced than his warmongering public image. He didn’t want war; he sought to protect the United States. He advocated preemption because he felt it more useful than retaliation. Preemption could end the war before it was necessary to target enemy cities.

Those seeking a fresh view of and new insights about the early days of the Cold War will find “Winning Armageddon” worthwhile.

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 – 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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This Week’s Book Review – The Spy and the Traitor

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.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. (This week it was Friday.) When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

A spectacular tale of espionage during the Cold War

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 18, 2018

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, Crown, 2018, 368 pages, $28

The Soviet Union was renowned for its ability to penetrate Western intelligence services during the Cold War. Less known are Western intelligence agencies penetrating the Soviet Union’s services.

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, relates one penetration, perhaps the most spectacular. It tells of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who turned against his masters.

Gordievsky was second generation KGB. His father and older brother both served in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, and the Soviet Union’s primary espionage service. He entered the KGB because he was expected to.

Yet Gordievsky held reservations about the Soviet Union’s brutal dictatorship. He finally decided it best for everyone — even Russians — if it were brought down. Gordievsky offered his services to Great Britain; and serving as a mole for MI6, Britain’s intelligence service, near the end of the Soviet Union’s existence.

“The Spy and the Traitor” explores his life, showing the reasons for his decision to serve the West. It also follows his career as a KGB agent (eventually rising to head the KGB’s station in London) and his service to Great Britain during that career.

Gordievsky is shown to have played a critical role preventing a nuclear exchange in the early 1980s. He helped convince Margaret Thatcher that Mikael Gorbachev was someone she could do business with and coached her on how best to negotiate with Russia to gain their trust.

Just as Gordievsky was about to be promoted from acting station chief at London to its permanent chief, he was betrayed to the Soviets by Aldrich Ames, a CIA employee working for the KGB. (The CIA had covertly learned Gordievsky’s identity.) Gordiesvsky was recalled to Moscow. Britain successfully spirited Gordiesvsky out of Russia in an operation described by Macintyre — a plan that could have been the plot of a John le Carre novel.

This makes “The Spy and the Traitor” worth reading. If it were fiction it would be rejected as too improbable to believe. Yet Macintyre describes history — events that actually happened and changed the world for the better.

 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 Mention: A River in Darkness . . .

. . . One Man’s Escape from North Korea is the memoir of Masaji Ishikawa, born in Japan in 1947, taken to North Korea by his parents at the age of thirteen, who survived, to escape in 1996.

His father, a native of southern Korea, had been virtually kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese during the colonial period and taken to Japan to bolster the labor force. His mother, Japanese with education and prospects, nonetheless went along with the plan to take the family to North Korea in 1960. Why did she agree to this? I have no answer.

Why did his father consider such a plan? His father was not allowed to assimilate, study, or advance. An organization of Koreans in Japan worked on people in his situation to get them to answer the call of Kim Il-sung to come to North Korea and enjoy paradise on earth. They got on that boat, were dumped off onto a cold concrete floor, and hell began.

So who organized these boats? Let the man tell the story:

After Kim Il-sung’s statement, the General Association of Korean Residents started a mass repatriation campaign in the guise of humanitarianism.  The following year, 1959, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Korean Red Cross Society secretly negotiated a “Return Agreement” in Calcutta.

Secretly? Calcutta?

Four months later, the first shipload of returnees left the Japanese port of Niigata.  Shortly after that, people affiliated with the League of Koreans in Japan started showing up on our doorstep, eager to persuade us to make the journey.  They were all in favor of mass repatriation. 

Did the International Committee of the Red Cross know anything about this? Did the United States?  The UN?  Yes, yes, and yes.  And what did they do about it?  Nothing.

The Wayback Machine dredged up a 2007 article in Japan Focus, which contains a great deal of Cold War history related to this mass emigration. Big players were busying themselves with Cold War tactics, strategies, and what sound like games, while refraining from blinking a few times and actually looking at what they were actually doing. Here is one snip from the dense and informative piece:

The US appears to have been unaware of the secret contacts between Japan and North Korea in 1956 and 1957. When it first became aware of the repatriation plan a couple of years later, the Eisenhower administration regarded it with concern. But once the Japanese and North Korean Red Cross Societies reached an agreement on a mass “return” in mid-1959, the Eisenhower administration did not take any practical steps to halt the unfolding tragedy.

US Ambassador in Tokyo Douglas MacArthur II (who played a key role on the US side) told his Australian counterpart in 1959 that the “American Embassy had checked Japanese opinion and found it was almost unanimously in favour of ‘getting rid of the Koreans'”. At this sensitive moment in US-Japan relations, the State Department was clearly cautious of intervening in a scheme that was an obvious vote-winner for the Kishi regime.

There is a well-written essay on a personal blog called This Angelena, giving detailed summary as well as a feel for the tragedy, the crimes, and the suffering.

A 2004 Japan Times report of his attempt to re-enter North Korea to rescue his sons includes a frank allusion to continuing problems:

Since returning home, Miyazaki [Ishikawa’s pen name in Japan] has blamed the mass media for fouling up his rescue operation by bringing his activities to the attention of Chinese authorities, who considered them illegal.

Amazon published this memoir in early 2018; it is available in multiple formats. My reading was of the Kindle edition, which had nothing objectionable in the formatting.

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Comparing Afghanistan and the Vietnam War

Last week, I saw a headline in passing that pulled me in: “The US and Afghanistan: can’t win the war, can’t stop it, can’t leave.”   It was in The Guardian.  Yes, that Guardian.  They quickly got to a bit that captured my attention:

Trump is now reportedly reverting to his previous sceptical stance on the Afghan imbroglio. Rand Paul, a Republican senator known for isolationist views, said Trump agreed the US should forget “fight to win” and cut and run instead. “The president told me over and over again in general we’re getting the hell out of there,” Paul told the Washington Post this week. Trump’s apparent volte-face, channelling the Grand Old Duke of York, mirrors his recent, impulsive decision to pull US troops out of Syria.   More serious students of America’s Afghan dilemma believe that whatever Trump may say, the US is stuck there indefinitely.

They concluded with this:

“A simple win-loss dynamic is the wrong way to think about the war. America’s not in Afghanistan to win. It’s there to hold the line,” said Nicholas Grossman, professor of political science at the University of Illinois, writing in National Review.   America’s aim was no longer democratic nation-building, as in the era of George W Bush, Grossman said. There was no ideal end state in view. But the US had no choice but to stay in order to prevent jihadist groups filling any future vacuum, as happened in Iraq; to keep the Iranians and Russians out; and to keep Pakistan honest, stable, and in the US column. As the death toll mounts and the elected government weakens, the sum of America’s shrunken Afghan ambition appears to be: hang on in there – and fingers crossed.

Which prompted me to go find Professor Grossman’s article at National Review.  I had never heard of him before.  He is with the University of Iowa (evidently he also lectures at the Univ. of Illinois), and his blog is “Arc Digital.”  The article is billed as “rethinking America’s strategic goals” in Afghanistan.

I am generally in agreement with the conclusion reached by Professor Grossman, which is that America needs to stay in Afghanistan long term in order to maintain stability and continue to fight the Taliban.  But I was irked to see the ignorant remarks that this article included, in a passage that compared the conflict in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War.

It’s important to learn lessons from the past, but every war is different, and Afghanistan is not Vietnam. From a humanitarian perspective, the Taliban are worse than the North Vietnamese, especially regarding treatment of women. And the Taliban’s religious fundamentalism is less popular in Afghanistan than communism was in 1960s and ‘70s Vietnam.

However, using force abroad requires a compelling national interest. Vietnam did not threaten American security and, though it may not have been easy to see at the time, withdrawing did not put American interests in danger. The theory that communism would sweep across southeast Asia proved incorrect. Though the communist party remains in power, Vietnam evolved with China into a sort of state managed capitalism, rather than revolution-exporting communism. And Vietnam is now one of the world’s most pro-American countries, with over 75% holding a favorable opinion of the United States.

The part I highlighted in bold is nonvalid thinking, because it considers the conflict in Vietnam as if it were isolated, and not a part of the Cold War.  The Communist aggression in Vietnam was a threat to American interests and to America’s friends.  Withdrawing from Vietnam put the entire free world in danger.

The result of our abandonment of South Vietnam was a more aggressive Soviet support for proxy wars in Central America, South America and Africa, and then in Afghanistan.  I think “the theory that communism would sweep across southeast Asia proved incorrect” is one of the most ignorant statements I have seen on this topic.  Nearly five million people were murdered by the Communist regimes that seized power in South Vietnam, and then Cambodia and Laos.  Over half a million Cambodians fled the Killing Fields as refugees.  A quarter of a million Vietnamese refugees became “Boat People,” with unknown numbers who disappeared at sea.

Yes, Vietnam evolved into a “sort of state-managed capitalism,” a process that took over three decades.  And, yes, Vietnam did not continue to export Communist revolutionaries (after Cambodia and Laos).  The exportation of Communist revolutionaries was done by the Soviets (later also the Chinese), in Nicaragua, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Angola, Eritrea, Namibia, South Africa, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Chad, Sri Lanka, and of course Afghanistan.  All of those “proxy wars” saw emboldened Soviet agitation due to America’s betrayal of our friends and allies in South Vietnam.  Many of those “dominoes” fell, and the ones that avoided Communism only did so with American aid.  The global death and misery that resulted from our withdrawal from South Vietnam is uncalculable.

I am really disappointed to see that editors who prize their magazine as being a voice of conservativism can select such material, even if they agree, as I do, with the conclusion.  It tacitly accepts the Leftist spin on the Vietnam War.  These people are to be avoided.

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Book Review: The Naked Communist

“The Naked Communist” by W. Cleon SkousenIn 1935 the author joined the FBI in a clerical position while attending law school at night. In 1940, after receiving his law degree, he was promoted to Special Agent and continued in that capacity for the rest of his 16 year career at the Bureau. During the postwar years, one of the FBI’s top priorities was investigating and responding to communist infiltration and subversion of the United States, a high priority of the Soviet Union. During his time at the FBI Skousen made the acquaintance of several of the FBI’s experts on communist espionage and subversion, but he perceived a lack of information, especially available to the general public, which explained communism: where did it come from, what are its philosophical underpinnings, what do communists believe, what are their goals, and how do they intend to achieve them?

In 1951, Skousen left the FBI to take a teaching position at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In 1957, he accepted an offer to become Chief of Police in Salt Lake City, a job he held for the next three and a half years before being fired after raiding an illegal poker game in which newly-elected mayor J. Bracken Lee was a participant. During these years, Skousen continued his research on communism, mostly consulting original sources. By 1958, his book was ready for publication. After struggling to find a title, he settled on “The Naked Communist”, suggested by film producer and ardent anti-communist Cecil B. DeMille.

Spurned by the major publishers, Skousen paid for printing the first edition of 5000 copies out of his own pocket. Sales were initially slow, but quickly took off. Within two years of the book’s launch, press runs were 10,000 to 20,000 copies with one run of 50,000. In 1962, the book passed the milestone of one million copies in print. As the 1960s progressed and it became increasingly unfashionable to oppose communist tyranny and enslavement, sales tapered off, but picked up again after the publication of a 50th anniversary edition in 2008 (a particularly appropriate year for such a book).

This 60th anniversary edition, edited and with additional material by the author’s son, Paul B. Skousen, contains most of the original text with a description of the history of the work and additions bringing events up to date. It is sometimes jarring when you transition from text written in 1958 to that from the standpoint of more than a half century hence, but for the most part it works. One of the most valuable parts of the book is its examination of the intellectual foundations of communism in the work of Marx and Engels. Like the dogma of many other cults, these ideas don’t stand up well to critical scrutiny, especially in light of what we’ve learned about the universe since they were proclaimed. Did you know that Engels proposed a specific theory of the origin of life based upon his concepts of Dialectical Materialism? It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now, but it’s still in there. What’s more, this poppycock is at the centre of the communist theories of economics, politics, and social movements, where it makes no more sense than in the realm of biology and has been disastrous every time some society was foolish enough to try it.

All of this would be a historical curiosity were it not for the fact that communists, notwithstanding their running up a body count of around a hundred million in the countries where they managed to come to power, and having impoverished people around the world, have managed to burrow deep into the institutions of the West: academia, media, politics, judiciary, and the administrative state. They may not call themselves communists (it’s “social democrats”, “progressives”, “liberals”, and other terms, moving on after each one becomes discredited due to the results of its policies and the borderline insanity of those who so identify), but they have been patiently putting the communist agenda into practice year after year, decade after decade. What is that agenda? Let’s see.

In the 8th edition of this book, published in 1961, the following “forty-five goals of Communism” were included. Derived by the author from the writings of current and former communists and testimony before Congress, many seemed absurd or fantastically overblown to readers at the time. The complete list, as follows, was read into the Congressional Record in 1963, placing it in the public domain. Here is the list.

Goals of Communism

  1. U.S. acceptance of coexistence as the only alternative to atomic war.
  2. U.S. willingness to capitulate in preference to engaging in atomic war.
  3. Develop the illusion that total disarmament by the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
  4. Permit free trade between all nations regardless of Communist affiliation and regardless of whether or not items could be used for war.
  5. Extension of long-term loans to Russia and Soviet satellites.
  6. Provide American aid to all nations regardless of Communist domination.
  7. Grant recognition of Red China. Admission of Red China to the U.N.
  8. Set up East and West Germany as separate states in spite of Khrushchev’s promise in 1955 to settle the German question by free elections under supervision of the U.N.
  9. Prolong the conferences to ban atomic tests because the United States has agreed to suspend tests as long as negotiations are in progress.
  10. Allow all Soviet satellites individual representation in the U.N.
  11. Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces. (Some Communist leaders believe the world can be taken over as easily by the U.N. as by Moscow. Sometimes these two centers compete with each other as they are now doing in the Congo.)
  12. Resist any attempt to outlaw the Communist Party.
  13. Do away with all loyalty oaths.
  14. Continue giving Russia access to the U.S. Patent Office.
  15. Capture one or both of the political parties in the United States.
  16. Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
  17. Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers’ associations. Put the party line in textbooks.
  18. Gain control of all student newspapers.
  19. Use student riots to foment public protests against programs or organizations which are under Communist attack.
  20. Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.
  21. Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.
  22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to “eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.”
  23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.”
  24. Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.
  25. Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
  26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”
  27. Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a “religious crutch.”
  28. Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of “separation of church and state.”
  29. Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.
  30. Discredit the American Founding Fathers. Present them as selfish aristocrats who had no concern for the “common man.”
  31. Belittle all forms of American culture and discourage the teaching of American history on the ground that it was only a minor part of the “big picture.” Give more emphasis to Russian history since the Communists took over.
  32. Support any socialist movement to give centralized control over any part of the culture—education, social agencies, welfare programs, mental health clinics, etc.
  33. Eliminate all laws or procedures which interfere with the operation of the Communist apparatus.
  34. Eliminate the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
  35. Discredit and eventually dismantle the FBI.
  36. Infiltrate and gain control of more unions.
  37. Infiltrate and gain control of big business.
  38. Transfer some of the powers of arrest from the police to social agencies. Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand or treat.
  39. Dominate the psychiatric profession and use mental health laws as a means of gaining coercive control over those who oppose Communist goals.
  40. Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
  41. Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents. Attribute prejudices, mental blocks and retarding of children to suppressive influence of parents.
  42. Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition; that students and special-interest groups should rise up and use “united force” to solve economic, political or social problems.
  43. Overthrow all colonial governments before native populations are ready for self-government.
  44. Internationalize the Panama Canal.
  45. Repeal the Connally Reservation so the US can not prevent the World Court from seizing jurisdiction over domestic problems. Give the World Court jurisdiction over domestic problems. Give the World Court jurisdiction over nations and individuals alike.

In chapter 13 of the present edition, a copy of this list is reproduced with commentary on the extent to which these goals have been accomplished as of 2017. What’s your scorecard? How many of these seem extreme or unachievable from today’s perspective?

When Skousen was writing his book, the world seemed divided into two camps: one communist and the other committed (more or less) to personal and economic liberty. In the free world, there were those advancing the cause of the collectivist slavers, but mostly covertly. What is astonishing today is that, despite more than a century of failure and tragedy resulting from communism, there are more and more who openly advocate for it or its equivalents (or an even more benighted medieval ideology masquerading as a religion which shares communism’s disregard for human life and liberty, and willingness to lie, cheat, discard treaties, and murder to achieve domination).

When advocates of this deadly cult of slavery and death are treated with respect while those who defend the Enlightenment values of life, liberty, and property are silenced, this book is needed more than ever.

Skousen, W. Cleon. The Naked Communist. Salt Lake City: Izzard Ink, [1958, 1964, 1966, 1979, 1986, 2007, 2014] 2017. ISBN 978-1-5454-0215-3.

Here is a video with the editor of this edition, Paul B. Skousen, discussing the origin of the book and its message.

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