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Book Reviews

Allah’s Bomb
Angry Wind
Atomic Bazaar
Between You & Me:
     Confessions of a Comma Queen
Cobra II
The Collapse of the Soviet Military
Curse of the Narrows
Guests of the Ayatollah
The Guns at Last Light
Happy City
Hell to Pay
How I Survived My First Year of
     Full-Time Self-Employment
Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
James Madison
Jamestown Experiment
Kill Anything That Moves
Managing the Nonprofit Organization
A Man and His Ship
The Man Who Stayed Behind
Nixon’s Vietnam War
Nothing Like It in the World
One Percent Doctrine
Remaking the World
Tainted Dawn
Transportation Systems Security
The World According to Peter Drucker

Allah's Bomb coverAllah’s Bomb: The Islamic Quest for Nuclear Weapons

By Al J. Venter
Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2007
274 pp., $24.95 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2008. Copyright 2008 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

Veteran war correspondent Al Venter looks at the ample evidence that Islamic countries and al-Qaeda are seeking atomic weapons and are likely to use them. He also examines the programs of countries that armed themselves with atomic weapons (such as Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa), some that came close (such as Libya and Iraq), and some that might, or might have already (such as Saudi Arabia).

Venter reckons the likelihood of nuclear weapons use as high. Iran, he says, is serious about destroying Israel and about acquiring nuclear weapons. He sees no real need for nuclear power generation in oil-rich Iran, and he says that in covering its true intentions, Iran has been “lying fluently from Day One.”

Furthermore, his work as a war correspondent in the Mideast left him with one “lasting impression … the implacable hatred that the combatants [the Israelis and Hezbollah] had for each other.… neither even began to consider that those who opposed them were people, ordinary people, very much like themselves.… the language [on both sides] was identical: They are all barbarians … they must be slaughtered.” So when “Iran’s Supreme Spiritual Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” said that Iran must reclaim Jerusalem and annihilate Israel, it was not just histrionics.

There was joy throughout the Islamic world on September 11, says Venter, and there is serious intent to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. Israel’s biggest war for survival is still in the future, he says, and “the implications of an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities are almost beyond” comprehension: “in order to survive, Israel would almost certainly not hit only its most immediate target” but “neutralize” all the enemies that threaten the Jewish homeland. And would the major powers stand aside?

But “Israel is a democracy and does not threaten anyone,” Venter quotes Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as saying in 2006, and Venter quotes an earlier prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as saying, “Israel will not be the first country in the region to use nuclear weapons. Nor will it be the second.” Indeed, according to Venter, some Islamic countries are seeking nuclear weapons not for an attack on Israel but for deterrence against their Islamic neighbors.

But if Israel resorts to using nuclear weapons, even if it is not the first or second to do so, the results would be fearful. “Should Iran, or one of its surrogates, like Hezbollah (or even al-Qaeda) achieve the ultimate objective and detonate one or more atom bombs on Israeli soil, the measure of Jewish retaliation” would be “utterly incomprehensible,” with tens of millions dead and probably “several major Islamic capital cities” eradicated. Israel has not just uranium or plutonium bombs but vastly more destructive hydrogen bombs—thermonuclear weapons—and lots of them, says Venter.

Yet even with Iran’s apparent intent to acquire and use atomic weapons, the danger of terrorists’ acquiring them is even more serious than the threat from Iran, according to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, quoted by Venter. Much nuclear smuggling is undetected, says Venter, and there are numerous sources of radioactive material—if not plutonium or highly enriched uranium for an atomic weapon, then other dangerously radioactive material for use in a radiological dispersal device or “dirty bomb.” South African physicist Nic von Wielligh (quoted by Venter) believes that “groups or states inclined toward fostering terror will rather settle for a so-called ‘dirty bomb.’” Von Wielligh points out that “in spite of the general nature of [atomic] bomb design being known … the problem has always been the availability of the nuclear material for the bomb core.” Producing it “requires a huge amount of financial and technological resources,” said von Wielligh.

However, groups that lack the technology might be able to steal or buy weapons or parts. Iraq purchased nuclear technology from Europe, although export controls prevented it from acquiring some materials that were crucial to weapons production, says Venter.

Pakistan, moreover, and its notorious A. Q. Khan sold nuclear weapons technology, notably to North Korea. Saudi Arabia, says Venter, may also have bought nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Countries—or terrorist groups—with enough money may be able to purchase atomic weapons, and money transfer via the informal hawala system, may be impossible to stop, he says.

So what can the world do to prevent or slow the proliferation of atomic weapons into the hands of more people who are inclined to use them? The International Atomic Energy Agency “has lost the trust of the majority of the countries that matter,” writes Venter. “Years of procrastination, prevarication, hand-wringing, and sometimes infuriating inactivity” have been coupled with “the inability of the United Nations to vote on issues of critical international interest.”

The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative “has had some success,” says Venter, noting that it has interdicted more than 20 shipments of nuclear materials. Canada’s implementation of UN Resolution 1373 (to block terrorist funding) is a model, he adds: “Canada, working in conjunction with U.S. authorities, has had considerable success in interdicting the movement of illegal money from (or to) its large domestic Islamic community.” But “in some ways, the United States is severely disadvantaged by the fact that most illegal money transfers take place not on American soil but abroad.”

Venter doesn’t predict that such measures will prevent disaster, however. Rather, he seems convinced that people who hate each other will get atomic weapons if they don’t have them already and then use them on each other.

Overall, his experience and inside knowledge seem convincing, though the book would have benefited from more careful editing. There are occasional typographical mistakes, such as Israel’s “Jericho 11” (eleven) missiles instead of Jericho II (two), and errors in terminology, such as using “nuclear parity” to mean, apparently, possession of atomic weapons rather than its correct meaning of rough equality in possession of nuclear arms.

Venter’s conversational style, relying sometimes on unnamed sources, gives the impression of a sit-down chat with someone who has just returned from a war—a war that isn’t over.

Angry Wind coverAngry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel

By Jeffrey Tayler
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005
249 pp., $25 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2006. Copyright 2006 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

In 2003, Tayler traveled through the Sahel: the lands on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. He spent time in Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Senegal, mostly in regions of desperate poverty. Fluent in Arabic and French, and having lived in Morocco, he was adept at communicating with and understanding Africans.

This is a travel book, with vivid descriptions of the countries, cities, climate, and culture. The people—individuals and masses—come to life. The landscape and scenery are serenely beautiful and achingly harsh.

It is also partly a political book. It contains numerous conversations with Muslims, who constitute the majority of the population in the Sahel, and in a few places Tayler offers his own bleak interpretation of the future in these places. For anyone interested in international affairs or homeland security, it is worthwhile to sit and listen to Tayler and the Africans with whom he spoke.

“Al-Qa’ida has been active in Africa, perpetrating acts of terrorism in Kenya, Tanzania, and Tunisia …” wrote Tayler. “Al-Qa’ida and similar organizations are now believed to be operating in nine countries of sub-Saharan Africa … Any state in the Sahel could serve as a base for Al-Qa’ida, but Nigeria deserves special attention” because the U.S. relationship with Nigeria “rests largely on oil … For years Nigeria has been the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States.… Osama bin Laden … in February 2003 called Nigeria ‘ripe for liberation,’” and “twelve northern Nigerian states have adopted shari’a law.”

The people of the Sahel are mostly fundamentalist Muslims with tribal rather than national identity, and many of them are disillusioned or angry with the United States, particularly with President Bush. “His election was not democratic,” a government functionary in Chad said to Tayler. “Look, think of what this means to people in Chad who believed in America! … think of what it did to us, to those of us who cherished America as an ideal, as the hope for humanity … Imagine how this hurt us and our faith in democracy! … We believed in America. This belief was all we had.”

Tayler encountered prevalent anger against Bush (though not necessarily against individual Americans) for the war in Afghanistan and the then-imminent invasion of Iraq. This anger, he predicted, would be fueled by the hopelessness of the region’s economy despite Western aid.

“As populations grow, the desert expands, food and water become even scarcer, and the confrontation between the West and the Islamic world intensifies, whatever peace existing now in the Sahel will probably turn out to be a lull before a regional apocalypse,” wrote Tayler, who predicted “misery and rage and death for the Sahelians, a barricaded Europe, and vast territories available for anti-Western terrorism.” The wretched Sahelians, he wrote, are “orphaned of Western defenders, ever leaner, ever hungrier, increasingly angry, serving their sentences, awaiting an emancipator … when a savior appears, he will exploit their suffering to create an army of the enraged that will swamp coalitions of the willing, breach the walls, and storm the West. Or perhaps a few determined fanatics or seekers of martyrdom will take terrorist action on their behalf; after the carnage, it will seem impossible to fathom how such an abyss could have been allowed to widen between the north and the south, between the whites and the rest, and how we could have tolerated, in a continent neighboring Europe, the deaths of millions from hunger and disease, and the radicalization of the survivors.”

Atomic Bazaar coverThe Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor

By William Langewiesche
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
179 pp., $22 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2007. Copyright 2007 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

In The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, William Langewiesche describes how we are entering a “world in which many countries have acquired atomic bombs, and some may use them.”

He quotes an experienced Russian “Cold War hand” who later got involved in selling nuclear power-generation technology to undeveloped countries: “No one thought that proliferation could come from Arab countries.” The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “was aimed at dissuading the developed countries from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it worked because they accepted the U.S. and Soviet nuclear umbrellas.” Smaller countries realized that they didn’t need retaliatory nuclear weapons of their own as deterrents against attack. But “the great powers were stuck with arsenals they could not use, and nuclear weapons became the weapons of the poor” countries, which acquired nuclear power technology thanks to lax export laws in many countries and to companies that had an eye on profit more than on national security.

“The poor,” says Langewiesche, “for a host of reasons, are more likely to use their nuclear weapons than the great powers have been … At the extreme is the possibility, entirely real, that one or two nuclear weapons will pass into the hands of the new stateless guerillas, the jihadists, who offer none of the retaliatory targets that have so far underlain the nuclear peace.”

Langewiesche, however, gives solid reasons why acquiring a nuclear weapon or the means to manufacture one would be very difficult (though not impossible). He describes the technology involved, which he says is not truly secret, just hard to work with and hard to conceal. He describes the security surrounding nuclear weapons and fissionable materials; even in Russia, where physical security is often poor, there are formidable obstacles to penetrating a nuclear city such as Ozersk, stealing bomb materials, and then escaping with them. In the film Last Best Chance, he says, terrorists do exactly that, but the film ends with their escape from the facility, carrying stolen nuclear materials, whereas in reality they would still be hundreds of miles from an open border, with scant chance of reaching it if the theft were discovered. It would not be impossible, just daunting.

The technical obstacles to building, rather than stealing, an atomic bomb are exemplified by the story of Abdul Qadeer Kahn, to which Langewiesche devotes much of the book. Kahn was personally responsible for Pakistan’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal and for proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states, such as North Korea. Kahn did not steal secrets so much as shortcuts, says the author. Even with shortcuts, it took Pakistan about 10 years to build its first atomic bomb, which it completed around 1986. “By the end of the 1990s the Kahn Research Laboratories were sending salesmen to international arms shows … advertising their conventional and nuclear products.”

The greatest threat to the United States caused by the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be an atomic bomb in the hands of jihadists, who, Langewiesche points out, would not hesitate to use it. Poor countries with atomic arms might be more likely to use them against each other. If Pakistan were to use one of its atomic bombs, the target would almost certainly be India, not the USA.

“It seems entirely possible,” concludes Langewiesche, “that terrorist attacks can be thwarted—though this would require nimble governmental action—but no amount of maneuvering will keep determined nations from developing nuclear arsenals.”

His narrative and conclusions seem to be the result of firsthand research. There isn’t a reference note in the book. His sources are named or described anonymously. The presentation is credible and candid. In fact, the tone of the book is conversational, making it very easy to read. The tone, however, is its biggest drawback, too—the author freely injects opinions and comments that are supportable but inflammatory: that the “United States terrorized Japan” in World War II and that “the U.S. Government’s subsequent manipulation of the fear” caused by the September 11 attacks “is deplorable and tragic.” Yet maybe an understanding of this subject requires some inflammation, because the question of nuclear proliferation is seen very differently outside the industrialized nations that are threatened by it.

Between You & Me coverBetween You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

By Mary Norris
New York: W. W. Norton, 2015
200 pp; index, hardcover, $24.95.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham (cross-posted from my Editor’s Companion blog)

Norris, a copy editor at the New Yorker, discusses grammar and punctuation in a chatty, breezy way, sprinkled with stories from her life and her career. She goes into some of the history of punctuation, spelling, and grammar; how copy editors use house style; and how her own career progressed. I was ready to love this book, just as I loved Brendan Gill’s Here at the New Yorker. However, Norris displays little courtesy toward the reader. Not far into the book, she tells you about a lewd costume that somebody wore to one of her Halloween parties. She discusses how pronoun usage affects her transgender brother and about pronouns and John Wayne Bobbitt. Soon she starts using the f-word herself and mentions that profanity should be fun. When Brendan Gill worked at the New Yorker, the writers had an informal contest to see who could get the longest sentence into print. Norris says that now there’s an informal contest to get the f-word into print the greatest number of times. One reader, chastising the New Yorker for a misspelling, wrote to ask, “Are the glory years of The New Yorker gone forever?” Maybe yes, but for different reasons.

Cobra II coverCobra II

By Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor
New York: Pantheon Books, 2006
507 pp., $27.95 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2006. Copyright 2006 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

Using inside sources, U.S. intelligence, and interviews with top field commanders, Michael R. Gordon (the chief New York Times military correspondent) and Bernard E. Trainor (a former Marine Corps lieutenant general) tell the detailed story of “Cobra II”—the code name for the 2003 invasion of Iraq—and the events leading up to the attack.

The book really tells two stories: how the war was planned and how it was carried out.

Beginning in 2001, the Bush Administration began planning a war with Iraq. And from the beginning, say the authors, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pressured U.S. Central Command—the geographic unified command that includes southwest Asia—to produce an attack plan that required smaller numbers and could be launched on shorter notice.

Rumsfeld disagreed with the Pentagon’s estimate of half a million soldiers to fight the war; no more than 125,000 were needed, he said. Eventually Rumsfeld accepted a compromise plan produced by Lieutenant General David McKiernan, the land force commander for the new Persian Gulf war: Cobra II would initially deploy 86,000 warfighters, building up to 250,000 if necessary as the war progressed. Standard Defense Department practice would have been to use the computerized Time-Phased Force and Deployment List, but Rumsfeld regarded it “as a wasteful anachronism that took decision-making out of his hands. Rumsfeld did not trust the generals to send the minimum force necessary to win and secure the peace, and he wanted to be able to cut off the flow of reinforcements and support units if they were deemed unnecessary once the war was under way.”

Another major aspect of prewar planning covered in the book is the disconnect between U.S. intelligence forecasts and the realities that U.S. forces discovered in Iraq. Iraq was supposed to have stockpiled weapons of “mass destruction”—biological or chemical weapons—at 946 possible sites. Iraq had used chemical weapons in its war with Iran and against Kurd and Shiite rebels on its own territory. Saddam Hussein had eliminated the country’s chemical weaponry during the 1990s but deliberately kept it a mystery, partly as a deterrent to Iran, which he considered a more likely threat than the United States. During the invasion, U.S. forces were on guard against chemical attack, particularly as they got closer to Baghdad, but the Iraqis—to the chagrin of Saddam Hussein’s generals—no longer had such an arsenal.

Other predictions were off base as well: The Shiites in southern Iraq were expected to welcome the Americans with parades and fight alongside them. The main resistance was expected from the Iraqi military’s prime force, the Republican Guard. Saddam Hussein’s regime might crumble so fast that there wouldn’t be much fighting. Initially, U.S. forces weren’t supposed to shoot at armed Iraqis in uniform, because the Iraqis might be preparing to surrender, or offering only token opposition before throwing down their weapons.

In reality, there was precious little of that. And serious opposition came from irregulars—the Fedayeen—from the first days of the war. Guerillas in civilian clothes and civilian vehicles repeatedly attacked the advancing forces, slowing the invasion’s progress and threatening the supply lines in the rear. Also fighting fiercely were the regular Iraqi army, even though they were not as well trained, disciplined, or equipped as the Americans.

The authors detail all the major battles of the brief war, often with personal details provided by the soldiers who fought them. The bloodshed and the hardship are described along with the strategy and tactics that caused them. Although this part of the book describes a military campaign, every page emphasizes that it was fought by people. Frequently the authors draw direct lines from command decisions to individual deaths, with anger over “friendly fire” incidents. These and many other instances of miscommunication and confusion are contrasted with the net-centricity and transformation that were supposed to give commanders an accurate picture of the war in progress.

Finally, the authors lay out the steps that led to the postwar situation in Iraq: notably a dearth of planning for how the country would be governed and how law and order would be maintained. The under-strength occupying forces did not have a chance of controlling Baghdad with its population of nearly 6 million if much of the population, rather than welcoming them with parades, was approaching them in bomb-laden suicide vehicles.

Although the subtitle of the book claims that Cobra II tells the inside story of the occupation, only a small portion of it covers the period following the weeks of battle. Cobra II is essentially a military history of the war, and a valuable one.

The maps near the beginning help the reader make sense of the narrative with its multitude of foreign place names, and the appendix reproduces communiqués, planning documents, and graphics related to the war and the occupation.

One thing the book sorely lacks is a glossary. The book is loaded with initials of things that ought to have been spelled out: If you don’t remember what ID, BMP, and TOC mean (not identification, bitmap, and table of contents), you may find yourself wading through the jargon to follow the story. The index is a disappointment too: It lists mostly people’s names. Weapons of mass destruction are mentioned frequently in the book, but neither that phrase nor WMD appears in the index.

For Saddam Hussein, the index lists almost 150 pages—more than a fourth of the book—yet without any subtopics to help you find the information you want.

However, for a military narrative of what happened in the second Iraq war and why, this book is a welcome source of information.

Collapse of the Soviet Military coverThe Collapse of the Soviet Military

By William E. Odom
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998)
404 pages

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, July-August 1999, copyright 1999 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

In this detailed book, William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, describes why and how the Soviet military came apart.

Beginning in 1985, when he started trying to shift the Soviet economy from guns to butter, Premier Mikhail Gorbachev began eroding the military’s primacy in society. To garner support for his programs and overcome resistance within the government, Gorbachev promulgated glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The resulting increase in public knowledge created opposition to abuses within the military, such as the hardships and even numerous noncombat deaths associated with a soldier’s life.

The change in public attitudes toward the military was accompanied by a loss of purpose within the military establishment. As early as the 1950s, under Premier Nikita Krushchev, Communist doctrine had shifted from worldwide class revolution (fostered by the Soviet military, which was geared for offensive war) to peaceful coexistence with capitalist nations (although the Communists continued to sponsor revolutions). Under Gorbachev the shift was more dramatic: the military’s purpose was redefined from offensive to defensive. This had a profound effect. Odom says that the Soviet military had never accepted the theory that mutual assured destruction would result from nuclear war (although the Soviet Union seems to have been deterred from starting one). On the contrary, Soviet military doctrine included use of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. Soviet war plans for Europe included use of nuclear bombs to blast large gaps in NATO forces. Gorbachev’s new plan for a defensive military meant that large forces were not needed. He was willing to remove Soviet forces from Eastern Europe to reduce the military burden on the Soviet Union, and the military was coming to realize that the Soviet Union was in no danger of being invaded.

The military’s loss of purpose was paralleled by resurgent nationalism in the Soviet republics, which in the spring of 1990 began declaring independence. As nationalism began displacing Communism, Soviet officers started quitting the Communist Party—in which membership once had been required for advancement. Erosion of the Party’s status continued until Russian President Boris Yeltsin banned it in late 1991. Gorbachev’s 25 December 1991 resignation as General Secretary of the Communist Party accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union, formally effective 31 December 1991.

Some military leaders tried to preserve a joint military under the new Commonwealth of Independent States, particularly in the areas of air defense and strategic rocket forces. The republics, however, were unwilling to risk military domination again and refused to participate, effectively destroying the last vestige of the Soviet military.

Odom brings a thorough knowledge of Soviet affairs, the Cold War, and global geopolitics to his subject, providing not only authoritative commentary but also revelatory history.

Curse of the Narrows coverCurse of the Narrows

By Laura M. Mac Donald
New York: Walker and Company, 2005
282 pp., $26.00 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2007. Copyright 2007 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

On December 6, 1917, during World War I, in the Narrows of Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia, Canada, the Belgian relief ship Imo collided with the French ship Mont Blanc, which was loaded with high explosives. The Narrows is a confined area, only a quarter mile across, and the Mont Blanc drifted up against a pier. The ship burned for 20 minutes as crowds watched from the shore. Then it blew up, destroying the north end of Halifax, killing 2,000 people, injuring 6,000, and leaving 9,000 homeless. Over 12,000 buildings were severely damaged, and more than 1,600 completely destroyed. Pieces of the ship landed miles away, and a wave 20 feet high washed over parts of the city. (See the Homeland Security Newsletter Website of the Week for December 16, 2005.)

Although the disaster occurred 90 years ago, the response to the catastrophe holds lessons for today.

Individual initiative was prominent.

The tugboat Stella Maris had just passed the Imo going the other direction when the collision took place. The tug’s captain anchored the barges the tug was towing, turned his vessel around, and went to fight the fire with the boat’s single hose. Then he tried to get a line onto the Mont Blanc to tow it away from the shore. While attempting this, he and 18 of his crew were killed in the explosion.

“George Graham, president of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, … tried to send a telegram from the Halifax office,” but “the wires were down, so he set off to Rockingham [four miles away] by foot” to send out a telegram asking other cities and towns to send help.

In Boston, banker James Phelan received Graham’s telegram requesting “a relief train” with all the “doctors, nurses, and Red Cross supplies” that could be obtained. Phelan called Henry Endicott, chairman of the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety. They went to see Governor Samuel McCall, who sent his own telegram to the mayor of Halifax requesting more information. There was no reply. McCall didn’t wait any longer for confirmation—a trainload of medical supplies and volunteer doctors, nurses, and other medical workers left Boston that evening.

Closer cities and towns also sent relief trains. They all were needed. Hospitals were damaged or destroyed, and many first responders had been injured or killed, and in any case the sheer number of casualties overwhelmed local medical capacity.

At sea, the smoke cloud was visible 52 miles away. On board two U.S. Navy ships—the USS Tacoma and the USS Von Steuben—the captains decided that something serious had happened, and each made a decision to change course for Halifax.

Besides initiative, other human behavior following the disaster was notable

After the explosion, many doctors and nurses first checked on their families—if the family members were still alive—then treated casualties nonstop for days.

With first responders overwhelmed, many untrained volunteers were accepted for work in the hospitals and aid stations. Many of the volunteers were themselves newly bereaved.

“The survivors displayed guilt because there was always someone who had lost more.” A characteristic that “appeared repeatedly” was “sufferers’ quiet acceptance.”

Not only volunteers turned out; there were problems with looting from the ruins and stealing from the dead.

Lack of communications caused problems

One trainload of victims was sent to Truro, Nova Scotia, but all the doctors there had been sent to Halifax. Two doctors and a nurse—all of the DeWitt family—were on the train and stayed in Truro with the newly arrived patients.

People went from hospital to hospital and to the morgue in search of loved ones, and bodies remained buried in the rubble for days. Of the dead, 242 (more than a tenth) were never identified.

The newspapers resumed limited publication the day after the explosion, however, printing lists of the missing and dead, along with instructions from the city clerk’s office directing all survivors to register there and asking both the homeless and those who could accommodate them to file their names. A list of all hospital patients was printed in the papers as well.

Unpredictable factors affected response and recovery

The weather was erratic. Thursday, December 6, was mild, but the huge number of people without shelter was a serious problem, because the temperature dropped after nightfall, followed by a blizzard on Friday that delayed the relief train from Boston. Frigid temperatures made rescue of trapped victims and recovery of bodies all the more difficult. Saturday it rained hard, helping to extinguish fires that were still burning, but creating a morass of mud when the temperature soared to 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday.

Glass played a major role. The spectacular fire on the Mont Blanc was visible from many of the homes and other buildings on the hillsides surrounding the harbor. People stopped what they were doing to watch out the windows and were facing the glass when the ship blew up. Not just those standing by windows were hurt by flying glass, however. Almost all of the 6,000 people injured in the disaster suffered eye injuries.

With so many broken windows, the buildings still standing often had no protection against the cold. Glass was high on the list of relief supplies requested from outside the city, and those making repairs were urged to salvage any glass that could be used to mend even small windowpanes.

Military assistance was essential

At first, because Canada was at war, many people, including military personnel, thought the explosion was an attack rather than an accident. Within half an hour, though, the soldiers stationed in Halifax had joined the response to the disaster, distributing blankets, assisting firefighters, setting up tents, cooking meals, boarding up windows to keep out the winter weather, and more. Convalescing soldiers left their beds at the military hospital to assist. “Three days after the explosion, the Canadian military … began construction of temporary apartments” for the homeless.

“The USS Old Colony, an American passenger steamer that the U.S. Army had acquired for the British Navy, converted itself into a hospital ship with the help of the USS Tacoma.”

On the other hand, the absence of many husbands and fathers affected the surviving families. One-tenth of Canadian men were away at war, and in Nova Scotia, nearly a fourth of the men were in the military.

The war was responsible, however, for the existence of many organized volunteers: there was a Voluntary Aid Detachment of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade with citizens trained in first aid, and “cadets, volunteer units of teenage boys, were called to duty at City Hall.”

The scope of the catastrophe made recovery especially difficult

Just burying the dead was an enormous task. Dozens of soldiers and volunteers spent two weeks digging graves, but it was not enough. Clergymen had an impossible workload conducting funerals: one church lost 494 parishioners. Eleven days after the disaster, the city held a mass funeral for the unidentified and indigent.

Many people were without jobs, homes, food, or furniture. Some were able to leave the city and live with relatives, but many families spent the winter living in one room.

The following year, what was left of the neighborhood of Richmond—the devastated area by the Narrows—was razed and redeveloped.

A timeless story

Laura Mac Donald, a Halifax native, has written a vivid piece of history (some parts may be too vivid for the squeamish reader). Combing through the official records—some of which had lain untouched since 1918—she put together a historical narrative with compelling facts as well as personal stories that will keep the memory of the Halifax explosion alive for another century.

Doublespeak coverDoublespeak

By William Lutz
New York: Harper & Row, 1989
269 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, May-June 2000, copyright 2000 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

Are you annoyed by “necessary conditions that must be met,” “savings events” where you can buy “processed food products,” or educators who propose “inquiry-centered critical-thinking strategies”? You have good company in William Lutz, who created the annual Doublespeak Award and the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak.

In his book, Lutz defines four kinds of doublespeak: “euphemism, an inoffensive or positive word or phrase used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality”; “jargon, the specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group”; “gobbledygook or bureaucratese … a matter of piling on words, of overwhelming the audience”; and “inflated language that is designed to make the ordinary seem extraordinary.” While the author acknowledges that euphemism and jargon have their place, he opposes the use of language to deceive or that wallows in pomp but fails to communicate.

Jargon, for example, can be “pretentious, obscure, and esoteric terminology used to give an air of profundity.”

Doublespeak is language that “attempts to avoid responsibility and make the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, something unpleasant appear attractive; and which seems to communicate but doesn’t. It is language designed to alter our perception of reality and corrupt our thinking.”

Sometimes the education system breeds doublespeak. “An article in a scholarly journal suggests teaching students three approaches to writing to help them become better writers: ‘concretization of goals, procedural facilitation, and modeling planning.’” If the teachers are writing like that, no wonder the students can’t write well.

He hits the easy bull’s-eye of education jargon,* but in some places Lutz demands too much. A “direct flight” should be nonstop, he insists, and cheese and crackers or a package of peanuts do not constitute a “snack,” in his opinion.

In other places he is right on target, as when he decries the airline term “preboarding process”: “I live for the day when I will see someone actually ‘preboard the equipment.’ I want to see someone actually board the airplane before boarding it, and I want to see the process someone has to go through in order to preboard.”

Naturally, Washington, DC, where obfuscation is practically an art form, does not escape Lutz’s attention. He gives examples of how charts can be used to deceive, reprinting two that distort the numbers they purport to illustrate, including one used by President Reagan on TV—it showed only the top of a chart and compressed the time scale to give sharp peaks and lots of space between two lines that, when all the data were shown, were actually close together.

Not surprisingly, the Pentagon takes it on the chin in this book, with Lutz citing outlandish euphemisms and 18-page specifications for fruitcake.

Vapid terms are his targets too: “‘Process’ lost its luster, so another meaningless yet impressive word had to be found. Some genius at doublespeak came up with ‘initiative’”—the word to use for anything “that is more goal than fact, more hope than reality, more hype than substance.”

The book has drawbacks, however: a lot of material is cited more than once, and the author’s commentary on doublespeak usually consists of sarcasm; 269 pages of doublespeak and sarcasm can make for tiresome reading.

* See also “Put Jargon in Its Place,” Precision for Writers and Editors, May 2000

Guests of the Ayatollah coverGuests of the Ayatollah

By Mark Bowden
New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006
637 pp., $26 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2006. Copyright 2006 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

Bowden describes the November 4, 1979, takeover of the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the 444 days during which most of the staff was held hostage, as the crisis was lived by those who experienced it. Iran’s biggest grievance was that the United States had helped maintain the brutal Shah of Iran in power and then given him de facto sanctuary (for medical care) after the revolution in Iran deposed him. The revolutionaries who took over the embassy intended to occupy it briefly to make their case for returning the Shah to Iran, but things got out of control within 24 hours, one of the hostage-takers, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, told the author in an interview many years later.

With the hostages hundreds of miles from friendly territory, rescue seemed impracticable, because a military mission that did not reach them stealthily might result in the hostages’ execution before help arrived. With the United States unwilling to return the Shah, the hostage-taking quickly devolved into a stalemate. Within Iran, however, it was part of the struggle that consolidated the power of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Six Americans escaped the embassy during the takeover and got out of the country. After two weeks, 13 women and African Americans were released because the Iranians presumed that they were second-class U.S. citizens and therefore unimportant to the U.S. espionage effort. The Iranians freed Vice Consul Richard Queen after eight months because of severe illness. The 52 remaining Americans were held prisoner until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president in January 1981. The hostage crisis was a major reason why Jimmy Carter lost his reelection bid, and Iran claimed his loss to be a victory for Iran.

The Iranians were convinced that the embassy staff “was engaged in a massive spy operation intent on stopping the revolution, killing Khomeini, and restoring the” Shah to power, writes Bowden. There were three CIA agents among the staff, engaged in “routine, prudent espionage conducted at diplomatic missions everywhere.” In fact, says the author, the CIA work in Iran at the time was notably ineffectual, gathering little information and hampered by the fact that none of the agents spoke the local language, Farsi.

The hostage-takers themselves were not soldiers or government thugs. They were mostly students who had dropped out of school to join the revolution, and they had to fight off rival factions to maintain their hold on the embassy. Although convinced that the embassy was a center of opposition to the new government, they were not always hostile to the Americans, claiming that hostages were actually guests of the Ayatollah. Their guests experienced long periods of solitary confinement and for months were forbidden to speak to one another.

In April 1980, a rescue attempt by the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and other U.S. forces ended in disaster when a helicopter crashed into a cargo plane laden with fuel, killing eight men. After that, the hostages were dispersed around the country, making rescue all but impossible.

While the embassy staff remained prisoners, Iraq attacked Iran, and because of the war, which would last eight years, Iran needed parts for the military aircraft it had purchased from the United States before the revolution. Iran also had billions of dollars in assets tied up in the United States, frozen by President Carter. By late 1980, the Shah was dead, and Iran began negotiating for release of its funds and release of the hostages but stalled till Carter was out of office—ironically, because Carter’s policy of restraint would have evaporated under Reagan.

Based on dozens of interviews with the hostages, Iranians, rescuers, the hostages’ families, and others, Bowden has succeeded in telling the story of the hostage crisis as lived by those who were part of it. In a few places he digresses from recording history to inject his own comments, calling the rescue attempt “military ineptitude” and a “ham-handed invasion” and asserting that “God speaks to very few, if any of us.” Such opinions would have been better saved for a talk show, but they are few, and Bowden has produced a readable chronicle.

Guns at Last Light  coverThe Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-45

By Rick Atkinson

New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2013, with index, photos, and maps.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

This Pulitzer Prize winner gives a vivid account of the Allied ground war in Europe during the last two years of World War II. It also discusses the war in the air, but in less detail.

Like the two previous books in the Liberation Trilogy, this one combines the big picture with close-ups of personal experiences, and like the others it is sometimes marred by poor word use (gambit, for example, which is not just an opening move in chess but one that sacrifices a piece,* and emulate, which means not just to imitate but to equal or exceed), occasional bad grammar (“The immediate objective of DRAGOON were …”), and a few factual errors, such as a reference to heat lightning, which isn’t real. He also states that when the Allied leaders met at Yalta, the United States had no guarantee that the atomic bomb would work—true, it had no guarantee, but the U.S. scientists were so confident of the gun-type bomb that they didn’t bother testing it before dropping it on Japan.

Worse, in this book, Atkinson frequently quotes profanity, making the text not only offensive but less emphatic, because nowadays profanity is common not just in dire circumstances but to express annoyance over small inconveniences. About two-thirds of the way through the book, I almost abandoned reading it.

Also, in some places that deserve a citation, there is lame attribution, such as “so it was said.” There are lame comparisons too: “smaller than Oregon,” but how many readers know how big Oregon is? Or “more Yanks than lived in all of Nebraska,” but outside a few cities in the eastern part of the state, Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of Yanks, being sparsely populated farm country.

He also tosses in some schoolboy humor, referring to “Charlemagne’s royal posterior”; if Charlemagne’s throne doesn’t deserve respect, Atkinson should say why, not just make fun of it.

The book was worth reading, I suppose, but I wouldn’t give it any prizes.

* Atkinson says he read Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day. In that book Ryan explained the meaning of gambit: “Throwing away the opening pawns.”

Happy City coverHappy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

By Charles Montgomery

New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013

319 pp., $27 paperback

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Montgomery argues that our happiness is greatly influenced by our environment and that changing our cities will make people happier. He starts with Bogotá, Colombia, and its mayor at the time, Enrique Peñalosa, who instituted el dia sin carro: the day without cars. The occasional event brings city residents of every class onto the streets on foot and on bicycle, while business goes on and schools remain open. Peñalosa rode his bicycle to a school to meet his son, and they rode home together on their bicycles on streets free of motor traffic. “Can you imagine if we designed the entire city for children?” asked Peñalosa (p. 15), who pursued radical fairness in Bogotá (p. 235), trying to bring the benefits of new parks and libraries to all areas of the city. Ciclovia gives roads to cyclists every Sunday afternoon.

Although Peñalosa knew “that the redistribution of privilege always meets with resistance.… he ordered the removal of thousands of cluttering commercial billboards, and he tore down the fences residents had erected around neighborhood parks. He went to war … with anyone who appropriated public space in Bogotá, even if they were poor—in one case forcing thousands of struggling street vendors to remove stalls that had choked off public plazas” (p. 239). No enemies “were as vociferous as the business lobby, who were outraged by the bollards that went up along city sidewalks, effectively killing their free parking” (p. 239). Similarly, “In New York City, efforts to redistribute street space—including the creation of 255 miles of painted or separated bike lanes—met with near-hysterical response” (p. 240). The privileges of drivers tend to trump everything else, even though a third of Americans don’t drive (p. 241).

Martha Delgado, Mexico City’s “environmental secretary until 2002, told [Montgomery], ‘A city that lives under the hostility and insecurity of car traffic can change only if its citizens retake ownership of its public spaces’” (p. 257).

“The good city should be measured not only by its distractions and amenities but also by how it affects [the] everyday drama of survival, work, and meaning,” writes Montgomery (p. 37). Trust in other people is essential to a happy city, he says. “Three of Canada’s biggest, richest cities—Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver—were among the least trusting and also among the least happy” in a survey. “St. John’s, a rocky outpost and the capital of perennially poor Newfoundland, was near the top of trust and happiness lists” (p. 38).

“Even though the modern cosmopolitan city makes it easier than ever for individuals to retreat from neighbors and strangers, the greatest of human satisfactions lies in working and playing cooperatively with other people” (p. 41).

No age in the history of cities has been so wealthy. Never before have our cities used so much land, energy, and resources. Never before has the act of inhabiting a city demanded converting so much primordial muck into atmosphere-warming gas. Never before have so many people enjoyed the luxury of private domesticity and mobility. Despite all we have invested in this dispersed city, it has failed to maximize health and happiness. It is inherently dangerous. It makes us fatter, sicker, and more likely to die young. It makes life more expensive than it has to be. It steals our time. It makes it harder to connect with family, friends, and neighbors. It makes us vulnerable to the economic shocks and rising energy prices inevitable in our future. As a system, it has begun to endanger both the health of the planet and the well-being of our descendants.

Our challenge [lies] in the way we build, but also in the way we think. It is a design problem, but it is also a psychological problem. It lives in the tensions that exist within each and every one of us—that endless tug-of-war between fear and trust, between status aspirations and the cooperative impulse, between the urge to retreat and the need to engage with other people. As much as they embody a philosophy of living, cities also reflect our cognitive frailties, and the systematic errors every one of us tends to make when deciding what will make us happy in the long run [p. 315].

“What should a city accomplish after it meets our basic needs of food, shelter, and security?” (The answers are quoted from the book, p. 43):

He notes that zoning has divided many cities, especially suburbs, in ways that force people to leave their neighborhoods for many needs and reduces spontaneous interaction. “Functional segregation was built into almost every new suburb after World War II” (p. 66). Yet the earlier streetcar suburbs, he points out, were designed before motor vehicles were common and therefore placed most needs within a ten-minute walk of the homes (p. 138). This fostered greater community and a density that could sustain local businesses while giving people opportunities to interact or withdraw as desired, accommodating the “push-pull between proximity and isolation” (p. 106). “The richest social environments are those in which we feel free to edge closer together or move apart as we wish” (p. 135). Today, “scant few neighborhoods in North America feature spaces that draw people together regularly for anything other than buying stuff” (p. 306). However, Montgomery doesn’t like grids because they often omit public space, and he describes how neighbors in Sellwood, Ore., reclaimed an intersection as a public square.

Furthermore, in “many North American cities … new development [has created] short-term benefits in development fees and tax revenues but even bigger long-term costs” (p. 260). However, sprawl repair is mostly illegal because of zoning. Some places have changed their codes, but development financiers mostly fund standard forms.

When he lived in Vancouver, Montgomery had an apartment in a tower with hundreds of other residents. This was isolating, as random encounters in the hallway or elevator involved people he might never see again. Later, he lived in an a garden apartment very close by, where the smaller number of neighbors encountered one another often and shared a social life.

People who say they feel that they “belong” to their community are happier than those who do not.

And people who trust their neighbors feel a greater sense of that belonging.

And that sense of belonging is influenced by social contact.

And casual encounters (such as, say, the kind that might happen around a volleyball court on a Friday night) are just as important to belonging and trust as contact with family and close friends [p. 134].

Extrinsic happiness—happiness based on things—is always a moving goal line, he says. The happiness wears off and a new goal appears to offer happiness. Intrinsic happiness, though—happiness based on home, family, and relationships—brings contentment (chapter 5).

We also tend to assume that things will always be the way they are now and “that the ways we think and act will not change as time passes” (p. 99), leading to “a perfect calm of inaction” (p. 104).

The sustainable city has got to promise more happiness than the status quo. It has got to be healthier, higher in status, more fun, and more resilient than the dispersed city. It has got to lure us closer together rather than pushing us apart. It has got to reward people for making efficient choices when they move around.…

This city is already being born …

The happy city also must provide easy contact with nature. “Nature is not merely good for us. It brings out the good in us” (p. 111).

Vancouver now allows basement suites and conversion of buildings on garage lanes into small houses, comfortably increasing population density (p. 141).

But “there is no perfect neighborhood for everyone. We all have our own tolerance for crowding or quietude, our own thirst for novelty or privacy or music or gardening, and our own complex associations with places, scents, and memories. But the systems in which we live undeniably influence our emotional lives” (pp. 145 146).

He cites the public plazas built in Manhattan following a 1961 ordinance allowing higher buildings in return for creation of public space. A lot of the spaces created were intentionally hostile to people.

“In the fair city, streets are safe for everyone, especially children.…

“In the fair city, everyone has access to parks, shops, services, and healthy food.

“This access is almost never realized by accident” (p. 244).

“It’s not enough to nudge the market toward equity. Governments must step in with subsidized social housing, rent controls, initiatives for housing cooperatives, or other policy measures …

“The Bogotá experiment may not have made up for all the city’s grinding inequities. But it was a spectacular beginning …” (p. 248).

“Sadly, Bogotá’s fortunes have since declined.…

“But Bogotá’s transformative years still offer an enduring lesson for rich cities. By spending resources and designing cities in a way that values everyone’s experience, life can get easier and more pleasant for everyone. We can make cities that are more generous and less cruel. We can make cities that help us all get stronger, more resilient, more connected, more active, and more free. We just have to decide who our cities are for. And we have to believe that they can change” (p. 250).

Peñalosa’s campaign in Bogotá was not planned with environmental protection in mind. But “after making Bogotá easier, cleaner, more beautiful, and more fair, the mayor and his city started winning accolades from environmental organizations” (p. 254).

For the most part, the book is informative, thoughtful, engaging, and generally convincing, even if a lot of the evidence is anecdotal. Sometimes, though, the author gets bossy and self-righteous: “If you don’t give a damn about the environment or your descendants, then feel free to skip to the next chapter. Just remember that the urban innovations I will later propose in the name of happiness may also save the world” (p. 100). That phrase “save the world” or “save the planet” is repeated an annoying number of times.

There’s more wrong with the world than the way cities are designed. The seven deadly sins aren’t all caused by the built environment. Still as Peter Maurin said, we can aim to create an environment in which it is easier to be good.

Hell to Pay coverHell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947

By D. M. Giangreco

Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009

204 pp., plus appendices: an August 1, 1945, U.S. intelligence estimate of the enemy situation on Kyushu; a U.S. intelligence estimate of the Japanese plans for defending Kyushu; the Potsdam declaration calling on Japan to unconditionally surrender; and an excerpt from a letter by James Michener

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Drawing on Allied and Japanese sources, the author details their plans for the upcoming battle. The Japanese deduced that the invasion would come in fall 1945, initially against southern Kyushu and later the Kanto Plain around Tokyo. The invasion dates for Honshu were limited by the weather. The Japanese planned to build up reinforcements on Kyushu before the island was isolated. “Both sides were rushing headlong toward a disastrous confrontation in the Home Islands” (p. 204).

Japan’s situation, as revealed through Ultra sources, suggests [that] her unwillingness to surrender stems primarily from the failure of her otherwise capable and all-powerful Army leaders to perceive that the defenses they are so assiduously fashioning actually are utterly inadequate.… Until the Japanese leaders realize that the invasion cannot be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.

—Naval Intelligence analysis in “‘Magic—Diplomatic Summary,’ 1945”

The author makes a convincing case that the estimates of a quarter million to 1 million Allied casualties (or even deaths, with casualties including wounded, missing, and prisoners) were prevalent before the atomic attacks against Japan. Former President Hoover was among those predicting high casualty rates; he suggested negotiating with Japan (pp. 52-53). The author points out that casualty estimates in the scores of thousands were only for the first 30 days of the invasion.

Of the 1.25 million U.S. combat casualties in World War II, almost 1 million were incurred from June 1944 through June 1945. Casualty figures for 1944 and 1945 were presented inconsistently in an effort to make them politically palatable. Eisenhower said to refer to replacements as reinforcements.

The United States planned to shift 1 million members of the Armed Forces to the Pacific and expected to need to draft 100,000 men a month to supply replacements there. Casualties on Siapan and Okinawa led to the high projections (p. 50). The Army said in January 1945 that the war might last one year more, two years, perhaps even longer. A civilian commission agreed with the high casualty estimates, 1.7 million to 4 million casualties, of which 400,000 to 800,000 would be fatalities (pp. 98-99). In June 1945, President Truman said he had a hard choice: invade Japan or try to defeat it with bombing and blockade (p. 58). Planners said that a blockade could take as long as two years to strangle Japan (p. 62) but also that an invasion of Kyushu would be necessary to an effective blockade (p. 63). The Joint Intelligence Committee said that bombardment and blockade might not drive the Japanese to unconditional surrender (p. 188), and Marshall said that unconditional surrender was the only way to eliminate Japanese warmaking potential (p. 200). In a June 1945 meeting, Truman, Stimson, Forrestal, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff all agreed that an invasion was necessary (p. 97).

The author also notes that Japan had many pilots and aircraft and much fuel in reserve to combat the invasion, though fuel for training was severely rationed. The pilots with little training would have been sent on suicide missions. The Japanese had hundreds of suicide boats, but “successful attacks” were “far from commensurate with their large numbers” in earlier campaigns, noted the U.S. intelligence estimate of the enemy situation on Kyushu (p. 232).

The Japanese also planned to shift divisions from Manchuria to the homeland to resist the invasion. They hoped to make the invasion so costly that the Allies would negotiate a peace. Yet each Japanese division on Kyushu “was to have enough” ammunition “for 0.6 to 0.9 battles,” enough to last two weeks (p. 267), and the third-stage mobilization troops were mostly untrained and old (p. 71).

His argument that civilians armed with bamboo spears would have been a threat is not convincing; he says that “the real danger in the type of tactical situation faced on Kyushu would come from a comparatively small number of well-armed regulars directing and supporting a willing population armed with spears, swords, and cheaply produced firearms” (p. 165). “There was a great deal of utility in less sophisticated weapons such as swords and spears” (p. 166). On the contrary, “Volunteer Corps civilians” would have limited combat value, said the U.S. intelligence estimate of the enemy situation on Kyushu; their “effectiveness against well-armed troops” would be low even in defense and virtually nil in offense” (p. 224).

This is a book full of numbers, but some are puzzling. He says, for example, that the 14,253-man 69th division “was forced to give up 22,235 enlisted personnel and 1,336 officers before it was finally shipped to France” (p. 5). The paradox of a division, while still in the United States, losing nine thousand members more than it started with is stated but not explained. The landing force had been “growing exponentially” since the fighting on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, he states, but doesn’t give the exponent (p. 126).

The author claims that in January 1945 Truman was “engaged each and every day as” president of the Senate, the Vice President’s role (p. 51); in reality, Truman did not become Vice President until January 20. Why emphasize (“each and every day”) such misinformation?

The book has doubtful statements: that U.S. leaders thought that in May 1945 they were in the middle of the war (p. 51) (nowhere else does the book say that the war was expected to last another 3½ years); that Tokyo was beyond the range of U.S. “ground-based aircraft” (p. 62), yet B-29 (ground-based) bombers were reaching Tokyo from Tinian. “Only one who had lived and fought” as Truman had in World War I could understand casualties the way he did (p. 101).

Worse, the author deviates from history to indulge in sarcasm and insults. Apparently some historians dismissed veterans’ claims of high casualty forecasts because the veterans could not remember where they heard the numbers. Giangreco says that the “inconsiderate” young men “inexplicably failed to take detailed notes” (p. xiv). He takes a swipe at college draft deferments during the Vietnam War (p. xvi). He faults revisionist historians “safely removed nearly six decades from events)” (p. 99). He claims that “critics of Truman’s [atomic] bomb decision regularly maintained that estimates of massive casualties during an invasion of Japan were a postwar creation” (p. 99)—which critics? all of them? the popes? The footnote cites only a 1994 article by Kai Bird; certainly there were others, but Giangreco writes as though anyone who disagrees with him is a shoddy researcher and intentionally deceptive.

The author seems to have a problem with plurals: eleven month before (p. 20); the American’s instead of the Americans’ (pp. 24, 183, and 203); the Soviet’s eastern front (p. 41); these formation’s and plan were made (p. 71); the German’s offensive (p. 94); historians enthusiasm (p. 117); aircrafts (p. 134); militarist’s instead of militarists’ (p. 162); at wars’ end (p. 166); Operations Coronet (p. 177); switching from singular to plural in the same sentence (the firm was in a situation where ‘their …’” on p. 190); various strategic information … were controlled (p. 248); the possibility … were perceived (p. 261); plans … is (p. 265).

The book also has many problems with the quotations—ironic coming from somebody who accuses others of sloppy scholarship. General Willoughby is quoted on the same page (47) as saying that the U.S. invasion plans were “not the” and “not a recipe for victory.” The author uses sic in a few places to mark a British spelling and an alphabetical list with f repeated in the wrong place, but numerous purported quotations have doubtful parts—errors in the originals (in which case they should be marked by sic) or errors introduced by the author: both of thorn (p. 221); that instead of what (p. 224); seen instead of seem (p. 231); forces, Obviously (p. 233); demolition changes (p. 237); defended by the enemy to her access to the interior (p. 238); The west coast is steep—to while (p. 244).

The book also contains a distressing number of typos and errors in word usage: for example, Capital Hill instead of Capitol Hill (p. 14); the heals of a public announcement (p. 43); invasion sights instead of sites (p. 75); iduction stations and ment (p. 103); invasions areas (p. 104); tenants instead of tenets (p. 116); Japanese decent instead of descent (p. 119); hoards instead of hordes (p. 137); 212st (p. 147); literally shooting fish in a barrel (p. 185); rational instead of rationale (p. 199); prevents and actual invasion (p. 200); there was no Magic route into the minds of the senior-most Imperial leaders until they were in American captivity after the war (at which point there was a Magic route into their minds? p. 200); radiated instead of irradiated (p. 203); made an d issued (p. 248); formerfortification (p. 251). I hoped for better from the Naval Institute Press.

How I Survived My First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment coverHow I Survived My First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment: Going It Alone at 40

By Liz Broomfield (now Dexter)

Self-published, 2013. 91 pp. with appendices

This book’s format came as a pleasant surprise: it’s a monthly diary, followed by appendices. I was expecting a book full of rules and suggestions based on lessons she learned—it has all that, but it’s presented as a story. From the introduction:

“There are a lot of secrets in business—‘Top 10 business secrets you must know’, ‘Top 5 Marketing Ideas!’ but not an awful lot of honesty and openness. So I shared exactly how I did it, the plans I made, how I knew when it was time to jump ship from the day job.”

Liz invites you to take a walk with her through the year, encounter the ups and downs with her, and learn the lessons as she learns them. She hopes that the “journey will inspire others to do it the safe and calm way.” As she says, “Self-employment doesn’t have to mean scary entrepreneurship.”

It does get rough at times. Liz was going to call her networking group the Café of Pain. But her motto is “Keep calm and carry on.”

She established her business, LibroEditing, with what she calls a “soft launch”—going from full-time library employment to part-time, “then even more part-time … The slow build-up meant that I knew I could do it”—even though when she started Libro she “had no idea that [she] was ever going to take it full-time.”

And she didn’t need to get a full-time income out of Libro immediately once it became her only job: she built up some savings while still employed and getting the business going.

After the plunge into full-time self-employment in December, she presents diary entries for the following year. We learn with her about marketing; having too much work, having too little, and what to do about it; whether to take risks; and more. “Managing expectations is all very well, but these clients need the work quickly, and I can’t make infinite deadlines for my less urgent clients: their work has to be done at some time!”

Liz describes her methods for scheduling work and keeping accounts, knowing that readers will need to devise their own ways of organizing pieces of a business, and simply offers her ways as an example. Her description of how she handles her bookkeeping will encourage you to do yours promptly and regularly, even if your system is different. If you’re self-employed, or thinking about it, just reading how she does things will probably give you ideas for your own business.

A section on social media and networking has useful information. Liz talks too about motivation and setting goals for yourself.

In a few places there might be too much detail for some readers. Liz mentions a lot of the work she did and where it came from, and she devotes a couple of pages to what she wears while working and a couple more to tea.

Near the beginning she presents a typical week before she went to full-time self-employment. It summarizes her schedule and is a bit dry to read, but it conveys the busyness of trying to juggle a job and a business.

Liz is British, and she occasionally uses some terms that will be foreign to us North American readers. I figured that Inland Revenue must be a regulatory agency and the C in HMRC probably stands for college (she registered with the first and took a course with the second). Nope: both Inland Revenue and HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) are tax-collection authorities. But, differences in government and terminology notwithstanding, her description of how she handles her taxes present practical ideas that work in the USA. I too subtract the tax from self-employment income I receive and put it aside until it’s due.

The story of her first year of full-time self-employment ends with a look back—two looks, actually: one in December and one four months later, when she considered Libro a mature business.

The appendices help the reader “how to decide whether to go self-employed, how exactly to do it, and [offer] some other useful hints and tips.”

If you’re thinking about self-employment, you could benefit from talking with somebody who is successfully self-employed. This ebook comes pretty close to that: it’s personal and informative. You can see how Liz did it, what went wrong and what went right, and even how she felt about it.

This whole ebook is included in Your Guide to Starting and Building Your Business. (I chose to review only the ebook about self-employment, because I’ve done a good bit of freelance editing work but not with the intention of building a business—mainly in desperation when I was out of work. So I felt that I could fairly evaluate a book on freelancing but not one on starting a business. My freelance writing has always been a sideline and probably will be until somebody starts turning my screenplays into movies.)

You can buy Liz’s books at

Her LibroEditing blog, which I read avidly, is at and has links to still more of her online writing.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship coverInnovation and Entrepreneurship

By Peter F. Drucker
New York: HarperBusiness, 1985
266 pp., softcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity,” wrote Drucker (p. 28). “Entrepreneurship is ‘risky’ mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing. They lack the methodology. They violate elementary and well-known rules.” Entrepreneurship “needs to be based on purposeful innovation(p. 29). And “the enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines” (p. 149). “But innovative efforts do not carry certainty; they have a high probability of failure and an even higher one of delay. A company therefore should have under way at least three times the innovative efforts which, if successful, would fill the gap” (p. 154).

Entrepreneurship exploits seven source areas, wrote Drucker (quoted from p. 35):

Drucker commented on “The unexpected failure”: “If something fails despite being carefully planned, carefully designed, and conscientiously executed, that failure often bespeaks underlying change and, with it, opportunity” (p. 46).

Companies, he said, may not recognize change and how to exploit it. They often focus on the cost of operations. He advised to concentrate instead “on the costs of not working” (p. 63). He gave the example of containerization: Shipping lines had already done a good job of controlling the costs of operating; profits were hurt not by the cost of crossing the seas but by the time spent in port loading and unloading, time that was greatly reduced by containerization.

Another mistaken focus he cited is “values or expectations the producer or supplier holds” that “are incongruous with the values and expectations of customers and clients” (p. 66). What the customer wants to purchase may be different from what the producer is trying to sell. He gave the example of Scott’s lawn care products. Bigger companies tried to sell scientifically formulated products but did not help the consumer apply the products. Consumers didn’t want fertilizer that had to be measured and precisely applied, and Scott’s spreader took care of that. It gave consumers not only a product but an easy way to use it, and Scott acquired a big edge over its competitors. Drucker said that successful entrepreneurs spend a lot of time listening to customers and potential customers.

And innovation and entrepreneurship apply not just to commerce, he wrote. “Public-service institutions have both an opportunity and a responsibility to be entrepreneurial and to innovate” (p. 145).

“The ultimate purpose of a business, indeed, of economic activity,” wrote Drucker, is to “create a customer,” which is done in four ways (quoted from p. 243):

“To start out with the customer’s utility, with what the customer buys, with what the realities of the customer are and what the customer’s values are—this is what marketing is all about.… Anyone who is willing to use marketing as the basis for strategy is likely to acquire leadership in an industry or a market fast and almost without risk” (p. 251).

“Conclusion: The Entrepreneurial Society” is the book’s weakest chapter: Drucker’s opinions on how to promote growth in jobs and capital and to shrink the welfare state. In it he goes from being a paid consultant to companies to being an uninvited consultant to society, the nation, and the world.

On the whole, though, the book is well written and interesting, and relevant even 30 years after publication.

Islam Mosaic coverIslam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith

By Vartan Gregorian
Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2003
135 pp., $15.95, softcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2007. Copyright 2007 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

Gregorian’s book is not brand new, but it is timely. It introduces us to the facets of the Islamic mosaic, which has pieces throughout the world and is embodied in microcosm by the diverse Muslim communities in the United States.

His book is brief, but not shallow. Its encyclopedic view of Islam is well written and readable, but dense with information.

The Muslims he writes of are our fellow citizens, our world neighbors, and, yes, sometimes our enemies. But they are not a monolith.

“Throughout Islamic history, the gravitational pull of regional, dynastic, and since the nineteenth century nationalist interests has consistently outweighed the spiritual affiliations of some idealized, transcendent, organic umma [Muslim community],” writes Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “If history is a guide, it shows that in Islam, as in most major religions, there is a broad gulf between the ideal of unity and the realities on the ground. Even during the Golden Age of Islam [750-1258], at the height of the Abbasid empire, there were rival caliphates.”

Islam’s “ancient divisions, conflicts, and rivalries … blur or complicate the neat theories that create powerful myths about powerful enemies.… The fact is that there is no unified ‘Muslim world’ or unified Muslim ideology.… there is no single accepted Islamic theology, no single interpretation of Islamic law, no single issue around which all Muslim societies are willing to rally their people, futures, or fortunes.”

However, the “militant Islamists” do “dream of a Pan-Islamic movement that will create a single Muslim umma under a single Caliphate, or one authority, ruling from the Atlantic Ocean to the China Sea.”

The reality of Islam in the 21st century is distant from that wish of the militant Islamists. Islam is diverse, and it is established in diverse societies, being “the second largest religion in France and the third largest in both Germany and Great Britain.” Its adherents have varied ethnic heritage and participate in assorted cultures.

Islam as a religion is broken into factions. “Early divisions in Islam ultimately resulted in scores of Muslim denominations.” The major branches are Sunnis, Shii, and Sufis. “The Sunnis represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims, but Sunni doctrine has long been a source of dispute”—especially its rational theology and belief “that the Qu’ran was man-made … Shii believe that Ali, the [Prophet Mohammad’s] son-in-law, was divinely inspired and infallible in his interpretations of the Qu’ran and the Prophet’s teachings and that only his descendants possessed the sacred blood ties and religious knowledge to qualify as Imams, the Shii’s exemplary leaders.” Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam, though sometimes practiced with only tenuous ties to it.

Conflict—sometimes bloody—between Sunnis and Shii stretches back more than a thousand years.

Another division in Islam is between modernism and traditionalism. The modernists look to Islam’s history of scientific and cultural achievement and believe that Islam should adapt to the modern world, while traditionalists seek an Islamic revival based on age-old precepts.

Islamist parties “promote Islam as an ideology in a theocratic state,” whereas Islamic parties “want secular political systems to reflect the moral principles of their religion.” Both want their religion embodied in law, and this leads to conflict between Muslim factions and, in Muslim states, between the Muslim majority and the religious minorities.

Even outside the Muslim nations, religious intolerance is a major problem among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It is “clear that Muslim societies are as ignorant of our society as we are of theirs.”

“The challenge before us all—Muslims and non-Muslims, in America and around the world—is one of understanding and accommodation: how can each group maintain and develop its own set of values and at the same time coexist and interact with other systems, religions, and cultures? One hopes that out of dialogue will come understanding and respect, and out of respect will come tolerance.… Working for mutual understanding is a daunting challenge, but one that cannot be sidestepped.”

James Madison coverJames Madison

By Richard Brookhiser
New York: Basic Books, 2011
250 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

A well-written biography, though a bit brief; I wished for more on his years as president.

Madison was not only father of the Constitution but father of American politics, founding, with Thomas Jefferson, the Republican Party, ancestor of today’s Democratic Party.

Madison believed fervently in religious liberty. He wanted people to enjoy not just religious tolerance—permission to worship freely—but the right to worship freely. “Toleration is a gift,” writes Brookhiser; “truly free men exercise their rights” (p. 3). Local persecution of Baptists helped fuel Madison’s feelings for freedom of religion. Madison also believed strongly in public opinion to spot threats to liberty (p. 89).

He was elected to the Virginia Assembly in 1776 and, with George Mason, wrote the Declaration of Rights.

Meeting in Annapolis in 1786 to discuss interstate navigation, Madison and Alexander Hamilton, lacking a quorum, wrote a call for a constitutional convention the following year. Madison spent the intervening months studying governments and went to the convention with a plan. One objection to his plan was that large republics had been rare, but Madison was convinced that a republic was the right form of government for the United States. Madison recognized that the real division was not between large and small states but between North and South. Madison kept notes of the convention’s deliberations, not just motions and votes as the secretary did. These he withheld to be published posthumously. Mason insisted on a bill of rights in the Constitution, and only these first ten amendments made possible its ratification.

Madison also wrote some of Washington’s words for him, including the inaugural and farewell addresses.

The XYZ affair (involving three Frenchman identified in a letter to America as X, Y, and Z who sought bribes from American delegates) bred hostility toward France, and during a subsequent undeclared war, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalists and signed by John Adams; the laws were set to expire at the end of his term. Adams’s administration never enforced the Alien Act, but there were 14 prosecutions of Americans under the Sedition Act.

These laws and the hostility toward France bred resentment in Francophiles Madison and Jefferson, who then started organizing Republicans. Although Madison and Jefferson were among the authors of the Federalist Papers, by this time the Federalists were an organized force antipathetic to Republican principles.

Partly to prevent the Federalists from getting even one electoral vote in Virginia, Madison got the Virginia electoral law changed to winner take all.

Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the 1800 election. It fell to the House of Representatives to decide the election, but the House too was tied. One Representative relented on the 36th ballot, and Jefferson became the third president. Madison became his Secretary of State. Madison was “agrarian, expansionist, pacific, and populist,” writes Brookhiser (p. 103).

Madison and Jefferson got France, short of cash, to sell Louisiana, and tried to get France to force Spain to sell the Florida panhandle. Spain and France both refused. Later, in 1810, Madison, by presidential proclamation, annexed the Florida panhandle—simply took it from Spain.

In response to British impressment of American sailors and to British and French embargoes on U.S. foreign commerce (Britain and France were at war), Madison and Jefferson convinced Congress to enact a ruinous embargo on American overseas commerce.

A false thaw in relations with Britain was followed by strict British restrictions (the Orders in Council) on American trade with France and its allies.

Madison defeated Monroe in the contest for the Republican nomination, but after becoming president in 1811, Madison patched things up with Monroe. Afterwards he replaced Secretary of State Robert Smith with Monroe.

In 1811, Congress imposed the Non-Intercourse Act, allowing American trade only with neutral countries. France said it would revoke its restrictions on trade if Britain did, but Britain would not. Also in 1811, the charter of the Bank of the United States expired, making it harder for the U.S. government to borrow money. Tariff revenue was low because of the restrictions on trade, and overall taxes were low from Republican policy. All these things made it hard to finance a war. But in June 1812, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against Britain. In May, the British had revoked the Orders in Council, but this news had not reached America yet. War was declared by the narrowest vote for any American war.

During the British invasion, the Secretary of War obstructed Madison by inaction. Madison himself went to the battlefield at Bladensburg.

In late 1814, fed up with the war, but just before the battle of New Orleans and the treaty of Ghent, some Federalists talked secession. Later, after his presidency, objecting to federal tariffs to protect manufacturing, South Carolina threatened secession. Madison, in contrast, saw American union as a requirement for freedom.

He longed for an end to slavery, but did nothing. Madison’s “solutions to the problem of slavery were worthless, a pathetic case of intellectual and moral failure,” writes Brookhiser (p. 9): Madison favored diffusion, spreading slavery, presumably more thinly, throughout the United States, and colonization (a federal purchase of slaves to send them to Africa). His slave Paul Jennings served him (and after his death, Dolley) all his life, looking after Dolley even after being sold to Daniel Webster and purchasing his freedom.

Both James Madison and James Monroe were protégés of Thomas Jefferson, forming the “Virginia Dynasty” in the White House.

I visited his home Montpelier last year, and this book added much to my knowledge of James Madison.

Jamestown Experiment coverThe Jamestown Experiment

By Tony Williams
Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2011, 257 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Williams recounts the history of the Jamestown colony, citing mostly secondary sources plus some colonial records such as journals, saying that Jamestown is where the American Dream was born.

The initial voyage employed men only, in a military-style organization. It made landfall at Martinique. After stops at Caribbean islands, one of the captains wanted to go back to England when Virginia was not found promptly. They picked Jamestown because it was far enough upriver to remain undetected by any passing Spanish cruisers.

The colonists hoped to find gold and the Northwest Passage but found little of the former and, despite Indians’ statements that a great body of salt water lay only four or five days’ journey to the west, no sign of the Northwest Passage.

The colonists’ relations with the Indians were initially a combination of confrontation and trade but degenerated over the years into mostly confrontation.

Although the colonists arrived in spring, a propitious time for planting, and the area had game and fish, the settlers soon ran low on food and fell prey to summer diseases.

John Smith already had a history of adventurism and was arrested en route as a mutineer. After landfall in Virginia in 1607, he was freed, but not seated on the governing council according to the original plan. A year later, he was elected council president and instituted a regime of discipline, but the colonists continued to be hungry.

During a visit with the Indians, Pocahontas appeared to save his life from her tribe but it was probably a ceremony.

Over the following years, ships brought more colonists, who became extra mouths to feed. One ship caught in a 1609 hurricane fared the best: the colonists were shipwrecked on Bermuda, which despite an evil reputation turned out to be a pleasant place where it was easy for the people to feed themselves. They later named Virginia’s Bermuda Hundred (a subdivision to sustain 100 families) after the island. Although the shipwrecked people brought surplus provisions when they arrived at Jamestown in 1610, soon the whole colony was starving, with some resorting to cannibalism.

In June the surviving settlers abandoned Jamestown, intending to sail for Newfoundland, but at Point Comfort they were turned back by Del la Warr, who brought food and instituted martial law. His rule was harsh. He warred against the Indians and killed captive children. Ill, he returned to England, but the new governor, Dale, was no better. He instituted a death penalty for sedition and killed Indians who brought food to trade.

Gates, an earlier governor, returned in 1611, with hundreds more colonists, bringing the total to about 750. Around this time Samuel Argall, with the help of the Patowmecks, kidnapped Pocahontas, who was held captive, educated, and eventually brought to England, where she died.

The colony’s economy turned around when tobacco became a profitable export. If colonists raised two acres of corn, with some of it contributed to the common store, they could also grow and sell as much tobacco as they desired. Otherwise all the tobacco they grew was forfeit to the government. From this time onward the colony sustained itself with food and profits, though not all were wealthy, and some continued to go hungry.

Self-government was instituted with the establishment around 1617 of the House of Burgesses. By 1622, the colonists were generally at peace with the local Indians until an Indian was murdered, provoking a massacre of 347 colonists. This led to a war against the Indians that left the English ascendant, and here the book ends.

Besides recounting the history, Williams makes a point over and over: Jamestown was founded by free, entrepreneurial Englishmen, and the “capitalist and entrepreneurial model … was in close harmony with the longings of English character and human nature” (p. 232). These free entrepreneurs, Williams shows, were ambitious, contentious rivals, often deceitful (for example, Christopher Newport told Powhatan that the cross, to which they objected, represented King James and Powhatan), selfish, and cruel. At times I thought his emphasis on entrepreneurship was intended ironically, but after I saw it repeated enough I concluded he was serious.

While the entrepreneurs get repeated shout-outs, the slaves are barely mentioned, and Williams says that they were “probably … indentured servants,” though he quotes John Rolfe as saying that the colonists bought the Africans.

Besides the distracting pro-capitalist interjections, the book has lot of errors in word use: comprise misused often; “burning cords” emulating “soldiers firing their muskets” (p. 27); withdrew instead of drew (p. 27); “no worse” when apparently “no better” was meant (p. 94).

Although it is mostly a second-hand story, short on original research, with better editing and by sticking to history instead of propaganda, this could have been a good book.

Kill Anything That Moves coverKill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

By Nick Turse
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013
262 pp.; maps, index, illustrations

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

The 1968 massacre of 128 civilians at the Vietnamese village of My Lai “was an operation, not an aberration,” stated Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who had heard about it from others who participated in it. In this book, Nick Turse demonstrates that Ridenhour was right. He draws on the previously classified files of the Vietnamese War Crimes Working Group as well as interviews with many Vietnam veterans. The working group’s files

included more than 300 allegations of massacres, murders, rapes, torture, assaults, mutilation, and other atrocities that were substantiated by army investigators. They detailed the deaths of 137 civilians in mass killings, and 78 smaller-scale attacks in which Vietnamese civilians were killed, wounded, and sexually assaulted.

Numerous veterans confirmed to Turse that “Kill anything that moves” was not an unusual order and that many villages shared My Lai’s fate, with American soldiers killing women, children, old men and animals and torching homes. In Vietnam, while searching for the village of Hoi An and its memorial to a massacre of Vietnamese civilians, the author found that one village after another had its own memorial to a similar massacre. “I was looking for a needle in a haystack; what I found was a veritable haystack of needles,” he wrote.

“The key elements at” the 1967 killing of 12 civilians “at Trieu An recur over and over again in war crimes files and the recollections of veterans,” wrote Turse:

Angry troops primed to lash out, often following losses within the unit; civilians trapped in their path; and officers in the field issuing ambiguous or illegal orders to young men conditioned to obey …

The chapter “A Litany of Atrocities” lists half a dozen incidents similar to My Lai.

According to the rules of engagement, “villages could be attacked” if the civilians failed “to evict armed guerillas” (Turse’s words), although the army’s official policy prohibited attacking civilians. In 1962, Brigadier General H. K. Eggleston stated, “All forms of firepower … must have positively identified VC [Viet Cong] targets.”

“In a confidential 1967 message,” Marine Corps “Lieutenant General Robert Cushman wrote: ‘To answer sniper fire from a hamlet or village with mortars, artillery or 90 mm gun fire will kill or injure more noncombatants than it will snipers. The rules of engagement are clear, but they are not always followed.”

Anyone in a free-fire zone or running from U.S. forces was deemed an enemy. Sometimes “troops took measures that frightened Vietnamese into running, and then treated them as legitimate targets.”

“A U.S. Senate study acknowledged that by 1968 an estimated 300,000 civilians had been killed or wounded in free-fire zones.”

“Air force captain Brian Wilson” recalled seeing 62 bodies—all women, and children, and old people—after the napalm bombing of a village. He called the bombing of civilians in free-fire zones “the epitome of immorality.”

“Any Vietnamese were assumed to be VC and were treated as such,” said Major Donald Pearce after the war.

The persecution, if not slaughter, of peasant farmers was U.S. policy from at least 1965, when General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, said in a speech that the “escalation to a higher intensity in the war” was forcing farmers to choose sides. The United States wanted farmers to leave their land and live in compounds under South Vietnamese control—compounds with crude shelters, “no latrines, no usable wells, no classrooms, and no medical facilities,” in the words of a General Accounting Office report. Not only military action was driving farmers from their land; the defoliant Agent Orange killed crops and livestock made millions of civilians sick.

Saigon’s 1962 population of 1.4 million swelled to a wartime high of 4 million from the influx of refugees.

Since the Korean war, the army had used body counts as an “indicator of success.” Civilians and prisoners were often killed to inflate the body count. “Soldiers realized that small groups of civilians could be killed with impunity and logged as enemy dead … many patrols planted grenades, rifles, or other arms on dead civilians.”

“The International Committee of the Red Cross repeatedly notified the U.S. government that it was violating the 1949 Geneva Conventions” in its treatment of prisoners.

David Carmon, who interrogated prisoners captured by U.S. forces, “confessed to using water torture, as well as … electrical shocks.” “These methods were used by all units,” he told Turse.

“Congressmen Augustus Hawkins of California and William Anderson of Tennessee” were steered to certain parts of South Vietnam’s Con Son Prison but also saw some areas that were off limits to them, where crowded prisoners were chained to the floor, got meager food and water, and endured beatings. They “wrote a detailed report … but the congressional committee suppressed almost all of it.”

In 1971, a Newsweek staffer discovered from the archive of military press briefings that the 1968–69 Operation Speedy Express carried out in two South Vietnamese provinces killed 10,899 people listed as enemy troops while capturing only 748 weapons, with few American lives lost. In one week, “699 guerillas had been added to the [9th] division’s body count (at the cost of a single American life), but only nine weapons were captured.”

“An American official … told [Newsweek reporter Kevin] Buckley that as many as 5,000 of the people killed by Speedy Express were noncombatants.” Newsweek published a severely abridged version of the article.

The inspector general of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, in a secret report, “called Buckley’s article ‘irresponsible’” but admitted that civilian casualties in Operation Speedy Express may have ranged from 5,000 to 7,000.

“When the military released the first news of the assault” at My Lai, “it was portrayed as a victory over a formidable enemy force, a legitimate battle in which 128 enemy troops were killed without the loss of a single American life.” Westmoreland sent a “congratulatory telegram.”

Lieutenant General William Peers led the “army inquiry into My Lai,” which went beyond its mandate and investigated American practices in Vietnam and found, in the report’s words, “widespread killing of Vietnamese … almost exclusively … old men, women, and children.” The report, writes Turse, “detailed a pattern of ‘deliberate suppression or withholding of information’”—“The My Khe massacre that the Peers panel had also detailed in its report … was classified as top secret.”

During the 1968 Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, attacks took place within the city of Saigon, and massive U.S. firepower was unleashed within the city itself.

Around 6,300 civilians died and 11,000 were wounded. Some 19,000 dwellings were destroyed, more than 125,000 people were left homeless, and 206,000 Saigon residents became refugees. According to a U.S. military inspector general’s report, most of the damage in the capital was caused by U.S. forces.

Over and over, throughout South Vietnam, thousands of civilians died despite official policy, as commanders sought to boost their body count or ordered massive retaliation against attacks coming from areas populated by civilians.

This is a painful book to read, but an important one. It tells us some very uncomfortable truths about our nation.

Managing the Nonprofit Organization cover Managing the Nonprofit Organization

By Peter F. Drucker
New York: HarperCollins, 1990, 224 pp.

Hospitals, churches, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts “have something in common … It is not that these institutions are ‘non-profit,’ that is, that they are not businesses” wrote Drucker. “It also not that they are ‘non-governmental.’ It is that they do something very different from either business or government” (p. xiv). With this emphasis on what nonprofits do rather than what they are not, Drucker addressed the essentials of nonprofit management, enlivened with interviews.

The book has five parts:  

  1. The mission comes first
  2. From mission to performance
  3. Managing for performance
  4. People and relationships
  5. Developing yourself

“The ultimate test” of the mission, wrote Drucker, “is right action.… A mission statement,” he wrote, “has to be operational, otherwise it’s just good intentions” (pp. 3-4).

“The first step toward effectiveness is to decide what are the right things to do. Efficiency, which is doing things right, is irrelevant until you work on the right things” (p. 198).

“The three ‘musts’ of a successful mission”: “Look at strength and performance. Do better what you already do well—if it’s the right thing to do.… Look outside at the opportunities, the needs. Where can we, with the limited resources we have … really make a difference”?

“Organize yourself to see the opportunity,” wrote Drucker. “… most of our current reporting systems don’t reveal opportunities; they report problems. They report the past. Most answer questions we have already asked.… whenever you need a change, ask: If this were an opportunity for us, what would it be?” (p. 13).

“The organization that starts out from the inside and then tries to find places to put its resources is going to fritter itself away. Above all, it’s going to focus on yesterday.” (p. 46).

“One always has to ask: Is this action step leading us toward our basic long-range goal, or is it going to sidetrack us, going to divert us, going to make us lose sight of what we are here to do?

“… also, we need to be result-driven. We need to ask, Do we get adequate results for our efforts? Is this their best allocation?” (p. 53).

“Performance means concentrating available resources where the results are. It does not mean making promises you can’t live up to.

“Equally dangerous is the opposite—to go for the easy results rather than for results that further the mission” (p. 108).

Having identified their mission, nonprofits must work for results (p. 59). To carry out a mission, “you need three things: opportunities; competence; and commitment” (p. 8).

The goals, however, are not necessarily permanent. Managers of nonprofits “have to build in review, revision, and organized abandonment” of goals (goals have to be abandoned once they have been met) (p. 5).

One key to managing a nonprofit is its leadership, to which Drucker devoted a substantial part of the book.

He listed basic leadership competencies (p. 20):

“The least effective decision makers are the ones who constantly make decisions. The effective ones make very few. They concentrate on the important decisions. And even people who work hard in making decisions often misapply their time. They slight the important decisions and spend executive time making easy—or irrelevant—decisions” (p. 121).

“Leadership is accountable for results. And leadership always asks, Are we really faithful stewards of … talents, the gifts of people … the gifts of money. Leadership is doing. It isn’t just thinking great thoughts …” (p. 47). Drucker also recommended that executives spend one week a year working in the ranks (p. 201).

In some nonprofits, “everybody is a leader, everybody is responsible, everybody acts” (p. 49).

Volunteers are a major part of many nonprofits. With volunteers, said Drucker in an interview with Frances Hesselbein,1 “You determine their job, you set the standard, you provide the training, and you basically set their sights high” (p. 33).

“You forgot one point—the recognition, replied Hesselbein.” It is important that someone says: ‘Thank you very much, you’ve made a major contribution’” (p. 34).

With Max de Pree,2 Drucker discussed developing people (pp. 38-40):

Peter Drucker: You develop people, not jobs …

Max de Pree: We’re talking about building on what people are—not about changing them. To understand their gifts, to understand what their potential is.

“We all tend to take temperament and personality for granted. But it’s very important to take them seriously and to understand them clearly because they’re not too subject to change by training” (p. 195).

Many nonprofits confuse marketing with sales and advertising (p. 74). From an interview with Philip Kotler3 (pp. 74-83):

Philip Kotler: [Marketing involves] studying the market, segmenting it, targeting the groups you want to service, positioning yourself in the market, and creating a service that meets needs out there.…

Many organizations are very clear about the needs they would like to serve, but they often don’t understand these needs from the perspective of the customers. They make assumptions based on their own interpretation of the needs out there.

… first, do some customer research to understand the market you want to serve and its needs. Second, develop segmentation and be aware of different groups that you’re going to be interacting with. Third, develop policies, practices, and programs that are targeted to satisfy those groups.… Too many … non-profit organizations go right into advertising before they’ve gone into the other three steps, and that’s really doing things backwards.

“You don’t start out with your product but with the end, which is a satisfied customer.

“The most important person to research is the individual who should be the customer.… The customer who really needs the service, wants the service, but not in the way in which it is available today” (p. 100).

A nonprofit’s money “is held in trust for the donors. And the board is the guardian to make sure the money is used for the results for which it has been given” (p. 57).

“A non-profit needs a strong board”—it “helps think through the institution’s mission, it is the guardian of that mission, and makes sure the organization lives up to its basic commitment. The board has the job of making sure the non-profit has competent management—and the right management” (p. 157).

“Boards have to be given their work plan” (p. 166).

From an interview with Rev. David Allan Hubbard:4

David Hubbard: A board needs to know that it owns the organization.… Board members don’t own it as though they were stockholders voting blocks of stock; they own it because they care.… They actually own it in partnership because, in a sense, the organization belongs just as much to others.…

[A board member is] governor, sponsor, ambassador, and consultant.

On building the donor constituency, from an interview with Dudley Hafner (pp. 87-97):5

Dudley Hafner: [In approaching a donor] we present a case for support which spells out the magnitude of the challenge, what we propose to do about it, how realistic it is to achieve that challenge, and how your gift can make a difference.… we might ask you to get involved in some of our activities.…

Technology has given us the means to go out and probably do a pretty good job of raising money through the computer, through mail drops or telemarketing that leave out the volunteer. But that would be a tragic mistake because in the process you’ve also lost the constituency, you’ve lost the volunteer base, you’ve lost the course of strength and growth in the organization. I see technology as a way of helping the volunteers do a more effective job; I do not see it as a replacement for a volunteer.… the decision that it’s easier to raise money without involving the volunteers [is] a fatal mistake.

Nonprofit institutions “have a greater propensity for conflict than businesses precisely because everybody is committed to a good cause.… Disagreements have to be brought out into the open and taken seriously” (p. 125).

“… an American political scientist, Mary Parker Follett, said that when you have dissent in an organization, you should never ask who is right. You should not even ask what is right. You must assume that each faction gives the right answer, but to a different question” (p. 124).

Common mistakes (pp. 6971) Drucker cited:

“It is a mistake to focus only on change and forget what you already do well” (p. 223).

Although the book was published in 1990, I found it relevant today and worthwhile reading as the chairman of a nonprofit board (of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons).

  1. National Executive Director of the Girl Scouts of the USA, 1976-1990, later president of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Non-Profit Management.
  2. Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., and of the Hope College Board; a member of the board of Fuller Theological Seminary; author of Leadership Is an Art
  3. Instructor at J. L. Kellog Graduate School of Management, Northwestern U., Evanston, Ill., and author of Strategic Marketing for Non-Profit Institutions.
  4. President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Cal.
  5. Executive director and CEO of the American Heart Association

A Man and His Ship coverA Man and His Ship: America’s Greatest Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United States

By Steven Ujifusa
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012
370 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

William Francis Gibbs was enchanted by ships ever since, as a child, he watched the launching of the SS St. Louis. He had to drop out of Harvard because his millionaire father went bankrupt, but he continued studying and learning naval architecture. Assisted by his brother Frederic, he supervised the renovation of the SS Leviathan, formerly the German Vaterland. He designed the Liberty ship and the SS America. Painfully aware of the hazards of collision and fire as exemplified by the Titanic, Morro Castle, and Normandie, he set out to build the fastest and safest liner ever, and he succeeded. The ship was a financial success (although her construction and operations were subsidized by the U.S. government) from her maiden voyage in 1952. Ten years later, though, the transatlantic passenger trade was rapidly shifting to jets, and the United States made her last voyage in 1969. Plans to scrap her or use her in different service have come to naught, and as of 2012 the ship had a two-year reprieve pending plans to make her into condos and a mall in South Philadelphia. The book is generally well written, though marred by some typos and some doubtful statements, such as the Olympic shutting down her engines and gliding into Brest, and the Leviathan backing into the Hudson River.

Man Who Stayed Behind coverThe Man Who Stayed Behind

By Sidney Rittenberg and Amanda Bennett
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, March 2001, copyright 2001 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

Sidney Rittenberg, a U.S. Army translator stationed in China at the end of World War II, was haunted by the death of a 12-year-old Chinese girl whose name meant Wood Fairy. She was killed by a reckless U.S. Army driver; the Army gave her father $26 in compensation—enough for a casket; the Army reckoned her value according to the income she produced for her family: none.

Rittenberg, outraged by this injustice, was at the same time growing to love China, and was appalled by the corruption he saw all around him. Engaged in delivering relief supplies, he found that the cargoes of rice were often stolen by the Nationalists and sold for profit—sometimes to the very relief agencies that had donated them. On one relief mission, he had a splendid dinner in a monastery, while people in the town nearby were starving. He resolved to help build a better China.

So that he could stay in China after his Army discharge, he secured a job with the United Nations. He found, during a trip delivering relief supplies to Communist-held territory, that the food was being equitably distributed there, and he saw little of the misery and squalor that had been common in other parts of China: beggars, prostitutes, and people shot by the authorities for no reason.

In America before the war, Rittenberg had been a card-carrying Communist; he had renounced his membership, but not his beliefs, in order to join the Army.

Now he joined the Communist rebels and accompanied them on their marches. He married a Chinese woman. He served as a translator at meetings involving the Communists, Nationalists, Americans, and UN. Although he seemed to find acceptance in a country he had come to love, he was imprisoned as a spy within one year.

Six horrific years passed before he was released: he was tortured, drugged, and, by the time he was released, virtually insane. By then the revolution was over and his wife had divorced him. Still, he considered himself a loyal Communist. He worked in the foreign broadcast ministry and considered himself a friend of Premier Zhou Enlai. He married again, this time to a woman who said she would never divorce her husband just because he was imprisoned. She was true to her word. During the Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960s, Rittenberg eagerly joined in the calls for freedom of speech and denounced corrupt leaders. The Cultural Revolution was merely another tactic of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong to expose and eliminate enemies, however, and Rittenberg committed political errors and found himself once more imprisoned—this time for 10 years. His greatest fear was that he would emerge from prison to find that socialism had failed.

This fear, he said, was realized. Offered another well-paid prominent position in the Chinese government, he turned it down and, with his wife, went to the United States. One by one, their four children, by now grown, followed. Although acknowledging the material progress China has made since the end of World War II, he concluded that no one ideology or economic theory holds the key to justice or prosperity.

This book was hard to stop reading. The culture is alien, as at times is the author himself. Although for most of his life, his politics and ideology were widely divergent from those of most Americans, his experiences are those of a human being in a Communist nation, providing a fascinating view of 40 years in China as seen through American eyes. He shows that, although sometimes driven as he was by ideological zealotry, the Communist rulers of China have been propelled more often by their base human side; they have been corrupt and venal rather than fanatic Marxists.

The enigma that is China remains partly hidden from Western eyes, but Rittenberg’s book offers a valuable view of the nation as seen by a resident foreigner with inside connections and, even more important, as seen by its Communist party.

Nixon's Vietnam War coverNixon’s Vietnam War

By Jeffrey Kimball
Lawrence, KS: Univ. of Kansas Press, 1998
371 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, November-December 1999, copyright 1999 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

The Vietnam War continues to attract study from those desiring to learn from the lessons of history. Americans continue asking—and answering—the question “What went wrong?” Jeffrey Kimball, a professor of history at the University of Kansas, looks in particular at the conflict as conducted by the Nixon administration, which inherited the undeclared war from the Johnson administration.

Kimball is unsympathetic to Nixon; though this colors Kimball’s conclusions, the history offered here, however interpreted, sheds much light on Nixon’s decisions and actions.

Kimball describes how Nixon, beginning when he was Vice President under Eisenhower, favored military victory in Vietnam, considering even the use of nuclear weapons, and wishing the other side to fear a nuclear attack even after he had stopped considering it. This intentional aura of unpredictability and its expected effect of keeping the enemy off balance was called, within the White House, the madman theory. Kimball describes other aspects of the Nixon-Kissinger management of the war and the associated diplomacy: negotiations with the USSR linked to Vietnam and détente, and triangular diplomacy, a partially successful effort to get China and the USSR to pressure North Vietnam to come to terms.

Although Nixon claimed to pursue victory, like Johnson before him he failed to prosecute the war in a coordinated effective way or to let the military do so, instead swinging between aggressive action and attempts at a negotiated settlement, with the effect of achieving neither victory nor peace until the 1973 cease-fire, which satisfied no one except the North Vietnamese.

Nothing Like It in the World coverNothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

By Stephen Ambrose
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000 Hardcover, 366 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

This book is about the construction of the railroad and especially the men behind it: Theodore Judah, who explored the route and promoted the railroad’s construction but didn’t live to see it completed; the Big Four—Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins—who financed and oversaw construction of the Central Pacific eastward from Sacramento; Grenville Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific, building westward from Omaha; Samuel Reed, chief of construction for the Union Pacific; Union Pacific vice president Doc Durant; and many more. They weren’t confident that the railroad woud be profitable to operate, so they arranged matters to get their profits from its construction, particularly via the infamous Crédit Mobilier, through which the Union Pacific financiers grabbed immense profits while the actual construction workers went unpaid. The federal government helped finance the line with land grants and bonds.

The government bonds were granted upon completion of segments of the railroad, so the railroads raced to complete miles of line in order to obtain bonds to sell and finance further construction. The Central Pacific’s Charles Crocker said that the government inspectors would accept the poorest railroad he could build, but the Central Pacific was built well in the mountains. Because Congress did not designate a meeting place, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific built past each other in Utah, with the Central Pacific setting a record of ten miles of track laid in one day. The Union Pacific, in particular was built cheaply, using cottonwood ties in place of better timber because everything had to be shipped in from the East. Once the line was in place, it was easier to bring in supplies to improve the railroad.

The Central Pacific had an immense, years-long struggle to build across the Sierra Nevada. Tunnels had to be blasted through granite, and 37 miles of snowsheds were erected to shelter the track from avalanches. Labor was in short supply too, with many workers deserting the railroad to try their luck hunting for gold. Chinese workers, though victims of bigotry, were excellent workers, and the Central Pacific sent recruiters to China to bring more laborers to America. The Mormons too were excellent workers and were hired by the Union Pacific to build part of the railroad in Utah.

The Union Pacific’s construction site was followed by an assemblage of gamblers, prostitutes, and criminals known as Hell on Wheels who exploited the laborers.

In 1869, the railroads finally joined and united East and West. Americans were delighted, and a transcontinental journey that had required months now took a few days.

The book is interesting but has a lot of errors: in a few places (page 365, page 370, and a photo caption) it says that the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met at Promontory Point, Utah; the actual location was Promontory Summit. Ambrose mentions dormitory railroad cars eight feet long (page 174) and flat cars eight feet tall (pages 177-178). He says (page 268) that locomotives “were the biggest moving things ever built by man” (steamships were contemporary and much larger; in fact they carried the locomotives to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific). He says (page 27) that the Mohawk & Hudson was an 1831 train (it was a railroad). A map gives the altitude of the Sierra crossing summit as 7,017 feet; the text says it was 7,042. The book says that Lee captured McClellan’s orders before the battle of Antietam, but it was the opposite: McClellan obtained a lost copy of Lee’s orders.

The book is sprinkled with bizarre statements too: Ambrose repeatedly refers to westward migrants as “argonauts”; he says (page 64) that “neither man nor animal lived” in the mountains (no animals?).

This book is fairly easy to read but not entirely reliable.

After reviewing this book, I learned of a web page devoted to the errors in it: “The Sins of Stephen E. Ambrose,” by G. J. “Chris” Graves, Edson T. Strobridge, and Charles N. Sweet, under the auspices of the Committee for the Protection of “What Is Truth” in Railroad History. They spotted a lot of historical errors and handled Ambrose roughly, holding to him to two quotations: “What happened, happened. What didn’t happen, didn’t, and to assert it is a lie” and “facts are facts. And both historians and their subjects should never forget that.”

1% Doctrine coverThe One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11

By Ron Suskind
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006
351 pp., $27 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, 2006. Copyright 2006 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

Suskind, drawing on nearly one hundred sources, details the U.S. government’s reaction to the September 11, 2001, attacks, as well as its attempts to link the “Global War on Terror” to the pre-existing intention to attack Iraq. While detailing the people involved and their actions, Suskind develops his main theme: that U.S. policy has been guided by Vice President Cheney’s “one percent doctrine,” articulated in November 2001—in Suskind’s words, “Even if there’s just a one percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty.” This was “a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the administration for years to come.” It led, says Suskind, to a policy of action—even war—based on suspicion rather than evidence.

Yet some things were certain: al-Qaeda had struck devastatingly and could be expected to strike again, and preventing another catastrophic attack was paramount. Alarming reports created a sense of desperation: al-Qaeda was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons; 100 Russian suitcase-sized nuclear weapons were unaccounted for; al-Qaeda had plans for biological weapons.

Even without reports of al-Qaeda capabilities or intentions, nearly any imaginable threat might have a one-percent chance of being real, and this led to chasing shadows and fears as well as to combating real threats. It led to National Security Letters being issued without probable cause, to Arabs in America being arrested merely on suspicion that they might be involved with something shady, to pressure on the CIA to acknowledge a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, to inbound foreign flights being halted while the passengers were searched for weapons that weren’t there, and to torturing a mentally ill al-Qaeda member and then believing what he said under duress.

Such serious subject matter deserves careful writing, but unfortunately the book frequently falls short. Take the central concept of the book: what is “a one percent chance of the unimaginable coming due”? Did Suskind mean coming true? Or that the United States would be getting its due (like a bill coming due)? The heart of the book is no place for cryptic statements.

There are other puzzles in his wording. What is “the warm commuter buzz,” and what does “That month, 119 the Israel” mean?

Other assertions cry out for explanation—for example, that the Cheney–Rumsfeld–George W. Bush alignment is “simple math.”

Repeatedly, Suskind writes as though what he has to say is self-evident, prefacing statements with “of course.”

He repeatedly alludes to but does not cite Cheney’s September 16, 2001, quote about working “the dark side.”

In other places, the word choice is poor, ambiguous, or wrong: verbal in place of oral; gasoline on a fire as “a catalytic relationship”; Oliver Wendell Holmes’s phrase “all deliberate speed” (signifying steady, deliberate progress) apparently used by Suskind to mean something else; actionable used in its vogue meaning of “giving grounds for action,” producing perhaps unintentional irony because of its primary meaning, “giving grounds for a lawsuit.”

Some of the persons in the drama are described with formality: Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are denoted by surname, full name, or title. Toward others, does Suskind feel chummy? Secretaries of State Powell and Rice he sometimes calls Colin and Condi.

Suskind has produced a coherent inside narrative of the “War on Terror,” and he relies mainly on anonymous sources; more care in his writing would have inspired greater confidence that he had communicated every quote and fact accurately, especially since he describes a government on the edge of panic.

His book is worth reading just the same, and perhaps future writers will corroborate his revelations and a future edition of this book will correct its shortcomings, for as a work of journalism, it is, after all, merely a first draft of history.

Remaking the World coverRemaking the World: Adventures in Engineering

By Henry Petroski
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997
212 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, January-February 2000, copyright 2000 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

These readable essays describe engineering in its social context: how, why, and when things are designed to answer the needs of society—what Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and of history at Duke University, calls “engineering in context.”

He quotes ANSER board member George Bugliarello as saying (at a 1990 symposium on “Engineering as a Social Enterprise” sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering) that engineers have been relegated to a “mainly technical role in the engine compartments of … society.” Petroski sees this situation as a flaw that can be partly remedied by education that makes engineers better aware of the social role of their work and enlightens non-engineers about the role of technology in society, present and past.

His book contributes to that goal by describing engineers and engineering projects in their social context, revealing the forces that led to (or stalled) inventions and why things like the English Channel tunnel and the Petronas Towers were built when and where they were.

Petroski profiles engineers such as Henry Martyn Robert, designer of the Galveston seawall and creator of Robert’s Rules of Order; James Nasmyth, artist and inventor of the steam hammer; and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the mammoth (by 1858 standards) steamship Great Eastern. Engineering projects described briefly include the Panama Canal, the Ferris wheel, the English Channel tunnel, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Each of these people and projects both shaped and was shaped by society. Robert designed the Galveston seawall after the devastating hurricane of 1900 drowned 6,000 people; he conceived his parliamentary procedures after being called on to preside at an unruly meeting.

Nasmyth invented the steam hammer because no machine existed to create a large iron shaft for the paddle wheels of the steamship Great Britain; when the ship was redesigned to use propellers instead, the steam hammer remained unbuilt until railroad expansion in Britain made it economical.

Brunel designed his first steamship, the Great Western, to carry passengers across the Atlantic from the terminus of the Great Western Railway at Bristol. It was the first steamer large enough to carry enough fuel to cross the ocean. His Great Eastern, 692 feet long (the largest clipper ship, the Great Republic of 1853, was only 335) was designed to reach Australia. The Great Eastern, however, was so big as to be uneconomical to operate in most cargo service, but found employment laying the transatlantic cable. (The grammatically inclined will enjoy Petroski’s note that the ship was almost renamed at the last minute after someone objected to a name consisting of two adjectives.)

The Panama Canal was at first a massive failure because the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, mastermind of the Suez Canal, was unprepared for the soil, topography, and diseases of Central America. U.S. demand for the canal shaped politics when the United States recognized a French engineer, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, as agent for the new Republic of Panama. Bunau-Varilla essentially gave away the store, offering even more generous terms* than the United States was asking for and sowing seeds of dissension that would last throughout the century.

The Ferris wheel was created by George Ferris for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which wanted a monumental centerpiece to rival the 984-foot Eiffel Tower of the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition—but Chicago didn’t want another tower. The first Ferris wheel, at 250 feet in diameter, was neither as tall nor as permanent as the Eiffel Tower, but it was memorable and much copied.

The Petronas Towers at 1,482 feet tall (28 feet higher than the Sears Tower in Chicago) are, for the time being, the world’s tallest buildings. (The Council on Tall Buildings decides such things, and does not count the 1,821-foot CN Tower in Toronto as a building.) The Petronas Towers’ record-setting height is intended to show off Malaysia as a major economic force in competition with its breakaway neighbor Singapore.

In producing these interesting vignettes, Petroski reminds those of us who work with technology that science and engineering are neither purely masters nor purely servants of society, but forces that both mold society and respond to it.

* The United States had offered Colombia $10 million and $250,000 annually for a 100-year lease on a strip 6 miles wide; Bunau-Varilla, in the name of Panama, offered the United States sovereign control of a strip 10 miles wide in perpetuity for the same price but with no annuity payments for the first 9 years.

Tainted Dawn coverA Tainted Dawn

By B. N. Peacock
Tucson, AZ: Fireship Press, 2012, 239 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Three young men—two English, one French—cross paths again and again in the late 1700s. The lad who gets the most attention is a sea captain’s son who inherits his father’s estate but struggles to keep it against the plotting of other relatives. Only a teenager, he is appointed a midshipman in the navy, and he faces severe disadvantages as he tries to prove himself. The other English boy is a fiddler and sometime carpenter who, mainly to escape troubles at home, runs away to sea and joins the same ship as the other boy. The young Frenchman is a revolutionary who is keeping his rebellion secret from his family; at one point he flees to the Caribbean, where the troubles in France are distant and revolution has not yet taken hold. Unknown to one another, they all cross paths in chapter one, and their fates are intertwined.

Their personal conflicts take place against the background of the French Revolution and a threat of war possibly involving England, France, and Spain. Much of the action takes place on board Royal Navy ships; other scenes include Paris, London, and the Caribbean. Peacock seems to have done her homework, with convincing details and dialogue. This is a well-crafted novel with well-drawn characters. It is intended as the first book of a trilogy, and the novel ends with the immediate tensions resolved but the characters’ future uncertain. My only complaints were that the first chapter introduced so many characters that I had trouble remembering who they all were, and that the book contained quite a few typos. Once immersed in the story, however, I found it hard to stop reading. I look forward to reading the next two books in the saga.

Transportation Systems Security coverTransportation Systems Security

By Allan McDougall and Robert Radvanovsky
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008
222 pp., $69.95 hardcover

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

Journal of Homeland Security, August 2010. Copyright 2010 Analytic Services. Reproduced by permission.

In Transportation Systems Security, the authors attempt to present the “strategic, operational, and practical considerations involved in the implementation of physical, procedural, and managerial safeguards required to keep all modes of transportation up and running during an actual or potential disaster.” Noting that “to deter or prevent something from happening … is generally inadequate,” they point readers toward an ambitious goal: a cycle of transportation security management that takes less time to detect and respond to an event than for the injury to take place.

The book offers some insight into the risks and vulnerabilities of transportation systems—especially how risk varies throughout the movement of cargo and people and how this changing risk must be addressed in planning and managing security. The authors point out that critical infrastructure protection “does not lie primarily with the protection of a given infrastructure but with the maintenance and protection of capacity across the transportation system.” The book even proposes a few innovative concepts, such as establishing an information sharing and assessment center “as a for-profit business.” It discusses topics such as system topography, mission analysis, risk mitigation, continuity of operations, trusted networks, learning systems, and fragility analysis. Everything is discussed in terms of strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Some of the chapters have good questions at the end.

But the writing is poor, marred by typos and frequent faults in English. Often it is tediously abstract or obtuse (for example, “Looking at efficiency and time, the perception begins to look at aspects of space”; also, the strategic level must “requite baseline levels” with requirements). The fictional ABC Transport used as a recurring example is, for the most part, sketchily drawn. Real-life case studies to illustrate the abstract principles would have been much better.

In many places, words seem to be missing, and it’s often hard to tell what meaning was intended (for example, “Although both these sides have some merit, some might reasonably argue that what needs for a balance between the two systems”). Elsewhere, possibly omitted words may reverse the likely meaning (for example, “Ignoring risk means that management remains accountable and responsible not for any losses associated with the risk …”—more likely, management is responsible for any losses; the word only may be missing after not: “not only for any losses”).

Some content seems unfinished, with the details never filled in, as in Table 1.1, which lists, as a “transport type,” “light rail,” followed by an “example”: “light rail.” The same table, while placing light rail in a separate category, lumps electric subways in with diesel commuter trains. Other content is quirky: Chapter two starts with an example trip that is surely a rarity: commuting between two cities by airplane; an introduction to transportation systems security should concentrate on typical transportation, not the peculiar.

The “Manager’s Working Tool” in Appendix B “is intended to assist managers in looking at their organizations in terms of infrastructure assurance and capacity management.” These 17 pages ought to be ready to use in an organization, but the five process flowcharts have type so small that the charts are barely legible.

On the whole, the book has some useful material, but it is probably not lucid enough for students of the subject or for managers to use on their own in creating a transportation systems security plan.

World According to Peter Drucker coverThe World According to Peter Drucker

By Jack Beatty
New York: The Free Press, 1998
188 pp.

Reviewed by Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, March-April 2000, copyright 2000 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

“Drucker,” writes Jack Beatty, “has been called every thing from ‘the father of management’ to ‘the man who changed the face of industrial America’ to ‘the one great thinker management theory has produced.’ On inspection these and other encomia about him turn out to be within caviling distance of being true.”

Beatty, senior editor of Atlantic Monthly, had edited several of Drucker’s articles but still considered himself a “rookie” at management theory. In this book Beatty has provided a critical portrait of Drucker’s work, summarizing the development of Drucker’s thought on management as expressed in more than two dozen books and revealed in personal interviews.

Drucker is a native of Austria, and his first published writings were anti-Fascist polemics. His career in management theory began with the 1939 publication of The End of Economic Man. This was followed by two college jobs teaching economics, by The Future of Industrial Man in 1942, and, in 1943, by a historic invitation to do an inside review of General Motors. (His recommendations—“self-governing” plants, guaranteed employment, and more—were turned down, but he never stopped exalting GM president Alfred P. Sloan as an ideal executive, and in the mid-1980s GM finally adopted many of Drucker’s management principles.)

In studying big corporations, Drucker discovered early on that managers had become accountable to no one but themselves. Unlike small companies in which the owners are also the managers, big corporations tended to be owned by stockholders and governed by boards who did not directly interfere with management (although stockholder and board involvement has increased in recent decades). This had profound social impact.

In The End of Economic Man, Drucker indicated the failure of capitalism to produce a just society. Much of his subsequent work has dealt with remaking society by changing the way corporations are managed. Responding to the dearth of accountability in corporate management, Drucker has, surprisingly for a management aficionado, been pro-union, writing that unionism “is a brace needed by a social body suffering from curvature of the spine,” and, “Modern society, a society of organizations each requiring strong management, needs an organ such as the labor union.” The need to control and direct corporations is a major theme of Drucker’s work. The reason is the corporation’s impact on people.

Although Drucker’s object of study is the corporation, his focus is on people. He is a philanthropist who devotes half his consulting effort to pro bono work and uses the Drucker Foundation to improve the management of nonprofits. “Those of us who have been spared the horrors in which our age specializes, who have never suffered total war, slave-labor camp or police terror, not only owe thanks, we owe charity and compassion,” he wrote in 1959.

This focus on people led to revolutionary conclusions: that employees are a resource, not a cost, and that managers should measure performance, not personality. “An employer has no business with a man’s personality,” Drucker wrote in 1974. “Employment is a specific contract calling for specific performance … An employee owes no ‘loyalty,’ he owes no ‘love’ and no ‘attitudes’—he owes performance and nothing else.” Yet one of Drucker’s fundamental goals has been to instill the “managerial attitude” in employees: to make them work as if they owned the company. Beatty notes that under this arrangement, “the employee … learns to live with the inherent instability of employment in an enterprise answerable to the market. This is industrial citizenship on management’s terms.”

But Drucker also proposed lifetime employment—a concept adopted by many companies in Japan, where Drucker’s concepts were first carried out in full measure. Conversely, Drucker has maintained that management concepts are good for about 20 years, and “lifetime” employment turns out to be much less than that when management adopts a new concept.

Flexibility is key to the Drucker concept of management. “It is certain that the unexpected will happen; but it is impossible to predict where, when, or how,” he wrote in Managing for the Future. “… the effective executive has to be able to recognize and run with opportunity” because, as he wrote elsewhere, “The major events that determine the future have already happened—irrevocably.” The managerial response, according to Drucker, is innovation. “Defending yesterday—that is, not innovating—is far more risky than making tomorrow.”

The risky business of innovation is an essential ingredient in Drucker’s concept of management, as is the latitude to take risks. “The better a man is,” according to Drucker, “the more mistakes he will make—for the more new things he will try. I would never promote a man into a top-level job who had not made mistakes, and big ones at that.”

He considers integrity to be another essential managerial quality. “Drucker,” writes Beatty, “sees integrity as a kind of social faith—residing in a generous attitude toward other people’s possibilities and a leniency toward their limitations.” He believes in giving people chances to succeed. He disagrees with most corporations’ emphasis on academic credentials in hiring and opposes “limiting access to opportunity to those with a diploma.”

“Drucker looks forward to the day when state legislatures will sponsor referenda to ban questions in employment applications about ‘educational status,’” writes Beatty, noting Drucker’s comment that academic ability is “an accident of birth, and not a very meaningful one at that.”

The man who coined the term “knowledge worker” does not equate knowledge with education. “Knowledge has become ‘the’ resource, rather than ‘a’ resource,” he says, but believes that the knowledge that is valuable to a corporation comes from experience and continued training, not just academia.

His emphasis is on performance, results, and entrepreneurship. The “Drucker dictum best known around the world,” writes Beatty, is “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: ‘to create a customer.’” The corporation must identify itself with meeting the needs of not only current customers, but those who should be customers in the future.

Drucker pans anything that detracts from this focus, including many business buzz words: “The moment people talk of ‘implementing’ instead of ‘doing,’ and of ‘finalizing’ instead of ‘finishing,’ the organization is already running a fever.” He abhors the term empowerment: “I hate the word empowerment and have never used it nor ever will.” He prefers the idea of the “Responsible Worker,” who “is not only … accountable for specific results but also who has authority to do whatever is necessary to produce these results and who, finally, is committed, Drucker continued, to these results as a ‘personal’ achievement.”

Although the Drucker philosophy has shaped corporate management for more than 50 years, his ideal of workers and managers with identical interests remains elusive. This is partly because his negative visions still often predominate: the fear engendered by insecure employment makes a worker “like a blindfolded man in a strange room, playing a game of which he does not know the rules; and the prize at stake is his own happiness, his own livelihood, even his life.”

Instead of work that is a personal achievement, “work appears as something unnatural, a disagreeable, meaningless and stultifying condition … devoid of dignity as well as importance. [The worker] is not a human being in a society, but a freely replaceable cog in an inhumanly efficient machine.”

But management, says Drucker, has come a long way. “The most important reason for focusing on business management is that it is the success story of the century.” Yet he realizes how far corporate America is from utopia when he says, “I couldn’t work in a large organization. They bore me to tears.”