Tag Archives: military

583. Mutually Assured Destruction

I taught middle school science for twenty-seven years, and every year I taught the manned space program. It was never called for in the required curriculum, but I always managed to shoehorn it in while still teaching everything I was required to. It wasn’t just because I loved the subject, although I did. There were plenty of things in science that I loved but never mentioned.

The plain fact is that seventh graders don’t listen unless you excite them, and the manned space program was exciting.

Here is a schtick I used in my middle-school classroom all through the eighties and nineties. The subject was, “What motivated Americans who didn’t care about space to spend billions to outrun the Russians in the Space Race?”

I would choose two pushy, self-assured young guys and call them to the front of the room. I would put them face to face, about ten feet apart, and say, “Now, imagine each of you has a .45 automatic, and each of you hates the other one. We’ll call one of you America and the other Russia. I don’t want to insult you, so I won’t say which is which.

“Point your guns at each other. (They would gleefully assume the position.) If either one of you fires, the other will have just time enough to pull the trigger, too. You will both go down. If you sneeze, though, you’re a goner. If you blink, you’re a goner. If you look away, same thing.

“Now hold that pose for fifty years.”

Clearly, I couldn’t get away with that today, but this was pre-Columbine. My kids were thinking about cops and robbers, not  a terrorist who was out to kill them.

Do I have to point out that the guns represented the American and Soviet nuclear armed arsenal of missiles? It was a demonstration of Mutually Assured Destruction, also known by its entirely appropriate acronym MAD. If either side had attained an overwhelming superiority in number of missiles, the delicate balance would have been disrupted. Witness the Soviet’s parading their missiles in Moscow, and taking them several times around the block to look like they had more than they did.

The balance could be disrupted by having missiles closer to the enemy than the enemy did to us. Witness secret American missile bases in Turkey, on the Soviet border, which led them to put missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was not an unprovoked Soviet threat.

The balance would have also been disrupted by an effective missile defense system. There is no such thing as defensive in the MAD scenario.

What does this have to do with space travel? Two things, one positive and one negative. The entire business was a race for the nuclear high ground. If either side had managed to put an orbital missile platform into orbit, it would have been bad news for the other side. That was not possible, so each side tried to maximize their capabilities in space while proving to the hundred plus other nations on the Earth that they were the firstest with the mostest.

I would repeat that in Russian if I could write Cyrillic.

All this turned into the Space Race, culminating in a manned lunar landing, It’s nice that something good came out of all that nonsense.

The other side of the coin was a reinforcement of fear of nukes, whether it was bombs, powerplants, or space drives. In the fiction of the sixties, the solar system was filled with nuclear powered spacecraft. In the real world, fear killed the idea.

Should we have nuclear spacecraft? I think so, but it isn’t for me to say. It isn’t for you to say, either. It isn’t even for the people to say.

Why? Because we’ve shifted our focus from the Russians to the Chinese.

If history is a guide, we will have a nuclear spacecraft — a few years after the Chinese launch their first one. We’ll be running behind and playing catch-up as usual.

Remember Sputnik?

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571. Nothing New Under the Sun

There is nothing new under the sun, but the old things keep coming back to poke you in the eye, and it all seems interconnected.

On MLK day I talked about growing up and shaking off racism. Then I talked about America’s love affair with great men who really aren’t all that great.

That led to a back and forth in the comments in which I talked about trying to teach truth in American schools, by using the space program as an example. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to remind my younger readers of the incredible reality of what was happening fifty years ago in space exploration.

On President’s Day and we looked at the last half century’s sad and depressing crop of leaders.

Then it all came together in one coincidental discovery. I bought a copy of Apollo in Perspective by Jonathan Allday to fill in some gaps in my knowledge, and found this inserted as an epilog:

Men who have worked together to reach the stars are not likely to descend together into the depths of war and desolation. Lyndon B. Johnson, 1958

I need to insert three paragraphs of blank space here, to express my incredulity.

In 1958, Sputnik had just been launched. America was in a panic. The bureaucrats and the military were fighting (as usual) and the result was that American satellites were not being launched. The space program had begun in fear, riding on rockets which had been designed to carry nuclear warheads, and fueled by the terror those same warheads represented. Men were not working together to reach space; countries were working against each other for the best capacity to wage war.

Not only was every word in the quotation a lie, it was all a set of lies that no one could have believed, even then. Every word was the exact opposite of the truth, even as contemporary Americans understood the truth.

And all this from Lyndon Johnson, who would, a decade later, give us the Viet Nam war.

It seems that the greatest of our achievements and the most poignant of our failures remain inexorably intertwined. I guess that’s the human condition, but it’s hard to take sometimes.

568. Presidents Day

I agonized over this post more than any in memory. I am not completely cynical, and the presidents I address, even the worst of them, also did things worthy of the office. I came back to this post a dozen times after I wrote it to ask myself, “Do I really want to say these things?” The answer is, “No.” But I will say them anyway, because the truth is the truth.

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Presidents Day. Humm.

We used to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday, and ignored the rest of them. That wasn’t such a bad system. It allowed us to avoid linking Andrew Jackson with his betters.

How about our recent Presidents? Should we celebrate them?

John Kennedy. I have a friend who grew up in Boston and would punch out anyone who spoke against JFK, but let’s tally up what he really did. He lost the Bay of Pigs by abandoning the Cuban insurgents he had encouraged. He faced Khruschchev over the Cuban Missile crisis so let’s give credit for that, but he also sent Americans to Vietnam. Kennedy supporters claim he would have pulled out, if he had lived, but who knows. The jury will always be out of what might have happened.

Lyndon Johnson. He has massive accomplishments pushing through Kennedy’s programs and his own War on Poverty, but he also lied to the American people, lied to Congress, and conducted a secret war including massive bombings outside Vietnam. He, and Nixon after him, are responsible for over three million unnecessary  deaths. There is no responsible way to avoid calling him a war criminal.

Richard Nixon. Watergate, of course; it hardly needs repeating. He also opened up China and got us out of Vietnam by declaring that our defeat was a victory, and then running like hell. I really don’t know what else anyone could have done by that time, but why did he wait all those years and waste all those lives before telling the Big Lie? Maybe to win a second term.

Gerald Ford. They say his pardon saved the country from division and heartache. I say it only gave later Presidents bad ideas that should have been squelched fifty years ago by trying Nixon for his crimes.

Jimmy Carter. An attack on an embassy is an attack on American soil, but Carter sat impotent in the White House through the Iran hostage crisis.

Ronald Reagan. Tax cuts for the wealthy. Trickle down economics that never trickled down. Also the Iran-Contra affair in which Regan himself avoided punishment but fourteen members of his administration were indicted.

George H. W. Bush. “Read my lips.” Actually, going back on his promise regarding taxes was an act of courage that probably cost him a second term. That honorable act was sullied when he pardoned those convicted in Iran-Contra.

Bill Clinton. Plenty of good ideas, but we just remember him as the man who couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

George W. Bush. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”, and other stumble-statements too numerous to list and too painful to remember.

Barack Obama. I like the man, but I spend eight years cussing under my breath at some of the foolish things he did.

Donald Trump. I once said I didn’t consider Trump evil, just foolish. Subsequent events suggest that I was probably wrong. His fake declaration of emergency pretty much clinches matters.

Were these the best men in America?

Let’s celebrate President’s Day by taking a hard look at what’s coming our way in 2020. They don’t all look good. Let’s vow to make better choices for the future.

Lincoln and Washington, where are you?

545. Lottery Day at the Big Casino

Rep. Pirnie draws the first number.

The place was a class at Michigan State University, just about this time fifty years ago. I wasn’t in the room, so I may be wrong on a few details, but the basic story spread quickly all over campus.

The professor was a young radical. There were a lot of those at MSU in the late 60s. Finals were near when he announced that grades would be given out a little differently this year. He opened a notebook and began to call roll. As he did, an assistant drew notes from a bowl. The professor read, “Adams.” The assistant took a folded paper from the bowl, opened it, and said C. The professor read, “Baker,” and the assistant said F.

As you may guess, it left the room in an uproar. I’m sure the actual grades were given in the normal manner, but the young professor had made his point.

About a week later, a similar lottery took place nationwide, televised, and determined life or death for thousands of young Americans. I was listening closely, because I was a contestant. It was the first draft lottery since World War II.

There were three of us paying attention, my two college roommates and I. One of them didn’t have to worry; he had blown his knee out as a high school wrestler and was 4-F. That’s a medical deferment. The other roommate and I were on student deferments, but we were both going to graduate in June. He drew a high number and never served. I wasn’t so lucky.

I have said often that the draft leveled the playing field. It was a favorite saying in that era that Viet Nam was a war where black people were sent to kill yellow people for the sake of white people. Without the draft, that would have been even closer to the truth.

I wasn’t feeling so charitable when that bastard got to my birthday and pulled a 41.

Ain’t it fun to gamble in the big casino?

540. Where Are the Vets?

Here are some statistics, tailored for those who read this blog. I know most of you are young. I see your pictures on your likes, and I check out your websites.  I’m not young, so I see changes you may not be aware of.

Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and both presidents Bush all served in the military in wartime. Regan and Bush Two served stateside in wartime; the others all saw combat.

Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump did not serve.

In the current House of Representatives only 70 of 435 have served in the military. In the current Senate, only 13 of 100 have served. Those numbers will go up slightly with the incoming congress.

Veterans were not so under represented in previous congresses.

These figures relate the the reduced number of persons in the military. That is not quite the same as a smaller military, since the persons now serving tend to spend more years in service. Draftees from previous eras tended to go home as soon as they were allowed to do so.

I come from a long line of draftees. My father served in Europe in WW II, was wounded, and remained during the occupation of Germany. His younger brother was drafted, trained, and was on a ship “heading for Japan to die” (his words) when the US dropped the A bomb. He ended up in the occupation of Japan. I joined the Navy, Vietnam era, but not by choice. My draft number was 41, which meant my number was up (in both senses of the word) before I finished college. And no, I did not see combat.

I hated the draft and I still do, but it had one positive aspect. It leveled the playing field. More Americans had to step up, whether they wanted to or not, and that led to more protests. Without the draft, we would have been in Vietnam much longer.

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the end of WW I. All those veterans are gone. WW II ended in 1945. Very few of the vets from my father’s generation are still around.

America left Vietnam in 1973. Any vet who saw that day at age 18 would be 63 today. That was also the last  year American’s were drafted.

I’m not suggesting a return to the draft, God forbid. I have no particular agenda at all; I just want to give you this to think about.

A country which everyone has to defend, or at least has to stand in jeopardy of military service, is a very different thing from a country that depends on a volunteer military.

Better? Worse? That will be your decision going forward.

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The numbers in this post come from PBS.

521. The Eve of Battle

I was cleaning my computer of half started blog posts when I came across this quotation. It comes from the last pages of Scourge of Heaven, the sequel to Valley of the Menhir. This excerpt comes from a time when most of the action is over, when the godly battles have been won and lost, and the only task left for Tidac is stopping the human armies that have gathered in the Mariatrien Plains to do battle.

By this time Tidac is in full possession of his power. He lets his ai move from mind to mind, considering those who will stand on the verge of death when the morning comes and the armies move against each other.

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Limiakos was king. He strode where others walked. He kept his head high, while those around him bowed. He looked at the men before him and knew that they would do what he told them to do. He walked with armed men at the left of him and armed men at the right of him, and all men feared him.

Limiakos and his kind are rare among men. If they seem common, it is only because they always make themselves so visible. Tidac had no use for them.

Such men are the leavening; they are not the loaf. Tidac set them aside and touched the others, those common men who make up the bulk of armies, and the bulk of mankind. Men neither overpoweringly good nor overpoweringly evil; men with mild ambitions and small accomplishments. Men herded to battle and taught to hate a faceless enemy. Men who die without any real understanding of the issues they decide.

For such men, the movement of nations has no reality beyond the slogans they are taught. The rise and fall of dynasties has only dim and distant meaning for them. To such men, this is reality — a woman in the night, a meal when they are hungry, a warm fire, a dry place away from the rain and perhaps, if they are among the lucky ones, a child to protect and teach.

To such men, death is the reality. The last reality they ever confront and its lessons live through eternity. If such men knew while still living, that which they learn in the moment of their deaths, there would be no wars.

514. Space Force

As a die-hard space fan you might think I would like Trump’s Space Force idea, but I’m too much wedded to reality. This is just another publicity stunt, although there is a real history behind it.

The Russians had an independent Space Force from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2001 to 2011. Then they gave it up and made it a sub-set of the Russian air force. That’s not as sexy, but it makes more sense. It is also the way we have things organized here in the United States.

The poor Air Force! They have made a career out of trying to make space their domain, only to be slapped in the face by bureaucracy. Do you remember project MISS? No? Nobody else does either. MISS (Man In Space Soonest) was a plan to put a man in a capsule and shoot him into space on top of a converted ICBM. Now does it sound familiar? It was an Air Force project that was handed over to NASA and became Project Mercury.

The Air Force followed up with project Dyna Soar, which would have put a winged vehicle on top of a rocket. It was cancelled because the money was needed for NASA. At the top of the post that is an artist’s impression of Dyna Soar landing at Edwards AFB after a mission.

Then the Air Force designed the Manned Orbital Laboratory, a black program which would have been America’s first space station. Cancelled; this time not by bureaucracy, but because of unexpected advances in unmanned satellites which made it obsolete before it flew.

The Air Force did provide input into the design of the Space Shuttle, and got to do some black missions. What were they? Beats me; they were secret.

The Air Force had a hand in several post-shuttle projects which never went to completion and finally got their own space ship in the X-37b. Sadly, it was unmanned.

As you can see, I’ve been writing a lot about all this. If you click on these four links, you will have a thumbnail history of NASA vs. the Air Force in a battle for space.

Now Trump wants to take space away from the Air Force altogether, but don’t blame him. He probably knows less about this than I do, and I am just an amateur enthusiast. Maybe he should click four times.

Enough of the latest publicity stunt. In Cyan, my explorers coming back from the Procyon system also faced a conflict that had been going on between NASA and a military space force while they were away. Here’s a quote:

All seemed well, on the surface, but something profound was happening to the people of Earth. They were waking up to reality. When interstellar exploration had begun, few had taken it seriously. Now the process was flushed with success, and that success carried the seeds of its own downfall.

Suddenly, all over Earth, people who had been indifferent to space travel, except to mutter about a waste of resources, became truly aware of what was happening. And they didn’t like it. In the vague common mind of the beast, numbers began to move in slow, painful calculations.

A few thousand colonists; billions of the rest of us.

They — the rich, the powerful, the smart, the educated, the lucky — they will go to the stars and walk the green valleys of paradise. We — the downtrodden, the ordinary, the workers, the plodders, the ones who really make things happen, the ones who always get screwed — in short, you and me. We will stay behind.

In the general elections of 2103, and in a hundred scattered elections and revolutions in 2104, the people of Earth turned on their leaders and said with a loud voice that the spacers who brought in the ore from the belt, and the workers of L-5, and especially those who were finding new worlds, were no longer heroic friends but dangerous enemies. They would no longer be given freedom to do as they pleased, but would be harnessed to the common good.

This was the Earth Darwin returned to in 2105. When Tasmeen signaled Ganymede Station, she received a taped reply.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different from when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists … because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Yeah, Tasmeen. Me, too.