Lesson 4: Maximize Efficiency

No person, company, or nation would be opposed to doing more with less. Successfully meeting goals on time and on budget is the goal of every organization in existence. No one wants to wait forever. No one wants to spend unnecessary money. No one wants to fail. McNamara’s fourth lesson is to maximize efficiency.

To support this lesson, McNamara takes us back to his time with the Army Air Corps during World War II. The United States was determined to strike the Japanese Home Islands with their new B-29 bombers. US transports flew fuel from India over The Hump to US airfields in China. When McNamara and his team analyzed the data, Continue reading

Lesson 3: There’s Something Beyond One’s Self

Whether one is religious or not, it is as incredible as it is unlikely that we exist. At some point, I wrote this. Right now, you are reading this. It is amazing. Yet, there are 6 billion more just like us, none more important than any other. McNamara’s third lesson is that there is something beyond one’s self.

We are flawed enough that we, in and of ourselves, are a pretty lousy goal. As such, McNamara was glad to have learned philosophy, logic, and ethics from his schooling at the University of California, Berkley. He took from Berkley the sense of responsibility to society that exemplified his career in public service. McNamara could have stayed President of Ford Motor Company for most of his life and retired a millionaire. Instead, he spent it serving his nation.

It’s difficult to derive some overarching message because the lesson’s “something” is going to be different for everyone. Continue reading

Lesson 2: Rationality Will Not Save Us

A lot of people misunderstand the moral of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many have looked at what transpired and drew the conclusion that leaders could manage a nuclear crisis. As long as everyone behaved rationally, they said – as long as everyone was logical and behaved in a manner that brought them closer to their goals – things would work out in the end. This ignores Robert McNamara’s forceful belief that “It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” McNamara’s second lesson is that rationality will not save us.

For rationality to save us, two things must be present. Continue reading

Lesson 1: Empathize with Your Enemy

Empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand their actions and goals. Empathy can help one understand what one’s adversaries want, allowing everyone to come to a mutually satisfying outcome without the use of military force and its attendant death and destruction. McNamara’s first lesson is to empathize with your enemies.

In the film, McNamara relates how empathy won the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wished to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. With Soviet cargo ships bringing the final supplies to activate the missiles, President Kennedy and his advisors had little time to decide a course of action. Continue reading

The Fog of War Introduction

War. War never changes.

Or so says the introduction of every game of the Fallout series. Whether fighting other nations, groups of bandits, or our merciless existence itself, the concept of war remains unchanged.

Except that war has changed.

War has always destroyed lives. War has always destroyed families. By the 1800s, war destroyed cities. However, when Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer, and others worked their magic, war has had the potential to destroy our world.

Enter Robert McNamara, officer of the US Army Air Corps, President of Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and President of the World Bank. Filmmaker Errol Morris conducted over twenty hours of interview with McNamara. The result is the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Fog of War.

As McNamara states seconds into the film,

Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he’s speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He’s killed people unnecessarily — his own troops or other troops — through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But, he hasn’t destroyed nations.

And the conventional wisdom is don’t make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. They’ll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you’re going to destroy nations.

The Fog of War is, in many ways, McNamara’s swan song, the culmination of twenty-five years of public service. The film takes us through Morris and McNamara’s eleven lessons of war, a rubric to minimize death and destruction in the 21st Century.

Jump to a lesson:
Introduction
Lesson 1: Empathize with Your Enemy
Lesson 2: Rationality Will Not Save Us
Lesson 3: There’s Something Beyond One’s Self
Lesson 4: Maximize Efficiency
Lesson 5: Proportionality Should Be a Guideline in War
Lesson 6: Get the Data
Lesson 7: Belief and Seeing Are Often Both Wrong
Lesson 8: Be Prepared to Re-examine Your Reasoning
Lesson 9: In Order To Do Good, You May Have To Engage in Evil
Lesson 10: Never Say Never
Lesson 11: You Can’t Change Human Nature
Conclusion

How Do We Know When It’s Time to Leave?

When you promise the world, people expect the world. When you promise “light at the end of the tunnel”, people expect the end of the war. They don’t expect the largest enemy attack of the conflict. They don’t expect fighting inside the US embassy compound. They don’t expect this. They no longer believed a word you said. We left. And we did so “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

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Every once in a while, I am reminded that fairy-tale romances are just that. It only takes once to shake any illusion to the contrary. As happy as things can be, it only takes one issue. My issue. She can try to help. She can do what she can. But if it’s not enough, who can blame her for leaving? I can be upset over how it happened, but that it happened? No.

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How do you leave a place you never should have been in the first place? Awkwardly, I assume. “Hey, guys. Yeah, so I guess there weren’t weapons of mass destruction or Al-Qaeda… uh, sorta like you said. So, yeah, sorry about the militias, the sectarian violence, and the 150,000 dead. I don’t know what else I can do, so see you round, I guess…”

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It’s not always my fault, though. Sometimes it isn’t. If you aren’t happy with something, do something about it. We can’t choose our trials. We can’t choose our tribulations. We can choose our attitude. We can choose how to confront life’s difficulties. Taking it out on me until I dreaded conversation probably wasn’t the best way to do it. In the end, there was just nothing left to talk about.

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Sometimes, there isn’t that moment. That instant where everything becomes painfully clear that this isn’t going to end the way we wished. Was it when we bombed that wedding? Or tortured that taxi driver? Or lost the police power? When you put it that way, it’s amazing we’re still there at all. But, come the end of 2014, we’re done.

Why? Just like any anything else: When you’ve done your best and you’re out of ideas, it’s time to leave.

How Much We Don’t Know

It was after a knock-down, drag-out political argument that my uncle said something profound.

We were celebrating Easter, and without any decent sports on television, our post-dinner conversation turned to politics. Even a moderate, much less a social liberal like myself, would have been the odd person out. Phrases like “those people” (Hispanics, Muslims), “that stuff” (Homosexuality), and best of all, “White people are the only minority left” were tossed around without reflection or critical thought.

I was too angry to be articulate and I failed to educate. Thankfully, one of my uncles saved the conversation, and my sanity, by saying that we’d all be better off “if everyone knew they’re not as smart as they think they are.”

On one level, that’s not enough. It’s too easy for someone to say “no one is as smart as they think they are” and believe that means that everyone is equally knowledgeable about anything. Neither my father nor I are as smart as we think we are, but that doesn’t mean our opinions on farming or social history are equivalent. They are not.

However, my uncle was right, assuming we take it the right way. Continue reading

Green Energy & National Security

With all due respect to necessity, war is the mother of all invention.

Need to find planes? Invent radar. Need to find submarines? Invent sonar. Need to wipe out cities? Split the atom. Need to beat the Soviets to the moon? Invent the math and technology required to do so.

If green energy and renewable fuels will be necessary for future military conflict, perhaps we should stop presenting them as environmental issues and instead frame them as matters of national security.

After all, how many years of economically sensible oil consumption remain? 30? 45? 60? A little more than that? Do we really need to wait for dire circumstances to develop an alternative means to operate tanks, trucks, aircraft, and warships? Being an innovator in this regard would give our nation a massive strategic advantage, not only placing us ahead of the international curve, but no longer making us dependent upon Middle Eastern despots for our energy needs.

If a Minnesota high schooler can turn floating plants into biodiesel, don’t tell me our nation’s finest scientists and engineers can’t get this done with a little gumption and a whole lot of funding.

The best news is that once alternate fuels become a national security concern, funding becomes infinite and criticism becomes irrelevant. The list of Defense Department cost overruns and cancelled military programs stretches a mile long.

In the end, everyone wins. Politicians get votes. The military gets money and new toys. The defense industry gets to build the things. America enjoys long-term security and energy stability. The entire planet reaps the environmental benefits. The only losers are the oil companies, who will either need to invest in something else or fall back to their GIANT FUCKING PILES OF MONEY.

The only missing ingredient is a leader with long-term vision and political courage. I’m not holding my breath either, but I will be thinking about this in 2016. Money talks, but an informed, intelligent electorate is far louder.

Sea of Troubles

Oppression. Revolution. 80,000 dead. I am hesitant by nature, but this does not often apply to my intellectual proclamations. We get involved or we don’t. We send weapons or we don’t. We invade or we don’t. Yet, the Syrian Civil War reduces me to Hamlet, putting off making a decision as to what must be done.

Or mustn’t.

I know many truths, as well as the truths that contradict those truths. Continue reading