Lesson 5: Proportionality Should Be a Guideline in War

During General Sherman’s March to the Sea during the American Civil War, Sherman wrought as much destruction as he could. His goal was to sap the South of both the means and the will to fight. He scoured the countryside for supplies and killed livestock. Rail twisted around trees became known as a “Sherman necktie.” His motto was simple: “War is hell.” Although McNamara would not disagree with Sherman, his fifth lesson is that proportionality should be a guideline in war.

If two things are proportional, they are equivalent or roughly equal. McNamara suggests that damage inflicted in a time of war should be proportional to one’s goals. He does not advocate “taking it easy” on one’s opponents. He is not suggesting a nation fail to get the job done. He is saying we should strive to kill only as much as necessary to achieve our objectives.

In 1945, the United States began bombing Japan using incendiary weapons. 51% of Tokyo was destroyed, killing 100,000. Continue reading

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 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

A Disorderly Revolution

(Editor’s Note: This is a pretty solid college essay I finished in 2006. It is an answer to the question “Was the French Revolution orderly?” I hope you get something from it.)

The French Revolution poses an interesting question:  How can an idea based on freedom and scientific reasoning lead to such tremendous chaos?  After witnessing what could be described as a model revolution in the Americas, middle-class French yearned for more personal freedom and political power.  With the ideas of the Enlightenment in their minds and money being stripped from their pockets as a solution to the financial crisis, the middle-class saw their opportunity to throw off what they considered the yoke of the oppressing nobles. Although the French Revolution began as noble and orderly, the revolutionaries became divided, leading to The Terror, which forever left a stain of chaos and disorder on the Revolution.

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.

Blacks in America’s Formative Wars: Racism from Without and Within

(Editor’s Note: This is a college essay I finished in 2006. It’s one of the better papers I wrote during college. I hope you get something from it.)

African-Americans have been fighting for the United States since the term “American” was created.  What is more incredible is that Black Americans have consistently died for people who hate them and a country that ignores their needs.  Throughout our nation’s early military history and beyond, African-Americans have gone to war to prove their worth and gain the rights denied to them while enduring racism from friend and foe alike.

Race and Racism

Race is a social construction used by people to classify humankind into easy to differentiate groups.  While it would be possible to develop a system of race based on anything from eye color to fingerprint type, skin color was chosen, probably due to the fact that it is recognizable even from long distances.  Racism, however, is more difficult to define.  Some define racism as the idea that race determines ability or the belief that one race is superior to another.  The definition advocated by Dr. Tatum explains racism as “prejudice plus power.”1  Tatum believes that prejudice needs institutionalization before it becomes racism.  In this fashion, only those who benefit from racism can be racist.  While this is a delicate topic, the racism endured by Black soldiers was so blatant that no argument about semantics is necessary.

The Right Revolution

(Editor’s Note: This is a college essay I finished in 2006. It’s one of the better papers I’ve written. I hope you get something from it.)

A revolution of some sort had been due in China since the onset of the decline of the Qing Dynasty. As China’s “old order” became more and more untenable, various rebels and reformers attempted, without success, to halt China’s decline. It took the “right” revolution to renew an ailing nation. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the failure of various reformers, the Communist Revolution finally succeeded in ending the decline because it was truly revolutionary, offered a system to replace Confucianism, and united the nation.

The Causes and Conduct of The Flight of the Nez Perce

(Editor’s Note: This is a college essay I finished in 2006. It’s one of the best papers I’ve ever written and it’s about one of my favorite figures in  American History. I hope you get something from it.)

In September of 1805, several Nez Perce children were approached by mysterious creatures riding on horseback.  The Nez Perce noted the hair on their faces, thinking that perhaps they were descendents of some sort of canine (Nerburn, 4).­­­  The Nez Perce took in the disheveled travelers and helped them restore the strength they had lost during their long journey.  The Nez Perce provided the weary voyagers with food and a place to rest while the Dog Men generously gave gifts to the Nez Perce and amazed them with guns and modern medicine.

This was “first contact” between the Nez Perce and America.  The “Dog Men” were none other than Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery.  Lewis and Clark parted on amiable terms with the Nez Perce; so much so that when they returned, they saw a Nez Perce chief flying the American flag they had given him (Nerburn, 6).

Unfortunately, the Nez Perce, like many Native American tribes and nations before them, would become a proud people nearly destroyed by the avarice of the Whites.  Despite their early friendship, the relationship between the Nez Perce and the Whites would soon sour due to the hypocrisy of early missionaries and settlers and a basic misunderstanding of Nez Perce culture by the Federal Government. These factors would produce the grievances that would culminate in the epic “Flight” of the Nez Perce.

Thoreau: Justice by Any Means

(Editor’s Note: This is a college essay I finished in 2005. It’s one of the best papers I’ve ever written and it’s about one of my favorite figures in  American History. I hope you get something from it.)

In many ways, Henry David Thoreau has been seen as the darling of American pacifists and peace activists.  Thoreau has certainly given contemporary nonviolence activists reason to praise him.  After all, he did write “Civil Disobedience,” the clearest articulation of the purpose of and logic behind nonviolent resistance.  Although an American classic, “Civil Disobedience” is perhaps more famous for being Gandhi’s guide to nonviolent resistance.1  Despite the laurels bestowed upon him by non-violent resisters, Thoreau was much more concerned with establishing a truly just government than limiting the means by which he was willing to achieve that end.