My latest read – Embers of War

Fredrick Logevall won the 2013 Pulitzer for Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. Today America continues to hold a quiet, deep divide when looking inward to find the truth regarding our long nightmare in Vietnam.

Logevall traces America’s involvement to Paris at the end of World War I. A young Nguyen Ai Quoc sought support at the June 1919 Paris Peace Conference from US President Wilson. Quoc carried a declaration addressing a free Vietnam. He never met with Wilson.

At the conclusion of the conference Nguyen Ai Quoc, translated to mean “He Who Loves his Country” changed his name to Ho Chi Minh.

Embers of War

Astounding that in 1919 a young revolutionary could patiently wait 50 years for his opportunity to bring independence to Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh would become (much to our regret) one of the most famous revolutionaries in history.

He led his country to defeat two western powers in a devastating war that lasted over 30 years. His cause was a war of independence against the French and then the Americans.

Interesting to learn how well Ho Chi Minh understood America. He lived in Boston and New York City. He worked as a cook, a baker and later a production line manager for General Motors before returning to Europe.

Embers of War beautifully illustrates how the US State Department shifted policy from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman. It was only strengthened under Eisenhower. It is still difficult to imagine the level of initial support in men, money and weapons we gave to support Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh against French colonial rule after World War II. It is a stark wake up to read how CIA advisors met with Ho Chi Minh and our US Army units training his troops.

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Tableau 8.2 for OS X

Tableau will ship their 8.2 update supporting OS X on June 19 with a big release party in San Francisco. The emerging BI tool is getting a great UI on a great computer.Tableau for OS X

Tableau for OS X

Think like a freak

think like a freak

How many options do soccer players have before a penalty kick?

Think like a Freak, out TODAY from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner is really, really enjoyable. I would stop just about everything (In a perfect world) to read this cover to cover. More to come….

Dong Xoai and the required US shift in Vietnam

Moyar’s final chapter in Triumph Forsaken reveals his deep understanding of the 1965 Vietcong attack at Dong Xoai and the aftermath – yet another change in Saigon’s leadership. This closing chapter illustrates for Moyar the aggressive communist attacks taken throughout the central highlands as a synopsis for the war.

triumph forsakenWhat will surprise many unfamiliar with Vietnam’s countryside, the battle was just 100km (or 62 miles) from Saigon. One of the spoils of military victory is writing history. The NVA claims to have killed over 4,500 South Vietnamese and 77 Americans at the Dong Xoai battlefield. (via Google Maps)

Today this would shock Americans to think a massive Vietcong battle was fought less than a two hour drive to Saigon. As reference, the distance is shorter between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Cannot help but wonder about Moyar’s theme: South Vietnam was destined to collapse by 1965. Yes Johnson’s remark to historian Henry Graff “The worst mistake we ever made was getting rid of Diem” rings true. Regardless of Moyar’s short timeline American interests never groomed a worthy successor to Diem. Despite a series of aggressive communist attacks in the central highlands in early 1965 the role of the US military was still restricted by the White House at 72,000 Americans in country. At Dong Xoai a US Special Forces camp assigned only 20 Americans to support 400 local soldiers from two militia companies.

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Triumph Forsaken: The Prize for Victory

Moyar’s book Triumph Forsaken has a deep view in Chapter 16, The Prize for Victory: January–May 1965 regarding the risk Johnson faced in considering an exit strategy from Vietnam. Moyar has written an interesting aspect of America’s effort in defending Saigon after a less-than-stellar-efforts by the South Vietnamese Army throughout 1964.

triumph forsaken

Moyar’s view is Johnson lack of strong, even overpowering reprisals against the North in 1964 opened the door to global criticism of America’s policy in fighting communist expansion.

Was global domination reaching a tipping point? According to Moyar China was America’s threat not in 1964 but in the future. Russia was clearly not a long term threat.

Stemming the tide against growing communist expansion in Southeast Asia Moyar indicates the White House was measuring the geopolitical shifts within Asia and beyond.

In chapters 13: Self-Imposed Restrictions: January–July 1964 and chapter 14 Signals: August–October 1964 Moyar illustrates a range of points for the overall failure of the South Vietnamese Army to recover from previous confrontations with the North and Vietcong.

Moyar continues to see the failure of Ap Bac in early 1963 as a defining point for America’s policy. The South never recovered according to Moyar from Diem’s assassination. Did a real opportunity to pull out of Vietnam in 1965 impact Johnson? Moyar documents his view throughout Chapter 16:

In the event of a precipitate American withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson told his advisers on one occasion, the Southeast Asian nations would label the United States a “paper tiger,” and the United States would see its credibility plummet in the region …. Rusk informed the President on one occasion that if South Vietnam fell, the United States would lose its alliances with Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, and in addition the Chinese would dominate India, while America’s European alliances would remain intact.

During a meeting with Eisenhower in February, he read the former President a State Department message on Thailand as evidence of Vietnam’s international significance. In the message, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand described a discussion with Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman in these terms: “This morning, in my first meeting with Thanat after my return, I found him in a rosy glow over the vast improvement in morale throughout Southeast Asia as a result of American and South Vietnamese [air] strikes on North Vietnam.”

Ho Chi Minh told an African diplomat that a Vietnamese Communist victory would “help the people of all nations see that they need not be afraid of the Americans,” and that “once the United States is defeated in Vietnam it will never be able to win anywhere else in the world.”

Aside from France, which doggedly called for the neutralization of South Vietnam to gratify old grudges against the United States and assert its independence, the countries of NATO supported America’s stance on Vietnam. NATO’s Expert Working Group, composed of representatives from NATO countries small and large, asserted in the spring of 1965, “It remains a vital interest of the West to prevent a Communist victory in South Vietnam which would stimulate similar developments throughout Southeast Asia.” Many NATO nations – including the two most powerful, West Germany and Britain – said that America’s willingness to defend Vietnam was a key indicator of whether America would protect its allies not only in Asia but also in Europe.
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Tableau for Mac OS X

Tableau for OS X

Soon cannot be soon enough. The next version, 8.2 will run native on OS X with built in support for R and SAML, IPv6 and of course in 64-bit with a side of box and whisker plots.

Think Life a Freak

I have been a big fan of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They are about to release a new book Think Life a Freak on May 18th.  Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics are well known best sellers. They have an amazing ability to tell stories with data.

think like a freak

Telling stories with data has impacted other books that I have chosen to read including Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, Mark Penn’s Microtrends and Tom Davenport’s Competing on Analytics.

After Freakonomics I was pleased to see Levitt and Dubner make a movie with new stories that focused on the hidden side of everything.

And I found the movie very enjoyable. A few of the stories out of their original book while a new story focused on Chicago, their hometown.

The segment, paying high school students $500 for good grades simply brought out the ‘freak’ side of their research. At the same time I have wondered about how the impact of paying students in middle school may have a bigger impact on success rates.
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Moyar on Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam

triumph forsakenMark Moyar really opens up on journalists Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam in Chapter 7: Attack July-December 1962.

Moyar is attempting to mislead with broad, inaccurate generalizations as if Sheehan and Halberstam fell off the turnip truck and landed on a Smith corona typewriter south of Saigon.

Both Sheehan and Halberstam won Pulitzer Prizes for their Vietnam war coverage. Moyar’s most outrageous statement is that Halberstam “did more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Really? Even more than Sheehan or Dan Ellsberg publishing the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times?

But Moyar’s attacking statements on all journalists regardless of political view really misses the mark:

Representing the United Press International was a twenty-five-year-old named Neil Sheehan, who arrived in Saigon in April. Having just entered the profession of journalism, he was the youngest and most inexperienced reporter in a country full of young and inexperienced reporters.

Upon graduation from Harvard where he was editor of the campus literary magazine Harvard Advocate Neal Sheehan joined the Army serving from 1959-1962 in Korea, and Japan editing a weekly Army newspaper called The Bayonet. During this timeframe in Japan Sheehan also moonlighted in Tokyo for UPI. Upon his discharge he landed in Vietnam as UPI’s Saigon bureau chief.  It fair to say Sheehan understood Asia and the US Military operating in Southeast Asia. But here Moyar over reaches:

David Halberstam, who like Sheehan hailed from the Northeast and was a recent Harvard graduate. Halberstam was twenty-eight when he came to Vietnam. Before he left, fifteen months later, he would do more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Moyar’s neocon gloves come right off with his last statement. His position that Halberstam was a recent graduate also misses the mark.  Halberstam was the managing editor for the Harvard Crimson. In 1955 he turned down offers from big newspapers to cover Civil Rights and race issues in Mississippi. He left after just ten months when his editor did not want him focusing on those topics in a small town paper. He continued to cover the civil rights movement at The Tennessean in Nashville beginning in 1956.

In 1960 Halberstam was hired by the New York Times. After covering the Kennedy inauguration for six months in Washington D.C. he was assigned to the Congo to cover the war against Belgian colonialism. Then he was assigned to Vietnam when Diem kicked out the standing New York Times reporter.  Halberstam well understood struggles with colonialism.