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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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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Latest read: Corporate Agility

How do organizations compete today?  Corporate Agility: A Revolutionary New Model for Competing in a Flat World provides a good reference on how major US companies have adopted a new business model for competing in a flat world.

corporate agilityAfter reading Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century book series on globalization and the breakthrough work by Jerry Wind and Victor & William Fung in Competing in a Flat World: Building Enterprises for a Borderless World.

I found chapters in Corporate Agility a fit perfectly to the above works.  Corporate Agility supports business case studies throughout the book that span a wide range of industries with lessons for all who are seeking new models for business in the 21st globalized century.

The strongest chapter is early in the book surrounding the shift in company buildings and the move to a mobile workforce that permits companies to break expensive building leases and create smaller ‘offices’ with limited administrative staff and resources.

I have experienced these efforts directly in working with clients who have been forced to trim staff and yet end up in an dry office complex with over 50% of their office cubes empty.

Actually I’m reminded of a PR company who hired temporary workers to “work” in all their empty cubes while a potential client made an office visit.  Needless to say they did not understand the basics of a company’s need for agility as described in the book.

I feel the early chapters of Corporate Agility is an expansion of The World Is Flat while the book’s case studies just touch the surface that is presented in detail by Competing in a Flat World.

Corporate Agility’s book website

Latest read: On the Brink

A financial crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson faced the largest crisis in our country’s modern history with a great opportunity.  His first hand account of the near collapse of our financial economy is detailed in On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System.
on the brinkHis strongest writing are the 20 pages in the book’s Afterward, written one year after his departure from Treasury with the opportunity to look back and reflect upon the events and the solutions including TARP and the role of the G20.

Paulson was certainly the right type of person for the job having served as the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs.  He previously served in the Nixon administration as an assistant to John Ehrlichman during the Watergate scandal.

Although reluctant to accept the job as United States Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, Paulson acknowledged upon his arrival in Washington a credit crisis was on the horizon.  Clearly Paulson notes he was naive of regulatory powers in Washington and any suggestions of financial reform in an election year were all dead on arrival.

It’s worth repeating that between March and September 2008, eight major US financial institutions failed — Bear Stearns, IndyMac, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual and Wachovia.  Six of them in September alone.
Paulson jumps right out of the gate on page 1 as all Americans would have wanted:

Do they know it’s coming Hank? President Bush asked me.  “Mr. President we’re going to move quickly and take them by surprise.  The first sound they’ll hear is their heads hitting the floor….For the good of the country I proposed we seize control of the companies, fire their bosses and prepare to provide $100 billion of capital support for each.”

Regrettably its not Wall Street but rather Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government backed lending institutions (GSEs) that Paulson is addressing.  Paulson should could have done the same for Lehman, Bear Stearns.and ALL the other institutions since they received taxpayer money to keep them afloat….on their yachts.
–When you learn that someone at a financial company made a 1 Billion bonus (yes a billion for one person) you can see where the ship was heading…right into the rocks.

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Latest read: The Next 100 Years

I was looking forward to George Friedman‘s The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.  I found this to be a very compelling read due to the simple nature that predictions in general are always horribly incorrect.

the next 100 yearsFriedman’s background provides a true global, military view of the world’s future and his role at Stratfor, a global intelligence service provides direction to his book.

Yet I could not help but think twice about some of the aspects of his work.  I agree with his points that in the future countries including Poland can become a superpower, but at the same time to predict in 40 years America will be at war with Mexico after fighting Japan and Turkey are a bit…on the surface, a stretch.

For the strangest reason Friedman seems to be able to tie some of his predication today.  Following the fall of the USSR and the Orange Revolution not many would predict that Ukraine and Russia would sign a joint agreement in April 2010 to keep Russian Naval forces in their former communist republic in Sevastopol.

At the same time his prediction of Poland’s coming success as a global power could not have taken into account the April 2010 tragedy in Katyn. I do not believe this will stop Poland from gaining power in the future, but it appears to be slowing down (potentially) the process by a decade.
I do feel the first half of the book hold chapters that are solid and well written:

Chapter 1: The Dawn of the American Age
Chapter 2: Earthquake: The US – Jihadist War
Chapter 3: Population, Computers and Culture Wars
Chapter 4: The New Fault Lines
Chapter 5: China 2020: The Paper Tiger

However Chapters 6 – 13 layout the world order from 2020 to 2080.  Again the further out the more difficult to predict IMHO.  Interesting reading for sure since most today would never foresee Mexico winning a war against America.

Tags: The Next 100 years, George Friedman, 21st Century, America, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, future, reading, trends

Latest read: Our Choice

Al Gore’s latest book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis should be considered by anyone interested in learning how the world can conserve resources with next generation technologies to reduce the globe’s carbon footprint.

 Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate CrisisIts easy to think this book is a political sequel to An Inconvenient Truth. That would be a mistake. The book has set off all the political rhetoric one would expect.

I found Chapter 11: Population rather interesting and worth the read alone.  Clearly we live in a world that is experiencing a sustained population boom in China and India.

This brings ultra-large scale social responsibility as well.  The impact of population on energy and food is obviously critical but the underlying issue on this still taboo subject must be moved to the forefront.

How will China and India care, feed and shelter their children?  More importantly how can green fuels be utilized in favor of coal and other cheap, outdated solutions?  There are options.

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Latest read: The Post-American World

Most recognize Fareed Zakaria from his CNN show Fareed Zakaria GPS. His book The Post-American World is an enjoyable read. The bottom line:  The US is not falling behind but rather (quite simply) the world is catching up.  Some amazing technologies are lifting the citizens of the poorest third world countries.
The biggest elephant called out in his book is America’s educational system. It needs a much required re-boot in order to compete against tomorrow’s globalized students who have access to free, powerful computing tools including Linux, or new technology like water pumps in Africa.  He references Tom Friedman‘s The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century which I found to be a great read as well.

Zakaria is able to simply convey that America remains the top country for innovation, technology and intellectual property but India and China are catching up fast by introducing more of their citizens to the global economy.  India is first only in population growth while their level of poverty slowly dropped.

While true to some extent the reader may be surprised to see the detail about how splintered Al-Qaeda has become.  In Iraq for example the aim of this terrorist group has moved from targeting American and Israel to fighting other Muslim warlords and religious groups for control of Al-Qaeda’s future.

It should be noted Zakaria also addresses the issues of global climante and energy.  But to again point to Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America not a lot of new ideas or information.

Overall Zakaria’s book is a gentle wake up call for America and is much smoother on the American reader than Mark Steyn’s America Alone.  The war in Iraq and Afghanistan while critical, reveals Al-Qaeda‘s struggle since 9/11 to deliver any significant violence on American soil.  Why?  Zakaria’s position is that Bin Laden has been so tightly curtailed, his organization still under a microscope has evolved into a communications company and is no longer a true terrorist organization.

China’s internet growth tops US

To no surprise globalization is bringing the world closer together and thereby making commerce “smaller” and faster as global financial markets increase the efficiency of established information systems.  Recent growth of internet penetration has changed dramatically.  Today China has more internet users than America has citizens.

internet users worldwide June 2009
internet users worldwide June 2009

Consider this form IF you can image everyone you know connected, literally everyone in the USA — then you would see China has surpassed our population.  With almost 75% of Americans connected implications are huge since China has only 20% of its population connected.  I blogged about this impact with YouTube in March.

Original graphic

Tags: Internet Users, China, population, internet growth, internet, economy, trends

Chinese cyberattacks on US Government

This does not leave me sleeping well at night.  It should bother you:

“When the US Department of Defense is the target of no fewer than 128 information infrastructure attacks per minute from China, and we discover that while DoD is almost universally using off-the-shelf Microsoft Windows systems while China is engaged in working toward 100% military deployment of security hardened FreeBSD, it becomes clear that there’s definitely something wrong with US information security policy.”

Source: TechRepublic

The amount of cyber attacks from foreign countries is pretty amazing.  K12 School Districts are not amune from foreign attacks either.

Tags: China, network, The Great Firewall of China, globalization, national security, Microsoft Windows, Censorship, education, technology, trends

Latest read: Who Controls the Internet?

Think the internet is still the wild west?  Think again.  In a new update of Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World law professors Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu share how the long arm of foreign governments still can stretch the illusion that the internet (and thereby globalization) are shrinking the world.

On the surface you may believe — even in 2009 that you can still say anything, do anything or hack any computer around the globe without impunity because you can hide inside the internet.

Goldsmith and Wu challenge Tom Friedman’s (The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century) position that globalization is opening up communication in countries that have long suppressed their citizen’s ability to speak freely.

China for example. Or think about the European Union.  Is the EU able to dictate how Microsoft releases software?  Think again.  When Microsoft published it’s passport technology it was rejected by the EU.  Rather than pay a fine Microsoft added the tougher security standards dictated by the EU for all customers worldwide.  Those standards are even tougher than those used in America.

Can France tell Yahoo or eBay what products to sell?  They can and they already do.  This book is written from a legal standpoint since both teach at the Law Schools of Harvard and Columbia respectively. Is it strange to see government control over the internet?  Would this be different if today was September 10 2001?  Goldsmith and Wu share their insight to the way Law helps and hinders the internet.  From simply selling memorabilia to cybercrime you learn gaping holes exist even today to prosecute offenders and criminals.

The “I Love You” virus that cost US companies millions of dollars originated in The Philippines, but since there is no law against this type of crime in the The Philippines the US was unable to arrest the known hacker.  Similar rules apply in Russia. When the FBI arrested a hacker who extorted millions from US companies, Russia did not acknowledge this type of crime and did not agree to extradite, so the FBI was forced to release the criminal.

Goldsmith and Wu share the legal case between Yahoo and the country of France that forced Yahoo’s online store to pull Nazi related memorabilia even though Yahoo is an American based company.  But Yahoo’s remote offices in France proved to the key error Jerry Yang overlooked.  Yahoo has stumbled a lot lately.

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