Latest read: We Were Soldiers Once and Young

Joe Galloway and Hal Moore wrote We Were Soldiers Once And Young about their battle in the Ia Drang Valley. They reveal a deeper tragedy around the tipping point battle that would haunt America for a generation. As always the book is better than the movie.
we were soldiers: The battle in the Ia Drang ValleyThe battle of the Ia Drang Valley casts a long shadow over America’s role in Vietnam. It carries implications today. The ambush and loss of 155 Americans from a single battle (LZ Albany) was the largest loss of life throughout the entire American war including the siege at Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive. Please recall Khe Sanh was a six month siege while the Ia Drang Valley was less than 48 hours.

America’s fast growing role in Vietnam was largely based upon the Ia Drang Valley. The White House would establish “body count” as the measured outcome. At the same time I somehow missed that Norman Schwarzkopf marched into Ia Drang at LZ X-Ray the day after the battle.

Galloway has written an excellent account of the Air Cav surviving LZ X-Ray and also the failures of command moving troops to LZ Albany on the ground. His attention to detail unique that every man in battle is identified by name and hometown…many times the following paragraph revealed that soldier’s death. Three cities where I have lived lost men in the Ia Drang Valley. One solider killed on the second day at LZ X-Ray lived 9 miles from our home in Milwaukee. Young men from greater Chicago and Northwest Ohio also died in battle.

As portrayed in the opening sequence of the movie based upon this book, NVA soldiers executed wounded Americans in the Ia Drang Valley. The history of war in Asian culture is much harsher than in Europe.
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Latest read: Street without Joy

Bernard Fall‘s excellent and respected Street Without Joy provides deep insights to the French catastrophe in Vietnam culminating at Dien Bien Phu. Fall is recognized as a respected journalist who understood the failure of France. He was on the ground with French troops.

Street without Joy

Fall’s experience sharing French losses are shocking even 50 years later. And yet in war there are a number of truly heroic acts by French and American soldiers fighting a determined Viet Minh enemy.

Declassified in 2005 American pilots James McGovern and Wallace Buford where killed flying over Dien Bien Phu, just 24 hours before the French surrender.

Fall illustrates a perfect example of the French effort: in 1953 the army spent $20 million dollars to build a runway. It buckled when the first airplane landed and was abandoned.

France was complete decimated by World War II. The country literally did not have an air force until 1950. French planes supporting IndoChina included just 60 Spitfires — made from wood and canvas. Most planes were German Junkers 52s. The true irony, the French had to actually locate parts in Germany to repair Junkers damaged fighting the Viet Minh. For French pilots the demands were worse:

Nothing has thus far been said about the incredible strain of that operation on the air and ground crews of the French Far Eastern Air Force and Naval Aviation. At the height of the battle, in April 1954, many crews logged 150 flying hours. Dozens of pilots collapsed from exhaustion, but simply were doped up and returned to combat, for experienced pilots rapidly became even scarcer than aircraft. When, in the face of possible diplomatic complications, the American civilian air crews and their C-119’s were pulled out on April 24 from the Dien Bien Phu run—they were allowed to return to the run on May 1 – there remained only fifty French planes capable of flying the long and exhausting mission.
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Embers of War reminds us that Parisians concerned about the welfare of the garrison, a majority of soldiers were not French. The colonial French Union permitted France under their empire to place soldiers from Laos, Cambodia, Tunisia, French Guinea and Morocco at Dien Bien Phu. As the battle inched closer a stunning 3,000 to 4,000 Moroccan troops deserted their posts and escaped into the jungle. The empire was over.

It would not be fair to say Fall ignored the horrors of war in this book. The tremendous loss of life, even French officers who lost sons fighting the Viet Minh. While tragically sobering it was not enough to change America’s focus off long term goals in Europe that played out in IndoChina ten years later.

Most strikingly President Eisenhower established Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) IndoChina in 1950. US Army Lt. General John O’Daniel was appointed Chief of MAAG Indo-China. O’Daniel actually toured Dien Bien Phu less than 90 days before the siege. He reported the garrison to be in a sound position.

Latest read: Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America’s Albatross

It took me four years to locate Why Viet Nam?: Prelude to America’s Albatross by Archimedes Patti. US Army Lieutenant Colonel Patti joined the OSS (CIA) and was assigned to Indo-China in January 1944 six months before D-Day. This is one of those rare books that layout the foundation of America’s role in Vietnam before the end of World War II.

Why Viet Nam?The strong Vietnamese opposition to French and British efforts to re-colonize IndoChina after World War II for natural resources. Sound familiar? Patti provides surprising details regarding the CIA’s established relationship with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh.

This is simply a must read to understand how the CIA, US Army and US State Department established a foundation for IndoChina during World War II.

Yet for all of Ho’s efforts Patti reveals from D-Day to the dropping of the atomic bomb that old white European leaders alone determined the future of IndoChina with a second run of colonial exploitation of Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian peoples.

Patti was able to document the original developing political structures in Asia by the middle of World War II. Patti began meeting with Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. He writes how both developed an independant and nationalist view of Vietnam’s future vs continued European and Chinese colonialism.

Make no mistake Dean Acheson established the “creation of an American world order” while Patti was the CIA officer on the ground. The CIA and State Department’s initial records on Ho Chi Minh were established in a cable written on December 31 1942 as the CIA was seeking French relations with Texaco in IndoChina.

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Latest Read: Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast!

Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast! falls into the must read category for leaders of any organization. Actionable Intelligence is in the Lean model well beyond the vanity metrics that so many leaders have embraced. Lessons on implementing a secure framework comes from lessons including Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Lifetime Brands and the CIA. Yes the CIA.
Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast!Reading this book I have found tested lessons by Keith B. Carter regarding the lack of Actionable Intelligence in many organizations. The start always seems to be the lack of organized data and determining which is the most pressing to actually use in order to be successful in a fast changing world.

Maybe his most powerful work revolves around how executives at any company (or university) even question the value of actionable intelligence regardless of the tools already in place. Too many silo examples reinventing the wheel while overlooking the need to understand their own data reporting methods.

Sustaining delivery of actionable intelligence by the evolution from Dashboards to Cockpits. IMHO to many university leaders are just beginning to understand the Dashboard and their tools miss the Cockpit opportunities.

Business lessons alone describe how to mine actionable intelligence prove the validity of this book. Lessons from Estee Lauder include how the company was able to leverage secure data reporting in order to adjust following the powerful Japanese earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. And in some ways Carter points to a crisis in order for executives to embrace actionable intelligence:

People do not trust data, they trust other people and their opinion of the data. So when the data owners, the people who input the data and/or use it, raise their hands and say, “This data is good; I trust it,” that will make it more likely for other people in the organization to believe it. It also means that it’s clear. It’s not just that they trust it from the point that 1 + 1 = 2. It is also clear how the data has to be used, and the definition of the data is clear.

Carter helps breakdown the old data principle “People don’t trust data – they trust other people.” Its true. Estee Lauder’s use of actionable intelligence is such that every organization should be striving towards in order to stay competitive.

Last Days in Vietnam

It should be no surprise in all of my reading focusing on The Vietnam War that I would of course take full advantage of PBS’s offer to watch a free stream of the broadcast of Last Days in Vietnam. This was a 2015 Emmy nominated documentary that did not win last night.
Last Days in VietnamAmerica made a generational investment in both Vietnam and Southeast Asia. We today reflect and measure that commitment in blood and money. It is still difficult to watch two democracies struggled to fight a dedicated communist enemy.

I hope anyone can appreciate the difficult position American soldiers and staff at the US Embassy faced in the days of the war. Their interviews about the experience they faced in light of our Ambassador’s delusion that the south could establish an outcome similar to a South Korean truce two years after US troops departed.
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CIA torture report: The role of enhanced interrogation methods

Enhanced interrogation is simply today’s political spin to a torture technique used for over 500 years. Waterboarding as a method of torture dates back to Spain in the 1500s. The Senate’s declassified report regarding the role of the CIA’s use of torture in the war on terror after 9/11 has been a most revealing so far. I wonder if the full report will ever be declassified. Maybe to further strengthen our democracy it should take less than the 40 year wait for the Pentagon Papers.

torture

In today’s instant twitter-world of “news” the world has learned of CIA techniques as abhorrent as rectal rehydration and a technique — so innocent at first glance — prolonged standing until you realize how this form of torture, as written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago is hideous to a human under interrogation.

Torture is simply inhumane. I am respectful of US Senator John McCain’s address on the floor of the Senate indicating his view that the CIA’s torture was wrong. The US can be better by not torturing prisoners. Proven, established interrogation methods (not torture) firmly established provide information needed in the war on terror. Senator McCain himself was tortured as an American POW during the Vietnam War. He speaks from a point of view that most Americans cannot fully understand. I applaud his service to our country during the War in Vietnam and more importantly his personal survival as a tortured prisoner of war. As outlined in the Pentagon Papers the US military used waterboarding in Vietnam.

In just reading the Senate’s executive overview the most chilling issue is that the CIA specifically withheld their acknowledgement of torture to the President. The second most important, but seemingly forgotten is the destruction of videotapes by the CIA of prisoners under torture. Clearly the CIA learned from Nixon’s Watergate.

I am beginning to feel again, after reading the Pentagon Papers that our democracy and leader of nations in today’s complex world has taken a temporary step backward.

Battle of Ong Thanh anniversary

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Battle of Ong Thanh. This battle was a tremendous loss for American troops, ambushed forty miles northwest of Saigon during Operation Shenandoah II.

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Ong Thanh Battle date 1967

On this weekend in 1967 the battle in Vietnam and a student protest turned riot in Madison resulted in a turning point for the State of Wisconsin. While affluent students were protesting Dow Chemical at Bascom Hill, blue collar boys from the south side of Milwaukee were dying in battle.

The soldiers including Danny Sikorski, Jack Schroder and football All American Don Holleder served under the command of Terry Allen Jr. on this fateful day.

In Madison Paul Soglin, (the city’s current Mayor) led student protests that turned violent. After this battle 64 Americans were dead. Even today this is a shocking number of American losses in a small battle. The Tet Offensive began less than 90 days later.

It was in David Maraniss’ award winning book They Marched Into Sunlight the Sikorski family in Milwaukee would receive ~$740 from the Army to bury their son Danny. He was one of the first Black Lyons killed in Bravo Company. Yet at the same time The Pentagon Papers reveal the Michelin Corporation secured a reimbursement agreement from the U.S. Government for ~$700 per tree destroyed in combat on their rubber plantations in Vietnam.

The Army’s report on the battle of Ong Thanh remained classified for almost four years until released in 1971.

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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Think like a freak

think like a freakHow 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….

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.

Triumph Forsaken

Academic debates regarding revisionist history continues to rage across university lecture halls. Yet traditional (orthodox in those academic circles) views on Vietnam were challenged by revisionists including Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.

triumph forsaken

America’s historical views of Vietnam are actually unique since the war’s bible The Pentagon Papers remained classified for just over forty years.

Moyar published Triumph Forsaken in 2006 and created academic controversy for over five years before the National Archives released the full 7,200 plus pages from the Department of Defense which also focus on Moyar’s timeframe.

Have just found my way last night into chapter three of Moyar’s book. Memories of actually reading the entire Pentagon Papers and the frustrations revealed has caused my eyebrows to be raised….just a bit. Moyar has been portrayed as attacking American journalists who were on the ground in Vietnam.

Moyar’s focus on Ho and Diem in this timeframe are core to his view on America’s early fatal flaws in the war. Time will tell as I continue to read, research and compare notes in the Pentagon Papers.  Moyar may be correct in his assumptions and points of view regarding these two leaders in Vietnam’s civil war.

Also on my bookshelf sits another revisionist view of Vietnam A Better War written by Lewis Sorley.  I will attempt to fully measure Moyar and Sorley against The Pentagon Papers and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam which won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2013.

Battle of Ong Thanh 46th anniversary

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Battle of Ong Thanh. I read about this tragedy in David Maraniss’ award winning book They Marched into Sunlight. The book traces a rather startling weekend in 1967 for Wisconsin and our nation.

memorial day 2013 On the campus of UW-Madison on Saturday October 17th, students clashed violently with City police protesting Dow Chemical recruiting events on campus. Dow produced napalm for the Army before and during the war.

On the other side of the world that same Saturday the ambush at Onh Thanh lasted just two hours. By the time it was over 64 American soldiers were killed including Lieutenant Colonel Terry Allen and every member of the Battalion Command Group.  Allen Jr., the son of World War II Divisional Commander Terry Allen Sr. and led the same 1st Infantry Division as his father. Terry Allen Jr. led two rifle companies (~400 men) into a heavily wooded stream where two enemy battalions (~2,400 soldiers) waited for them. Two soldiers from Milwaukee were killed in this battle.

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