Freedom Isn’t Free


On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess.  Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives.  But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war.  The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far.  England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired.  That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable.  The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail.  The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised.  The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion.  Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions.  Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy.  His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident.  While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought.  Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country.  But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783.  For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them.  Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.

When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary.  And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well.  But then came the War of 1812.  The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy.  And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land.  Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power.  But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much.  Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason.  But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.


The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1.  Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.”  It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale.  The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies.  It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war.  That, of course, proved hugely fallacious  By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble.  Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led.  I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941.  Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.


That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands.  The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining.  Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform.  People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary.  The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality.  We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point.  But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war.  High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it.  But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman.  We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population.  We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same.  But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.

Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard.  During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career.  Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones.  We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances.  What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD.  This too is a cost of war.


We have two choices right now, as I see it.  We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military.  Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today.  Too few are being asked to do too much.  And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs.  And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself.  Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself.  This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well.  Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?

Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve.  While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support.  Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise.  Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well.  Right now we are asking too few to do too much.


North Korean Threat Real

Anyone who does not take the North Korean dictator’s threat, Kim Jong Un, seriously is foolish.  Some months ago I wrote about my own personal experiences in Korea.  The recent sabra rattling tells me that not much has changed.

The Korean people as a whole find their heritage in China.  Not withstanding that, North Korea’s best ally used to be the Soviet Union, not China.  That is an important distinction because since the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea has found itself even more isolated than it was before.  Thought they share a common ideology with China, Communism, China has always held its neighbor at arm’s length.  China has not openly warred on any nation in over 100 years, and it is unlikely it has any such interest today.  They are not about to be drawn into anything by North Korea.  And while North Korea undoubtedly still gets technology and arms from Russia, it no longer can count on that country as an ally, as in the old Soviet days.

When I arrived in South Korea in 1968, what I saw was an armed and tense camp.  The armistice with the north was but 13 years old, and memories of that war were still fresh.  Think of it this way:  the US Civil War ends in an armistice where both sides retain sovereignty but refuses access to its soils by the other side.  The good people of Maryland want to visit their relatives in Virginia but are not allowed to.  That is exactly what happened, and is still going on, in the Koreas.  In the late 60s and early 70s, the cold war took on a whole different flavor in the far east.  What you had were two countries who wanted to war with each other but were prevented from doing so by their allies, America and the Soviet Union.  It was seen then that an escalation of hostilities into a nuclear war were not far fetched.  Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Il-sung, vowed that he would reunited the Koreas by force.  The South Koreans fully expected such a war and were prepared for it.  Kim Il-sung shot down an American spy plane, an EC-121, and fired upon the USS Pueblo in an attempt to capture it.  The ship’s captain allowed the ship to be taken.  North Korea held the ship for a year before releasing it.  What this says is, North Korea was not then afraid to carry out its threats, and we have no reason to believe that it will not follow through on threats it makes today.  In North Korea’s mind, at least, a lot is at steak.

The US intelligence community believes that North Korea as most has medium range missiles, with an outside range of about 3000 miles.  That renders the entire U.S. and Guam and Hawaii outside its range.  But well within its range are US allies, South Korea and Japan.  The Japanese have already expressed deep concerns about North Korea’s threats, as well they should.  It is not unreasonable to think the North Koreans still harbor resentments arising from Japan’s World War 2, and before, occupation of the Korean peninsula.

The west’s best hope against North Korea’s carrying through on any of its threats may lie with senior North Korean military leaders.  These men would necessarily know the consequences of declaring a war on any country.  Regardless of who North Korea attacked, it would be viewed as an attack on US interests.  Japan is still allowed only a defense force and would necessarily rely upon the U.S. for its defense, something I am certain we would do.  South Korea, on the other hand, has a very large, well-trained and well-equipped military which could hold its own against an incursion from the north.

It is impossible to predict what the North Korean dictator has in mind, what his plans are, and what he is willing to do.  North Korea’s unpredictability rendered it a pariah in the communist sphere because of this.  And it is exactly this reason that any and all threats made by North Korea must be taken very seriously, and be considered in a “worst possible scenario.”

America’s Politicians Are Compromising Its Future

Winston Churchill said, Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”  He was repeating what George Santayana said in 1906.  Churchill’s reference is more compelling because he said it as the result of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939.  It seems, however, that this bit of wisdom has fallen upon deaf ears when it comes to the Congress of the United States.  Democrats in particular, but some Republicans too, are hell-bent on reducing the size of our military.  The concern is the size of the defense budget.  What is being forgotten is America’s security.

After World War I the United States entered into a period of isolationism that proved disastrous.  When it came time that we had to go to war against Germany and Japan, our military was in a very sad state of affairs.  But that was where it had found itself just prior to Word War I as well.  Why?

Then, as now, the price of freedom is steep.  The guardians of our freedom is our standing military.  It is their readiness and ability to quickly go into action that keeps us strong, safe, and free.  After World War I Americans, with a complicit Congress, thought the size and price tag associated with it was far too steep.  There was a huge reduction is equipment and personnel.  When the United States was drawn into World War II in 1941, it was extremely undermanned, poorly trained, and poorly equipped.  But after WWII we seemed to have learned our lesson.  The United States, particularly with the cold war, kept a well-equipped, well-trained, and reasonably sized force until the mid-1980s.  Then, during the Reagan administration, it was decided that we needed to close out-dated and redundant military installations.  With that, it was felt we could achieve a budget savings that was needed.  It was a truly good idea in theory but in practice it has been a political boondoggle that defies logic and common sense.

The Base Closure Commission was first convened in 1988 to consider the necessity of the 3800 military installations then in existence.  On December 29, 1988, the first base closure commission (with its 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Defense Carlucci) issued its report. It recommended the closure, in part or in whole, and realignment of 145 bases. The commission projected that this would improve the effectiveness of the base structure, and would save an estimated $693.6 million a year in base operating costs.  Considering the total defense budget for 1989 was $427.7 billion this was fairly insignificant.  The first base closed was Pease AFB in Portsmouth NH.   But as usual, members of Congress fought tooth and nail to keep every single proposed closing that impacted their state removed from the list.  This, of course, lead to the back-room deals which resulted in the closing of bases that left both the Pentagon and those knowledgeable in military affairs scratching their heads.

For example, during the second round of base closures Fort Huachuca Arizona was scheduled to be closed.  Its men and facilities would be moved to Fort Devens Massachusetts.  Fort Huachuca was the home of the Army Communications Command along with a number of other smaller groups.  Fort Devens was home to the Army Security Agency and several other groups.  The Army Security Agency was responsible for the security of military communications.  With Massachusetts’ nation leading technology base it seemed a match made in heaven.  Its operations and those as the nearby Hanscom AFB, an air force research and development installation engaged in many of the same activities as the army’s security agency.  It must have made too much sense.  But Hanscom AFB has also been a target for a base closure.  To this day it is my belief that Sen. Ted Kennedy made a back room deal with Sen. John McCain in which he secured the future of Hanscom in exchange for closing Fort Devens.  Fort Huachuca remains open today.

To put a dot on this i, if you look at the history of base closures you will find that the majority have come in states where Democrats either tend to be in power or hold great sway.  Large bases which probably should be closed, but have consistent avoided that bullet, remain open and all are in states that are strongly conservative.  Large bases like Fort Sill Oklahoma, Fort Jackson South Carolina, Tinker AFB Oklahoma, and others which probably should be closed remain open because of their location over their mission and cost.  I mention these things just to show how much of a political football our military is.  Political expediency reigns supreme over military needs.  This is exactly how it went right after World War I.

I would like to suggest that one major area of savings can come from reducing our military presence abroad.  Korea, for example, is home to some 50,000 troops.  Why?  The South Korean military is large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped.  Whatever threat exists from North Korea is something they can deal with themselves.  I would suggest removal of all troops from Korea save a small contingent at a joint US/Korea facility at Osan AFB which is an excellent staging area in the case of an emergency.

Then there is the US presence in Japan.  Following World War II, Japan signed an agreement that it would maintain only a defense force, no capital ships or large tactical army allowed.  But in the 75+ years since that treaty was signed Japan find its power in its industrial might, something it always wanted anyway, and shows no interest in being a military power.  I suggest that like Korea all U.S. troops save a very small contingent at an air force base be removed and that Japan be allowed to grow its own military.

The same is true for Germany.  After World War II it was required to sign a treaty that allow only for a purely defense military.  Like Japan, Germany is no longer a state that has any interest in the militaristic tendencies of its past.  Here again we could easily remove all troops save the small contingent and allow Germany to raise and maintain its own regular military.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that Japan and Germany would not continue to be anything but wonderful allies.  And this in turn would greatly reduce the cost of military forces abroad.

One of the things our military has become extremely adept at is quickly deploying to anywhere in the world in response to foreign threats.  We are better served by having a highly mobile and quickly deployable force located in the United States than at most of the locations overseas.  This would mean, however, increasing the number of available transport aircraft but that cost is greatly offset by the savings realized from removing forces overseas.

Key to this is keeping enough men and material available to respond to any emergency.  The proposed cut of 100,000 troops is entirely contrary to good military standing.  We are already too small in the size of forces.  Our soldiers are forced to endure too many overseas deployments to meet the nation’s needs.  Military effectiveness relies upon good troop morale.  A good way to undermine that is to send the same soldier over and over again into harm’s way.  We learned, supposedly, in World War II the dangers of that and during Korea and Vietnam soldiers were not required to serve more than one tour of one year in a combat zone.  That could not be further from the truth today.

We must get our Congress to work smarter and put aside their selfish political agendas.  Democrats have to give into the idea that the entitlement programs desperately need reigning in and controlled.  Republicans have got to understand that the only way our government gets revenue is through taxes.  They have got to put an end to corporate welfare and give in to the hard reality that we all may have to pay a little more to continue our way of life.

The large land wars of the past involving multiple nations at once seems unlikely.  But we can no longer afford the cold war deployment model either.  What we need is to listen to the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and their aides as to the present and future needs of a well-trained, well-equipped, and properly manned military force.  Politicians really need to get it out of their heads that they both understand and are sensitive to the real needs of the military.  Don’t build ships that naval leaders do not want.  Don’t build aircraft that air force leadership doesn’t want.  Address their real concerns and you will show, finally, that you do remember our history.

Did Pearl Harbor Have to Happen?

Seventy-one years ago today the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the rest, as they say, is history.  But did the attack on Pearl Harbor have to happen?  Hind sight is a great thing but history is rather predictable.  That is not to say that anyone at any particular time in history can accurately predict the future because of history, but history does teach us enough to make reasonable assessments of what the future holds.

Historians sometimes say that World War 2 was just an extension of World War 1.  That is because World War 1 really settled nothing at all.  All Europeans were simply tired of fighting and had ceased to care who won as long as the war stopped.  In 1917 the Russians, who had one of the largest armies participating in the war withdrew its armies as it engaged in a civil war.  That meant the Prussians could shift their focus from the eastern front to the western front.  But they were met by the newly arrived American troops and the stalemate continued.  Many in the German military leadership desired a negotiated peace with the allies but were told, mainly by the French on whose soil most of the war was fought, that only unconditional surrender would be considered.  This prolonged the war from the summer of 1918 until November 11 of that year.

About a year after Germany’s surrender the allies presented the Germans with the final conditions of surrender.  Of all the terms of surrender the worst was that Germany was required to pay reparations to the allied nations for the damages incurred.  This unnecessary and impossible condition doomed the German economy.  Hitler used that and a long-standing German mistrust of Jews to gain power over the German people.

In 1904 Japan tested its military when it engaged it was is known as the Japanese-Russo War.  Russia had pressured China into relinquishing parts of Manchuria and Korea.   Since 1894 Japan had been warring with China and took this as a warlike action by the Russians.  The losses by both armies at the end of the conflict in 1905 amounted to about 200,000 men but it brought to the forefront the Japanese military.  Until that time Japan had been a largely isolated nation run by the Emperor.  By World War 1, and even though Japan did not participate in the war, the Japanese were developing into the regional economic, political, and military power.  Japan, however, is a nation that has few natural resources necessary to create a world power.  The Japanese used the time from 1905 to the mid-1930s to fully develop an army, navy, and air force, as-well-as a formidable industrial base.  Its largest trading partner during these years was the United States from whom Japan received a continuous supply of both iron ore and scrap iron.  The U.S. also assisted in the Japanese quest for oil and rubber, both of which it secured from Southeast Asia.

The Japanese had never abandoned their desire to build an Empire in the east.  In 1937 they once again declared war on China.  The Chinese, however, had a very strong relationship with the United States and received military support from the U.S. in the form of arms and aircraft.  By 1939, however, with the world aware of the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army on the Chinese, the United States gave Japan an ultimatum to stop the war or face severe economic sanctions.

The Chinese had requested more help from the U.S. in the form of troops and naval support.  The U.S. Army, only 140,000 in strength, was hardly in a position to help in any form.  And FDR had told the American public, a very isolationist public, that he would not take the U.S. into any foreign war.  By 1940 with the Japanese showing no signs of reigning in their army the United States declared economic sanctions on Japan by ending all trade, most importantly were the raw materials Japan desperately needed to sustain its industry.  Because of this the Japanese had to quickly expand their influence in the far east to maintain those materials.  The response was the Japanese “East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”  The intent was clear to all who were watching.  The Japanese had announced that they, the industrial/military power of the east, needed the rest of the far-east for its economic needs.  This gave Japan the impetus to extend its Asian war to what was then known as Indochina, today’s Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia where there were huge rubber farms and other raw materials.

When 1941 arrived there was a full-fledged fighting war in both Europe and Asia.  FDR had been visited by Winston Churchill asking the U.S. to enter the war.  American eyes were almost entirely focused on the war in Europe but most remembered the first world war and because of that wanted no part of European problems, as they perceived this.  Their eyes should have been equally committed to looking toward Asia but no one, including many highly placed government officials, saw any threat.

But in 1925 the United States had been warned of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The informant was U.S. Army General William Mitchell who, at his court-martial, had not only told military officials that there would be an attack on Pearl Harbor, but who would do, when they would do it (on a Sunday), and how they would do it, an aerial attacked launched from air craft carriers of the Japanese Navy.  Sixteen years later, almost exactly from the day Mitchell made his prediction, the Japanese launched their attack.

Americans are famous for underestimating their own vulnerabilities and their enemy’s craftiness.   Even without Mitchell’s prediction, America had ignored its defense responsibilities.  Had the Japanese decided to invade the United States at San Diego, America would have been hard pressed to defend itself.  That same Japanese armada that attacked Pearl Harbor had plans to continue to the U.S. west coast.  Those plans were scuttled when the Japanese failed to account for the U.S. aircraft carriers.  What they did not know is that one of the three carriers they were looking for was sitting in San Diego while the other two were in the waters not far from Hawaii.

But for over four years prior to Pearl Harbor, first Japan and then Germany warred on their neighbors and showed no signs of letting up.  Even in its isolationist mode, America would have done well to enlarge and better arm its military.  It took America almost nine months to engage in any meaningful conflict with either Japan or Germany, longer than it had taken America to engage the Germans in World War 1.

Pearl Harbor was avoidable in the sense that America could have made a greater commitment to its defense which in turn may have given the Japanese more of a pause before they attacked.  And possibly would have warded it off entirely.  The Japanese military, and Admiral Yamamoto who commanded the fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, were eminently aware of America’s possibilities.  When the attack did not go as planned Yamamoto is known for having stated that he feared Japan had only “awakened a sleeping giant.”

A Little Known Paradise

In 1941, when the Imperial Government of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it was Japan’s reaction to the United States flexing its power by denying the Japanese access to iron and other materials necessary for an industrial country.  The United States was mainly reacting to the Japanese invasion of China and its repeated massacres of the Chinese people, particularly the “rape of Nanking.”

In 1944, the United States undertook a very ambitious operation to retake the western Pacific islands, the Marianas, the Marshalls, New Guinea, and other territories.  Most of these islands lie within 10 degrees of the equator, and many a small atolls.  The fighting the occurred on many of these islands was so intense that to this day live ordinance is still washing up on the shores.

In the early 1980s I had the good fortunate to work on one of those island atolls, Kwajalein which is a part of the Marshall Islands.  Kwajalein itself, though tiny, endured nearly a week of intense fighting before the U.S. won.  To this day a tank from the battle still sits where it became immobilized on a coral reef as-well-as a number of Japanese ships that were sunk in the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon.



The runway in the picture above is about 1.2 miles long, to give you an idea of how small this, the largest in the atoll, is.

Kwajalein is the world’s largest atoll.  The maps above will give you an idea of its location in the Pacific and a map of the islands of the Kwajalein Atoll itself.  The picture is of the main island of Kwajalein, also known as Kwajalein, that sits a the bottom of the atoll.  It is also called the most remote inhabited place on earth.  That is because access to it is somewhat limited.  The islands tend to be under 1 mile in length and where most large jets require at least that for take-off, you must take a small aircraft to get there.  The Marshall Islands sit 2400 miles west south west of Honolulu and about an equal distance from Australia.


In this picture of Roi-Namur the runway is 4000 feet long, and the island, as it lays along the reef, only about 1.2 miles long.

This picture above is off the island Roi-Namur which sits at the very top of the atoll and where I worked while there.  On the island of Roi-Namur sit two radars which track both near-earth and deep space satellites.  I was involved in the near-earth tracking station known at Altair.

roi beach

This picture is of the beach on Roi-Namur.  It is typical of the beaches to be found on the lagoon side of the atoll.  The lagoon is a relatively shallow portion of an atoll that sits between the islands.  An atoll is the coral top of an ancient volcano.  This being true, the ocean side of the atoll represents the mountain side which typically drop off many thousands of feet into the depths of the ocean around it.

The temperature varies between 76 and 85 on any given day year-round.  The water temperature sits at about 80 year-round too.  The island is basically immune from typhoons and other heavy wind storms because of its close proximity to the equator. While the storms may form near-by they move northward away from the islands well before the gain much force.  It is also nearly immune from Tsunamis because it lacks the gradual beach incline needed to concentrate the energy of the Tsunami into a large wave.  If a tsunami were to hit the island it would flow past it relatively unnoticed.

Many people for the U.S. have gone snorkeling on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and Hawaii.  But the coral of those places pale in comparison to the relatively virgin reefs of the western-Pacific atolls.  Although the Marshall, Solomon, and Caroline island groups each have plenty of resorts, they are so out-of-the-way that few people ever consider them.

The estimated population of the entire Marshall Islands in 2010 is only about 70,000 permanent residents spread among 29 separate atolls and another 5 individual islands.  Most of the islands do not allow automobiles.  The islands are all so small that travel on any single island is reserved to foot traffic.

The Marshallese people are  not Polynesian but Micronesian, a subtle but important distinction.  They settled the islands some 4000 years ago but their origin is unknown.  Today’s Marshallese are, unfortunately, almost entirely dependent upon the United States for their existence.  Since the 19th century they have been subjected to Dutch, German, and Japanese rule so that by the time World War II ended they no longer had the survival skills of their ancestors.  But they are a very friendly people who ask for little and are more than willing to give much.

The Kwajalein Atoll is a veritable aquarium of strange and exotic sea creatures.  The fish alone rival any that can be seen in the finest of aquariums.  There many types of rare and beautiful cowries, snail-like mollusks, hermit crabs, and even lobsters.  While snorkeling is was within arm’s reach of a large yellow-fin tuna.


The picture above is of cowries native to the atoll.  Some, the tiger cowrie in particular, can fetch a hefty price on the open market.

Because of the nature of its business, defense, Kwajalein is not open to the public but other atolls in the Marshall Islands are and are equally as beautiful.  Majuro is such an island and an example of its beaches is below.


Relative to almost anywhere else in the world one can visit, the Marshall Islands may well be among the most pristine.  I cannot recommend them highly enough, particularly those of you who are truly tired of the crowded usual tourist destinations.

What the Attack on Pearl Harbor Really Did to America

December 7, 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan.  Most people see that as America’s entry into World War 2.  That is actually not true, as I will show later.  But just as importantly, the attack changed the complexion of America forever.  It was America’s coming of age in the world, if you will.

Prior to December 7, 1941 America was an isolationist country that had not ever fully participated in a war in Europe or Asia.  You may say, but we were in World War 1, and you would be correct.  But our participation in that war was fairly brief.  Even though we declared war on Germany on April 4, 1917, it was not until the spring of 1918 that the first US troops arrived in Europe.  A little over six months later the war ended, and while the US did sustain substantial casualties, its involvement more hastened a battle weary Germany to the armistice.

The post World War 1 scenario had the US taking a decidedly isolationist role in the world.  US troops strength was greatly reduced, its air service was almost discontinued, and its navy gutted.  Although the US and England had assumed leadership of the oceans, the US largely left such duties to the English.  Although the US doubled its troops strength between 1920 and 1940, those troops were not prepared to fight a war.  While the navy had built some new ships to replace its old ships, as Pearl Harbor illustrated, the majority of the Navy was a fleet of obsolete ships.  All the battleships at Pearl Harbor on that day were of World War 1 heritage or older.  The aircraft carriers that the Japanese had as their highest priority were, to say the least, underwhelming.  On December 7, 1941 the Navy had a total of eight aircraft carriers on its roster which included the first carrier it ever owned.  That carrier, the USS Langley, was sitting in the Philipines and never saw action.  Two of the three remaining carriers were the ones stationed at Peal Harbor.  These ships, the Lexington and the Enterprise, were at sea at the time of the attack.  The USS Saratoga was en route to San Diego.  The rest of the fleet was assigned to Norfolk Virginia.  The Japanese feared the carriers in particular and the reason was for exactly what they did to Pearl Harbor they realized could be visited upon Japan.

To say the least, the US never saw the attack coming, although there had been plenty of warnings.  Not the least of which was by one General William Mitchell who at his own court-martial in 1926 had predicted that the Japanese would attack the US at Pearl Harbor.  US leadership scoffed at the idea citing the close relations the US enjoyed with Japan at the time.   But between that time and 1941 Japanese militarists had taken virtual control of their government and had begun a campaign of imperialism in China and southeast Asia.  It needed the raw materials necessary to maintain a sizable army and navy.  These included oil, iron, and rubber, none of which Japan had within its borders.  After Japan invaded Japan the US cut off oil and scrap metal exports to Japan.  While the US viewed the action as diplomatic, Japan’s leadership viewed it as a virtual act of war.  By 1939 Japan knew it would have to deal with the US in military actions and prepared for that.  Its attack upon Pearl Harbor was an action it had practiced in great detail for well over a year prior, to include finding a port area on its own shores that doubled as a Pearl Harbor look-alike where it performed many bombing runs.

In 1939 when Germany attacked Poland President Roosevelt already knew he would have to fight a war in Europe eventually.  But FDR and his advisors knew very well that the people of the United States were in no mood for a foreign war.  To that end, when he ran for president in 1940 he did so saying he would keep the US out of the war in Europe.  Even though he had already accepted that we would have to fight a war in Europe, neither he, nor anyone else, suspected that the impetus to fight that war would come from Asia.

While FDR knew that any substantial increases in Naval strength would be noticed by the world community, he felt that updating the air service could be done fairly easily.  The truth to this is the fact that only two new aircraft were developed between 1941 and 1945, the P-51 and the B-29.  The entirety of the remaining inventory was in production at the outset of the war.  The Army Air Corps actually had more aircraft than pilots at the outset of the war.

After England and France sustained huge loses at Dunkirk, England requested immediate assistance from the US in the form of troops and material.  Then, as now, the president could not commit troops.  FDR recognized he also could not send ships and other material without getting the wrath of the Axis and the American people.  To circumvent this, FDR entered into a “treaty” with England that became known as the “Lend/Lease Act.”  The act allowed FDR to lend or lease mothballed ships to England.  Once that commenced merchant marines and other cargo carriers supplied England with the aircraft and other materials it needed to sustain the war with Germany.  By mid-1941 the US was in a virtual fighting war with Germany already as German submarines had attacked many of the convoys.  The US Navy had been escorting these convoys and had returned fire.  For all intents and practical purposes we were at war with Germany but since there had been no signficant loses of American lives, FDR could not declare war.

It is not unreasonable to infer that where America was, and is, an immigrant nation, and that a significant portion of the US population were first or second generation immigrants from the warring nations, a substantial portion of Americans might view such a war against their relatives as being undesirable.  The biggest reason, however, was that the average American could not imagine a scenario where Germany would bring the war in Europe to America’s shores.  The US population did not have a stomach for a foreign war as it still had a good memory of how ugly World War 1 had been.

Americans in November 1941 were apparently blissfully unaware of the presence of German submarines patrolling the US Atlantic coast.  The war in Europe was at our doorstep even though it had taken no aggressive action.  Americans may have also been lulled into a false sense of security by the British having sunk Germany two most dangerous warships, its battleships Bismark and Tirpitz.  Germany had no active aircraft carriers and had only one unfinished in a port.  At the time trans-Atlantic flight was confined to small aircraft and all larger aircraft made the trip via Gander Newfoundland or Ireland.  The US did have such capability but this was not something the average American knew.  This fact is shown by the fact that on December 7, 1941, while the attack on Pearl Harbor was underway, a number of B-17s were flying into Pearl Harbor from the US west coast.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was enough to completely change the American attitude of going to war.  The fact that American ships had been sunk and American lives lost was more than enough.  But the Roosevelt administration felt the average American could not understand the extent of the death and damage done at Pearl Harbor so the details of the attack and pictures of the attack were kept from the American public for well over six months, and even then it was judiciously released.  The few pictures that were released were done in the Saturday Evening Post, and other such picture magazines.  FDR got the press to agree to an embargo on information and to censorship.  For the duration of the war all press releases had to be authorized through the War Department.  Few objected.

Now, exactly 70 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it can be difficult for us to imagine the American landscape on that day.  America was truly a sleepy country but it leapt into action, and, as Japanese Admiral Yamaguchi, who headed the attack on Pearl Harbor, clairvoyantly said, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.”  American sprang into action and almost overnight industry was converted from making cars and refrigerators to making tanks and aircraft.  America woke up and vowed never to be asleep at the switch ever again.  America built war ships at a mind numbing rate.  At one time Henry Kaiser, who built the “Liberty Ships,” completed a ship in slightly less than five days.  The US took the lead militarily and has never looked back.  Americans have since overcome any urge to revert to isolationism as well.  Pearl Harbor did a lot more than bring the US into the war.