23 October 2012


From the third debate:
ROMNEY: Our Navy is old — excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.
I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR — since FDR we had the — we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict. Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the President of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people.
And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is making — is making our future less certain and less secure.
OBAMA: Bob, I just need to comment on this.
First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.
The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it.
But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
OBAMA: And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting slips (sic). It's what are our capabilities. And so when I sit down with the Secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home.
I suggest that it is the President who does not know how the military works. He says of the Secretary of the Navy (a political appointee of his) and the Joint Chiefs “we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home.”

Note that he did not say that the Secretary and the Chiefs agree with downsizing our Navy to 200 ships. And some of the Chiefs might have: the Air Force would love to get more money for airplanes, air bases and their club system at the Navy’s expense and the Army needs tanks to replace those that have had hard use in the past 8 years. The Marine Corps, on the other hand, does not want a cut in ships because the Navy will drop amphibious shipping first.

(And can someone explain to me why the only place to find money for veterans is in the defense budget or tax increases?  How about we cut the money for the free loaders first, eh?  Start with the Department of Education--tens of thousands of bureaucrats who educate not one child.)

The President does not realize that if we have only 200 ships, that means that about 60 are actually deployed at any given time. Sixty more, having just returned from lengthy deployments, are being repaired (ships constantly at sea take a horrible beating), replenished, modernized, receiving replacement crews, and preparing for workup. Another 60 are in workup to replace the 60 deployed, shaking down and getting the real at sea training that no simulator can truly replicate. The remaining 20 are in the yard for major repair or modernization, being prepared for decommissioning, or are otherwise not immediately available.

Sixty ships to cover three fifths of the earth’s surface. Sixty ships to do something that only ships can do: force projection. I can guarantee you that the Air Force cannot deploy a constant meaningful force off the coast of a hostile nation for 90 days, 24/7. Unless the Army has learned to walk on water, it has no real force projection capability. Sixty ships?

 A carrier battle group requires 6 to 8 ships, and we have a minimum of three at sea at any one time. Let’s say that that is 22 of the 60. We have a number of submarines—attack boats, boomers, and special operations boats—at sea at any one time. The exact number is, obviously, classified, but let’s say 20. We are now at 42. Each battle group requires logistics support—oilers and fleet replenishment ships. That is a minimum of 9. That leaves 9 ships for intelligence support, amphibious shipping, and training.

That is simply not enough. And Governor Romney pointed out that the Emperor was wearing no clothes.

The President’s snappy, snippy, snotty comeback, the one everyone is having so much fun with, was
You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
That points to the President’s shallow other-worldly thinking about defense.

Yeah, we have aircraft carriers and the Air Force, too. But history reveals that air power, no matter how loud and how often the airedales shout it, has never won a war. Made victory possible? Sure. Done it bravely? No doubt. But win it? Nevah hatchee, GI.

 Submarines are great. They deter with the nuclear missles, they support with cruise missles, they sink shipping, if required. (Think ANS Belgrano and the South Korean coastal gunboat, for modern examples.) But win the war? Nope.

A war is won in just one way. Some steely-eyed 18 year old grunt, with rifle in hand and bayonet fixed, has to stand on the objective and say “Give up, asshole?” Until then, the issue is in doubt.

A couple of final thoughts.

Somebody is sure to point to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples of how “air power alone” won a war. Somebody is either ill-educated or a charlatan. Air power had reduced the 70 largest cities in Japan to ashes using dumb bombs and incendiaries in the Spring of 1945, killing 5 to 10 times as many people as the two a-bombs did, and the Japanese fought on. If the Jap military had been able to convince the emperor to fight on after Nagasaki, we were out of a-bombs and the invasion of Japan would have still been needed. And we still needed to occupy Japan with the good old American GI.

Horses. Yeah, we are not big on horse cavalry right now, although we did send in some of the first troops to enter Afghanistan on horseback. And maybe, if Obama really does what his cronies want, slash our armed forces, we ought to get more horses. A survivor of Bataan reported that horses were more useful than tanks. “When the food ran out, we ate the horses. Tanks are tougher to cook.”

Bayonets. Until one has seen cold steel in the hands of a trained killer, it is hard to imagine the effect a little knife on the end of a rifle can have. Most people have never been shot. They know intellectually that being shot is bad, but it is unreal to them. Most people have been cut at one time or another. They know what a knife or bayonet can do and it makes them hesitate. Hesitation, in combat, gets you dead.

And if the ammo supply runs short (and ammo is not high on the minds of Congressmen and Senators—not enough cash to spread around to the district), a bayonet changes a modern rifle from a plastic club into a lethal weapon of a different sort.

 Finally, the sound of hundreds of bayonets being locked into place, echoing in the night, is chilling. I’ve heard it. On “that night,” our Skipper ordered “Fix bayonets.” Our Marines did, to the ultimate regret of not a few NVA.

 So the President got it all wrong, but only those who have been there realize it.

13 October 2012



I know that the Proverb quoted is about something entirely different, but the words are fit. It complements Turner’s theses.

 Without a frontier, a national challenge, a vision that all can strive for, a nation tends to stagnate and ultimately wither. The “what’s in it for me” mentality infects and divides and ultimately kills a nation. We have that today in the class warfare arguments being propounded by politicians who need to agitate a constituency in order to motivate them to vote for the agitators.

Why? Because that is all they have to offer.

I submit that the politician, the candidate, with the political courage, boldness, and will to challenge the American people—as one people—to do some great thing, to approach and conquer some new frontier, will find that he or she will have to stand back out of the way as the people respond.

Whatever it is, it needs to be big and to involve the kinds of people who conquered the frontiers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Now, you may well ask, “Who are those people? Do we have any of them left?”

Well, they are loners who hanker to see the unknown, entrepreneurs who seek raw materials and then markets for the goods they produce, pioneers who want a chance to start something new, settlers who yearn to build new societies, risk takers all. And I suspect we will be surprised at how many of them there are.

The science fiction fan in me wishes the challenge could be to colonize Mars, but the fact of the matter is that that is a project that must wait. The late, lamented series Terra Nova posited time travel back 65 million years to a frontier not unlike the American west in the 18th and 19th Centuries—if you ignore the dinosaurs—but time travel does not exist. The frontier we need must be, as was the 19th Century frontier, accessible to many and fairly expeditiously.

So, where do we have raw materials, potential treasure, land, and a source of sustenance for the people who travel to the new frontier? I would like to hear a candidate say
My fellow Americans: Flowing in the veins of the American people is the blood of ancestors who were dreamers and pioneers and builders—people who came to a raw, untamed continent and, in the space of less than three short centuries, turned it into a nation that was, and still is, the envy of the world. People in other nations still take monumental risks to get here.
History has shown that when the American people unite with a common will to accomplish a common goal, they can do wonderful things. But a nation needs frontiers to challenge its people. The lack of a frontier, of a challenge worthy of the American people, threatens to sap us of that which made us great and good.

Just over 50 years ago, President Kennedy challenged America to do the impossible— to commit itself to achieving the goal, in less than ten years, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. The American people responded. Although at the time of President Kennedy’s speech, our technology was nowhere near ready to accomplish that task, new industries were created, new technologies were developed, and the task was accomplished in eight years!

And that challenge benefited us all. Advances in technology resulted in computers that we can fit into the palms of our hands, materials that are lighter, stronger, and more useful than wood and iron and steel, and communications that allow a doctor in the deepest part of the third world to instantly consult with colleagues in the great teaching hospitals of this country. For a quarter of a century, President Kennedy’s great vision inspired us and changed the face of the world.

Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in another achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that since the heady days after President Kennedy’s challenge, we have never again made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never again specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment. It is time to do so again!

Accordingly, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before 2050, of establishing not less than 50 self-sustaining communities on the world’s seabeds, each capable of supporting not less than 10,000 men, women and children.

No single project in this period will be more impressive to the world at large, or more important for the long-range exploration of the last unexplored area of this planet; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. I believe, however, that once started, this project will lead to international cooperation so that in 100 years, on the 150th anniversary of President Kennedy’s challenge, millions of people will be mining, farming, and harvesting the vast untapped area now covered by the sea.

It will not be an easy task, but tasks worthy of accomplishment rarely are. It will be dangerous, but no more dangerous than traveling by horse-drawn wagon or on foot across the prairies, mountains, and deserts of the west were in 1850. People from around the world will, I believe, actively and anxiously seek to conquer this newest of frontiers.

To accomplish this goal will demand an unprecedented national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread.  It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts.

But looking at the lessons of America’s leadership in making the first real conquests of space, and the advancements for all men that resulted from that venture, I am confident that our people can and will be equal to the task.

We need frontiers. We need to have another hill to cross in order to see what is on the other side, to do the impossible, and to reap, for all mankind, the fruits that result from such adventures.

That is my vision. I ask for your vote on November 6, so that we, the American people can join hands to march bravely—together and as one people—into another new frontier.

12 October 2012


Lack of political courage

Vision can be expensive. Most politicians love expensive projects if the projects can give the voters something for “free.” A new interstate highway located solely in their district, a bridge to nowhere, anything that brings cash to a district or a favored subset of the population.

True vision, on the other hand, is not so easy. It usually involves spending on pure research and things that do not immediately impact any particular constituency. Kennedy’s vision of going to the moon in less than a decade is an example. It ultimately thrilled the Nation, but first, the naysayers started in. “We should spend it here for education (the teachers’ unions), schools (the contractors and building trade unions), to eradicate poverty (ask LBJ how the “War on Poverty” worked out—hundreds of billions passed around, usually through a huge bureaucracy), anything that can be sent to a politician's voting district before the next election.

President Obama’s stimulus first stimulated the roadside sign industry: politicians such as the late Senator Robert Byrd (D.WV) quickly erected signs on already paid for and completed road projects touting that the money came from the stimulus.

Kennedy, on the other hand, recognized that to do something really big, lots will be spent on work that will not be immediately visible to the average voter. In addition to the regular budget for space projects,
We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations--explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there. (Emphasis added.)
Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself. (Emphasis added.)
Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.
Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars--of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau--will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.
In one year, in which the federal budget was a little less than $98 billion ($97,723, 000,000), President Kennedy asked for an additional $148 million for work to lay the groundwork for the advances he envisioned. Twenty three million dollars for a nuclear powered rocket that still does not exist. Why? Because “some day” it might open doors to new, unexplored frontiers. Fifty million dollars for the then unimaginable satellite system that does everything from allowing us to see news events happening in real time and transfer data around the world in microseconds, to guiding us via global positioning systems to great-aunt Sadie’s new apartment in Arizona.

At a time when Huntley-Brinkley was the television news leader, the President proposed a system that needed another 18 years before CNN was able to institute that staple of the news media today: cable television’s 24 hour news networks. Seventy five million dollars for weather satellite systems that allow us to track hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, and blizzards, to warn people of impending danger, even though the last reported hurricane in Chicago was, well, never.

Can you imagine the outrage of groups from “community organizers” and the NEA to the AARP and NOW if President Obama asked for an additional $200 billion for such projects? That is why “vision” is politically unpopular. It is risky and requires leaders who are not afraid to think big.

Oh, I can hear a lot of people thinking right now. “Aren’t you the guy who vehemently opposed President Obama’s visionary health care reform?”

You got me. But, friends, Obama-care is not visionary. It did absolutely nothing to substantively improve health care. It is simply moving money around to satisfy a lot of voters (although a significant amount of polling data reveals that satisfaction is low). It was a program that promised a lot of people something for nothing and right away, too. That is not vision—it is bread and circuses.

Vision has risks. It requires boldness, faith, confidence, effort, and, yes, sacrifice. Listen to President Kennedy.
Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment. Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. . . . Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.
Fifteen months later, an American having orbited the earth seven months before, in a speech Rice University's Rice Stadium to 35,000 Houstonians, Kennedy said
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. (Emphasis added.)
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.
And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this state, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your city of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community.
To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United States, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.
(Emphasis added.)
 He also cautioned “[I]t is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait.” 
 But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.

Finally, vision requires a national commitment. Returning to his 1961 speech to Congress, President Kennedy said
This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. . . . Let it be clear. . . that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62--an estimated 7 to 9 billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all. (Emphasis added.)
And that leads me back to my original question:  Where is the vision today

11 October 2012



 The early 1990s were a time of change. The Soviet Union collapsed, leaving the United States as the only super power, at least in the west. China was preparing to make its move, but had not done so yet. In 1993, after 12 years of Republican rule, the Democrats regained the White House. Since 1945, the American president was one who, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, had worn his country’s uniform. Of those 8 men, only Jimmy Carter had not served in time of war.

Now, the nation elected its first “baby boomer” president, one from the Vietnam War generation, and it chose a man who not only had not worn the uniform, but who had protested the war on foreign soil giving aid and comfort to the people who were assiduously attempting to kill American service members (including your author). During the first week of the Clinton presidency, one of his staffers told Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey,  “Around here, we don’t speak to people who wear that uniform!” (General McCaffrey’s sin had been to say “Good morning, ma’am.” To his credit, Clinton personally apologized to the General.)

This trend continued with the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008. Bush got a raw deal, I think, because he did fly for the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. At that time, the Guard and Reserve got the tired aircraft that the regular establishment did not want—in Bush’s case, the F-102. He put his tail on the line every time he strapped into a cockpit. More than you can say for the other two. But I digress.

Obama was the first president to come from the post-Vietnam generation.

The real fights of 1993-2012 were over the proper role of the federal government. For the Democrats, it was taxing the “rich” in order to give more public benefits to the “poor.” This was, in essence, a fight over “bread and circuses” for the electorate, buying votes.  For the Republicans, it was about reducing taxes and requiring personal responsibility. Regulation was anathema.

There was a see-saw effect: Clinton proposed a massive federal take-over of medical care, but he also agreed to proposals to put limitations on public welfare—mainly through requirements that able-bodied recipients also seek work. Federal income tax rates were increased for the “rich.” Under President Bush, tax rates were consolidated and generally lowered. Certain taxes were phased out, including the capital gains tax and the inheritance tax. Government regulation was loosened. Although unsuccessful to date, the Obama administration has made doing away with the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans” one of its most sought-after goals. The Obama administration also finally was able to pass a highly controversial health care reform law, that does nothing to reform or improve health care, but does purport to pass the increased costs along “to those who can most easily afford them.”

Greed was the driving vision. Immigrants no longer came here to populate empty land and to become Americans. They came to send billions of untaxed dollars back to their home countries, and to demand education of their children and provision of health care to their families at the expense of tax paying citizens. One activist for illegal aliens who was involved in a suit to force California to provide schooling for illegals told NPR, “We’re not asking to be treated differently. We just want our fair share.” She conveniently forgot that their “fair share” was back in their home countries.

The age of the hyphenated American arrived. Being an American was not enough. One had to be an African-American, an Asian-American, a Latino, a Native American so that one could take advantage of special benefits accruing to such people. No less a personage than Elizabeth Warren, President Obama's first choice to be the "consumer protection czar" and current candidate for the Senate from Massachusetts, listed herself as a Native American on her resume seeking a teaching position at Harvard. Citizenship was no longer a universally sought-after prize.  Suggesting that a person seek American citizenship was seen as an affront to his or her “ethnic heritage.”

At the same time, greedy folks who knew better manipulated the stock market, using other people’s money as their own, to grow immensely wealthy while destroying the financial underpinnings of the Nation. And it wasn’t just conservatives—John Corzine, former Democrat Governor and Senator from New Jersey, was involved in the failure of MF Global, Inc., in which millions of dollars of customer funds were diverted to cover losses of firm funds.

 One could say that at the highest and lowest parts of American society, the vision was complementary. Take money from someone else and use it to fund a life style that would be otherwise impossible to obtain. It soon devolved into a tense fight to take care of oneself and “pull up the gang plank, mate. I’m aboard.”

Gone were the heady days of shared goals and outward vision. The “me generation” infected the entire psyche of the Nation.

09 October 2012


On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space. His flight lasted just a few seconds more than 15 minutes. The first American orbital flight was still over nine months in the future. Nonetheless, three weeks later, President Kennedy, in an address to Congress, said
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Think of it. Most of the technology necessary to accomplish this task was not even on the drawing boards. Shepard’s flight had been postponed and postponed again due to all sorts of glitches. But in a public address, the President challenged America to do great things and to do them quickly. America responded, and we all know that in July 1969, eight years after Kennedy issued his challenge and 18 months before the end of the decade, his vision was transformed into reality.

 As I have listened to the debates and speeches and advertising and robo-calls sparked by the 2012 general election, it has struck me that we no longer have politicians who are willing to go out on a limb and take big chances. I think they fail to do so for two reasons: a total lack of vision and an abominable lack of political courage.


 In 1920, Harvard Professor Frederick Jackson Turner published The Frontier In American History (Henry Holt and Company, New York (1921)), a collection of essays in which he discussed the importance of having a frontier to the development of a recognizable national character and culture. Chapter 1, "THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FRONTIER IN AMERICAN HISTORY," is based on a paper Turner presented in Chicago in 1893, just after the Superintendent of the 1890 Census had declared that
Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it cannot, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.
Thus the American Frontier was declared closed. Turner went on to comment
This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.
Throughout the rest of the book, he notes the varying positive effects the existence of a frontier had on the Nation. Trade fostered exploration, by first sending out people to find new resources and then following them to provide the goods and services necessary to exploration.
The pioneer needed the goods of the coast, and so the grand series of internal improvement and railroad legislation began, with potent nationalizing effects. …From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits of profound importance. The works of travelers along each frontier from colonial days onward describe certain common traits, and these traits have, while softening down, still persisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even when a higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom-these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier…. And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.
The rest of the book discusses the effect the frontier had on the political, social, economic, and religious development in “the first period of American history.” Turner also noted that “He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise.”

The 20th Century, the so-called “American Century,” proved Turner right. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W, Bush governed a country that still saw frontiers to be conquered. Our national energy focused outward, from the Spanish-American War and its brief resulting American Empire, through its grudging involvement in the problems in Europe in World War I and culminating in its leadership of the free world in World War II and the Cold War. The next one hundred years after Turner’s 1893 essay were marked by a continuing American movement on the world stage. Canals were dug,roads were built, air and space were conquered, and continents were exposed to a new world. Polio was conquered and small pox eradicated.

Sadly, frighteningly, I submit that Kennedy and Reagan were the last American presidents to express any sort of recognizable national vision. In particular, Kennedy’s space challenge, a hallmark of his “New Frontier,” led to such drastic changes in technology that in thirty years, the “flip-phone” went from being an impossible dream of the 1966 television drama, Star Trek, to a staple of the American teenager just three decades later. The developments in miniaturization, materials, and information technologies have transformed every aspect of life in America and the world in the space of a single generation.

It is the cruelest sort of irony that, in the centennial year of Turner’s initial paper, it can be argued that the second period of American history ended. A new age dawned in America, an age of exhaustion, timidity, selfishness and confusion. These changes were forecast in the disastrous Johnson and Carter presidencies, but they came to fruition under Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and to a lesser degree, George W. Bush. I suggest that the lack of vision that has marked the last two decades started on January 20, 1993.

Suddenly, there were no frontiers to conquer.

08 October 2012


Dog people, real dog people—the ones who walk and let them run, don’t mind a muddy paw print on their clothes or in the car, and will forgive the well-intentioned roll in something that smells really foul to the pet person, but great to the owner dog—are fun to be with. May be it is because they know the essence of unconditional love: you forgive and are forgiven after a down-cast eye turns into a wagged tail that goes all the way to the nose. I recently read a novel (One Good Dog) that was a minor life experience. If you stop to really sniff life, things tend to turn out just fine, even if it gets ugly and painful on the journey. Woof, arf arf, grrrrrrrr. Good person.

05 October 2012


As I sit in the bullpen of life, I have more time to ponder some interesting questions.  

For instance, why is it that someone who never had the guts to wear any uniform, much less earn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, seems to think that it is OK, in the middle of a family crisis, to berate someone for the current crisis (which has nothing to do with military service) and then throw in the zinger “and you’re not much of a Marine in my book.” 

Now, a Marine will take criticism from another Marine, although in a crisis he is much more likely to hear “I’ve got your back, shipmate. Semper Fi.”    The airborne guys and Rangers I have known probably feel the same way.  But for someone whose “book” shows he didn’t have the cojones to serve even in peacetime, much less lead men in combat, for him to suggest that his “book” means anything is pitiable. 

A man like that wouldn’t make a pimple on a good Marine’s ass, in my book.