Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pro-Choicers Should Explain Why They Think Eugenics Is Acceptable

Iceland's 'eradication' of Down syndrome raises inconvenient questions. At least, it should.

August 16, 2017

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On average, Iceland has two people with Down syndrome born each year (CBS NEWS)

Due to the rise of prenatal screening tests, the number of babies born with Down syndrome in the Western world has begun to significantly diminish. And no one, as CBS News puts it, is “eradicating Down syndrome births” quite like the country of Iceland.

Now, the word “eradication” typically implies that an ailment is being cured or beaten by some technological advancement. Not so in this case. Nearly 100 percent of women who receive positive tests for Down syndrome in that small nation end up eradicating their pregnancies. Iceland averages only one or two Down syndrome children per year, and this seems mostly a result of parents receiving inaccurate test results.

It’s just a matter of time until the rest of the world catches up. In the United States around 67 percent of women who find out their child will be born with Down syndrome opt to have an abortion. In the United Kingdom it’s around 90 percent. More and more women are taking these prenatal tests, and the tests are becoming increasingly accurate.

For now, however, Iceland has completed one of the most successful eugenics programs in the contemporary world. If you think that’s overstated, consider that eugenics — the word itself derived from Greek, meaning “well born” — is nothing more than an effort to control breeding to increase desirable heritable characteristics within a population. This can be done through “positive” selection, as in breeding the “right” kinds of people with each other, or in “negative” selection, which is stopping the wrong kinds of people from having children.
The latter was the hallmark of the progressive movement of the 1900s. It was the rationalization behind the coerced sterilization of thousands of mentally ill, poor, and minorities here in America. It is why real-life Nazis required doctors to register all newborns born with Down syndrome. And the first humans they gassed were children under three years old with “serious hereditary diseases” like Down syndrome.
Most often Down syndrome isn’t hereditary, of course, but for many these children are considered undesirable — really, they are considered “inconvenient” — although most are born with moderate cognitive or intellectual disabilities and many live full lives.
If Iceland’s policy “reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling,” as geneticist Kari Stefansson admits in a video, then what will it mean when we have the science to extrapolate on these tests and pinpoint other problematic traits in people? How about children with congenital heart defects or cleft palates or sickle-cell disease or autism? Eradicate?
One day a DNA test will be able to tell us virtually anything we want to know, including our tendencies. So here’s the best way to frame the ugliness of these eradication policies in terms more people might care about: “Iceland has made great strides in eradicating gay births” or “Iceland has made great strides in eradicating low-IQ births” or “Iceland has made great strides in eradicating births of those who lean towards obesity” or “Iceland has made great strides in eradicating births of mixed-race babies.” Feel free to insert the fact of humankind that gets you most upset.
How about, “Iceland has made great strides in eradicating female births”?
From what I could tell — admittedly, this is through social media; I see no polling on the issue — most people, many liberals included, reacted to Iceland’s selective eradication of Down syndrome children negatively. Polling from the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute has found that 77 percent believed abortion should be illegal if “the sole reason for seeking an abortion” was to have a boy or girl.
I don’t understand why. If your circumstance or inconvenience is a justifiable reason to eradicate a pregnancy — who wants to be “punished” with a baby, after all? — why wouldn’t a sex-selective abortion be okay? Does the act of abortion transform into something less moral if we feel differently about it? Does the act change because it targets a group of people that we feel are being victimized? What is the ethical difference between a sex-selective abortion and plain-old abortion of a girl?
One imagines that most women carrying babies with genetic disorders in Iceland did not opt to have abortions because they harbor hate or revulsion towards Down syndrome children. I assume they had other reasons, including the desire to give birth to a healthy child and avoid the complications that the alternative would pose.
A number of U.S. states have passed or want to pass laws that would ban abortions sought due to fetal genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, or because of the race, sex, or ethnicity of a fetus. Such a U.S. House bill failed in 2012. Most Democrats involved claimed to be against sex-selective abortion, but not one gave a reason why. Probably because once you admit that these theoretical choices equate to real-life consequences, like eugenics, you are conceding that these are lives we’re talking about, not blobs. In America, such talk is still frowned upon.
Icelanders, apparently, are more honest:
Over at Landspitali University Hospital, Helga Sol Olafsdottir counsels women who have a pregnancy with a chromosomal abnormality. They speak to her when deciding whether to continue or end their pregnancies. Olafsdottir tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: ‘This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.’

 Well, not everyone gets to choose what his or her life looks like. Certainly not those who are “eradicated” because they suffer from genetic disorders. Then again, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder,” Olafsdottir explains later. “We look at it as a thing that we ended.” A thing? Using an ambiguous noun is a cowardly way to avoid the set of moral questions that pop up when you have to define that “thing.” And science is making it increasingly difficult to circumvent that debate.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Derek Jeter will bring old-school baseball style to the owner’s box

August 14, 2017
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Derek Jeter and George Steinbrenner
Derek Jeter is going to rock baseball’s world as boss of the Marlins.
Jeter believes in scouting, talent, heart and soul, and he will look to fill the Marlins roster with the same kind of winning player he was during his 20-year championship career with the Yankees. In doing so he will slow down the rush to analytics that is now being portrayed the answer to all of baseball’s questions.
Consider this comment Jeter made to me at his locker several years before he retired.
“Everything is about numbers today, this game is more than numbers, buddy,’’ Jeter said. He went on to point out the value of scouting, the value of allowing a player to think for himself and not becoming a numbers robot.
Play the game, not the numbers.
Jeter will use analytics to some degree, but he is not going to be ruled by analytics.
Remember this, too: Jeter always played with chip on his shoulder, and he will bring that chip, that desire to prove people wrong and his incredible work ethic to the Marlins as head of baseball operations and part-owner after Jeter’s group agreed to purchase the franchise for $1.2 billion Friday.
The Captain will want to do it his way and prove people wrong. He started The Players’ Tribune because he wanted players to have a voice in the media, a new platform without having to rely on traditional media.
In his heart, Jeter wants to run a baseball team that crushes what he views to be over-the-top analytic-based teams.
As simple as it sounds, he wants to bring the game back to the players.
“I think if there is anybody that is equipped to run a team, I think it’s him,’’ CC Sabathia told The Post on Saturday of the future Hall of Famer. “Derek or Alex [Rodriguez]. Jetes is really good at reading through bulls–t in life. Getting the best out of people, getting the best out of players. I don’t know how all that will translate as an owner, but he is really good at that.
“He’s really good at knowing who to have around.’’
Sabathia then cut to the heart of the matter.
“It will interesting to see how he runs it with the sabermetrics,’’ Sabathia said.
Perhaps it will translate this way: Perhaps pitch counts will grow. Perhaps, if a pitcher is throwing a shutout after six innings, maybe the pitcher will go an extra inning. Perhaps it just won’t be a bullpen-by-numbers situation. If a reliever is doing well, maybe he will get an extra out, an extra inning.
Perhaps his team will not shift as much. The 14-time All-Star shortstop was never a big fan of the shift on his way to five World Series rings.
Perhaps everything will not be geared to hitting the home run. There will be room for a batter who inside-outs a pitch the way Jeter was known for as a hitter and his 3,465 hits.
Fundamentals will become vital again, cutoffs, too, and making sure to follow the ball like his famous flip play.
If Jeter is able to do this, the pendulum that has swung in the direction of analytics over this generation will swing a bit back toward scouting, teamwork and finding players who find a way to get the job done.
Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier stood alongside Jeter as a 12-year-old Little League star. As a major leaguer he has watched Jeter grow from star to owner. He knows how Jeter battled on the field and that will be key to his running the Marlins.
“Competition-wise, he played the game,’’ Frazier told The Post. “He understands players. He understands the grind. He might give guys a little more leeway just because he understands what people are going through. At the end of the day I am so happy for him. Just another accolade for him. It’s crazy, he goes from baseball player to owner.
“What’s next for him? Maybe being the President of the United States, we’ll see what happens.”
Derek Jeter is going to do baseball his way, and it is going to be fascinating to watch.

The West Betrays U.S. Heroes Who Prevented Another 9/11

August 14, 2017

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Still image taken from a video deposition of Dr. James Mitchell

One of the most important chapters in the war on terror is being rewritten -- with a moral inversion. Islamic terrorists who were arrested and deported have become "liberal causes célèbres", while agents of the CIA who questioned them are not only being condemned but also financially crushed by punishment and legal bills -- for having tried, legally, to save American lives.

Guantanamo Bay has supposedly become "the Gulag of our time"; the psychologists who interrogated the murderer who sawed off Daniel Pearl's head have been charged with working "for money"; the "black sites" in the Polish and Lithuanian forests have been compared to Nazi concentration camps, and the U.S. jurists and officials who conducted the war on terror have been compared to the Germans hanged in Nuremberg.

"In just a few months, Obama had sent the CIA back to the September 10 culture of risk aversion and timidity that had contributed to the disaster of 9/11", Bruce Thornton wrote in his book, The Wages of Appeasement. A few examples of Obama's policy include a directive to release Justice Department memos on the process of vetting interrogation techniques for legality. The attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, appointed a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA officers involved in the interrogation program had been guilty of breaking the law.

A judicial condemnation, however, has begun only now. A federal judge in Spokane, Washington, has opened one of the most important trials in the recent U.S. history. For the first time after September 11, three American citizens involved in interrogating Islamic terrorists have been called to answer to a judge. The New York Times released the video of their testimony. The federal court in Spokane, Washington, heard Bruce Jessen, James Mitchell and Jose Rodriguez testifying on their role in the war on terror. They are among the heroes who prevented another 9/11; now they are on the bench.

"I'll tell you a story," Bruce Jessen testified.
"Two Christmases ago, I get a call from the CIA; my grandchildren and my daughter and son-in-law are living with us. You have 15 minutes to get out of your house because ISIS has found someone to come and kill you and your family... Now, those -- that isn't the only threat I've received over the years, I've received lots of them. And I'm not afraid, and I did my duty and I stood up and I went to war, and I'll stand up to any of them again, but I don't want them messing with my family... And when you stick your face in the public eye, you get people like the SSCI and [Senator Dianne] Feinstein and the ACLU and other people who accuse you of things you didn't do, who out your name, who give them your address, who print articles that are full of crap about you, and it makes it difficult."
Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA clandestine service, told the court what was at stake:
"George Washington did not face an enemy like Al Qaeda. These are people who want to die as martyrs and see the killing of thousands of innocent men, women, and children as justifiable to promote their cause. Making a few of the worst terrorists on the planet uncomfortable for a few days during their first month of imprisonment is worth it in order to save thousands of lives".
John Rizzo also testified. In 2002, when George W. Bush signed the executive order in which he argued that the Geneva Convention does not apply to terrorists, Rizzo was an interim legal advisor. "No, I can't honestly sit here today and say I should have objected to that", Rizzo said.

Now, Judge Justin L Quackenbush of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, cleared the way for the case to move to the trial phase, rejecting the psychologists' lawyers request for summary judgement. "This is a historic day for our clients and all who seek accountability for torture," ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a press release. "The court's ruling means that for the first time, individuals responsible for the brutal and unlawful CIA torture program will face meaningful legal accountability for what they did".

These officials should have never be prosecuted in a court; they should be protected from such actions. This prosecution is a betrayal of those who worked hard to prevent more massacres and to cripple the infrastructure of jihad.

Many former CIA directors explained that the program of enhanced interrogation techniques worked extremely well:
"It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield; it led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives; it added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it".
The CIA claimed the demonstrable successes of the interrogation program: the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed; the capture of José Padilla, accused of wanting to commit an attack in the United States with a dirty radiological bomb; preventing an attack on the US consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; a second wave of attacks after September 11 with a plan to hijack a plane and crash it into Library Tower in Los Angeles.

Jessen and Mitchell are not the only psychologists now in trouble for their involvement in this program. There are also the military psychologist Morgan BanksStephen Behnke, a former director of the American Psychological Association's ethics office; Joseph Matarazzo, a former chairperson of the Psychologist Association, who allegedly wrote an opinion for the CIA in which the deprivation of sleep would not constitute "torture".

One of the most important cases of rendition took place in the Italian city of Milan against Abu Omar; the verdict ended by condemning CIA agents. Robert Seldon Lady, the former head of the CIA in Milan, and involved in the Abu Omar case, was arrested and released in Panama. In a rare interview, the Wall Street Journal wrote:
"Mr. Lady, who had planned to retire and become a security consultant from a farm house he bought with his life savings in Italy's Piedmont region, received the stiffest sentence — eight years in prison, increased to nine on appeal. Before the case went to trial, Magistrate Armando Spataro sued to seize Mr. Lady's house and use the proceeds to pay damages to Abu Omar. Mr. Lady fled Italy in 2005 but lost his property. His 30-year marriage, he says, was another casualty".
Sabrina De Sousa, another CIA agent involved in the Milan rendition, avoided the jail only thanks to being pardoned by the Italian authorities.

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Macedonia for the rendition of a German citizen. The European judges also condemned Poland for hosting one of the CIA's secret sites. Spanish judges opened a criminal file against some senior Bush administration officials, including John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee of the Justice Department, and William Haynes, a former senior Pentagon jurist. John Yoo, now a professor at University of California, Berkeley, wrote the 2003 memorandum authorizing the CIA's interrogation techniques. The German attorney Wolfgang Kaleck filed a criminal complaint against Yoo; Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the Law School at the California University, asked to prosecute Yoo, who was also sued by José Padilla, a convicted American terrorist.

Recently, attorneys of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin, filed a criminal complaint against Gina Haspel, now the CIA's number-two person under Director Mike Pompeo, and charged her with being involved in directing a secret CIA detention facility near Bangkok, Thailand. Will U.S. officials fear that traveling in Europe might expose them to arrest?

The Wall Street Journal wrote last year, regarding the De Sousa case:
"The threat from terrorism is worse than at any time since 9/11, even as the West has limited its capacity for self-defense... Those who work as spies know the risks from America's enemies, but they shouldn't have to worry about politicized retribution from its friends. Sabrina De Sousa's abandonment by the U.S. government sends a demoralizing message to all who serve in the shadows, even as the war on terror enters a dangerous new phase."
That is the most important lesson: our brave spies and officials involved in the war against Islamic terrorism, like those who prevented another 9/11, now fear not only the wrath of the jihadists, but also the witch hunt of a Western media and judicial system.

As James E. Mitchell said, by prosecuting what the U.S. and the West have done in the war on terror, "we will be standing on the moral high ground, looking down into a smoking hole that used to be several city blocks".
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Some NFL players are walking away from football. Should your child do the same?

August 9, 2017
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes during an NFL football practice, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Pittsburgh.(AP/Keith Srakocic)

SALT LAKE CITY — The quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers is questioning whether he should continue to play football and a Baltimore Ravens lineman has already quit after the publication of a new study that showed brain damage in 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players.
The study, published July 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has been construed by some analysts as the death rattle of football. "Could football ever end?" a columnist in The Wall Street Journal asked, while Forbes headlined an article on the research "The CTE study that could kill football."
With professional football players willing to walk away from millions of dollars in income because they fear football's long-term effects, parents of children getting ready to suit up for the fall season may be considering pulling their children out of school and community programs.
But is an occasional concussion in high school as worrisome as the decades of violent hits that professional football players endure? Another recent study suggests not.
In that study, also published in July in the same medical journal, researchers found no risk of later cognitive problems or depression among Wisconsin men who had played football in high school in the 1950s. Those findings may reassure parents, although the researchers acknowledge that football in the 1950s was different from football as it is played today.
Also, some analysts have said the findings of the study of deceased NFL players were skewed and overhyped because most of the brains were donated by families who were worried about brain damage while the men were alive.
In other words, we shouldn't necessarily be shocked that 110 men who had shown signs of cognitive decline had brains that appeared to be devoured by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE.
As striking as the pictures are, they don't prove that every NFL player faces the same fate, let alone everyone who plays football in high school or in a community youth league. But there are other reasons to worry.
Here's what we know about the latest research on football and its implications for the youngest football players.
What CTE does
Football has always carried the risk of physical injury, but it wasn’t until 2002 that it was first implicated in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition first identified in the 1920s. CTE can cause problems in thinking, regulation of emotions, and other physical problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like Alzheimer's disease, it can only be definitively diagnosed after death.
Dr. Bennet Omalu diagnosed CTE in Mike Webster, the former Pittsburgh Steelers center who died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 50. Their story was told in the movie “Concussion,” in which Will Smith played Omalu, and in the book League of Denial.
For years, the NFL would not acknowledge any link between professional football and brain damage, but a senior NFL official conceded the connection at a congressional meeting on concussions in 2016.
The official, Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety, said he was convinced by the work of Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neurologist and neuropathologist, who has studied the brains of former NFL players.
McKee is also one of the authors of the study published last month.
In that study, McKee and other researchers examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players, and interviewed relatives to compile histories of the players’ football careers, military service and known head trauma.
The median age at death was 66, and they averaged 15 years of playing football.
CTE was diagnosed post-mortem in 177 players, or 87 percent, a figure that McKee said researchers found “shockingly high.”
The greatest incidence and severity was found among the 110 NFL players in the study. CTE was also found in the majority of men who played football after high school. It was present in 48 of 53 college players (91 percent); 9 of 14 semi-professional players (64 percent); and 7 of 8 Canadian Football League players.
And in what may or may not be a relief for parents, it was least prevalent in men who had only played football in high school. Three of 14 high school players, or 21 percent, had CTE, the researchers said, and in those three cases, the symptoms were mild compared to that of the NFL players.
Among the high school players and others diagnosed with “mild CTE pathology,” 96 percent had behavioral or mood problems; 85 percent had cognitive symptoms, and 33 percent showed signs of dementia.
In contrast, of those with severe cases, 89 percent had behavioral or mood issues, 95 percent had cognitive symptoms, and 85 percent had signs of dementia.
Because many of the brains were donated for study by families who suspected their loved one had CTE, researchers said people should not assume the disease is prevalent in those percentages across all football players.
They also said that the presence and severity of CTE may be affected by other factors, including the amount of play, number of hits, the player’s position and the age at which the men first started to play football.
Implications for parents
A previous small study, published in the journal Neurology in 2015, found that memory problems were more prevalent in NFL players who first started the sport before age 12.
Only 42 players were part of this research, and all had already experienced some problems with memory and thinking at the time of the study. But the half who had started playing football before age 12 performed 20 percent worse on cognitive tests, the researchers found.
The players who had started earlier in childhood were less able to recall words from a list they had studied 15 minutes earlier, and they made more errors on a test of mental flexibility.
Such studies have caused some parents not only to reconsider whether they will let their sons play football, but also ponder whether it's ethical to even watch a sport in which people may be sustaining long-term damage to their brains.
In mulling the issue, Austin Meek, a sports columnist for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, noted that most NFL players started football years before they're mature enough to thoughtfully consider the risks. He interviewed one California ethicist who said she's a huge football fan but has decided not to let her 11-year-old son play.
If other mothers are coming to the same conclusion, not only the NFL, but Pop Warner youth leagues may be in trouble. The Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 1 that participation in high school football has declined for the second straight year in California. But even with 3,000 fewer students playing, football still remains the most popular sport for boys, Eric Sondheimer wrote.
Among those most at risk for CTE — men who have already been playing professional football for years — some say that they will allow their sons to play football later when they are teens, but will restrict them to flag football before then. In flag football, players don't tackle each other, but instead pull off a flag attached to the uniform to stop the other team from advancing.
"It's one of the ways to learn the fundamentals and technique of playing contact football and doing everything right without the contact," Jordy Nelson, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers and a father of two, told ESPN.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, however, has said that he would have no problem with his sons playing football or any other contact sport. "I think contact sports teach you certain levels of discipline that other sports maybe don’t teach you. I have no problem with my kids playing football," Brady said in June. He noted, however, that his wife, model Giselle Bundchen, might not agree with him about that.
As for the American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading group of pediatricians said in 2015 that youth football players and their families must decide for themselves whether the benefits of football are worth the risk. The group said delaying tackle football until after age 12 could actually increase the risk of injuries among teens because of their inexperience. It stressed the importance of proper tackling technique and neck-strengthening programs.
Ironically, this was a departure from the group's position in the 1950s, when it said that tackle football, like boxing and hockey, "had no place" for children 12 and younger.
While making a decision about football, parents should also keep in mind that all sports carry some risks. In fact, among adults, it's horseback riding that accounts for the greatest number of emergency room visits for head injuries, according to an analysis of ER visits between 2003 and 2012.
Among children, however, football is the No. 1 cause of ER visits for boys; for girls, it's soccer.
TWITTER: @grahamtoday

The Audible Artistry of “The Hobbit”

May 26, 2015

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When the editor of Conservative Home phones me, he often begins by wryly declaiming some line or other from Tolkien. If I can, I reply with the next line, and so on. He tends to get the better of our exchanges: his knowledge of the text is encyclopaedic.
Nor is he unusual among Tories. I watched the opening nights of all three Lord of the Rings films with Chris Heaton-Harris, the wittiest M.P. on Twitter, and Theresa Villiers, the patriotic Cabinet Minister, both at that time M.E.P.’s. The Northern Ireland Secretary, in particular, can recite the most abstruse details from the corpus, down to the family trees of the minor characters.
Perhaps this is unsurprising. Tolkien’s novels are, in the most literal sense, conservative, bathed in an almost overpowering sense of loss. A lot of Leftist intellectuals find them uncomfortable, and so mock them. Philip Pullman dismisses them as “infantile.” Richard Eyre calls Middle Earth “the kingdom of kitsch.” There are also Leftist Tolkienians, of course, but even some of these are uneasy about the fact that Númenóreans are fair-skinned and assailed by dark foes from the East and South. (In fact, anyone who doubts Tolkien’s anti-racist credentials should read his magisterial reply when the Nazis asked if he was Jewish.)
Conservatives, by contrast, have few such complexes. We are not in the least bit troubled that Tolkien, an unfussy Catholic, filled his works with moral purpose. Because the professor dealt in archetypes, he wrote with an unembarrassed grandeur that can grate on the modern ear—though, in general, not the ear of the young reader, who has not yet been taught to be cynical. If you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you’ll know what I mean.
Now let me run a slightly more controversial suggestion past you. Much the same can be said of The Hobbit.
If, like most people, you haven’t read the shorter book since childhood, you might vaguely think that, next to its majestic sequel, it is limited, even twee. That’s more or less what I used to think—until I read it to my children.
Here is a book that, as much as any I can think of, needs to be read aloud. Tolkien, like many Catholics of his generation, understood the power of incantation. He knew that—as, funnily enough, Pullman once put it—a fine poem fills your mouth with magic, as if you were chanting a spell.
Most of us are aware that The Lord of the Rings draws on the alliterative Anglo-Saxon verse which Tolkien loved. We tend to forget that The Hobbit does the same thing, right from the start:
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep where dark things sleep
In hollow halls beneath the fells.
Its prose, like its poetry, pulses with Old English words, and there is rhythm in even the most fast-moving passages. Try reading this paragraph aloud:
The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide. In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather, so fierce was its flight. With a shriek that deafened men, felled trees and split stone, Smaug shot spouting into the air, turned over and crashed down from on high in ruin. Full on the town he fell. His last throes splintered it to sparks and gledes. The lake roared in. A vast steam leapt up, white in the sudden dark under the moon. There was a hiss, a gushing whirl, and then silence.
That’s not the way you remembered the prose from childhood, is it? In fact, the language in The Hobbit traces much the same arc as in the subsequent trilogy. Both begin in a manner that seems conventional for a children’s tale, before swerving into the not-quite-archaic saga style which Tolkien made his own. The switch is less marked in The Hobbit than in The Lord of the Rings, and comes at a later point in the story. The hinge is when the party reaches Laketown. The dwarves emerge grumbling and bedraggled from the barrels in which Bilbo has floated them down the river, still recognizably children’s characters. When a Lakeman asks who they are, their leader replies: “I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror, King Under the Mountain! I return!” From then on, the story becomes grimmer, and the prose darkens commensurately.
I’ll be watching the final sequence of events at the cinema this weekend with my enthusiastic daughters, who weren’t yet born when I began my December pilgrimages to Leicester Square with Chris and Theresa. Watching with kids makes me aware of how complicated some of the themes are in what we still think of a children’s story (Who, for example, has the right to Smaug’s treasure?) Yet children love the films, as they love the book.
Me? Well, like most adults, I regret that Peter Jackson allowed a fast-paced book to spin into three excessive movies. As Bilbo says to Gandalf in a different context, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
But here’s the paradox: though they went on for too long, I’m wistful as the films finish. Typing these words, I feel something close to the yearning, the melancholy, that infuses the books.
O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of ConservativeHome (December 2014). 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: 'Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam' by Mark Bowden

Urban Warfare, Then and Now

Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968 contains much that is timeless.

By Bing West — June 24, 2017
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In 1968, more than 500,000 Americans and 800,000 South Vietnamese troops were fighting 400,000 Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese (NVA) soldiers. In early February, the enemy launched a surprise attack against dozens of cities and bases throughout the 400-mile length of South Vietnam. While most of the offensive was beaten back within days, it received enormous press coverage and badly shook the confidence of the military and political leadership in both Saigon and Washington.

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, the new book from Mark Bowden of The Atlantic, tells the tactical narrative of these events splendidly — albeit with a dubious epilogue focused on broader questions of strategy and foreign policy.

The most savage battle occurred inside the historic city of Hue in the northern part of the country. Ten thousand NVA seized the heart of the city, including the ancient citadel enclosed by stone walls 20 feet thick. For 25 days a confused, chaotic battle raged up and down the city’s streets. When it ended, most of the city was destroyed, and the death toll included approximately 250 Americans, 500 South Vietnamese and 5,000 North Vietnamese soldiers, plus 6,000 civilians killed in the fighting and another 2,000 executed by the NVA.

Bowden has stitched together dozens of riveting squad-level firefights, writing from individual points of view collected via dozens of extended interviews over four years of research. Via this accumulation of short stories depicting love, sacrifice, gore, madness, valor, blood, and horror, the reader follows the battle down the deadly streets day by day.

Journalists who shuttled in and out of the raging battle are quoted at length. In Bowden’s eyes, they are particularly admirable because they combine physical courage — intrepidly (if episodically) following after the squads — with intellectual honesty, exposing setbacks inexcusably denied by the military hierarchy. In recounting the battle, the observations of these journalists add color, depth, and pathos.

Bowden also adds to excellent past accounts — e.g., Nick Warr’s Phase Line Green and Eric Hammel’s Fire in the Streets — the perspective of the enemy. He traveled to North Vietnam and interviewed more than two dozen soldiers, both men and women. At several points in the book, he interweaves both sides’ perspectives on the same fight. The North Vietnamese were a superb light-infantry force — disciplined and determined to withstand hardship.

Unfortunately, South Vietnamese soldiers have scant voice in the story, although their losses were twice those of the Americans. The South Vietnamese fought hard. They deserved recognition. The vast majority of U.S. advisers — both at the local level where I served and in the major battles where the legendary Ray “E-Tool” Smith, a prominent figure in Bowden’s book, served — admired their doughtiness and developed a deep affection for our counterparts.
Bowden does not address why both sides fought so relentlessly. Regardless of their losses, the Marines smashed their way forward, one block a day, pushing the NVA back. Certainly the corporals and lieutenants wanted to say, Let’s take a break and get some fresh troops in here. Sometimes they said their orders were plain stupid and got them changed. But when that didn’t happen, they obeyed and went anyway.

For understanding the factors that underlay unit cohesion under extreme stress, the finest book is the novel Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. It vividly portrays how tradition, heritage, discipline, and faith in leaders and devotion to each other combine to shape the 13-man squad, the 44-man platoon, and the 160-man rifle company.

In a city, the squad is the basic unit moving from house to house. A platoon covers a row of houses on both sides of a street, and a company advances down two streets. Four companies, about 700 men, constitute a battalion led by a lieutenant colonel. In Hue, most battalion commanders were a few streets behind the front lines. They were supposed to grasp the larger dimensions of the battle and accurately report their assessments to the colonels and generals in headquarters dozens of miles away. All too frequently, that did not happen.

Bowden does a first-rate job of showing how the realities of the front lines and the size of the NVA forces were willfully ignored by the higher-ups. He sets the scene and names those who failed their troops. Again and again, he cites “the valor of Americans . . . who were used badly.” Bowden does not conceal his anger at generals who dribbled their men into battles where they were outgunned and outmanned, and then relieved the hapless battalion commanders. Initially, Marine Brigadier General Foster LaHue dispatched two under-strength battalions, about 1,500 men, to push out 10,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The overall commander, General William Westmoreland, receives particular opprobrium for deciding — against all rational evidence — to divert more and more forces to Khe Sanh, an obscure plateau in the distant jungle near the Laotian border.

Bowden describes Hue as “the point at which everything changed” and American political will began to disintegrate. A discouraged and bewildered President Lyndon Johnson was in the process of replacing Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who no longer believed the war could be won. General Westmoreland had become an “untrustworthy source of information.” He had lost his credibility in Washington political circles and throughout the ranks of the press covering the war. Walter Cronkite, the oracle of America, visited with the Marines during the battle for Hue. A few days later, he appeared on CBS Evening News. “There is scarcely an inhabitable building in the whole of Hue,” he said. “If our intention is to restore normalcy . . . [Hue] is obviously a setback. . . . The only rational way out then will be negotiate, not as victors.”

And what “victory” had Westmoreland been pursuing? For 32 months, the American military had divided its forces in an effort to achieve two objectives. Westmoreland pursued a strategy of searching in the jungles for North Vietnamese main-force units in order to destroy them. In Bowden’s judgment, the general “continually and falsely assured political leaders” that he could attrite the enemy forces to the point where North Vietnam would quit.

The other objective was called nation-building or counterinsurgency. It required deploying Americans units across 12,000 hamlets to drive out the local guerrillas and to persuade the famers to support the central government.

The American military did not agree which task should take priority. The Marines sustained about as many casualties in counterinsurgency/nation-building as in fighting the North Vietnamese divisions.

In his definitive book American Strategy in Vietnam, Colonel Harry Summers argued that our generals were wrong to pursue a two-headed strategy: “Instead of concentrating our efforts on repelling external aggression as we had in Korea, we also took upon ourselves the task of nation building.” The American military could have rendered North Vietnam incapable of sustaining its offensive. Mining the harbors up north would have prevented Russian military aid. Bombing the dikes would have diverted manpower to subsistence farming. Large-scale ground attacks into Laos and north of the risible Demilitarized Zone would place the NVA army on the defense.

However, no such operations were undertaken. Instead, U.S. troops fought on the defense inside South Vietnam, from which the U.S. had essentially withdrawn by 1972. In 1973, the U.S. Congress declared a termination of all bombing, regardless of the continuing attacks by the North Vietnamese. Each year after that, aid to South Vietnam was slashed, while the Soviet Union and China steadfastly armed and subsidized North Vietnam. In April of 1975, North Vietnamese soldiers manning Soviet tanks rolled into Saigon as the last Americans escaped by helicopter.

In the book’s epilogue, Bowden writes, “the battle of Hue and the entire Vietnam War seem a tragic and meaningless waste. . . . As some of the nation’s more recent wars have helped to illustrate, ‘victory’ in Vietnam would have been neither possible nor desirable.” This exculpation by blanket denial is both mystical and bewildering. It does not fit with the focus (one significant 25-day urban battle) or the deep research of the book.

Yes, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are comparable to Vietnam in two particulars. First, in all three cases America insisted upon democratic nation-building that was resisted by the indigenous cultures and eventually exceeded politically sustainable resources. Second, in Vietnam, we conceded a vast sanctuary to our enemy; in Afghanistan, we similarly allowed Pakistan to provide aid and refuge to the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

However, unlike North Vietnam, the Islamist terrorists pose a continuing danger to America. Defeating them cannot be dismissed as “neither possible nor desirable.” There must be “victory,” narrowly defined as an end state that is tolerable to our security interests. Tell me where we are in three years if I follow your strategy should be the directive the commander-in-chief issues to his generals. And most certainly Bowden’s aversion to nation-building should be heeded in regards to our future role in Syria. Beyond that, though, it is not clear how geopolitical lessons from Vietnam apply to our ongoing wars.

Fortunately, Bowden’s musings on strategy and foreign policy are merely an out-of-place epilogue hastily appended. Essentially, Bowden has written a classic narrative about the role of grit and the individual soldier in urban battle.

Hue was not a tactical microcosm of the war; indeed, it was the singular exception in a war fought in the rice paddies and jungles. Of the 58,000 American fatalities during the war, less than 0.5 percent occurred during the battle to retake Hue. But Hue’s import is not restricted to history.

We have not seen the end of city brawls of hurricane force, and the nature of the savage fighting has not changed. Urban warfare is increasing as more of the world’s population leaves rural areas. In 2004, American forces twice assaulted the city of Fallujah. Eighteen thousand of the city’s 39,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. More than 120 Americans and thousands of Iraqi civilians and insurgents died. Were it not for modern medical techniques, about as many Americans would have been killed in Fallujah as in Hue. Today, the battles raging across Syria and Iraq are mainly urban. In Mosul alone, tens of thousands have died, with many thousands yet to come.

The tactics Bowden describes in graphic detail — avoiding the booby-trapped doors and instead smashing through the sides of buildings, clearing room to room, staying off any street or open area, moving always by bounds — are as vital today as they were in Hue.

— Bing West served in Marine infantry in Vietnam and has written nine books about our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.