I came across an interesting book with an even more captivating title. The book, by Walter J. Boyne, and published in 2002 is titled “The Two O’Clock War.” The first thought that enters the mind is: Why Two O’clock?
The Two O’clock question is answered in the book but the subtitle made me want to read it the minute I picked it up from my father-in-law’s bookshelf, “The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel.” What Airlift and by whom?
The Yom Kippur War or as some call it, The October War, began on the holiest of Jewish Holidays on October 6th of 1973 and the Arab forces chose “Two O’clock” for a reason.
The author, a retired Air Force Colonel, explains the Two O’clock time hack in the title is derived from a couple of factors. One is that Israeli commanders and the government leadership never thought the Arab forces would begin a war at two o’clock in the afternoon. President Anwar Sadat and Air Chief Marshal Hasni Mubarak elected to change strategy to achieve the element of surprise. Also, they knew the Israeli leadership’s guard would be the most lax at that time on Yom Kippur.
Israel thought the Suez Canal provided a natural defensive barrier and would give them enough time to call up their reserve forces if they tried to cross the canal for an attack on Israel. However, in the case of October 6th, soon after the explosives started hitting the concrete bunkers, 600 tanks started rolling towards the Israeli front on pontoon bridges crossing the Suez Canal. At the same time, Syrian MiG jet fighters and Sukhoi bombers attacked the Golan Heights in the North.
Arab Forces led primarily by Anwar Sadat’s bold decision making wanted some revenge for the six day war and also wanted to reclaim some prestige and the land Israel won after soundly defeating the Arab coalition in June of 1967. This War, lasting until October 26th, almost completely redrew the map in that region.
The book describes how the Israeli military and its government became overconfident in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War. Due to the Six Day War outcome, the Israeli leadership never gave Arab Forces from any of the surrounding countries any credit. That overconfidence almost resulted in disaster during the first couple of days of the Arab surge once they crossed the Suez. Arab forces caught Israel by surprise and with supplies and support from the Soviet Union, the Arab coalition almost succeeded in overrunning the Israeli Defense Force if not for the heroism and bravery of soldiers and airmen of the Israeli Defense Force who lost their lives defending their young country.
Boyne’s account of how American and Soviet leadership faced-off in a proxy war with the Soviet’s supplying the Arab Forces and the American Military airlifting supplies, weaponry and ammunition to the Israeli government is a lesson in diplomacy and decision-making. What’s eye-opening is the fact that, 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, hands were ready to send nuclear warheads down range in a last, desperate act to save their country. Henry Kissinger working with the Soviets stepped in and clearer heads prevailed.
All of the key players have a primary role in this event in history: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Ariel Sharon. After many meetings, and diplomatic trips back and forth from one country to another, Nixon ordered the US Military and specifically the US Air Force to airlift weapons, ammunition and other logistics to Israel as they were running out of vital supplies, arriving just in time to resupply the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli and United States military’s coordinated efforts resulted in supplies moving from the planes just after landing on the airfield in Tel Aviv to supply trucks and then forward to the battle fronts.
The United States Air Force’s leadership saved the day because, while the politicians were talking, they were developing a plan and putting their airmen on notice to be ready for an airlift to Israel. An Airlift of Yom Kippur’s magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight and it occurred while Vietnam required air support simultaneously. Working 24 hours a day for several days straight, the Air Force contributed to saving Israel and were thanked by Golda Meir through a special visit. This book is worth the read to get a little history that forms Middle East politics as it is today.
Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you or, after a second look at atomic and hydrogen weapons, can obliterate you.
This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”
The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.
In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.
Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.” These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.
This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator. If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.
For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.
Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.
The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.
The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence. In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.
For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.
I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table. At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.
Sometimes, a book appears in stores or online that catches my eye. I know just by reading the book title that it will be a page turner or for some people a “finger swiper” on our digital readers.
I have been reading the “The Presidents Club, Inside The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” for a few weeks now. With a length of more than 650 pages, I have been taking my time reading it. The book is well researched and written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy and published by Simon and Schuster. Nancy Gibbs is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Oxford. She is Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Michael Duffy is a graduate of Oberlin College. He is Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor for Time Magazine.
Right from the first Chapter, they caught my attention and kept it all the way through. I actually read some chapters twice just to retain some of the information they revealed in the book. They discuss the history leading to the formation of the President’s Club but it begins to get interesting when they write about President Harry Truman asking for help from former President Herbert Hoover. The top Democrat asking for help from a Republican most democrats didn’t want to be associated with in any way. But President Truman was different. He knew how to use resources and Herbert Hoover was just the right guy to prevent starvation in Europe after World War II. There are many stories like this throughout the book.
It travels through history covering all of the Presidents to the current sitting President Barack Obama and how they viewed the “Club” and, more importantly, how they used the members of the exclusive fraternity.
I would recommend this book to any history scholar or presidential historian looking for a different perspective on the use of power. It might change your view on several Presidents and how they operated. After reading this book, I changed my opinion on a few Presidents. One President I gained even more respect for during the my reading, Harry Truman. One President the authors elevated his stature in my mind, Herbert Hoover. I knew that former President Richard Nixon was a diplomatic and foreign policy guru and the authors prove it in the book. The book also reveals how certain former Presidents can be difficult at the least.
After reading the book, you can entertain your own conclusions.
I have read a number of stories lately concerning many people who dislike Margaret Thatcher and her policies while serving as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990. These words are naïve and just plain stupid. Just like her Iron Lady name implied, she was the kind of Prime Minister who said with her actions, “Enough is enough!” She said it with the Falklands War. She said it with the British Labour Unions. She said it every time she stood up each week to face her British Parliament adversaries, the Labour Party.
Her weekly confrontations with members of the Parliament were interesting to watch. They were televised on CSPAN on the weekends. She took no prisoners and didn’t give an inch. Her confidence in her ideas gave her the strength to take on anybody, including the male power structure.
She was Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. She served three terms as Prime Minister and made some tough choices to get the economy back on track. Starting in 1981, the economy experienced 8 consecutive years of growth. The ultra-liberal factions of the Parliament never were satisfied with her choices while the elitists sought to demonize her. However, tough choices had to be made and she was the one to do it. During the 1982 Falklands War, the government tried to arrive at a diplomatic solution but when those talks failed to provide any common ground, Prime Minister Thatcher was ready to use military power.
Thatcherism was a label that defined her style of politics but Margaret Thatcher gave her country something more important-a reason to be proud of their country. Many people in America liked her, some of course didn’t. Like conservatives, some liberals just can’t come around and recognize a good leader’s accomplishments. Although she was a revolutionary by breaking political barriers, she didn’t like to be dictated to by them, such as the IRA. The IRA tried to take her out with a bomb in 1984. She showed up the next day to deliver a speech to say, “You are not going to get your way.” She curbed union power by taking on the coal unions and took on the biggest union of all, the Soviet Union. A Soviet Union publication gave her the name, “The Iron Lady.” She helped bring about the end of he Soviet Union by letting President Ronald Reagan know that this Gorbachev fellow is someone we can deal with.
Margaret Thatcher will be remembered for her tough leadership but also as one of the great personalities of the 20th Century and one Britain’s best leaders in peace and during wars and cold wars.
Margaret Thatcher died on April 8, 2013. There is one point everyone can agree on when discussing Margaret Thatcher. She will be remembered.
The human toll these countries have paid due to both of them being a political football throughout the last century into the current one is staggering. The estimated death toll for the Vietnam Wars just from 1959-1975 is 58,000 US troops, 1.1 million of the North Vietnamese Army, and one-half to 2 million civilian deaths. If estimates include Cambodia and Laos, the death toll rises to more than five million. Afghanistan’s death toll numbers from 1979-2001 have been estimated from one-and-a-half million to more that two million. After 2001 to the present, the cost in lives for US forces is more than 1500 with an additional 20 to 50 thousand civilian casualties due to terrorist activity and the consequences of using modern warfare weaponry. These numbers are always being revised upward and in the case of Vietnam, the numbers don’t include the casualties that were inflicted during World War II and afterwards with Ho Chi Minh’s rebellious war with the French supported by the Soviet’s and Chinese communist governments.
Comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan are easy to understand. After all, the Soviet Union military leadership was discussing ways to get out of Afghanistan as early as 1980 due to tribal disputes, the difficulty and lack of mountain warfare training, and the strong Mujahideen force combating against the Soviet occupation. However, like the United States in Vietnam twenty years before, the muddy politics and refusal to understand the local culture thought process prevented them from acting on that understanding quickly.
In an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski with the French Le Nouvel Observateur, he stated that… “on July 3, 1979 US President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul…We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War…”
The sad history about the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan and the 30 years since is that women in the country were enjoying more freedoms and educational opportunities before 1979. Since the invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban control, those freedoms were stripped away and in its place abusive restrictions became normal procedure until the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Since the invasion, the progress toward more freedom for women has been slow but noticeable.
What is interesting to note in the timelines below is that Vietnam was unstable and volatile early in the last century but is now is relatively steady with economic opportunities. Afghanistan is just the opposite. The country was relatively sound early in the last century but was thrown into turmoil later on and into the current age.
Another commonality with both wars was the formation of resistance fighters. One fought against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen, while the other, The Viet Cong, the communist organization in Vietnam, waged war against US and other NATO forces. Both civilian populations played a part in accepting or covertly disrupting operations. Both wars, especially before 2001, were proxy wars funded by superpower money and weapons, sometimes masked and filtered through their allies. The initial social and tribal readings by intelligence analysts underestimated local politics and influence by local leaders in both wars. The Soviets misread the conviction of the Mujahideen and the influence of Islam throughout the nation. In addition, the PDPA, the communist leadership, was never as unified as the Soviet Politburo leaders were led to believe before invading on the request of Afghanistan PM Amin. As with Vietnam, the diplomatic and government phenomenon of mission creep occurred for the Soviet military, the Soviet army initially occupied the country to protect cities and installations. Over time, the army, composed of reservists and regulars, began to engage in combat missions that expanded. Like the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Army had to fight a guerilla war they were not prepared to prosecute in the beginning. They were fighting against rebels who knew their own terrain.
There are differences between the present Afghanistan War and the Soviet Union invasion. The US war in Afghanistan is retaliation against aggression from elements inside the country on September 11th, 2001. The US force went in knowing the units had to fight in addition to securing cities and installations. Military leaders also had studied Afghanistan terrain, the climate, and tribal politics in addition to the lessons learned from the Soviet occupation. The US leadership didn’t say this at the time of the invasion, but the fight on terrorism was a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. That meant, if necessary, they were willing to stay past 10 years in the country to secure the region.
I can write for days concerning this topic. If you have any comments or notes, please post them. I am looking forward to reading other ideas about this topic.
1919-Afghanistan regains independence from British occupying forces.
1933-Zahir Shah becomes King and Afghanistan remains a monarchy for the next four decades.
1953-General Mohammed Daud becomes prime minister with King Shah a figure-head and implements many social reforms. Gen. Daud asks for help from the Soviet government.
1956-Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev agrees to aid Afghanistan and the countries become allies. Daud’s reforms include women attending university and working.
1963-Daoud’s social reforms continue agitating the conservative religious community.
1965-The Afghan communist party forms.
1973-The former PM Daud seizes power in a coup, deposes King Shah and declares a republic
1978-PM Daud is overthrown and killed by the leftist People’s Democratic Party during a coup. Hufizullah Amin wins a power struggle, becomes president. The People’s Democratic Party (PDPA) struggle for power. 1979-The Soviet Union occupies country at the request of Afghanistan’s communist party leaders.
1980-With occupying Soviet troops supplying power, Party Leader Babrak Kamal becomes the countries leader.
Other Significant Dates
1980-Afghan Army soldiers defect to Mujahideen rebel force, led by Ahmad Massoud.
1980-US and other nations supply rebel forces.
1986-US supplies stinger missiles to rebels to shoot down Soviet air power.
1988-Last of the Soviet troops leave Afghanistan.
1996-Taliban seize control of Afghanistan and carry out harsh Islamic doctrine controls.
9-9-2001-Massoud assassinated by suicide bombing.
9-11-2001-Terrorist attacks on US Soil.
2001-US and Great Britain launch invasion of country after it refuses to hand-over Osama Bin Laden, the master mind of the 9/11 attacks on US soil.
2001-Taliban ousted from power.
2004-Democratic elections held in country, electing Hamid Karzai as President.
2012– Continued US and NATO presence in the region. Karzai still in power. Taliban force strength reduced but still launches attacks from mountainous region bordering Pakistan.
Vietnam Timeline-Comparison Timeline
1919-Ho Chi Minh emerges after WW I and tries to petition Woodrow Wilson for Self Determination
1940-Japan invades Vietnam. 1941-Ho Chi Minh organizes pro independence league. 1945-Japan surrenders. Minh declares independence and unites all French colonial provinces to form Vietnam.
1946-National Chinese, French, and Viet Minh struggle for control of the Viet Territory. 1946-Beginning of First Vietnam War between French and Viet Minh. China and USSR back Viet Minh. US back French to stop the spread of communism.
1954-Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu, leading to Geneva negotiations diving Vietnam at the 17th Parallel.
1955-1956-Emperor Bao Dai is forced from power by Ngo Dinh Diem. He declares himself president and gains support from US. US sends advisors
1960-National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) forms to fight against US Forces and President Diem. 1963-US supports military Coup against President Diem. Diem’s murder during the coup leads to a number of successive leaders.
1964-Gulf of Tonkin Resolution give President Johnson war powers. 1965-US Combat Troops arrive in Vietnam (Second Vietnam War). 1968-Tet offensive launched by Ho Chi Minh and Viet Cong.
1969– Ho Chi Minh dies. 1973-Nixon and Kissinger negotiate peace treaty. US withdraws a majority of troops. 1974-President Ford balks at sustaining aid to South Vietnam Forces. 1975-Viet Nam unified under communist rule after taking Saigon, which they rename Ho Chi Minh City.
1978-Vietnam invades Cambodia, trying to take over from the Khmer Rouge. Tensions with China increase.
1986-Vietnam revises strategy and commits to social and market reforms. 1995-Diplomatic relations normalized between US and Vietnam.
2010/2011-Academic year-More than 14,800 students studies at US colleges and universities. 2012– Trade between US and Vietnam continue to increase.
Nuclear power has the ability to create energy, liberate countries from other energy sources like coal, oil, and water, and therefore pull a nation’s struggling economy forward after years of lagging behind other nations. In the process, the same nuclear power source can produce tension between players on the world stage as North Korea and Iran are doing today or force every global leader to deal with a disaster and the environmental fallout that leads to an energy policy debate about the viability of nuclear reactors. Nuclear energy has positives and negatives but the one point every one agrees with is that nuclear accidents are devastating to the environment and can wipeout entire city populations if the fallout isn’t controlled. As with any new technology, the process and procedures continually evolve. Engineers learn from design flaws and build systems that have better fail safes. Operator training improves as scientists and political leaders develop better ways to handle the unique challenges of running nuclear power centers.
The following is a comparison of how two disasters were handled. Research indicates that Chernobyl and Fukushima have both been labeled “Accidents”. I prefer to call Chernobyl a “Disaster” because several lives were lost. Fukushima should be labeled an “Accident” because no loss of life has been documented from it. The lives were lost due to the Tsunami. The chart below shows how the two governments handled the crisis, and more importantly, how much Japan may have learned from other nuclear problems, including the United States’ own nuclear accident, “Three Mile Island.”
Radioactive fallout-The Chernobyl accident released 10 times more material into the atmosphere than the Fukushima accident.
Immediate casualties-50 people died immediately from radiation poisoning that includes the first responders (fireman, helicopter pilots, soldiers and miners)
Immediate casualties-21 plant workers have been affected by radiation sickness. Several thousand people died from the Tsunami.
Long term casualties unofficially in the thousands, still assessing.
Long term casualties-No radiation linked deaths have been reported, still assessing
Environmental Impact-livestock, vegetation, top soil, the surrounding communities and fallout that was moved by the atmosphere to surrounding countries
Environmental Impact-More than 70,000 people have been evacuated within a 12 mile radius of the plant.
Health Impact-4,000 children and adolescents contracted thyroid cancer soon, 4 died.
Health Impact-Still being monitored.
Immediate Public Information-Information about the severity was withheld from the public for several days
Immediate Public Information-Public was informed and evacuated as soon as possible after Tsunami
IAEA Severity Level-7
IAEA Severity Level-Initially set at 5 and then raised to 7
Several years before area will be habitable
Several years before area will be habitable
There are websites devoted to the analyzing what went wrong and how the fallout from Chernobyl affected the surrounding towns. YouTube has several documentaries devoted to how the nuclear disaster was handled by the Soviet government. What is interesting about each accident is the way information was publicized to local towns and to the workers dealing with the problems. It is study in how risk and crisis communication affected the aftermath of each accident.
The Chernobyl disaster became more of disaster because officials did not tell primary people in government the severity of the problem. Therefore, they could not make decisions about moving people from the local area, specifically the town of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl plant where most of the reactor’s workers lived with their families. I took several days before the families were moved from the area. Six hundred workers answered the call or the order to clean up the nuclear debris after the explosion as well as pour sand and boron from the air by using helicopter flying over. All the while, pilots and other workers were absorbing massive amounts of radiation. According to the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Comission, 600 workers initially worked at the site immediately after the accident. Among those, 134 had radiation sickness. Of these, 28 died within the first four months of the disaster. In addition to the pilots who were hovering and flying over the reactor for long periods, miners were brought in to dig a tunnel underneath the reactor where a concrete sarcophagus would eventually be built. The miners were not told how much danger they were near when digging the tunnel right underneath the disabled reactor. The Chernobyl disaster is a testament to how people can answer the call. The Soviet era miners who are still alive to tell the story have commented in documentaries on the subject that who else would have been able to do it but us.
The Fukushima accident was caused by an Earthquake and the resulting Tsunami which caused the meltdown of three reactors from the loss of power to the generators. This is different from a power surge that caused the Chernobyl disaster. Two different paths of communication exist when accidents and natural disasters occur. One is crisis communication that originates from the government and local agencies through the use of corporate media to the citizens affected by the natural or man made disaster. The other is risk communication that relies on the layers of government and other agencies to pass on vital information so decisions can be made and the public alerted. The Soviet government failed on many levels pertaining to Chernobyl while the communication process from the Japanese government to various affected groups performed better during and after the Fukushima crisis. Informing the public and making the decision to move citizens within the danger zone out of the area is one aspect of the disaster that went relatively smoothly, considering the Japanese government was also dealing with the damage done by the Tsunami.
Nuclear power is here to stay. The challenge is to learn from the past while having enough imagination to think about future problems and put measures in place to prevent any accidents or disasters that may have dire consequences.