Monday, November 30, 2015

Climate Scorecard

Yet another Climate Summit is about to occur, this time in Paris.   Thousands will jet from all over the world to attend.  Undoubtedly it will end with announcements of significant "commitments" by the participants.  To determine whether these are photo op announcements or something meaningful  keep an eye out on whether anyone makes an enforceable commitment on actual CO2 reductions and look at the timing.  An announcement that  X country will start making reductions in 2030 means nothing.

Climate change is not one of THC's top tier issues but if it is for you here is the basic data to keep in mind when assessing the success of the summit.  Do any of the announced agreements or commitments make a significant dent in the current emissions and emissions trends?  THC is using 1997 as the baseline since that is the year the Kyoto Protocol was signed.  Keep in mind that something in the range of a 50% reduction globally from 2005 levels by 2050 is required to have a meaningful impact on temperature if you accept the validity of the IPCC calculations.  Anything less is meaningless hand-waving.  The chart shows the top 4 CO2 emitters and the rest of the world.

Rest of World
Unit:  Billion Tons CO2
 SourceTrends in Global CO2 Emissions: 2015 Report, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency & European Commission Joint Research Centre

For more background on the data read this.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nature's Way

It's Nature's Way of telling you something's wrong . . . 

From Spirit (1970)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Going For A Walk

THC was thinking of doing this walk tomorrow but decided to spend Thanksgiving eating all day with family and friends.
ACROSS THE SKY - a world record slackline in the utah desert from Camp 4 Collective on Vimeo.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Cruel And Shocking Act (Part 2)

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History Of The Kennedy Assassination
by Philip Shenon (2013)
(For Part 1 go here)

Warren Commission Members

Earl Warren (Chairman) - Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1953-69)
Hale Boggs (D-La) - House Minority Whip
John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky) - Senator
Allen Dulles - CIA Director (1953-61)
Appointed by Eisenhower, fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Gerald Ford (R-Michigan) - House Minority Leader.
According to Shenon, Ford was "perhaps the most hardworking apart from Warren himself. . . [he] made a point of being present to hear the testimony of almost all important witnesses.  His questions were consistently well thought-out and reflected his close reading of the evidence".  The most thorough reviewer and commenter on the draft report of the commission.
John McCloy
One of the "Wise Men" who dominated the American foreign policy establishment from the end of World War Two until the mid-1960s.  McCloy served as High Commissioner of Germany (1947-49), President of the World Bank, Chairman of Chase Manhattan and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Richard Russell (D-Ga) Senator.
Perhaps the most intelligent member of the commission, a friend of LBJ's and his opponent in the fight over what became the 1964 Civil Rights Act which was debated while the Warren Commission was underway.  Responsible for appointing the only woman investigator on the commission staff.  He and Warren despised each other. 

Philip Shenon's assessment:
The commission made grievous errors.  It failed to pursue important evidence and witnesses because of limitations imposed on the investigation by the man who ran it, Chief Justice Warren.  Often, Warren seemed more interested in protecting the legacy of his beloved friend President Kennedy, and of the Kennedy family, than in getting to the full facts about the president's murder.

. . . much of the evidence about the president's murder was covered up or destroyed - shredded, incinerated, or erased - before it could reach the commission.  Senior officials at both the CIA and the FBI hid information from the panel, apparently in hopes of concealing just how much they had known about Lee Harvey Oswald and the threat that he posed.
Overriding everything were the suspicions of President Lyndon Johnson that the Soviets or Cubans may have been behind the murder, even though he was not to learn the full extent of JFK's attempts to kill Castro until 1967 (see below).  If true, Johnson believed that public outrage would force the United States to respond in a way which could trigger events leading to a possible nuclear war which he wanted to avoid at all costs.  This concern led the White House to put limits on the investigation, pressuring to wind up its work as quickly as possible, and declare Oswald the sole gunman and calm public fears of a larger conspiracy.

In later years, LBJ spoke openly of his views.   In October 1968, after announcing he would not run for reelection, Johnson gave an interview to Howard K Smith of ABC News.  Off camera, LBJ told Smith something he could not use for broadcast:
"I''ll tell you something that will rock you.  Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first"., 1964 & 1972)

The July 1973 issue of The Atlantic contained an article by Leo Janos, who spent time with the retired president before his death in January.  Janos recounts one conversation:
"During coffee, the talk turned to President Kennedy, and Johnson expressed his belief that the assassination in Dallas had been part of a conspiracy. 'I never believed that Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.' Johnson said that when he had taken office he found that 'we had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.' A year or so before Kennedy's death a CIA-backed assassination team had been picked up in Havana.  Johnson speculated that Dallas had been a retaliation for this thwarted attempt, although he couldn't prove it. " (from The Last Days Of The President, by Leo Janos, The Atlantic, July 1973)  
LBJ was not the only one with suspicions about a conspiracy;  Robert Kennedy also suspected it.  Shenon writes of Kennedy's political associates that
"They would admit years later that Kennedy had never stopped suspecting that there had been a conspiracy to kill his brother . . . Kennedy appeared worried, in particular, about the possibility that Castro or the Mafia was behind the assassination."
This suspicion weighed heavily on Bobby Kennedy who felt guilt that his involvement (RFK was the operational link between his brother and the CIA in the plots) in the attempts to kill Castro may have backfired and led to the death of his brother, a worry that haunted him until his death in 1968, according to some of his close associates.  In a final twist on the relationship between the Castro plots and the president's death, a CIA Inspector General reviewing the history years later:
"would determine years later that on November 22, 1963 . . . a CIA officer was meeting in Paris with a Cuban agent [who later turned out to be a double agent for the Castro regime] to hand him a poison pen".  The IG concluded "it is likely that at the very moment President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent . . . and giving him an assassination device for use against Castro."
Testifying in front of Congress during the 1970s Richard Helms, who had personally approved the Castro plots and by then was CIA Director, said that he had determined, in his own mind, that the CIA's Castro plots had nothing to do with Kennedy's assassination, and therefore there was no reason to tell the commission about them.  "Besides, Helms asked later, why had it been his responsibility to tell the commission about the Castro plots, since he was certain that one of the commissioners - Dulles - knew all about them, as had Robert Kennedy?", from wikipedia)

The Kennedy connection went on to taint the famous Church Committee investigation of the CIA in the mid-1970s, which publicly exposed many of its secrets, including the Castro plots.  The portrait painted by the committee's chairman, Frank Church (D-Idaho) was of a "rogue" agency and played down the directive role of President Kennedy and Attorney General Kennedy in the Castro matter.  This framing may not have been an innocent error, as Senator Church was a close friend of Senator Edward Kennedy, and the Kennedy family has been very protective of its legacy, being much more comfortable with the image of JFK as "the civil rights president" than as "the cold war president".

Chief Justice Warren had his own pressures.  An admirer of John F Kennedy and the family, he understandably wanted to spare his widow and brother as much pain as possible during the investigation process.  One of his most controversial decisions was to forbid the commission staff from seeing the autopsy photos and x-rays of President Kennedy, because of the horrible wounds suffered by the president, and the risk that they might end up part of the public record.  The staff was forced to rely upon sketches of the wounds made by doctors during the autopsy.  When the photos and x-rays were made available decades later it was realized that the sketches had major errors in the placement of the entry and exit wounds (the photos can be found on the internet; they are very disturbing and wish I had not seen them).  The discrepancies in the erroneous sketches fueled the critics and help kindle theories of more than one gunman being involved, whether the fatal shot came from the back or front, and about the supposed implausibility of the single bullet theory, all of which were debunked once the photos and x-rays became available. Warren from michaelariens)

In addition to the White House pressure to quickly complete the commission's work, Warren may also have been asked to limit the look at possible Soviet or Cuban involvement.  According to the staffers Shenon interviewed, he proved particularly reluctant to pursue questions around Oswald's visit to Mexico City, in one instance refusing permission for a staffer to interview Silvia Duran, a young Mexican communist employed by the Cuban embassy who, it was alleged, had been seen with Oswald on several occasions, telling staffer David Slawson:
"You just can't believe a communist.  We don't talk to communists.  You cannot trust a dedicated communist to tell us the truth, so what's the point?"
Shenon reports:
"In light of what he later learned about the CIA, Slawson suspected - but could not prove - that Warren had been asked by the spy agency not to interview Duran."
Warren also exhibited a surprising naivete about the operations of government.  In an early meeting of the commissioners, John McCloy asked:
"Had the chief justice or anyone else been in touch with the CIA to determine what it knew about the assassination - and about Oswald and his travels in Russia and Mexico?"

"No, I have not" Warren replied, "for the simple reason that I have never been informed that the CIA had any knowledge about this."
From the beginning, Senator Russell had his own suspicions about what was going on with the investigation, writing a note to himself after the first commission meeting in December "Something strange is happening", referring to the CIA and FBI investigation of Oswald's visit to Mexico, and to him there seemed to be a rush to demonstrate that Oswald was the lone assassin of which he wrote "This to me is an untenable conclusion." & Senator Russell, December 1963 from digital history)

Which brings us to the final problem - the obstruction of the investigation by the FBI and CIA.  There were dual motives.  The first was avoiding bureaucratic embarrassment.  Both agencies, the CIA through its monitoring of the embassies in Mexico City, and the FBI, through its access to some of that information which was routinely forwarded to it by the CIA, had good reason to be concerned about Oswald.  Their failure to act on that information may have cost the president's life.  The second was the likely directive from the White House to both agencies to play down any possible Cuban or Soviet connection.  Both motives provided incentives to carefully manage the information flow to the Warren Commission, and the presidential directive provided a convenient excuse for the agencies to cover up their mistakes.

More mundane concerns also led to evidence destruction.  On November 24, 1963,  FBI Special Agent James Hosty (who handled the Oswald file prior to the assassination - as a returned defector the FBI kept an eye on him) was called to the office of Gordon Shanklin, his boss in Dallas.  Shanklin showed Hosty a note that Oswald had delivered personally to the FBI office in early November complaining of FBI harassment, writing "If you don't cease bothering my wife, I will take appropriate action" according to Hosty, who had contacted Marina Oswald in an attempt to interview her.  Shanklin said "Oswald is dead now,  There can be no trial" and told Hosty to get rid of the note which he shredded and flushed down a toilet.  Months later, a commission investigator decided to cross check the FBI's typewritten summary of Oswald's address book, provided to the commission as a courtesy since the agency said Oswald's handwriting could be difficult to read, against the original address book and was surprised to find that the FBI summary was missing Oswald's entry of Agent James Hasty (an obvious misspelling of Hosty) which included Hosty's office address, license plate number of his FBI car and was dated November 1, 1963.  Hosty later said that his name had been left off the summary prepared by another agent in the Dallas office in order to save him from Hoover's wrath.

From the start, commission staff viewed J Edgar Hoover as uncooperative.  He blatantly tried to preempt the commission by producing his own report on December 9, 1963 which concluded that Oswald was the lone killer, which he then arranged to have selectively leaked to the press.  The report was shoddily done with obvious gaps, and the commission members who read it thought it made no sense.

Hoover later testified to the commission under oath that "There was nothing up to the time of the assassination that gave any indication that this man was a dangerous character who might do harm to the president" but, as Shenon notes, "Behind closed doors at the FBI, however, Hoover's views, shared with his deputies, was precisely the opposite. Within days of the assassination, he determined that the FBI had, in fact, bungled its investigation of Oswald before the assassination . . . "

Hoover went on to discipline 17 employees for "shortcomings in connection with the investigation of Oswald", including the decision not to place Oswald on the FBI's internal Security Index, a roster that would have been shared with the Secret Service ahead of Kennedy's visit to Dallas saying the failure to do so "could not have been more stupid".  The commission was never informed of his actions nor that the FBI knew of Oswald's visit to Mexico City and the embassies weeks before the assassination.

And it is the events in Mexico City that are at the center of the FBI and CIA obstruction.  Commission staffers knew that Oswald had visited Mexico City for five days at the end of September and beginning of October, entering the Cuban and Soviet embassies and unsuccessfully trying to obtain visas.  They had fragmentary reports about what Oswald was up to and who he might have seen.  They knew the CIA in Mexico City had both embassies under surveillance but when interviewed, CIA station chief Winston "Win" Scott insisted it had neither photographs nor any audiotapes of Oswald. Scott from jfkfacts)

Perhaps one of the most intriguing leads was that Oswald had attended a party with Silvia Duran "attended by Cuban diplomats and spies, as well as Mexican supporters of Castro's government" at which "some of the guests had spoken openly of their hope that someone would assassinate President John F Kennedy, if only to ensure the survival of the revolution in Cuba that Kennedy had been so desperate to crush".  Win Scott poured cold water on these allegations and went out of his way to discredit those making them, and probably made efforts to avoid having some of the witnesses interviewed by commission staffers.

While commission staff realized as early as December 1963 that they were being played by the FBI, their view of the CIA was initially different.  It was only in February 1964 that they realized the CIA was also withholding information, including on Oswald's trip to Mexico City, which it justified by saying the commission "did not fully understand the implications of forcing the CIA to share everything it had on Oswald".  Yet it proved impossible for the staff to penetrate the agency's layers of obfuscation and, as Shenon reveals, many staffers were unaware of how badly they were misled until the declassification of many documents in the 1990s or in some cases, until Shenon in his interviews shared documents they had never seen.

Our ambassador in Mexico, Thomas Mann, was convinced early on that Cuba had something to do with the assassination and urged a thorough FBI and CIA investigation.  The FBI bureau chief reported Mann's conviction that the Soviet Union was "much too sophisticated" to be involved but that Castro was "stupid enough to have participated".  After much resistance Hoover sent an agent to investigate but, as that agent told Shenon "he came to understand years later that he had been part of a charade to avoid discovering the full truth about Oswald in Mexico". Mann & LBJ from U. Texas)

In 1977, Ambassador Mann was interviewed by investigators during the House of Representatives investigation into the JFK, RFK and King assassinations.  In the interview, which remained classified for years, Mann claimed he had been personally ordered by Secretary of State Dean Rusk days after the assassination to shut down any investigation in Mexico that would "confirm or refute rumours of Cuban involvement in the assassination" and that he believed the same "incredible" order was given to Winston Scott and the embassy's FBI legal attache by their superiors.

Shenon also reveals the existence of a mystery letter that turned up in the CIA files declassified in the 1990s.  On June 17, 1964 Hoover prepared a letter to the Warren Commission with explosive information.  It allegedly came directly from a conversation Fidel Castro had with a U.S. Communist Party member and confidential FBI informant Jack Childs, who was in Cuba that month.  Along with his old brother Morris, who was a senior official in the American Communist Party, Jack became an FBI informant in the early 1950s.  Because of their party connections, the Childs brothers received unusual access to international party leaders meeting with, among others, Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Tse-Tung.  Their information proved "remarkably accurate" according to Shenon and in 1987 the brothers received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

According to Hoover's letter, Castro was quoted as saying "Oswald stormed into the embassy, demanded the visa, and, when it was refused to him, headed out saying, 'I'm going to kill Kennedy for this'".   Castro went on to say that Cuban diplomats did not take this seriously, believing Oswald might be some type of CIA provocateur and insisted that the Cuban government had nothing to do with the assassination.

The letter never reached the commission but a copy somehow ended up in the possession of the CIA.

In 1971 Win Scott died and CIA officials visited both his office and home in Mexico City to remove files.  Among his papers was a draft memoir declassified in the 1990 which stated:
"Above all, Oswald's visits at both the Communist Cuban Embassy and the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City during his brief five-day stay in September-October 1963 are, together, with what is known of what took place during these visits, sufficient to make him a suspect agent, acting on behalf of the Soviets, in several things, possibly, including the assassination of President Kennedy."

Despite his insistence to the commission that the CIA had no surveillance photos of Oswald, [Scott wrote that] the CIA had photos of him outside both embassies.  He also said that despite denials at the time, the CIA had audiotapes with Oswald's voice in his phone calls to the embassies writing that "His conversations with personnel of these embassies were studied in detail".
After the death of Hoover in 1972, his successors spent years cleaning up the mess he left behind and attempting to restore the agency's reputation.  In 1975, FBI Director Clarence Kelly met with reporters from the Dallas Times Herald who informed him they would be running a story about the letter from Oswald that FBI Agent James Hosty destroyed two days after the assassination.  It was the first Kelly had heard of the incident and, after internal inquiries, he told the paper the FBI had no objection to its running the story because it was true. Kelly, wikipedia)

The incident prompted Kelly to undertake his own investigation of the agency's action before and after the assassination and I'll quote at length from the book because of the significance of the Director's findings:
He found Hoover's undelivered June 1964 letter and other materials and became very troubled about the entire Mexico City visit of Oswald and the handling of evidence, including that one of the people he met with in the Soviet embassy was Valeriy Kostikov, a KGB agent known to be a specialist in assassinations.

Kelly concluded that in Washington the FBI and CIA "had enough combined information on Oswald's trek to Mexico City to put his name in lights on a presidential security list of threats" but that Agent Hosty in Dallas was kept in the dark.  Kelly found that the two missing memos of the Dallas file [dated October 18, 1963 about what the bureau knew of the CIA surveillance of Oswald in Mexio City and dated November 19, 1963 about contents of a letter written by Oswald to the Soviet embassy in Washington about his Mexico City trip] were removed days after the assassination in the hope Hosty had not yet read them.  Kelly believed the order to remove the memo came from the #3 man in the FBI, William Sullivan, and that he appeared to be working on orders from the White House which "seemingly considered the risk of a confrontation with the Soviet Union over the Kennedy assassination as too great".   Kelly's final conclusion was that if the information had been given to the Dallas office the President's death could have been easily prevented.
Shenon also reports that while doing his research he went to Mexico City and was able to interview Silvia Duran, several of her relatives and other people involved in the events of 1963 and is convinced that Oswald was at the party mentioned above despite the CIA insistence otherwise., from stevenhager)

Finally, and most startling, is something Shenon claims was not known before his research, which is that, by January 1964, James Angleton had inserted himself as the person at the CIA controlling the flow of information to the Warren Commission.  I don't know enough about the literature around the assassination to judge whether Shenon is the first to discover this but, if he is correct, Angleton's presence in the middle of the investigation raises alarm bells.

Forty years after being fired by CIA Director William Colby, James Jesus Angleton remains the most controversial figure in the history of the agency.  Born in 1917 to a U.S. cavalry officer father and Mexican mother who met during General Pershing's 1916 expedition to punish Pancho Villa, Angleton spent most of his childhood in Milan, Italy.  He attended Yale where, as an aspiring poet, he was editor of the literary magazine Furioso and, according to Wikipedia, corresponded extensively with Ezra Pound, EE Cummings and TS Eliot.

Entering the American secret service during WWII, Angleton became friends with British intelligence agent Kim Philby while serving in London.  Philby was a Soviet double agent who did immeasurable damage to American and British intelligence efforts in the years immediately following the war, constantly promoted by the British and serving from 1949 to 1951 in Washington as British intelligence liaison with the CIA, where he continued his friendship with Angleton.  Suspicions about Philby's activities forced the British to recall him in 1951, and though in 1955 Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan told the House of Commons there was no evidence Philby was a spy, in January 1963 he disappeared from Beirut, Lebanon, reappearing on July 30, 1963, when the Soviets triumphantly announced his presence in Moscow where he lived for the rest of his life.

Many believe that Philby's betrayal explains Angleton's own increasingly mysterious, complex, conspiratorial and suspicious attitude in his next role as CIA's Chief of Counterintelligence from 1954 until he left the agency twenty years later.  Over those decades, Angleton became increasingly convinced that the CIA had been penetrated by Soviet moles, and though he was never able to conclusively identify anyone, he ruined the careers of a number of CIA officers who became the target of his suspicions. His ongoing investigations served to tie the agency up in knots.

Informed opinions on Angleton differ widely which would probably please him.  CIA Director Helms held him in high regard, as does Edward Jay Epstein, himself a highly regarded author on intelligence matters.  Other experienced intelligence professionals and authors regard him as an incompetent alcoholic who paralyzed the agency and destroyed the effectiveness of the CIA operations directorate, an opinion shared by Director Colby, who forced him to retire.

Angleton's presence in the information stream to the commission adds yet another layer of obfuscation, since it was his nature to complicate things.  Everyone who has written of their interactions with him speaks about his obsession with nothing being as it seemed and of always seeing complicated and well-planned deceptions piled upon deceptions in any type of activity.  A  conversation with him was like entering a hall of mirrors.  Shenon suspects it was Angleton who prevented Hoover's June 1964 letter (a copy of which ended up in CIA files) from reaching the commission.  If Angleton was the culprit, my guess is that he thought Castro's statement was disinformation designed to deflect blame from Cuba, to which you might respond "but isn't that what the White House wanted?" and the answer being yes, but that is not necessarily what Angleton wanted and he knew best in his own mind.

It was also James Angleton who personally visited Win Scott's office and home in 1971 to collect his files, including the memoir declassified two decades later.  On top of a White House already interested in minimizing information on Mexico City, who knows what additional confusion and misdirection may have been sowed by Angelton's involvement?

I'd tell you about Angleton and the battle around the Soviet defectors Golitysn and Nosenko which also bears on the assassination but if we enter that hall of mirrors we would likely never find a way out.

What are we to make of all this?

The lack of access to the autopsy photos and x-rays led the commission to botch the analysis of the president's wounds and raise unneeded questions about the trajectory of the bullets.  If Justice Warren had allowed access it would have avoided errors and lessened the credibility of conspiracy theorists.

The pressure to speed things along led to gaps and mistakes that became an easy target for skeptics and should have been easily correctable with a little more time and a more experienced staff.

The Mexico City aspect is trickier.  The desire of the White House to avoid a nuclear confrontation is certainly understandable.  Perhaps the right course of action depends on what you think really happened there.  It is certainly possible that Oswald attended the party with Silvia Duran and heard comments about what a good thing it would be if President Kennedy was killed.  He may very well, as Castro supposedly claimed, made threats about killing the president while at the Cuban embassy.  Neither of these implicate Cuban officials, though if the CIA were aware of any of this, and failed to inform the FBI, it would have been an enormous failure on its part.

Even Oswald's meeting with KGB "wet work" specialist Kostikov at the Soviet Embassy that so bothered FBI Director Kelly can be explained.  Kostikov also had regular consular duties as part of his cover and, as the senior KGB man in the agency, it is understandable why he might meet with a U.S. citizen, a former defector to the Soviet Union who was now seeking to return there.  Moreover there was no clear motive for the Soviet Union to kill the president in the wake of the resolution of the Missile Crisis and the signing earlier in the year of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; the reaction of Soviet leaders to the news of his death was panic that they would be blamed for the assassination.

Cuba is another matter.  As information has dribbled out over the decades we now know that the Castro demonstrated some erratic personal behavior during the 1962 crisis, including urging a first strike nuclear attack on the U.S., and the Soviets took steps to limit his control of their weapons in Cuba.  He also had a motivation since the Kennedy brothers were trying to kill him, had issued a threat of retaliation, and we can assume he was aware of the meeting scheduled in Paris on November 22, 1963 between the CIA and the Cuban double agent.  Yet there is still no direct or even indirect link indicating that the Cubans were willing to place the future of their country in the hands of the unpredictable Lee Harvey Oswald who, at the time he was in Mexico City seemed to have no realistic path to carrying out such a task.  That's why, while a Cuban role is possible, I still think it highly unlikely., from jfkfacts)

However, Kelly was right about Kostikov and Mexico City in the key respect.  In 1963, the process for a presidential visit involved the local FBI reviewing its files for potential security risks and forwarding those to the Secret Service which would examine each individual.   The CIA knew of Oswald's visits to the embassies and their purpose.  They may have had even more detailed and revealing information on his activities and conversations.  We know that some form of that information reached the CIA and FBI in Washington, but did not make it in usable form to the FBI Dallas Office (unless the still unexplained October 18 memo was sufficient).   If the local FBI knew that there was a Dallas resident, a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and returned to the U.S., engaged in pro-Castro activities in New Orleans in September, and then visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies seeking visas and meeting with a KGB assassination specialist, Oswald should have been placed on the security list and simple inquiries would have revealed he was working along the route of the presidential motorcade.  As Hoover concluded, the failure was "stupid" and as Kelly realized a decade later, proper handling of the information would have averted the tragedy.

Instead, geopolitical concerns provided a wonderful opportunity for both agencies to cover their blunders.  There is one constant about bureaucracies both inside and outside government.  Their priority is to protect themselves.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Cruel And Shocking Act (Part 1)

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History Of The Kennedy Assassination
by Philip Shenon (2013)

I was in 7th grade and our teacher was absent when class was supposed to start after lunch.  We sat quietly, patiently waiting, but as the minutes passed we began speculating about what was going on.  Our teacher finally walked into the room crying, told us the President had been shot (I can't remember whether the news was that he was dead) and that school was dismissed.

After walking across the school athletic fields to our house across the street I found the front door ajar and no one home.  My mother, a Democratic party official, on hearing the news had gone to the nearby home of our former Democratic Congressman where many local party officials were gathering.

Vivid memories remain of watching TV that November afternoon; the death of Dallas Police Office JD Tippit and the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald.  In the evening we saw Air Force One land at Andrews Air Force Base, disgorging the coffin and watching Jackie Kennedy disembark.  On Sunday morning a friend came over and we, along with my sister, took a break from the constant TV watching to go to my room and play a game where you turned stick figures of hockey players.  Suddenly we heard my parents shouting, prompting us to run to the living room where we learned that Oswald had just been shot.  And then came the funeral on Monday.

John F Kennedy is the first president I distinctly remember.  In 1960, at the age of nine, I was a member of  Youth For Kennedy (and still have a clipping from the local paper with a picture of me as part of the group), and saw him speak at the train station in Bridgeport, CT on November 6, 1960, two days before the election (Connecticut was still a crucial swing state in those days).
Kennedy at train station(JFK in Bridgeport from Bridgeport Library)
Kennedy, Ribicoff(JFK in Bridgeport with Governor Abe Ribicoff second to the right from onlyinbridgeport)

Because of my mom's position in the state Democratic party we were able to stand next to the platform from which the candidate spoke, below and just to the right of JFK in this picture.  It was a bright sunny day and remember him pointing just as he is in the picture.  The area around the station was packed with an enthusiastic crowd and there were teenage girls jumping up and down screaming, just as they would for The Beatles three years later.

JFK's assassination changed things.  After his death came the Vietnam War, riots in American cities and a general sense that things were out of control.  It bred a more conspiratorial and, at times, paranoid mindset, a mindset that has stayed in place over the decades.  Ironically, the academic view was that the paranoia was from the right-wing; the best example being liberal Professor Richard J Hofstadter's influential November 1964 article in Harper's Magazine, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, a screed against the rise of Barry Goldwater, but as I can attest being a politically active young Democrat, it was JFK's death that set off an ever growing paranoid view of politics among liberals.  It became the conviction of large percentages of Americans that there was a conspiracy masterminded by dark forces in our society, thwarting a collective fantasy that but for that event we would have moved into "bright sunlit uplands", a viewpoint expressed in its most extreme form by the loony, but creative, director Oliver Stone (for more on him see Showtime's Agitprop) in the feverish conspiracy film, JFK, featuring the bizarre convoluted conspiracy theories of wacky New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison.

Stone's film, made in the early 1990s, merely reflected widespread views originating in the late 60s and early 70s.  After a brief honeymoon of public acceptance after its 1964 release, the credibility of the Warren Commission report with its conclusion that Oswald acted alone, quickly eroded and by the mid-60s more than 50% of Americans thought there was a conspiracy.  By 1975, 81% believed in a conspiracy and Gallup Polling over the years has always shown more than 70% supporting the conspiracy hypothesis until its most recent survey, in 2013, showed a drop to a still substantial 61%.  JFK assassination conspiracy theories have even become punch lines in Hollywood movies.

I read some of the early books attacking the commission's work and claiming there was a government conspiracy by authors like Mark Lane and, while living in the Boston area in the early and mid-1970s , knew people associated with the Assassination Information Bureau (AIB), founded by the radical former president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Carl Oglesby.  The AIB became command central for those who propagated a variety of assassination theories, all centered around a right-wing conspiracy, usually involving Lyndon Johnson and various combinations of the CIA, FBI, Mafia, Cuban refugees, defense contractors, the Pentagon and the Illuminati (just joking on the last one, I think).  It was quite an experience listening to them go on and on in an all-knowing way.  For some reason, they believed that a self-proclaimed Marxist and Communist, who had defected to the Soviet Union and two months before the assassination tried to get visas to go to the Soviet Union or Cuba, a failure who felt he deserved to be a big shot and cultivated feelings of resentment and anger, constantly taunted by his Russian born wife for his inadequacies, a trained Marine rifleman who for several months had been going to shooting ranges to brush up on his skills and, who in April 1963 tried to murder a notorious right-winger, Edwin Walker, who idolized Fidel Castro and was aware of Castro's threat to get the Kennedys if they didn't stop trying to kill him and who may, while in Mexico City, have attended a party where Cuban diplomats, spies and others made remarks about their desire that John Kennedy die (for more on these last two see below), apparently lacked the motive and means to kill the president on his own.

And, as I found out in doing research for this post, Hillary Clinton's long-time henchman and recent advisor on Libya, Sid Blumenthal, played a key role in the AIB, co-authoring the only book published by the organization.  By all accounts he remains as obsessively conspiratorial minded.

Today it is very clear to me, based upon the availability of more advanced computer based reconstructions of the timing and trajectory of the President's vehicle and the rifle shots, more accurate knowledge of his wounds, and thorough reexaminations of the evidence in several books including those by Gerald Posner (Case Closed) and Vincent Bugliosi (Reclaiming History), that there is no doubt that all of the shots came from the rifle of Oswald and were fired by him.  There was no second gunman.  There is also no doubt that there was not a conspiracy involving individually, or any combination of, LBJ, the Mafia, Jack Ruby, American right-wingers or the Russians.  What now seems obvious to me, however, remains controversial for many; just check out all the One-Star reviews for the two books mentioned above on Amazon.

What remains as a very slight possibility is Cuban involvement in one of two ways.  The first, and more probable of these still unlikely scenarios, involves Cuban intelligence, centered around Oswald's visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City during his five day visit, September 27 through October 1, 1963 less than two months before the assassination.  Why might there be Cuban involvement?  Because JFK and Robert Kennedy were continuing to run, via the CIA, operations to kill Fidel Castro, despite the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous fall.  Castro was well aware of these repeated attempts on his life though the American public was not at the time.  The Associated Press published an article on September 8, 1963, by a reporter who interviewed Castro and quoted him issuing a warning "U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe".  The AP story was published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that same week.  Oswald, in New Orleans at the time, and publicly demonstrating in support of Castro, was an avid reader of that paper during his sojourn in the city.  It was after New Orleans that Oswald made his trip to Mexico City and the Cuban Embassy.

The second is the possible involvement of anti-Castro Cubans, incensed by what they saw as JFK's betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, manipulating Oswald into believing he was working on behalf of Castro in killing Kennedy.

There are many reasons for doubting there was any conspiracy but here are two I found easy to grasp.

It was happenstance that gave Oswald the opportunity.  While visiting with some of her neighbors Marina Oswald heard one of them mention that the Texas School Book Depository was hiring.  Desperate to get her unemployed husband a job, she asked the other woman to inquire of her friend about a job for Lee.  The Depository was hiring at both its locations and Oswald was randomly assigned to the one in Dealey Plaza.  All this happened in mid-October 1963, after his visit to Mexico City.  While there had been a public announcement of JFK's trip to Texas in late September, Dallas was not added to the visit until November 9, and the motorcade route not published until November 19; a route which had the president's limousine not only pass directly in front of the Depository building, but required a sharp left turn just before which slowed the vehicle down making the president an easy target in the open back seat.
(from McAdams, though the note referring to "Originally Planned" route is in error, the route was always planned to take a right and then a left on to Elm St)

And what about Jack Ruby shooting Oswald on November 24?  The shooting occurred as Oswald was being transferred from Dallas Police to Federal custody.  The planned transfer was delayed because, at the last minute, a federal postal inspector requested he be allowed to ask Oswald some questions, and then Oswald asked that he be allowed to go back to his cell to put on a sweater before leaving.  Meanwhile, Jack Ruby was at the Western Union office across the street from police headquarters waiting patiently in line to wire $25 requested by one of the strippers at his night club, having left his beloved dog to wait in the car for his return.  Seeing the police activity when he left Western Union, Ruby (well known to Dallas Police as a hanger-on and cop wannabe) walked down the garage ramp and into history.  If not for the delays in Oswald leaving, Ruby never would have had the chance to shoot him and Ruby's actions that morning do not seem those of a man acting to some predetermined plan, rather he was, as those who interviewed him in 1964 concluded, psychotic and delusional.

I'm also strongly influenced by my own experience in doing investigations which has served to disabuse me of an easy acceptance of conspiracy theories.  Things that often look extremely suspicious at first usually end up as surprising, bizarre and unplanned chains of events leading to unfortunate incidents.  Even after completing investigations where those factors were clearly at play, I'm still amazed it happened without some grand plan.

The turmoil of 1960s America, both domestic and foreign, reduced the credibility of government.  Amid that growing cynicism some of the initial books questioning the commission seemed credible, contributing to a growing lack of public confidence in its conclusions.  Moreover, as we learned after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, in early 1964 the KGB started a covert disinformation operation to spread a message blaming the assassination on the American government, a theme initially gaining traction in Western Europe and then spreading to America, and prompted by a Kremlin worried that it would be blamed for JFK's death; a campaign that fed right into the growing suspicion and disillusionment over the Warren Commission.

But is also clear to many people that something went wrong within the Warren Commission which fed the growth of conspiracy theories.  Finding out what went wrong is the subject of the 2013 book by long time New York Times reporter, Philip Shenon, A Cruel And Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.  It is the best comprehensive overview to understand how the White House, CIA and FBI managed to damage its credibility.

The book's title is drawn from the first line of the Warren Commission's introduction to its report: "The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963 was a cruel and shocking act of violence, directed against a man, a family, a nation, and against all mankind."

The book's subtitle "The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination" is misleading; more accurately it should be, "The Secret History of the Warren Commission", because it is the investigation undertaken by that Commission which is the focus of the book.  Shenon began his research in 2008 and was able to interview a number of the then still-living younger staff of the Warren Commission.   He also exhaustively review the commission and various government files as well as conducting interviews in Mexico City.

The author presents a fascinating intimate look at the operations of the commission, giving us vivid portraits of the often-reluctant commission members, particularly Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senator Richard Russell, both of whom were subjected to Lyndon Johnson's seductively persuasive arm-twisting tactics before agreeing to serve, and of the in-fighting among them from the time the commission began its work in December 1963 to the release of its report in September 1964.  He walks us through each step of the investigation, and the young, and often relatively inexperienced lawyers, who conducted much of it.  I was struck by the lack of seasoned investigators on the commission staff.

We learn about many of the key personalities, like the increasingly erratic and untrustworthy Marina Oswald, along with smaller moments such as Lady Bird Johnson's testimony about coming face to face with Jackie Kennedy, in her blood splattered clothes in that small hallway at the hospital in Dallas, "I think it was right outside the operating room.  She was quite alone.  I don't think I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life".

But it is the story of the suppression of evidence and why it occurred that is the backbone of the book.

PART 2 - WHAT WENT WRONG . . . Tomorrow

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Eagles Of Death Metal

This was the band performing at the Bataclan Theater in Paris last Friday night when ISIS terrorists entered the venue and slaughtered 89 people.  Despite its name the band is not a metal band ala Metallica, Anthrax or Anvil.  It's a rock band with a humorous touch, self described as The Eagles meet Metal.  The only two permanent members are Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme with the rest of the band a rotating bunch of friends and loonies.  The band was on a European tour supporting their recently released CD, Zipper Down.  Here's a video for the single Complexity featuring Hughes and Homme.
Yesterday they posted a note on Facebook for their fans.  The four people mentioned by name below  were murdered last Friday.
While the band is now home safe, we are horrified and still trying to come to terms with what happened in France. Our thoughts and hearts are first and foremost with our brother Nick Alexander, our record company comrades Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser, and Manu Perez, and all the friends and fans whose lives were taken in Paris, as well as their friends, families, and loved ones.

Although bonded in grief with the victims, the fans, the families, the citizens of Paris, and all those affected by terrorism, we are proud to stand together, with our new family, now united by a common goal of love and compassion.
We would like to thank the French police, the FBI, the U.S. and French State Departments, and especially all those at ground zero with us who helped each other as best they could during this unimaginable ordeal, proving once again that love overshadows evil.

All EODM shows are on hold until further notice.
Vive la musique, vive la liberté, vive la France, and vive EODM.
It's worth reading the entire post which also contains comments from several fans in attendance at Bataclan, at least one of whom was wounded in the massacre.

And here they are at a show this September in Cleveland performing a cover of Duran Duran's 1984 hit Save A Prayer.

And now to bring things full circle you can watch here the Eagles of Death Metal doing a terrific version of Save A Prayer with Duran Duran in London just a couple of weeks ago.  This is the original Duran Duran video which is worth watching for the beautiful shots of Sri Lanka scenery and monuments.  Save A Prayer is also one of those songs that THC Didn't Like To Admit He Liked.

UPDATE:  The Eagles of Death Metal played in Israel this past July despite an appeal to cancel their visit by the despicable Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd).  Water supports the destruction of Israel through his support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement so hats off to the Eagles for going on with this visit.  The Batalcan theater has Jewish ownership and had been the subject of demonstrations by the BDS movement and Muslim groups because it allowed Jewish and Israeli events at the venue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

'Ol Man River Keeps Rolling . . . In A Different Direction

The main channel of the Mississippi River currently runs past New Orleans.
However, as discussed at America's Wetlands Foundation website this may not always be the case and, but for work undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beginning in the 1950s, the main course of the river might have already changed.

Over the centuries the Mississippi River has often changed course throughout its length.  In the 15th century the river did a loop left and intercepted the Red River (see top & center of map above) which became a tributary and as a result of this reconfiguration the Atchafalaya River (AR), seen in the center of the map above flowing parallel to the lower Mississippi, was formed as another tributary.

By the 19th century the AR had deepened and widened and under certain conditions flow went from the Mississippi to the AR rather than the other way around and by the end of that century the AR was no longer a tributary to the Mississippi and about 30% of the great river's flow was reaching the Gulf of Mexico by the AR with the remaining 70% still passing New Orleans in the main channel.

In 1953, the Corps of Engineers concluded that without massive flood control work by 1990 the main flow of the Mississippi would be to the AR which provided a shorter and steeper connection with the Gulf of Mexico than the New Orleans route.  The initial Corps work was completed in the 1960s (see schematic below):
After flooding in 1973 which partially undermined the sill structure, additional work was undertaken to relieve pressure on the junction of the three rivers.

However, it is considered inevitable that at some future date a Mississippi flood will overwhelm the control system and the river's main channel will flow via the AR.  The America's Wetlands site contains excerpts from a study examining the implications of the course change:

Instead of 70% flow down the lower Mississippi and 30% flow down the Atchafalaya, the percentages would probably reverse.  The Atchafalaya would be a rushing, raging river, even during the fall for a period of time until it scoured the channel and filled in the lower reaches so that the flow would diminish.  Morgan City would have to be relocated, as would other communities and many businesses, possibly including the massive infrastructure of the offshore oil and gas industry.  Fisheries would be altered measurably all across the delta . . . Additionally, pipelines, bridges, and the like that cross the Atchafalaya would be destroyed or rendered unsafe.  The ruptured natural gas pipelines would place stress on fuel supplies for energy companies, but they would quickly change to more costly fuel sources and have little or no interruption of service.  Imagine the traffic jams when and if bridges on I-10, U.S. 90, and U.S. 190 collapse (what about the railroads)?  All trans-state traffic would have to be rerouted to I-20 via I-55 through Jackson, Mississippi, adding up to 615 miles to the trip (not to mention time delays from the traffic jams). . . 
The lower Mississippi would still have a copious amount of water, but it would be slack compared to today.  Shipping could continue to be an important industry, but it would be interrupted for a time.  The slack water would allow (cause) the thalweg to fill in and stop deep-draft shipping.  However, after intensive dredging efforts it may be found that a 50 ft channel can be easily maintained because of the tremendous decrease in sediment.  New Orleans, possibly Baton Rouge, and all other cities and towns along the lower Mississippi would no longer be able to get their drinking water from the river.  It would become too salty, since the lower fresh water flow would not offset the tidal movement of the Gulf. . .  As mentioned above, the fisheries (especially those associated with the fresh water river) would suddenly change.  And what about the massive petrochemical industry corridor?  Aside from the impact on shipping, which they could weather over time, industry could no longer use fresh river water for thermo-electric cooling.  The saltier water would corrode all the pipes and related instrumentation.  Of course, industry would change to salt-tolerant materials, but that would be costly and time consuming. . .  

All normal routines would stop.  Businesses would be closed, as would schools, normal government, etc., etc.  Virtually the entire population would spend months and months just coping - just putting their and others back together. . . 

One can also imagine the impact on the nation.  Massive use of Federal dollars to protect and restore Louisiana=s infrastructure.  Loss of natural gas (there would be brown-outs throughout the eastern seaboard).  Commerce would be interrupted by restriction of travel and Louisiana=s inability to focus on supplying items traditionally demanded from her natural resources by the nation.

Long term, we would adapt.  Once the drinking and sanitation water issues were resolved, tourism would return.  Coastal erosion could be reversed on the west side of the present-day Mississippi River.  Shrimp, oysters, and other fisheries would probably flourish after a number of years due to new marshes being produced and nutrient rich sediments being redistributed.
This would obviously place a lot of stress on at least two generations of residents.  We would survive, but it would be a new Louisiana and Mississippi River delta.  
Well, that is certainly going to be a very interesting time!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Winter Is Coming

You can take that literally or metaphorically.

Winter In The Country by George Henry Durrie (from
Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1820, Durrie did most of his work in New Haven where he died in 1863.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Patrick O'Brian Mapping Project

THC has posted before of his love for the series of historical novels set in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and written by the late Patrick O'Brian (see Master And Commander & Capturing Esmeralda).  Tom Horn, an Australian software developer, has set himself the task of mapping the voyages of Lucky Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  You can see the results by visiting this website (the aptly named and also see some of Tom's other interesting projects.  Congrats Tom!   And thanks to the THC son for alerting this blog to the existence of this extraordinary resource.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On The Way Home

From Buffalo Springfield (1968).  Vocal by Richie Furay, composed by Neil Young.  A bright and optimistic tune.  THC could use that today.

Though we rush ahead to save our time
We are only what we feel
And I love you
Can you feel it now?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Before The Big Bang

No, not the TV show.  The real Big Bang which started everything.  Or did it?  What happened before the Big Bang?  Does that question even make any sense?  Was there nothing before then?  What does nothing mean?  Was famed cosmologist William Preston on the right track when he hypothesized "nothing from nothing leaves nothing"?  Why am I here?  Spend a few minutes listening to the delightfully named Tim Maudlin, Professor of Philosophy at NYU talk about the competing theories of what happened before anything happened.

Professor Maudlin from The Atlantic

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

With The Old Breed
It was a drizzly Saturday in the early 1980s and THC was running errands when he decided to stop by the library in the Boston suburb of Needham where he and Mrs THC made their home.  This was back in the days when libraries still had books and Needham had a very good library.  THC liked wandering through the stacks and checking out the New Books section, which is exactly what he did that day.

He noticed a hard cover book called With The Old Breed: At Peleliu And Okinawa by EB Sledge.  He'd not heard of it but looking at the blurbs and thumbing through it THC realized it was a World War II combat memoir.  While THC loves history and reads quite a bit about WWII he usually stayed away from combat memoirs because so many were poorly written, but for some reason he was intrigued by the book and took it home.  Once he reached the section describing the landing at Peleliu he realized he was reading something extraordinary.  He's reread it three times since then.

With The Old Breed is today widely considered by historians and veterans the best combat memoir of the war in the Pacific and the author's tale became one of three around which Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg built The Pacific, their 2010 HBO mini-series.

The book should be required reading in every high school in America.

Eugene Sledge was nineteen years old when he volunteered for the Marine Corps in December 1943.  The quiet, shy Alabamian from a fairly well to do background deliberately flunked out of a officer training program so he could more quickly get to war, which he did as a private in the First Marine Division, serving as a 60mm mortarman during the campaigns on the islands of Peleliu (Sept-Oct 1944) and Okinawa (April-June 1945).  Of the 235 men in his company who landed on Peleliu only 85, including Sledge, were still with the unit at the end.  At Okinawa, 65 of the original company participated in the initial landing, 26 of whom were still in the ranks at the end (including several wounded who had returned to duty).  Eugene Sledge was part of that small band, having survived both campaigns unwounded. Sledge, 1945 from encyclopedia of alabama)

Returning to Alabama after the war, he enrolled at Auburn, finding his calling when after telling his father he could no longer hunt after what he experienced during the war, his father suggested he take up bird watching.  He eventually became a Professor of Biology at Alabama College, remaining a popular teacher until his death in 2001. Sledge, 1990s, from

During the war he kept notes in a pocket sized New Testament and in the book's preface  describes the writing process:
"I began writing this account immediately after Peleliu while we were in rest camp on Pavuvu Island.  I outlined the entire story with detailed notes as soon as I returned to civilian life, and I have written down certain episodes during the years since then.  Mentally, I have gone over and over the details of these events, but I haven't been able to draw them all together and write them down until now."
Initially intended only for his family, they eventually persuaded him to seek publication and the book was published in 1981, which is how THC came across it in the Needham library.  The reference to the Old Breed in the title is to those Marines who had served for many years with the Corps prior to WWII, formed its backbone, providing an example and a firm hand for all the new recruits.

Sledge's style is unadorned and straightforward.  He describes the people, the incidents and the feel and smell of these island assaults.   He does not seem to hold anything back and his story is not glamorous.  This is his description of the gun pit he inhabited for a few days during the assault on the The Umurbrogal Pocket, a 400 x 1200 yard battlefield on Peleliu, consisting of coral ridges and "rubble filled canyons"; an assault undertaken in temperatures of 115 degrees and high humidity:
"The overwhelming grayness of everything in sight caused sky, ridge, rocks, stumps, men, and equipment to blend into a grimy oneness.  Weird, jagged contours of Peleliu's ridges and canyons gave the area an unearthly alien appearance.  The shattered vegetation and the dirty-white splotches peppering the rocks where countless bullets and shell fragments had struck off the weathered gray surfaces contributed to the unreality of the harsh landscape."

"Rain added the final touch.  On a battlefield rain made the living more miserable and forlorn and the dead more pathetic.  To my left lay a couple of bloated Japanese corpses teaming with maggots and inactive flies who seemed to object to the rain as much as I did.  Each dead man still wore the two leather cartridge boxes, one on either side of his belt buckle, neat wrap leggings, tabi shoes, helmets and packs.  Beside each corpse lay a shattered and rusted Arisaka rifle, smashed against a rock by some Marine to be certain it wasn't used again."

"Cans of C rations and K rations boxes, opened and unopened, lay around our gun pit along with discarded grenade and mortar shell canisters.  Scattered about the area were discarded U.S. helmets, packs, ponchos, dungaree jackets, web cartridge belts, leggings, boondockers, ammo boxes of every type, and crates.  The discarded articles of clothing and the inevitable bottles of blood plasma bore mute testimony that a Marine had been hit there."
"Many tree stumps had a machine-gun ammon belt draped over them.  Some of these belts were partially filled with live cartridges.  Amid all this evidence of violent combat, past and continuing, I was interested in the fact that spent, or partially so, machine-gun ammo belts so often seemed to be draped across a shattered stump or bush rather than lying on the ground.  In combat, I often experienced fascination over such trivia, particularly when exhausted physically and strained emotionally."   
Sledge describes the practical issues of combat on a small coral island where it was impossible to undertake normal field sanitation and Marines fought in the same positions for days on end.  He tells us of his fear when, shortly after the landing on Peleliu, his unit charged across an open airfield under mortar fire and of killing his first Japanese soldier:
"I had just killed a man at close range.  That I had seen clearly the pain on his face when my bullets hit him came as a jolt. . .  The expression on that man's face filled me with shame and then disgust for the war and all the misery it was causing.  My combat experience thus far made me realize that such sentiments for an enemy soldier were the maudlin meditations of a fool . . . and was thankful my buddies couldn't read my thoughts."
And he tells us of his feelings about the enemy.  After coming across a dead Marine who had been horribly mutilated and defiled by the Japanese he writes:
"My emotions solidified into rage and a hatred for the Japanese beyond anything I ever had experienced.  From that moment on I never felt the least pity or compassion for them no matter what the circumstances.  My comrades would field strip their packs and pockets for souvenirs and take gold teeth, but I never saw a Marine commit the kind of barbaric mutilation the Japanese committed if they had access to our dead."
But he also sees a Marine casually prying gold teeth from a mortally wounded, but still living Japanese soldier, prompting this observation, "It was uncivilized . . . It wasn't simply souvenir hunting or looting the enemy dead; it was more like Indian warriors taking scalps."

Sledge tells us of a conversation with Gunnery Sgt Elmo Haney, one of the Old Breed, who fought in France during the First World War.  Early in his account, Sledge is in awe of Haney, a man who scrubbed his genitals with a bristle brush, and cleaned his M1 and bayonet three times daily, concluding "I felt that he was not a man born of woman, but that God had issued him to the Marine Corps".  When he asked Haney what he thought of Peleliu:
"Instead of the usual old salt comment - something like 'You think that was bad, you oughta been in the Old Corps' - Haney answered with an unexpected, 'Boy, that was terrible!  I ain't never seen nothin' like it.  I'm ready to go back to the States.  I've had enough after that'."
Peleliu was awful but, in some ways, Okinawa was worse.  Geared up for fierce fighting on the landing beaches, the Marines were pleasantly surprised to initially meet little resistance and quickly moved inland.  That relief gave way to dismay in a few days when they butted up against the sophisticated defenses of the Shuri line.  For the next two months relentless vicious fighting amidst rain and mud, under conditions resembling the trench warfare of the Western Front in WWI, was to be their fate.  Sledge describes the scene for us:
"During the fighting around the Umurbrogol Pocket on Peleliu, I had been depressed by the wastage of human lives.  But in the mud and driving rain before Shuri, we were surrounded by maggots and decay.  Men struggled and fought and bled in an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool."

"The situation was bad enough, but when enemy artillery shells exploded in the area, the eruptions of soil and mud uncovered previously buried Japanese dead and scattered chunks of corpses.  Like the area around our gun pits, the ridge was a stinking compost pile".

"If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting.  I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, leggings lacings, and the like. . .  We didn't talk about such things.  They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans."
The physical and psychological strain was terrible, and Sledge came closing to breaking (the ten weeks of fighting on Okinawa would leave 75,000 Americans dead, wounded or psychologically disabled).  According to his account the periodic rotation out of the front lines for a few days rest just made the ordeal even worse:
"The increasing dread of going back into action obsessed me.  It became the subject of the most tortuous and persistent of all the ghastly war nightmares that have haunted me for many, many years.  The dream is always the same, going back up to the lines during the bloody, muddy month of May on Okinawa."
After surviving Okinawa, Sledge recuperated and prepared for this third invasion, Japan.  Marines and soldiers in the Pacific had to participate in three island assaults after which you would be rotated home to the United States, so Eugene had one more to go.  It was one that he, like most others in the same situation, felt he would not survive.  When news came of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender he relates:
"We thought the Japanese would never surrender.  Many refused to believe it.  Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead.  So many dead.  So many maimed.  So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past."
For all the horror he experienced what comes through most strongly in With The Old Breed are the bonds among the Marines and their feeling towards each other.  The book is dedicated:
In memory of Capt Andrew A Haldane
beloved company commander of K/3/5
and to the Old Breed
and the most shattering moment for Sledge is when his beloved Capt Haldane is killed on Peleliu:
"It was the worst grief I endured during the entire war.  The intervening years have not lessened it any . . .  He was the finest Marine officer I ever new.  The loss of many close friends grieved me deeply . . . but to all of us the loss of our company commander at Peleliu was like losing a parent we depended upon for security - not our physical security, because we knew that was a commodity beyond our reach in combat, but our mental security."
He closes With The Old Breed with these thoughts:
"Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it.  The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other.  Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive.  But it also taught us loyalty to each other - and love.  That espirit de corps sustained us."

"Until the millennium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one's responsibilities and to be willing to make sacrifices for one's country - as my comrades did.  As the troops used to say 'If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for.'  With privilege goes responsibility."
So today, let's remember Eugene Sledge, his comrades and all those who shouldered that responsibility since 1775.