Here Comes the Sun

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Today is the day. The summer solstice. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with this event, but that’s where it ends. So here is a bit more granularity.

At the summer solstice, the Earth reaches the point in its orbit where the northern hemisphere is most tilted toward the sun, which puts the latter higher in the sky at noon than at any other time of the year. This is also the day of the year with the longest daylight period and the shortest night.  In prehistoric times, the summer solstice was of great importance to aboriginal peoples.  The snow had disappeared, food was easier to find, and crops already planted would soon be harvested in months to come. From then on, however, the days would begin to shorten, indicating the inevitable return of the cold season.

The Red Pencil

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For those of us who write, life is good – or even great – when you have a good editor. Editors are the unsung heroes who make our writing sing.

That’s why it seems a bit unfair that editors remain behind the scenes, toiling in virtual obscurity as they do their vital work.

Occasionally, and editor becomes well-known, largely because he or she has shepherded a writer along and helped that writer achieve fame or even fortune.

Harold Evans is one of those editors and that’s why I latched on to his book: DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR? Why Writing Well Matters.

Here is how Jim Holt’s book review of Evans book begins:

Have you heard of Harold Evans? Sir Harold Evans? Of course you have. He is one of the greatest and most garlanded editors alive. Now in his late 80s, Evans emerged from a working-class Welsh family in the provincial north of England to make his reputation as an ambitious young newspaperman. From 1967 to 1981 he was helmsman of The Sunday Times of London, which he turned into a powerhouse of investigative journalism. Leaving The Times after he clashed with its officious new purchaser, Rupert Murdoch, Evans soon moved to the United States. By the 1990s he had become head of Random House, where he edited the books of eminences like Norman Mailer and Henry Kissinger. Subsequently he himself wrote several popular books on American history. He is married to Tina Brown, the erstwhile editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Harry and Tina are Manhattan’s ultimate editorial “power couple.” One imagines that, after the last guest has left one of their glittering Sutton Place soirees, their pillow talk abounds in terms like “stet,” “transpose” and “delete.”

With that as a teaser, you can read the full review here.

War!

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Warfare has been a fact of life from the time that man first created weapons and used them against other men who presented threats to them.

I have been reading about warfare from the time I began my Navy career decades ago, and am always on the hunt for books that help me understand this phenomenon.

That’s why I found the New York Times article: “War Stories” by Thomas Ricks so valuable. He summarizes eleven new books that cover a wide array of scholarship on this subject.

Want more? You can read the entire article here.

The Existential Threat

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Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The reason why is compelling: Ballistic missiles armed with WMD represent the primary existential threat to the United States as well as other nations.

This is what the New York Times Helene Cooper and David Sanger had to say in a recent article about the American response to the threat of ballistic missiles armed with WMD:

A re-engineered American interceptor rocket collided with a mock intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday afternoon in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said, in the first successful test of whether it could shoot down a warhead from North Korea racing toward the continental United States at speeds approaching true battle conditions.

At a time when tensions with North Korea are running high, a successful test was vital for the Defense Department’s beleaguered missile defense program. It enabled the Pentagon to argue that it is making strides in protecting the United States from a North Korean nuclear warhead.

Not long ago, in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, we addressed the U.S. Navy’s contribution to the nation’s missile defense capability. This is part of what we said:

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

For years, the U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD was secondary to many other systems. Today, the U.S. Navy is “in the van” as we describe in our article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Want more? Read the full New York Times article by Helene Cooper and David Sanger here.

And here is our article talking about ballistic missile defense in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

 

Rules for Modern Living

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We live in an age of excitability, agitation and venting, thanks in large part to our unprecedented leisure time and astounding technology. Yet we also want happiness, serenity and meaning, which is why so many of us keep heading for the self-help section at the bookstore. One powerful way to reach those goals comes from the unlikely revival of the Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism—seemingly the farthest thing imaginable from our own anxious times.

You may associate Stoicism with suppressing emotion and enduring suffering with a stiff upper lip, a la Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. Not so: Stoicism is practical and humane, and it has plenty to teach us. The philosophy may have been developed around 300 B.C. by Zeno of Cyprus, but it is increasingly relevant today.

The Stoics had centuries to think deeply about how to live, and they developed a potent set of exercises to help us navigate our existence, appreciating the good while handling the bad. These techniques have stood the test of time over two millennia. Here are five of author Massimo Pigliucci’s favorites:

  • Learn to separate what is and isn’t in your power
  • Contemplate the broader picture
  • Think in advance about challenges you may face during the day
  • Be mindful of the here and now
  • Before going to bed, write in a personal philosophical diary

Stoicism was meant to be a practical philosophy. It isn’t about suppressing emotions or stalking through life with a stiff upper lip. It is about adjusting your responses to what happens, enduring what must be endured and enjoying what can be enjoyed.

Want to read more? You can read the full Wall Street Journal article here.

The Battle of Midway

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Seventy-five years ago this month, the course of World War II changed forever. The Battle of Midway represented the turning point of the war.

Volumes have been written about this epic battle, so it is difficult to write a pithy summary. This anniversary spurred an avalanche of articles and new books.

One article stood out for me, that by historian Victor Davis Hanson. Here is how he began his short piece:

Seventy-five years ago (June 4-7, 1942), the astonishing American victory at the Battle of Midway changed the course of the Pacific War.

Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. crushed the Imperial Japanese Navy off Midway Island (about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu), sinking four of its aircraft carriers.

“Midway” referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia. But to Americans, “Midway” became a barometer of military progress. Just half a year after being surprised at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had already destroyed almost half of Japan’s existing carrier strength (after achieving a standoff at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier).

The odds at the June 1942 battle favored the Japanese. The imperial fleet had four carriers to the Americans’ three, backed up by scores of battleships, cruisers and light carriers as part of the largest armada that had ever steamed from Japan.

No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian-Manchurian border to Wake Island in the Pacific.

Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why and how?

You can read the entire article here.

Popular?

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Most of us remember our angst as teenagers about wanting to be popular. But few of us realize that it’s something in something in our DNA.

Today some people feed that need via social media, and for too many it becomes something of an obsession.

That’s why I found this piece by Mitch Prinstein, “Popular People Live Longer,” so enriching. Here is part of what he says:

I often hear from teenagers that one of their greatest goals is to obtain more Instagram followers than anyone they know. Even some adults appear obsessed with social media, tracking the number of retweets on their Twitter profiles or likes on Facebook. This type of status-seeking might be easily dismissed as juvenile or superficial, but there’s more to it.

Recent evidence suggests that being unpopular can be hazardous to our health. In fact, it might even kill us. Yet most don’t realize that there’s more than one type of popularity, and social media may not supply the one that makes us feel good.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, consolidated data from 148 investigations published over 28 years on the effects of social relationships, collectively including over 308,000 participants between the ages of 6 and 92 from all over the world. In each study, investigators measured the size of participants’ networks, the number of their friends, whether they lived alone, and the extent to which they participated in social activities. Then they followed each participant for months, years and even decades to track his or her mortality rate.

The results revealed that being unpopular — feeling isolated, disconnected, lonely — predicts our life span. More surprising is just how powerful this effect can be. Dr. Holt-Lunstad found that people who had larger networks of friends had a 50 percent increased chance of survival by the end of the study they were in. And those who had good-quality relationships had a 91 percent higher survival rate. This suggests that being unpopular increases our chance of death more strongly than obesity, physical inactivity or binge drinking. In fact, the only comparable health hazard is smoking.

Interested in learning more? You can read the entire article here.

Forging Coalitions

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The decline in the size of the United States Navy (now under 280 ships – a dramatic decrease of the Reagan-era U.S. Navy of almost 600 ships has given the United States more impetus to partner with other navies to secure the global commons. But while the intent is there, many wonder just how this can occur.

In my article in the May 2017 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, “Can We Make the Global Network of Navies Work?” I address this issue head on, and suggest that the United States would be well served to, as the article’s subtitle suggests: Start at the “High End” with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense.” Here is part of what I shared:

“More than a decade has passed since then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Mullen unveiled the concept of a 1,000-ship navy at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island. In introducing his idea, Admiral Mullen stated, “As we combine our advantages, I envision a 1,000-ship navy—a fleet-in-being, if you will—made up of the best capabilities of all freedom-loving navies of the world.” 2 Later renamed the Global Maritime Partnership, the concept caught on as other nations also came to realize that no single state had the assets to ensure security on the seas or even to respond adequately to lesser threats, from piracy, to criminal activities at sea, to natural disasters.”

“While globalization has had extensive beneficial effects, one of its most serious downsides has been the worldwide proliferation of ballistic missile technology, and the concomitant spread of the means to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD). More than 30 countries deploy ballistic missiles today, compared with only nine just a few decades ago. Potential enemies possess both ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and today’s rogue leaders view WMD as weapons of choice, not of last resort.”

“There is no more propitious time for the U.S. Navy to lead the way in stitching together a robust Aegis BMD global enterprise to protect our nation, our forces forward, and our allies and partners from the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. With U.S. Navy leadership, this opportunity to shape a “high-end” partnership under the auspices of a global network of navies may well be the sine qua non of international defense cooperation to address the challenges brought on by globalization.”

Want more? Read the full article here.

“Engaged” at Your Job?

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Few would argue with the fact that productivity drives growth. Fewer still would disagree with the notion that a prerequisite for productivity is engaged employees.

That’s why I found Aaron Hurst’s short piece in the New York Times at once both intriguing and also profoundly disturbing. Here is part of what he said:

“In much of the nonprofit world, there are more volunteers than there are spots. Staff workers don’t have time to manage more volunteers. As one executive told me, “If I get another volunteer I am going to go out of business.””

“This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.”

We cannot meet this demand by looking to “causes” as the primary driver in our careers and place the burden on nonprofits to fulfill this need. Instead, we need to look to ourselves and cultivate self-awareness to take ownership for creating purpose in our work.

Want to read more? You can read the full review here.

The Islamic State Threat

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Earlier this spring, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” The Islamic State (ISIL) is the “condition.”

There are longstanding challenges that the Islamic State pose to the West, among them:

  • Dedicated to establishing a caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa
  • Unlike other terrorist groups, takes and holds territory
  • Intent on conducting attacks in the West as well as Middle East and North Africa
  • Demonstrated ability to reappear after territory is taken

But It’s fair to ask, since the “4+1 construct” was posited a year-and-a-half ago, have things gotten better or worse vis-à-vis our ability to contain the Islamic State? I fell it’s worse, because:

  • Coalition fissures hamper coordinated military action against ISIL
  • Demonstrated willingness to hold civilian population hostage
  • Losing territory in Iraq and Syria has not ended violent extremism
  • More troops are being requested for both Iraq and Afghanistan
  • ISIL continues to hold on to portions of Mosul, Iraq
  • Difficulty marshaling coalition support to oust ISIL from Raqqa, Iraq
  • Mastered the use of social media for propaganda and recruiting

When we came up with the high-concept for our third Tom Clancy Op-Center novel (Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Scorched Earth), some thought ISIL would be long-gone by the time the book was published in mid-2016. That hasn’t been the case. Here is part of what we said in our Author’s Introduction:

Few would argue against the statement that ISIS (or ISIL—the preferred term used by U.S. national security officials—the “L” standing for Levant,) presents a profound threat to the West. As President Obama said in a widely-watched speech in September 2014, “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

Almost two years later, U.S. national security officials remain perplexed as to how to deal with ISIS. No one is talking today, in 2017, about defeating ISIS, only containing them. What is happening in the greater Mideast in areas where ISIS roams freely will not resolve itself in the next several years. For Western nations, and especially for the United States, today’s headlines are looming as tomorrow’s nightmare.

ISIS will remain a threat to the West—and especially to the United States—years into the future because America has not come to grips with how to deal with this threat. As Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger describe in their best-selling book, ISIS: The State of Terror, and as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan describe in their best-seller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the very nature of ISIS makes attempts to deal with it by employing the conventional instruments of national power all-but futile. Here is how Michiko Kakutani framed the challenge ISIS presents in his Books of the Times review of these two books:

The Islamic State and its atrocities—beheadings, mass executions, the enslavement of women and children, and the destruction of cultural antiquities—are in the headlines every day now. The terror group not only continues to roll through the Middle East, expanding from Iraq and Syria into Libya and Yemen, but has also gained dangerous new affiliates in Egypt and Nigeria and continues to recruit foreign fighters through its sophisticated use of social media. Given the ascendance of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), it’s startling to recall that in January 2014, President Obama referred to it as a “J.V. team,” suggesting that it did not pose anywhere near the sort of threat that Al Qaeda did.

Life imitates art, and these are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.