Missing in the Japan Catastrophe -- Thinking the Unthinkable

“Seldom more than thrice annually did any layman or stranger travel the old road that passed the abbey, in spite of the oasis which permitted that abbey’s existence and which would have made the monastery a natural inn for wayfarers if the road were not a road from nowhere, leading nowhere, in terms of the modes of travel in those times.  Perhaps, in earlier ages, the road had been a portion of the shortest route from the Great Salt Lake to Old El Paso; south of the abbey it intersected a similar strip of broken stone that stretched east- and westward.  The crossing was worn by time, but not by Man, of late.” I traveled that “old road” when it was still relatively new and heavily trafficked, and I was already a grown-up.  I also traveled it when I was a teenager — the version with “broken stone” — through […]

What U.S. Air Power Actually Does

When men first made war in the air, the imagery that accompanied them was of knights jousting in the sky.  Just check out movies like Wings, which won the first Oscar for Best Picture in 1927 (or any Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy takes on the Red Baron in a literal “dogfight”).  As late as 1986, five years after two American F-14s shot down two Soviet jets flown by Libyan pilots over the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Sidra, it was still possible to make the movie Top Gun.  In it, Tom Cruise played “Maverick,” a U.S. Naval aviator triumphantly involved in a similar incident.  (He shoots down three MiGs.)  Admittedly, by then American air-power films had long been in decline.  In Vietnam, the U.S. had used its air superiority to devastating effect, bombing the north and blasting the south, but go to American Vietnam films and, while that U.S. patrol walks […]

How the Tiny Kingdom of Bahrain Strong-Armed the President of the United States

The men walking down the street looked ordinary enough.  Ordinary, at least, for these days of tumult and protest in the Middle East.  They wore sneakers and jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts.  Some waved the national flag.  Many held their hands up high.  Some flashed peace signs.  A number were chanting, “Peaceful, peaceful.” Up ahead, video footage shows, armored personnel carriers sat in the street waiting.  In a deadly raid the previous day, security forces had cleared pro-democracy protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain’s capital, Manama.  This evening, the men were headed back to make their voices heard. The unmistakable crack-crack-crack of gunfire then erupted, and most of the men scattered.  Most, but not all.  Video footage shows three who never made it off the blacktop.  One in an aqua shirt and dark track pants was unmistakably shot in the head.  In the time it takes for the camera to […]

Old Secretaries of Defense Never Die, They Just Write Bestselling Memoirs

Talking about secretaries of defense… Oh, we weren’t? Well, let’s.  After all, they’re in the news.  Take former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who, on leaving government service — and I hope you don’t mind if I mangle a quote from General Douglas MacArthur here — refused to die, or even fade away.  Instead, he penned Known and Unknown, a memoir almost as big as his ego and almost as long — 832 pages — as the occupation of Iraq, which promptly hit the bestseller lists (making the American reader a Known Unknown).  Now, Mr. Known Knowns, etc., is duking it out on Facebook, Sarah-Palin-style, with “the chief gossip-monger of the governing class,” the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.  Amusingly enough, Woodward has just savaged Rumsfeld for pulling a Woodward in his memoir by playing fast and loose with reality.  He posted his review at the Best Defense (as in, you know, a good offense), the war fightin’ blog of former Washington Post reporter and bestselling author Tom Ricks.  […]

How the Petroleum Age Will End

Whatever the outcome of the protests, uprisings, and rebellions now sweeping the Middle East, one thing is guaranteed: the world of oil will be permanently transformed.  Consider everything that’s now happening as just the first tremor of an oilquake that will shake our world to its core.  For a century stretching back to the discovery of oil in southwestern Persia before World War I, Western powers have repeatedly intervened in the Middle East to ensure the survival of authoritarian governments devoted to producing petroleum.  Without such interventions, the expansion of Western economies after World War II and the current affluence of industrialized societies would be inconceivable. Here, however, is the news that should be on the front pages of newspapers everywhere:  That old oil order is dying, and with its demise we will see the end of cheap and readily accessible petroleum — forever. Ending the Petroleum Age Let’s try […]