hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘controversy’

Family Jewels (Central Intelligence Agency)

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 8, 2022

"Family Jewels." First 6 pages. "Approved For Release June 2007" [2nd Frame]. The CIA's official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

“Family Jewels.” 1st 6 pages. “Approved For Release June 2007” [2nd Frame]. The CIA’s official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

This. The infamous series of reports officially admitting to & describing secret illegal activities conducted by the CIA between 1959 and 1973. Most of these were declassified & released in 2007 due to FIFAs filed by the National Security Archive. These are copies of the original photocopied “secret” level memos & reports compiled at the behest of former CIA director Schlesinger as a result of enormous Watergate backlash (& initially “broken” as a NY Times front page feature in 1974) & this heavily redacted 700-page “book” was delivered to William Colby when he replaced Schlesinger. It is preceded by a short summary literally stating that the “Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s.” This was delivered to Congress members many years before being declassified.

The contents are controversial for many reasons & many are obvious. The CIA officially admitted to 18 “issues,” some of which were fairly well known yet officially unconfirmed in some sectors (well above the rumor level). (I forget the reason, but these 18 issues were then reduced to only 8 in the attachments to the memo introducing this book–these documents.) Some then-suspected & later publicly infamous examples included the Nosenko defection, Project MOCKINGBIRD, assassination plots/attempts against Castro (shock!) and possibly as well as African & South American leaders, and moving on, illegal domestic surveillance of specific targets & more. Among traditional “conspiracy theories” addressed, these documents validate the numerous accusations of the Mafia’s direct involvement with/in CIA attempts to assassinate Castro — rumors long denied. Such admissions led to later further “embarrassing” revelations about the COINTELPRO program, the Church Committee, lesser known programs, various black ops activities (allegedly influencing American culture as seen in films like Apocalypse Now) & an untold number of potential human rights violations — particularly in South America — that included everything from (potentially lethal) torture (the infamous “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare,” modified several known times [yet rumored by some to have been modified several more times] provides a formal example of various strategies that, IMO, mirror Ho’s numerous effective tactics such as emphasizing the importance of the political component along with the military while engaging in unconventional warfare. Some of the changes made in revisions included replacing the term “removing” selected targets to instead “neutralize” them, how to frame the narrative to the local peasants after shooting a specific individual, & while discussing the illegality of certain actions, providing helpful suggestions such as “… professional criminals will be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs” — a section deleted in later versions of the manual, as well as selecting a person (presumably unknowing) to possibly die during a demonstration & thus create a martyr & “a situation which should be taken advantage of immediately against the regime so as to create greater conflicts.” [This section was also modified in later versions of this manual, which was written specifically for “freedom commandos” in a very well known country which was literally identified on the first page of the Preface itself.] to psyops to working with liaisons from friendly agencies to finding reliable interpreters & much more.

The memo refers to only 8 issues (and one would think a couple seem benign, which naturally is shocking…) yet within the 700+ pages, one finds documented mention of other known and unknown spurious and/or illicit programs such as Operation Phoenix. (The claims made by Director Colby in a Memo to Lloyd Shearer, Editor of Parade Magazine on January 10, 1972 would seem to literally contradict the reality of what has become known about that program in South Vietnam. The director states emphatically that the CIA “does not and has not used political assassination as a weapon.” Which can be interpreted in many ways and I’m confident the director consulted with lawyers about that wording to ensure what was literally said in that statement would hold up as accurate in court. My personal theory. However, one might surmise from mountains of plausible evidence over a much larger period of time than was studied for this report — and note the director does not put a timeframe around that assertion, so he must be 100% accurate throughout the entirety of the CIA’s existence, technically. Which seems to be quite doubtful to me, but I have no personal knowledge, so again, merely a theory. The second of three sections involves plausible denial as the director attempts to shift responsibility for “running” Operation Phoenix from the CIA to the Government of Vietnam. In this, that’s almost certainly an accurate statement, but many would argue only technically and not functionally in any feasible way. It’s common for many military advisors (and associated advisors) of many nations, including the US, to set programs up for training purposes to get local/sovereign governments, militaries, agencies, contractors, rebels, etc., to do the work themselves for this very reason — to be able to legally deny responsibility for any potentially illegal activity that could result in negativities, whether human rights abuse charges or an outright act of war (the US was not supposed to be allowed to enter Cambodia, for instance, as well as  Laos — at least until 1965 in Laos. Officially. “Officially.” But just because the US couldn’t legally go certain places didn’t mean locals trained by the US couldn’t, etc. Yet then there’s the little thorny issue that “official” sometimes doesn’t translate to “literal,” for whatever that tidbit’s worth. You can look it up. Last, Colby’s 3rd point is a strong assertion that Operation Phoenix was not a “program of assassination,” and admitted VC members died but typically resisting police arrest and relatively few at that. Well, this is not universally agreed upon, but there has been enough evidence, eye witness accounts from both CIA and US military involved, not to say Vietnamese as well, that it’s hard to put a completely accurate number to things, but first — yes, I would agree with Director Colby’s statement that “Operation Phoenix is not a program of assassination.” Director Colby is exhibiting skills he no doubt learned while attending Columbia Law School, and which most law school students regardless of the institution learn — everything depends on the words you use and the way they are arranged. It’s how you “frame the narrative.” Yes, I went to law school as well and I spent 12 years working in the legal field. I’m not the sharpest person out there, and not nearly as much as Mr. Colby was, but I can usually argue any topic I want or am faced with using the most bizarre, unlikely, fantastical arguments or assertions and yet make my case over and over because of how I frame my words, how I present my case. You don’t gain admission to a postgraduate level leading scientific “academy” that REQUIRES either an MD or PhD in one very narrow medical/scientific field, as well as some 20 years of experience — part clinical, part research — when you have earned degrees, including a terminal degree, and when you have over 30 years of professional experience — but NONE that have anything to do with that specific scientific field unless you can do your due diligence, build a case and frame your argument in a convincing enough fashion to be basically the lone person ever admitted without any required credentials. Because I DO/DID meet the standards in terms of multiple degrees, including a terminal degree, and while my 30 years of work experience weren’t all in that one narrow specialty, I can make a case I’ve often made which is basically simply because I lacked the official job TITLE of “X” didn’t/doesn’t mean I didn’t do that job. In point of fact, there were times when I did little BUT that job for any number of roles and companies while often wearing many hats, without the specific title (and often the salary to go with it). Moreover, I was able to show over 100 medical/scientific postgrad-level books I’ve read and researched over the years to the point where I have literally taught small lessons and classes to scientists and surgeons in that field, and I HAVE worked in other medical/science fields and published at the peer review level, and much more, and I provided evidence over a period of weeks, provided a detailed personal research proposal, which I literally had been working on just on my own — cause I’m weird like that — and it worked! And that’s worked dozens of times and I’ve never lied and it’s always been legitimate. One other example. How do you gain admission to a narrow, highly focused professional organization with tight high-level admission criteria when you lack any degree in that one field and the org requires multiple degrees in it, as well as the required 20+ years of verifiable work experience at a very senior level — again, verifiable — when you never had that job title, nor those official responsibilities? Same method. I have more degrees than they require, but in other fields of study. I never had that job title, but I did in related fields and have been a professional member of a major professional organization of that related high-tech field for decades, and I was able to prove that while not having that title, I nonetheless fulfilled such a role in nearly every company for which I worked for over two decades. Case closed.

Yes, I went on too long, but to prove a point. Director Colby is accurate in stating “Operation Phoenix” is not a program of assassination.” But look at the words used, the word choice. This wasn’t under questioning where one has to think on their feet. This was a letter sent to an editor in which Mr. Colby, and even colleagues — such as agency lawyers — would have had ample time to prepare to a legal, technically accurate way of responding to each of these issues while skirting admission to what may otherwise amount to the same. Because while it was not a “program of assassination,” there is little doubt that it WAS a program of A) intelligence gathering (typically under incredibly inhumane torture methods that left few survivors — but they weren’t “assassinated” and B) an official VC “Neutralization” program in which South Vietnamese PRUs went to villages in search of individuals on lists given to them daily labeling certain persons as VC they needed to find and “neutralize.” And am I making this up or writing in a subjectively critical fashion. No, I don’t believe so. Not only have I studied this program using articles, books, documents, etc., written and published by former CIA and US military professionals involved with the program, but I’ve read explicit accounts of aspects of it as reported by various South Vietnamese witnesses and survivors. And indeed, even straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak as one of the program’s major proponents who was so very publicly and who was one of the US provincial leaders (and yes, it wasn’t “run” by the CIA, but it WAS created and funded by the CIA, if not administered as well, which is merely splitting hairs with Colby’s choice of words in “run by”) — Col. Andrew R. Finlayson (Ret.), USMC who joined the program in a leadership role in the summer of 1969 under the umbrella of the CIA. He wrote an infamous piece called “ A Retrospective on Counterinsurgency Operations: The Tay Ninh Provincial Reconnaissance Unit and Its Role in the Phoenix Program, 1969-70″ that was published in a journal called Studies in Intelligence Vol. 51 No. 2, 2007. It’s not a household name journal because it has a very niche audience. But guess who reads Studies in Intelligence? You’re right — me! As I write, I’m looking at the cover of an issue titled “CIA and the Wars in Southeast Asia 1947-75” from the August 2016 issue. Fascinating. And beside it I have Col. Finlayson’s own article in its entirety, which I had already read and just read again. And despite claims of NON-government attribution in the journal as the material is “created by individuals other than US government employees,” the publisher of this journal is the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C. 20505. 🙂 Get that? I guess the only way the CIA can back that assertion up is by having Retired individuals “create” the material published in the journal because otherwise it’s nothing BUT US government and CIA-focused! That’s awesome. I like playing word games like that. The point is though that the colonel talks a good game and is a good PR manager for the program — for HIS territory, but can’t speak on behalf of the others. But it was very effective in his territory. I’d wager many would say it was extremely effective in its goals by any standard, so he has little to brag about. When your goals are detain (or shoot on sight), torture and torture to death in many cases, and “neutralize” “suspected” VC adversaries — and the word “neutralize” can take on so many meanings — you can afford to claim you’re not assassinating people and you can afford to even possibly claim those killed were largely “resisting police arrest” and then basically end your argument by saying that besides, the CIA’s “abuses” couldn’t possibly compare to “the Viet Cong’s conscious campaign of terrorism…” Beautiful. Lawyer-speak. Of course your opponent is much more vile than you, so you can admit to being vile — just not as bad as the other guy. You can say no assassinations, but admit to people getting “killed in the course of military operations” or “resisting police arrest” when you know — but the civilians don’t — that those two phrases merely mean having PRU squads headed by US CIA and military leaders go from village to village with a list of people to obtain and “neutralize,” resulting in a large majority being gunned down in the villages before ever making it back to get interrogated. Moreover, as has always been the case in such warfare,  but as Americans only started learning then and didn’t really “get it” until decades later in the desert, various forms of unconventional warfare can complicate things because when you have to capture and detain specifically named persons in areas where there are no street addresses or phone numbers and worse, NO Uniforms so one can tell the difference between combatant and civilian, well as most people know by now, when you can’t tell ‘m apart, you just start shooting. (You never know who’s going to be the suicide bomber…) And with even the operators in this classified program getting daily body kill count quotas like the regular army units, there was pressure and temptation to just start producing bodies and label them whatever the adverserial label was for that day — Viet Cong, VCI, whatever. So the colonel is right in arguing Phoenix’s effectiveness. Between Tet and Phoenix, the VC were basically wiped out. But Colby plays a nice legal trick on the editor by his choice of words and his intentionally downplaying Methods of death (indiscriminate murder but not assassination could be one way of looking at it) so that they would be viewed as both understandable (in a war zone, not a prison) and even desirable (resisting arrest? They probably deserved it, especially since they were commie terrorists) and the icing on the cake was Colby’s assurances that there really weren’t that many “abuses” and besides the VC were SoMuchWorse!

Just for the record, since it’s impossible to know how many deaths to attribute to Operation Phoenix, that doesn’t mean that haven’t been many attempts to do so on behalf of many different groups and the generally agreed upon minimal is about 25,000 killed and the Facts And Details site refers to Wikipedia in stating that between 1965 and 1972, “Phoenix operatives had ‘neutralized’ 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom 26,369 were killed.” I happen to know that Wiki got that info from MACV itself, ie., the US military/government. So as with all of the body count numbers there, how reliable are those? Col. Finlayson tries to justify the program’s effectiveness AND the raw deal it’d gotten in the press as a human rights criminal program by stating “only 14% of the VCI (their prey) killed under Phoenix were killed by PRUs” … while most of “the rest died in skirmished and raids involving South Vietnamese soldiers and police and the US military.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but wow. If that’s not a prime example of “changing the narrative,” I don’t know what is. PRUs were “Provincial Reconnaissance Units” designed solely for the Phoenix program, described by Finlayson himself as “the most controversial element of Phoenix.” Paramilitary forces known as “Counter-Terror Teams.” Over 4,000 of them operated throughout South Vietnam and were originally under the individual command of US military officers until the end of 1969 when they were handed back to the CIA. The 18-men teams were heavily armed in addition to having state of the art med kits, radios, motorcycles and 4×4 Toyota trucks. The colonel’s original assessment was that they “lacked fire discipline,” which he doesn’t adequently define leaving readers to guess if that implies they were basically cowboys who started shooting at first sight until they ran out of ammo, thus accounting for a good portion of the 14% the colonel claims the PRUs were responsible for killing. Recall, the US government itself claimed over 81,000 people died under Phoenix, so if the PRUs “only” killed 14%, that would come close to 12,000 people. And that’s a number to be proud of, according to the colonel, since others did “most” of the rest of the killing. In other words, those other 70,000 dead people weren’t his fault so lay off him. Yes, it’s that damn simple. And yes, Colby did what any good lawyer would do and misrepresented facts by framing them in vague terms with zero specifics and comparing the assurance of a small (undefined) number of “abuses” and killed to the horror that the enemy doled out, allowing the American public to feel some relief from any war guilt they may have been feeling. And since this letter was written in 1972, a shitload of Americans were feeling shitty about a whole lot of things. So it was good to not feel shitty about one of those things, right?

Okay, I apologize for getting way off track, but I sometimes enjoy getting carried away. Retirement does that to you. You feel the need to babble incessantly at times, a fault my wife kindly reminds me I’m guilty of at times.

So going back to the original top of Family Jewels, I started to try and attach it as a “family member,” so to speak, of one of the infamous “CIA torture manuals,” in this case the “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare” manual, which I’ve had and studied for years. And I have the other torture manuals. But I have to be candid in stating I know those much better than Family Jewels for many reasons, but one is simply that I rarely have the time these days to read a 700-page tome with everything else I do so I’ve read bits and pieces of it and I’ve read a lot About most of it, which is where I got the info to spit out something about the CIA finding 18 “issues,” though only 8 are outlined in the memo. One issue that often is associated with all of these documents and manuals is training. Specifically the training the CIA does (and the military and now also private contractors, formerly referred to as mercenaries) for tens of thousands of international militaries and police units. And unfortunately with a number of those trained later being accused of human rights violations. Some have called it a “Culture.”

One aspect of this culture that seems to have been there from the beginning through the present is the military & police training of a rumored number of students numbering in the hundreds of thousands, largely through the School of Americas (SOA), now renamed, which trained military & police leaders from hundreds of countries since its creation in 1946 with a special emphasis on Latin American students & with a focus on counterinsurgency used to allegedly fight communism during the Cold War but since the dismantling of the Cold War, a new focus on illegal drug lords & gangs, who were allegedly rebranded “terrorists” after 9/11, but which resulted in autocratic countries led by so-called dictators, most accused by various organizations of being guilty of US-backed atrocities & human rights violations as it was alleged that many labeled whomever they wished (political opponents, unruly peasants, etc.) as “terrorists” to eliminate via infamous, feared “death squads.” Examples of such who were alleged graduates of SOA, newly American trained, include Argentine General Viola, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Guatemalan Colonel Alpirez (allegedly killed US citizens, among others), Honduran General Discua, Salvadoran Colonel Monterrosa, Guatemalan Colonel Osorio (convicted of murdering anthropologist Myrna Mack) & virtually all of the officers working for the most notorious of them all, Chilean General Pinochet, such a brazen “terrorist” that in 1976, two Chilean diplomats were assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC itself, stunning both the world & the US federal government. The fact that the Letelier political assassination was carried out by Chilean secret police in the US (through the South American Operation Condor project) has led some to question whether the CIA would have been aware of such activities, though I’m unaware of anything considered definitive on the part of anyone.

My point in belaboring that last mentioned aspect of the Family Jewels documents is that a major “issue” the CIA possibly found itself “guilty” of during a 25-year period could conceivably be representative of the agency’s entire history of its training international professionals, possibly through the present. That is purely speculative, but cannot be ruled out.

Ultimately while both scholars & critics (as well as victims) have been happy to have so much documented information released, a number of people have asserted that it’s difficult to believe that over a 25-year period, “only” 18 “issues” (let alone 8!) were found & self-reported by the CIA when skeptics assert there surely must be much more than “only” that many. I personally have no knowledge or theories regarding that as I am merely a student of history & remain absorbed in reading, research & analysis with documented histories of any number of subjects, as my weakness is that I’m interested in too much & thus spread myself too thin.

I could go on endlessly, but I’ve already devoted too much time & energy to this post. But both for anyone interested as well as to publicly emphasize that ALL of documents & information described & discussed herein is “open source,” declassified & identified as such, readily available to any interested parties at multiple sources & one only needs a search engine & several minutes to find, access & obtain this & additional documents at will. As I stated, I am a student of history & take such seriously. As a result, I view it as necessary, essential & intellectually honest to (re)learn the standard fare we all receive but to be honest & objective enough to find & learn about the warts & possible ugliness regarding not only world history but nationalistic history & thus to eventually gloss over the perennially regurgitated & THINK, because we aren’t used to doing that & it’s actually often discouraged in some areas. Thus I’ve pondered things my entire life & found myself wondering how Hawaii became a US state, because no one ever learns about that, or why did Puerto Rico become a US territory before 1900 yet while many residents have pressed for official statehood status, it hasn’t happened & yet Alaska & Hawaii flew by them many years later. Why? History indicates the participants in World War I were so exhausted & everything had become so futile that it was rumored that they were in the process of brokering a peace when US President Wilson entered the fray at the last minute (to some), resulting in an alleged unnecessary extension of the war with an alleged million additional deaths & if remotely true, why? For that matter, we don’t learn about additional Wilson-led adventures following the war, ones that might surprise some people were they too read of this history. And moving beyond the US, we rarely learn much of anything other than Western European history. That is fascinating but there’s more to the history of the world than just that. What about good Mr. Rhodes? Why the India/Pakistan partition when Britain released its former colony? Why do we not learn about the one tiny, backwards third world country to effectively defeat three of the greatest powers in the world, all within roughly a 3-4 decade period & initially lacking weapons, financing, infrastructure, technology, etc.? Why have we forgotten Gary F Powers? And on and on. There are so many questions and so many mysteries and so much fascinating information to be gleaned from history that I could have devoted my entire life to learning and only have gotten a fraction of the way there by this point. And now I’m going to cut it off early because despite being able to write more, I’ve been up all night doing this and it’s now morning and it’s time to start the coffee. I hope this post was informative and interesting for some and oddly, I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I was pinning a document on a Pinterest board when a popup appeared urging me to write something, and without my realizing what that would lead to, I did. And I’ll know better next time, but it was fun and gonna go now. Have a good day.

Posted in foreign affairs, military, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Facebook?”

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 2, 2021

“How do you solve a problem like Facebook?” Interesting question. Intriguing. Funny, I was talking with my wife about these very issues, & more, just within the past 24 hours. Finally got around to glancing at email just now, this article was the first thing I saw. Obviously it’s a controversial article, topic, issue, etc., and I literally know, have worked with, have former colleagues and friends and hundreds of connections at Facebook so I want to tread a little lightly, but I’ll just say I’ve not really been thrilled with where they’ve been going over the past decade for many reasons. Facebook has great power and can use it how it wishes. A decade ago, people were happily playing Oregon Trails, Angry Birds, talking with friends and relatives about all sorts of stuff (music, reading, travel) you literally never seen anymore because the money is where the hot stuff is and that’s in ticking people off, engaging in flame wars, encouraging the degradation of once rational humans, etc. Not everyone, but it’s been shown that’s more than potential – that’s been fact & much more (don’t have to point just to Haugen. Cambridge Analytics remains a great place to look at the goings-on.) I got off Facebook years ago and was happier than I’d felt in years, because all I ever seemed to do was encounter people who felt their purpose in life was to rip me hard for just about anything. When I publicly intellectually destroyed these bozos every single time, usually within minutes, they resorted to childish name calling and religious threats of eternal damnation. Didn’t need it, walked away. Nicholas Carr is one of several to write some interesting books lately that go further than the surface things I’ve mentioned. One is The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In fact it was a nonfiction Pulitzer nominee. (Another more recent book of his is The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us.) Don’t have to buy into it, but makes for an interesting read. Facebook has done a lot of good. It’s also done a lot of bad. Sometimes I view it as a metaphorical Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.

(Movie’s a lot of fun. Seymour isn’t.)

Source: The Mary Sue

I really don’t mean to Facebook bash. Like I said, I know hundreds of good, decent people there and most people I know are still users. But I think it’s good to read pieces you may not always agree with though, just to get other perspectives. So I urge you to think about reading this because it brings up some food for thought. (And don’t misunderstand me. Power, potential, do good, power corrupts, rein in — one of those rare things found in the US that can’t be looked at in a traditional American Calvinist black/white construct. I’m not damning Facebook. Just urging thought, analysis and reflection, at a minimum.) (I mentioned there are a number of books and resources out there these days. You can look many up yourselves, so I’m not going to post a list, but another potentially interesting book is Cathy O’Neil’s Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.)

[This blog post is an expanded and modified version of a small post I made on my LinkedIn page on October 30, 2021.]

Posted in policy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review on Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 13, 2021

Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of AmericaPatriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Brown. The John Brown Gun Clubs. He was controversial, hated by many, admired by some, likely a hero to many victims. A political/historical lightning rod. Some would agree he was a humanitarian and race patriot while possibly disagreeing with some of his methods and actions. Others will hate him and his legacy for eternity. I found his upbringing, strong convictions and willingness to do virtually anything and risk everything in order to do what he felt was not only right, but likely ethically and morally necessary. Yet while I agree with his views on the issues he faced and attacked, I remain bothered by one thing. He grew up in a very historically traditional Euro-American puritanical household, much like me in a stringent Calvinist family, much like many Americans historically. For these people, there is nothing but black/white, hot/cold, “right/wrong,” heaven/hell. In other words, no gray areas, no moderation, no compromise, and a total refusal to consider anyone else’s interpretation of their Christian religious beliefs (historically Calvinist or Calvin/Knox-influenced) could possibly be right when THEY are the only ones right. We’re talking many millions of Americans over the past 400 years up to today’s evangelicals/fundies. So while I think racism/slavery and his moral objections were right, the fact remains that Southern “Christians” used the very same holy book, the Christian Bible, to justify slavery and even argue Jesus/God demanded it — and like it or not (and I do not), Jesus (I think) and certainly Paul essentially condoned if not encouraged slavery in the letters, sermons, teachings, etc., attributed to them. So if John Brown was using the Bible as his moral compass for what ultimately started/resulted in the Civil War, he actually technically would likely have been very wrong! Which begs the question, if he (or anyone like him) were that fervent in America (like many other monotheists in other countries and cultures) to take one or more issues from their holy books and make it their lives’ obsession to the point of murders and even war, would anti-racists and progressives still support and praise him? Because then what would be the difference between them and “radical” Islamist jihadists? They’re referred to as extremists, but aren’t they possibly (because I’m not entirely sure) acting the most accurately of that faith in following through on their holy book’s teachings? Despite their methods and actions, which the rest of the world does not condone and for which they are termed terrorists? Wouldn’t US evangelicals, who took extreme views (and too many do) possibly using their holy book (too many of them don’t since virtually ALL of them cherry pick the hell out of anything and EVERYTHING they assert is required or banned by God while they conveniently ignore their god’s words and commands on many things they don’t like or agree with, proving them to be the worst of hypocrites) as justification to become a type of American Taliban? I mean, what’s the damn difference? So my concern with John Brown — and I’m EXTREMELY anti-racist/antifascist and I support the John Brown Gun Clubs — is that if he had chosen to focus on a different issue to the extremes that he did using the Christian bible as his justification, what if for example he had theoretically decided it was NECESSARY to practice a form of genocide on ALL known or suspected gay/lesbians in America, as well as any other issue he felt personally strongly about, strong enough to become a mass murderer while hero to many?

And just to drive that example in harder to make my point while also being 100% accurate in my descriptions of most influential US Christians today, what if he felt so strongly about “The [Jewish] Law” — because Jesus is quoted as stating he came to [earth] to abide by and follow The Law, a fact that is conveniently glossed over by nearly every Christian alive as they tell everyone that while the assertions that homosexuality is an “abominable sin” as seen in the Sodom story — in the Old Testament (“the JEWISH Bible”) — and some are willing to kill over that [as well as abortion], a) neither of which Jesus ever mentioned while instructing his followers to care for the old, sick and poor over 160 times in the Gospels and b) I’ll probably get shot for writing this, but the majority of practicing Jews are pro-choice and they are because they are largely convinced that the Judeo-Christian god is NOT opposed to it and hence is (essentially) pro–choice himself (sorry for the male pronoun). Before you firebomb my house, I know you Christians violently disagree, and for over 50 years one major reason I’ve heard my whole life is that it’s “Murder” (and millions of babies have been murdered because of it) … why? Because naturally life begins at conception, and of course God certainly made it that way, so we need to harass women who may be seeking one and kill doctors who perform them. Right? Uh, no. And you don’t know why because Christians not only don’t read their holy book, the Bible (they read convenient little devotionals with a couple of verses instead), but they sure as hell don’t read the Old Testament because it’s obsolete and doesn’t count cause it’s the “Jewish Bible” and the “angry” god of the OT changed to the Jesus/God of love and peace in the New Testament (which is an entirely different topic, but they’re wrong about that too, per his own words, but since they don’t read their bibles, they don’t know that).

Well, let’s address several things so I can return to John Brown. 1) If the Old Testament no longer counts (and I’ve heard that from hundreds to thousands of conservative Christians around the world — it is not a minority belief), then why fight to the death over OT homosexuality and perceived OT abortion issues? Why not fight to the death about shrimp if you’re going to be consistent? Or facial hair? It’s the epitome of cherry picking and it’s so hypocritical it’s almost beyond comprehension of any reasonably intelligent person. 2) The second point is Christians are wrong about the OT’s current lack of relevance besides anything but a history text. It’s THEIR bible and their god and you know why? Jews do. YOUR god states pretty damn strongly that he is the LORD God and HE DOES NOT CHANGE! Not then, not in the first century (CE), not today. So morons, just because you think Jesus is a better, different version of God, you’re wrong on two counts because your god states unequivocally he does NOT change and Jesus (God) was NOT about peace and love, but he stated he came [to earth] bringing a sword as he intended to destroy the family unit and turn family member against family member while also instructing his disciples to go out and buy swords. That wasn’t for catching fish. 3) Your god does NOT say life begins at conception and using that entity and the holy book you don’t read as justification for that assertion and the evil acts you do is dead wrong. I don’t have time to look the OT passage up (it may be in Isiah, but it’s been months since I read it — on my 18th reading of the entire bible from front to back), but you can look it up yourselves. Many/most traditional/orthodox Jews are pro-choice because there is a passage in “their” OT bible where God is attributed with instructing the chosen people that Life Begins At Birth — NOT conception! Doubt me? Upon birth, God breathes the Breath of Life into a newborn. Not in the womb, not in some magical holding place where spirits wait to get little bodies one day. You don’t like what you just read? Not my problem, not my fault. It’s YOUR god, your religion, your holy book — not mine. Many believe the Bible is the “inherent word of God” (and seeing their theologian apologists twist hard to explain the millions of contradictions to meet that standard is hilarious; one quick example is asking which creation story/myth do you believe and why? What, I’m the fool who thinks there’s more than one? Um, read the first two chapters of Genesis and you’ll find two different creation myths, so WHICH IS IT if the bible is the “inherent word of God?”).

Okay, almost back to the book except I still haven’t made my extreme theoretical point I mentioned long ago to drive that example in harder about Brown’s reliance on the Christian Bible for his moral code to justify his belief and actions regarding slavery. What if he were as devout as is claimed but instead of slavery (or the homosexual example I provided), he felt just as strongly about the Old Testament commandment that children are to obey and honor their parents so that if they somehow fail, all families (Abrahemic monotheists — such as Christians) are instructed to take them out and stone them to death? What, crazy? Don’t believe me? Read the damn Bible, the OT, cause that’s in there! And yes, it’s a crazy example, but that was my intent.

So if John Brown, relying on his Puritanical religious background and belief system did not decide to take on slavery but instead felt just as strongly about the previous example commandment, we wouldn’t have clubs and erect statues in his honor then if he had gone around stoning kids to death for back talking their parents! Thus while I essentially admire and support his conviction and legacy, if not his actions, it’s because I believe them to be morally correct. But I fear that if he had chosen a different controversial issue to engage in the same type of actions and outcomes using his religion to justify everything, I would seriously hate his guts and any legacy he left, because he could have become a Christian Hitler — basically what most current American evangelicals want out of Donald Trump and his fascist, white christian nationalist ilk as they proudly scream publicly that they intend to “exterminate” all minorities, immigrants (despite ALL of them coming from immigrants themselves), people of color, non-“Christians” (as if they know a damn thing about their religion, as I’ve repeatedly proven within a minute of talking to any of them), and most especially Democrats, progressives, liberals, etc., or simply everyone not like them. Do you see my point? He did the right thing, but he justified it with the wrong source, because that same source was used to justify the very reason he basically went to war, as well as millions of other historic atrocities in general, so he could simply have used that same source and “moral code” allegedly arising from it to justify any violent actions to and against anyone for any reason. And that has always bothered me about any such person and a legacy I otherwise admire as I, too, call him a true patriot. Thank goodness he actually acted more as a humanist — dare I say secular humanist? — than a stereotypical monotheistic religionist, because then he might have become a historical monster just as Hitler did as he (and Mussolini) made deals with the Pope to protect the Pope’s constituents provided the Pope supported, or at least remained silent, about what they were freaking doing. Oh, and I think I recall that Hitler grew up Catholic while many of the soldiers in the German Wehrmacht were devout Lutherans. Under the belief they were acting on behalf of Christianity and the Christian god while becoming devils (metaphorically) in the process.

I feel John Brown did the right thing and I admire him, and I admire his absolute commitment and the moral code he had in order to do what I and many others view as “the right thing” in fighting against slavery and freeing slaves. Yet I worry a part of me will always be bothered that his Calvinistic religious beliefs could instead have been twisted, much like many claim Islamic jihadists have, while showing the same level of commitment to other religious commandments as he chose to interpret them… Anyway, this book? It’s one of the better books on Brown that I’ve read. Definitely recommended.

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Book Review: Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 30, 2020

Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military PowerJapan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power by Sheila A. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I say anything about this book, I need to confess I know the author (to whatever degree), highly respect her expertise on Japan (she’s the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Fellow for Japan), so this commentary and rating possibly may not be as reasonably objective as I try to make most of my ratings/reviews. That said, when she came out with this book recently, I was elated and dived in. It’s taken me a long time to work my way through because I have this horrible habit of reading far too many books simultaneously, which just slows everything down. And I’ve been meaning to contact her and give her some kudos for producing a great work here, but I’ve been too tied up to even keep up with people like I typically have over my life.

That said, I can hardly think of a more timely book. Particularly as it relates to the topic at hand. Millions (okay, maybe fewer, but still quite a lot) have been “China watchers” for years now and while it’s sensible, advisable, necessary, etc., to keep eyes trained on Beijing, and particularly as variables within the South China Sea become more clusterf*cked, more hostile, as the PLAN continues its progression into the India Sea, now being joined by Russia and Iran in a potential new axis of maritime adversaries, and as China has already tangled with the Philippines and Vietnam, and as India strives to become another possible regional hegemony, I think many of us in the west (understandably, perhaps) tend to lose track of some other states of import, most notably our longtime allies, at least one of whom is now feeling completely abandoned by the current US Administration and any defense agreements we’ve had since WWII (Australia), which I think is a travesty considering what a great and faithful ally Australia has been to the US over that time period, joining the US with only a couple of other states in fighting alongside us in the various “conflicts” we’ve found ourselves — unlike the vast majority of other, more “prominent” allies. Australia is so panicked that debate as been ongoing there on what to do regarding China, the Indo-Pacific region, and defense of their own country as they lack any form of serious navy, having built their defense doctrine on dependence on the USN. Which no longer looks like a sure thing, so major leaders are actually calling for the country to withdraw from the NPT and illegally go nuclear for survival’s sake! Which is a sad commentary.

Meanwhile, South Korea is facing its own challenges due to not only China, but their northern neighbors, whose leader seems cleverly insane. Plays a tough game. But the focus here is obviously the one that seems to get forgotten in all of these geopolitical games — Japan.

It’s great to see this major Asian/East Asian state that has been basically boxed into a corner it’s trying to get out of become the focus of some good new research and analysis produced and published just at the right time. Because for those caught up in the SCS BS going on daily, all too many people seem to neglect the games being placed in the ECS (East China Sea). Between China and Japan. Or more accurately, between the PLAAF/PLAN over the Senkaku Islands, or the Diaoyu Islands as the PRC insists on referring to them as, and the JCG and JASDF. And it couldn’t be any more stupid than this, but it is, and yes, it’s merely symbolic, but the fact that one state feels so aggressive about a group of small uninhabited islands that Japan legally owns, per international law and recognition, that it’s willing to take “testing” the much smaller and spreader thinned out JCG and JASDF by sending hundreds or even thousands of Chinese fishing boats into the contested waters or a larger number of aircraft buzzing the islands constantly, itching for an “opportunity” to do who knows what at the very plausible risk of a regional war that could spread once you bring contesting hegemonies into the equation … well, that’s either a sign of supreme confidence (maybe Pillsbury was right, but was too generous in his predictions of when the CCP would show its hand?), supreme stupidity if it actually is willing to risk a potential world war by hedging its bets the US won’t want to enter such a war merely because of decades-old defense commitments and treaties between the US and Japan (which is actually NOT a bad gamble on their part circa early 2020 as I write this), or typical CCP craftiness in pushing all as far as possible to get as much as possible by whatever means necessary — short of all out war. Which is my take on it at the present, but I’m willing to adjust that analysis as events transpire.

One may be a follower of issues, variables, geopolitical tensions, etc., throughout the greater Asian and East Asian regions, and they may be aware to some degree of what potential threat a burgeoning regional hegemony may present, but they may not possess the context Sheila provides in this book, such as how Japan has historically had its political and hence military hands tied when it came to defense spending, military building, etc., due largely to the constitution the US drew up for the country upon its surrender in 1945, and due to a combination of war guilt, the struggle to rebuild a country and economy, and to yes, abide by the constitution they now were governed by which has limited their ability and indeed desire to “go military.” And with China incessantly goading them eternally for the atrocities committed during the last century, the most famous of which was Nanking, those historically cautioning against appearing antagonistic in building up a (smallish) military for defense are now being countered by those who, like our other traditional allies in that area (such as Australia and South Korea), are getting sick and tired of Xi throwing his weight around yet fear if conflict comes, they’ll be on their own — hence the topic of the book titled “Japan Rearmed.” Frankly, there’s much more than simply what I’ve described or alluded to (and I’ve possibly even gone off track, inadvertently — a bad habit), but if I went into more, I’d be writing a book myself (another major element is merely the concept of an offensive militarized Japan with all of the possible regional implications that might entail…)! This is really one of the best books on the topic I’ve seen come along in a very long time. And again, so relevant and timely. I couldn’t urge people around the globe, let alone in the west and US, to read this more strongly than I am now, because I think it’s essential that we understanding the changing dynamics of a newly multi-polar world that’s been shifting to the east for over two decades. There are more variables than one cares to think about, but think about them one must (or should).

I feel like I didn’t do the book or the author sufficient justice in what I’ve written, but my health has sadly deteriorated to the point where I rarely write long, meaningful or in-depth book reviews like I did for many years, and I just don’t have the time and energy I once did. So my hope is the author will forgive any shortcomings in this review and will appreciate the overall spirit of support and enthusiasm I have for this book because I think it’s the best one I’ve seen published in the last several years amongst the Asian “experts” out there, no others being specifically named or mentioned at this time. Personally, there may be one or two experts out there who have very high profiles, and everyone seems to dote on every word they produce, but for my money Sheila Smith can think, research, analyze and write her way around all of them, and if this book isn’t proof, I’m not sure what would be. Most strongly recommended for those who are into international relations, Asia, East Asia, China, Japan, geopolitics, the growth of regional hegemonies, the global shift to the east, the dynamics being played out daily, etc. Literally one of the best of hundreds of books I’ve read over the past couple of years. Get a copy.

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Book Review: Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 4, 2019

Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic PlanningLosing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning by Andrei Martyanov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to admit I bought this book because the title and premise were intriguing, matching some of my own concerns about the recent, current and future state of the US military. But, wow, what a crazy scenario! I’m prepared to listen to and accept criticism regarding much about our military, particularly the state and status of many of our frontline weapons, a number of which are largely obsolete now, or have never been produced after throwing hundreds of billions away because of scope creep and countless other issues. Legitimate stuff, and some criticisms I’ve been making for years. And there are many reasons for this, which could probably fill a number of books. Fair enough.

What I did NOT like about this book was the author’s continual comparisons between US weapons and modern Russian weapons, ALWAYS gloating over Russian superiority, boasting how their navy could crush our navy like sardines, citing the fact that our most recent nuclear subs are, largely, ancient while Russia just produced eight new “state of the art” nuclear subs with “superior, world class” technology, apparently any one of which has such Superman-like powers, it could completely demolish our entire military in one shot, followed by wiping out the US with a second. Serious superiority issues, and a real attitude problem.

Okay, I lived through much of the Cold War. I’ve heard enough Commie propaganda over the decades, whether Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Cuban, North Vietnamese, etc, AS WELL as most of the Arab hardliners like Saddam and Libya’s and Syria’s typical leaders, among many more, and the boasting, bragging and chest thumping is something that any two bit junior college analyst could identify, define, etc, and moreover, ultimately, with many of these loud mouths, some put their money where their mouth is, and some are total bullshitters, witness Saddam, most of the traditional 20th century Arab powers, the beloved Kims, etc. And, yes, the Russians, because as has been found out in most military encounters between many US advanced weapons vs Soviet advanced weapons, typically through proxies, the Soviets have usually had their asses handed to them. And their house came crumbling down, the giant threat a house of cards. So I take it with a grain of salt when a RUSSIAN analyst starts boasting about how their few new ships could take out all of America’s, for all intents and purposes, and I’d love to see the author, via Putin, try to put their money where their mouth is.

Which is not to say his criticism of the reductions in our military personnel, our loss of experience in crucial areas, such as nuclear, our lack of producing virtually any new world class advanced weaponry since the Cold War, at least in quantity, isn’t entirely legitimate. It’s just his snarky and frankly very odd and suspicious personal circumstances as a person and professional that make this book and it’s whole “my penis is bigger than yours” infantile attitude so damn bizarre and frustrating! He’s a Russian, was in their navy, left Russia, immigrated to America, became an American citizen and somehow found gainful, if unspecified, employment with some unnamed … US defense contractor, I believe, possibly working on US weaponry, presumably naval. Now, think about that. The US lets some Russian ex-naval vet immigrate to America, magically become a US citizen, and then let him have freaking clearance to do defense work for our damn military??? Since when does THAT happen? I haven’t heard of such things since the Manhattan Project, and those were largely German JEWISH scientists, who had everything to lose if they stayed in Germany. Of course they’re working to defeat Hitler. But this guy is working to help the US and make our military better? All the while bragging about how much our military sucks now and how fucking awesome Russia’s is??? I mean, you should read some of his claims and assertions. They’re inane! He has a warped grasp on reality, particularly when bragging about Russian military technical superiority to anything the US has got. MAYBE THAT’S BECAUSE WE’VE ALLOWED GODDAMN RUSSIAN SPIES TO COME WORK IN OUR DAMN DEFENSE INDUSTRY AND SABOTAGE OUR MILITARY!!!!!!! What I want to know is, who the hell approved this, who approved his application for citizenship, was he fully, let alone adequately debriefed when he came here, how many polygraphs has he been given, is his work audited, who’s in on it with him, what’s his REAL motive, what’s his ulterior motive, who is he REALLY working for, and yet, if he’s so damn obvious, he wouldn’t be so damn obvious now, would he? So makes you wonder if this isn’t merely IW, put on by the DoD, if the author even exists at all and we’re merely playing at information warfare and propaganda games, and so many other options and possibilities. Frankly, I’m too busy with more important obligations, but if I had the luxury of time, I’d consider doing a little digging, because it seems to me that something’s rotten in Denmark.

Ultimately though, let’s assume the author is correct in his assessment of the wasting away of US military power, which has some truth to it. Again, fair criticisms to put forth. But the antithetical, virtually rabid, boasting, gloating, stiff dick factor for Russian military technology in its alleged superiority of everything American (which is frankly horseshit, in most cases), when he’s supposed to be a US citizen working in OUR defense industry to make our military better, all the while gushing about how damn awesome Russia is and we suck??? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? WTH don’t we deport him back to Russia if he’s got such a hardon for Putin and thinks his new country is pathetic? Why did he even bother coming here? Perchance another Oswald, a US plant? Just a thought, but then I like to conjecture all types of scenarios for most things.

Ultimately, right or wrong, propaganda or truth, the book is unreadable because the author is presented as having such a one sided superiority hangup, for the side he allegedly left. Which makes many Americans ticked off enough to stop reading the book. And so, possibly, maybe the project worked for the DIA or DARPA or RAND or whomever. It stinks too much and too obviously to be legit.

Work of fiction and not recommended. Two stars for amusement and creativity, as well as intended “mystery” scenario given to the author. Sadly, a waste of time and money.

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Book Review: The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 17, 2018

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National InterestThe Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book. And my criticisms are probably unfair, because the author most likely accomplished what he set out to do. I think I merely misinterpreted or misunderstand the primary thrust of where the thesis was going. I had been hoping for a general history of America’s “civil religion” over the years through the present, but especially focusing on the Reagan years through the present, and I guess I expected some analysis which would frankly be somewhat critical of the present situation.

Now before you jump on me to tell me that that is exactly what happened in this book, let me admit that I gave up and stopped reading before I got too far in. So if the author did what I expected, it’s my own fault for giving up. However, I literally have hundreds of books here waiting to be read, and I’m in the middle of reading over 100 at the present, so I really don’t have the time or patience for authors who micromanage their topics to death, particularly when a layman’s book is being somewhat treated as an academic book. Because this was detailed freaking history starting in the 1600s, going excruciatingly slow, unbelievably boring, and to be honest, while it’s fine for historical authors to be objective and not have an agenda, on the whole, the very title of this book implied a definite agenda, one with which I’d probably agree. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the author felt, believed, perceived, was advocating — nothing!!! — as he proceeded to regale the reader with amazingly boring trivial shit! And trust me, I don’t claim to be the smartest person around, but I’m not entirely dumb either. For instance, I’m presently reading books in fields such as public policy, nuclear engineering, religion (especially the primary theistic ones), atheism, philosophy, history, business, blockchain technology, network engineering, espionage, biographies, science, fiction, poetry, cryptography, culture, international relations, think tanks, hardware, software development, health, machine learning, AI, electronic warfare, limited nuclear warfare, radar signal processing, management consulting, quantum mechanics & quantum computing, among other topics. Trust me — I can handle details, I can handle boredom, I can handle a lot of “difficult” material. Sometimes I want to quit reading a couple of these other book — one nuclear engineering book is killing me, and one book on microwave RF design is boring — but I rarely have any questions as to the thesis of the books, the authors’ stances or where they stand on issues, what their agendas are, etc. And while I obviously know sometimes you have to work hard to reach certain points, this damn book simply seemed pointless to me. Mere American religious and political history. Ho hum. Pretty much know those fields already. By heart. I thought this would be a little more cutting edge, and again, perhaps it is, but dammit, give me a reason to reach the point in your book where you venture into uncharted territory! Otherwise, I’ve got better, more educational, more stimulating, more challenging books to read — piles of them. So for those of you who read this book in its entirety and came away impressed, please enlighten me as to why I am mistaken in my response to the book. In any event, I can’t possibly recommend this book. I’m sure there are alternatives that do a much better job. I’m extremely disappointed. Two stars.

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