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The Chair of the Joint Chiefs Wants Money & Has Some Interesting Comments To Make. What Are To Be Made of These?

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 24, 2018

(Note: I originally published this on LinkedIn on 11/23/18. The URL may be found here:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chair-joint-chiefs-wants-money-has-some-interesting-comments-holstad/.)

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford wants some serious budgetary money from Congress to “maintain its [the US military] eroding military edge against Russia & China — but also to start innovating.” Interesting, & interesting choice of words. I have many questions, among them being … why haven’t we started innovating already? Funny, but I was under the distinct impression that we have been innovating recently & in some cases, for awhile. I remain under the impression that we’ve committed to EW & have been making some new, “innovative” progress in that field. And with Cyber Command’s new directive & “rules of engagement,” again I was under the impression that we’ve been moving in the innovation department there for awhile with major plans to proceed at lightening speed. Moreover, I research, read & am exposed to a number of various types of information implying or outright stating that, with the help of the increasingly numerous defense contractors, new technology with new capabilities, & new weapons systems are well under way, not only in R&D, but in actual production. So, I guess what I want to know is are my beliefs & assumptions wrong or did General Dunford simply utilize a somewhat unfortunate & potentially misleading choice of words in his statement?

Dunford further goes on to say “U.S. alliances would provide a decisive advantage in any major conflict. The U.S. would not lose a war with Russia or China, but such a war would be lengthy. And the U.S. has the edge today.” Again, interesting. Much of the information to which I am exposed suggests that the US does NOT have the edge today & moreover both Russia & especially China have surpassed us over the past couple of years. Indeed, China has doubled down on its R&D & technologies budget while allegedly, America’s R&D investment budgets have been slashed! Are we really that confident that in 3-5 years, the US would NOT lose a war (presumably cyber) with either country, particularly China, as that country has done more in the past two to three decades than what no country in the history of the world has done, in terms of the overall advancements it has made with its continuing commitment to Asian leadership, if not the world’s, as the US withdraws into nationalistic isolationism?

Please forgive me if I sound skeptical, jaded, sadly naïve or anything else that a number of you may not appreciate. My purpose in commenting on these issues is sincere. I truly DO want to know if I misunderstand current & future facts as they seem to appear, or if my understandings & assumptions are simply wrong – or perhaps a combination of both. And perhaps right as well. I have a great deal of respect for the Joint Chiefs & have many, many connections there, at the Pentagon & even with certain individuals who are or have been on the actual Joint Chiefs. I listen to the things they say – as well as to the things they don’t say. And I have numerous connections throughout the military & foreign policy communities. I have heard a great deal of worrisome predictions, beliefs, facts, data & statistics, & I find it difficult not to assume certain things, & my particular personality is one in which I hope for the best while planning for the worst. Additionally, while I do not presently have time to address this topic, I am curious to which “US alliances” the Chairman is referring. Such things are subject to change at any time, as we have seen & will likely continue to see….

The Chairman makes some additional interesting observations & statements, which I really do not have the time to address at the moment. And I do realize most to all of you in these respective industries are not at liberty to comment or address them. But I would welcome communication from any who wish to discuss these & related topics, who wish to share my concerns or correct my understanding of certain things, etc. Feel free to contact me. I promise to keep our communication confidential. As I tend to stay tremendously busy & am regularly deluged with hundreds of messages & emails, it may take me awhile to respond, but I shall certainly try to as best I can. And if anyone does care to publicly comment on these & related topics, that would also be welcome.

Finally, the article that inspired this post may be found at https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2018/11/17/saving-americas-military-edge-will-take-money-and-new-ideas-dunford-says/. I’ve always found DefenseNews to be a solid, reliable source of information & appreciate the job the people there do on a consistent basis.

I strongly support our military & the strides & efforts made throughout its branches, as well as joint efforts. But for too long, I have been worried about the seeming trend in which we fall behind other growing powers, particularly in technology, R&D & cyber. Space too, for that matter. And I am anxious to see new & greater commitment to these & other substantial areas, as many of us believe many real threats do exist & will certainly grow, most likely fairly quickly. And I’m determined we regain our lead & remain in the lead in new & expanding theaters & branches. This is my stance. I like to believe it is shared by many. Thank you.

Scott C. Holstad

November 23, 2018

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A Review of Brother Number One

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2016

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol PotBrother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot by David P. Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first “review” I read when I came across reviews for Brother Number One was one by “Annie,” which stated, “More objective, non-sensational and honest than than ‘Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare’.” Funny, having finished both books now, I couldn’t agree with that statement less. I’ll get to the Nightmare book in another review (I think it’s an excellent book), but Brother Number One is for this one. It’s an interesting book. Since this is the “political biography of Pol Pot,” a mysterious man who I have wanted to know something of for quite some time, I thought this book would help me. And in a way, it did. But only in a way. For this book was published in 1992, five years before Pol’s death in 1997. It’s therefore an incomplete work. Moreover, and more importantly by far, the author claims that the subject is so very mysterious and so little is known about him and he has hidden himself in shrouds of mystery, at times for many years at a time, that it’s impossible to know anything of his whereabouts for years at a time. So that gives the author free reign to speculate as much as he wants, and boy, does he do that. First, he includes everything he possibly can about Pol’s, or Saloth Sar – as he was known most of his life – upbringing, including his childhood in a country village, to his upbringing with a brother and other relatives in the king’s palace, essentially, to his French education, first in Cambodia, then later as an elite student, in Paris where he became a communist, most likely around 1951. We learn of his return to Cambodia in the mid-50s, his rise in the Indochinese Communist Party, his helping to form the Cambodian Communist Party in 1960, his dealings with the Vietnamese, whom he needed yet always resented, his dealings with the Chinese, his resentment toward the French, toward the Cambodian monarchy, toward the US, his paranoia, his marriage, etc. But whole years are eliminated in this book. His whereabouts are claimed to be unknown. But that doesn’t stop the author, who begins numerous sentences with things such as, “It would be interesting to suppose,” or “One might assume,” or “It might be possible to guess,” etc, et al. If I had a dollar for every time the author speculates about Pol’s thoughts, feelings, or motives, I would be a wealthy man. Because that is all the author can do. He can only guess. There is very little recorded documentation at all, anywhere. The Vietnamese have some. The Chinese have some. Pol conducted some interviews in the late 1970s. Other than that, little accounts for the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s.

The author relies on numerous interviews for this book, but I’m assuming, as he often does, as Pol was still alive while the book was being written, that so many interviewees were aware of that fact and were scared to death of him, that few of them were willing to share many details of him or say many negative things about him. For instance, many of his secondary and college classmates were interviewed. He was known as a mediocre student, at best, but seemed to be liked by most. He had a pleasant smile, a decent laugh, and people differ on his effect on people and groups. Some say he had no influence on the Parisian communist groups, while others say he played a leading role. As a teacher in the 1950s, even though he never came close to completing his degree, he was known as a wise and good teacher, patient, well spoken, thoughtful, etc. The image doesn’t jibe with the genocidal maniac of the 1970s.

In fact, it’s hard to reconcile any image of him, pre-1970 or so, until 1975 really, when he started coming out of the woodworks and into the public eye. When he became public circa 1976, it was a shocker. No one knew who he was. He was alleged to have been a rubber plantation worked named “Pol Pot,” but when former colleagues saw him on TV making speeches, they knew at once he was Saloth Sar, the former teacher, childhood friend of the king and themselves, and they were shocked. How could this kind, good man be their new revolutionary prime minister, responsible for the deaths of a half a million people in the civil war which had just ended in 1975, and unbeknownst to anyone, about to become responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people in a probable genocide of epic proportions over the next three years? That’s over one fifth of the country’s population. Yes, Mao and Stalin killed many more people, but there were many, many more people to kill from. They didn’t kill one fifth of their country’s population. So, this was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

And the sweeping changes. Doing away with money. I mean, what the hell??? Emptying the cities? Seriously? Driving everyone out into the countryside, no matter where you were from or where your relatives were. Who cared if you lived or died? No one. Least of all the 12 and 13-year old Khmer Rouge soldiers. Illiterate peasant boys who couldn’t even read passports that were expected to be presented at all times. It was insane. Doing away with virtually all exports except for rice, and then if/when the rice crop fell through, what the hell happens to your country then? And the “base” people versus the “new” people. If you weren’t fighting with the revolutionaries when they “liberated” Cambodia in 1975, you were a “new” person, meaning you weren’t one of them, meaning you were an enemy combatant. Even if you were a peasant refugee who had merely fled to the city to escape the countryside fighting and had no irons in the fire one way or the other. You were the enemy.

S-21. It was the torture/interrogation center. Every communist regime has one, right? Hell, every regime of any sort has one. We have Guantanamo. The French had theirs too. S-21 was a former school. Over 20,000 people were processed through there in the three plus years it existed. Unless my facts have gotten jumbled up, and they may have, only about a half dozen people survived. All were tortured extensively, confessions of up to thousands of pages extracted, and all were killed, most brutally. The confessions typically said the person was a CIA agent, a KGB agent, and a Vietnamese agent. That the likelihood of one Cambodian person being all three, let alone any of these, was absurd as hell appeared to not have sunk in to Pol Pot and his colleagues. It made perfect sense to them that the Russians, their Vietnamese protégés, and the US, whom the Khmer Rouge believed they had defeated militarily in 1975 and who they thought had it out for them and was willing to work with its adversaries, would all be working together. Insanity sees reason everywhere.

This book is only 250 pages long, less than half as long as Nightmare is. It’s not nearly as detailed or in depth. It’s not nearly as well researched nor as well written. It relies far too extensively on speculation; at least 70% of the book is nothing but speculation. But as an introduction to Pol Pot, it’s an interesting book. I would suggest that, if it’s read, it’s read with this information in mind and then one would immediately read something more recent, ideally written after Pol’s death, such as Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, which as I said, I think is an excellent book and which I hope to review soon. It relies on speculation almost not at all. One of the things that struck me most about Pol, the man, was that in one of these books, and I can’t remember which, sorry, he was asked if he knew how many people his administration was responsible for killing after he had been deposed. His answer was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand and that was because he had been kept out of the loop, or it would have been fewer than that. Stunning, really. Interesting to know if he really believed that or not. Somehow I doubt it. But there does seem to be evidence that he was actually kept out of the loop on a lot of the executions and that many of the “zones” were self sufficient and didn’t really report much back to headquarters and communications were so bad that it could take weeks or more to communicate by messenger, so by that time, things would have happened with or without permission. So things happened. How much was due to Pol? I guess we’ll never know. Of course, since Pol set the tone, ultimately it was all his responsibility. Everything and everyone was ultimately under his control. Anyone who displeased him was purged. He had complete control. Virtually all of his old communist colleagues from Paris and the old days in early communist Cambodia were purged to ensure his power. So, if he thought anyone were abusing their authority by acting genocidal without his permission, he could have done something about it. And he didn’t. So, obviously, the buck stopped with him.

So, I could go on and on, obviously. But I won’t. I’ve got to save some stuff to say for my next Pol Pot book. I learned a lot about a bizarre, incredibly secretive, insane man, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It was surreal to read about, because this occurred during my lifetime and I remember a great deal of this, although of course not personally, obviously. The book itself is interesting, but for reasons already mentioned, not very good. Even though the author probably tried hard, he didn’t try hard enough. It’s probably a two star book at best, but I believe I’m going to give it three stars for effort because it’s one of the early Pol Pot books and it did make an impact of Pol Pot research, so that’s worth something. Still, it can’t be relied upon on its own. It’s not that trustworthy. It’s got to be supplemented by something more current in its research, so keep that in mind. I’m really not sure that I can recommend it. I can suggest reading it if interested in the subject matter, but only if you intend to read more than one source on the subject. If you intend to read only one book on Pol Pot, don’t let this be that source. It’s not reliable enough.

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A Review of The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 21, 2016

The Life and Times of Grigorii RasputinThe Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin by Alex De Jonge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grigorii Rasputin was a real enigma. Was he a true holy man? Was he a mere charlatan? Was he the “mad monk?” Was he a con man? Did he indeed have supernatural powers? Was he merely a sex fiend who used his position to take advantage of women throughout imperial Russia?

This biography attempts to answer these questions and more. Unfortunately, it bogs down somewhere in the middle and gets repetitive and somewhat dull, so it’s relatively hard to slog all the way through, honestly, but it’s an honest look at an infamous character from history who I always wanted to learn about, so that’s a good thing.

Rasputin was born a poor peasant in Siberia, where he always gravitated back to, and gravitated toward the spiritual, like so many of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russians. Some were Orthodox. Many were sects that had split off and were frankly doing their own thing, some quite odd. Many seemed quite insane. Most had ardent disciples as that period of Russia had a great deal of people undergoing spiritual searches and there were many people going on pilgrimages throughout the country and there were many monasteries where people would stop for spiritual retreats. Rasputin, though married with children, engaged in this behavior, and went on years-long pilgrimages, traveling throughout the country, as well as to the Holy Land, and he came to be viewed as a holy man who prayed frequently and who had supernatural powers, including the power of healing and the power of prescience. The author does not make too many attempts to confirm or deny these powers, but does acknowledge that apparently there were many witnesses to confirm his abilities in these areas, so it’s difficult to deny them.

Rasputin made his way to the capital with the help of influential friends he made over time, people who became benefactors and disciples, most of whom were women. He had power over women which was to manifest itself through his entire life. He had powerful, hypnotic eyes with which he could force people – women – to do whatever he wanted them to do, typically engage in sexual acts with him. He was a sex maniac. He would have parties at his place, dinner parties, although he didn’t eat meat, or wine parties, and would take women back to his bedroom one at a time and have sex with them although everyone could hear him/them and everyone would talk about what a great man he was, about how spiritual he was, about what a great healer he was, about how wise he was, about how he should be sainted by the church (???), all the while, while he was persuading women both single and married to have sex of all types with him whether they wanted to or not, and if they did not, he would often simply rape them. Sometimes he would tell them they had to sin in order to be forgiven by God. He could excuse everything using God; he was mentally quick.

He somehow came to the attention of the tsar and tsarina through very complicated and complex ways and met them finally, he a simple peasant “holy man” who refused to change his ways for anyone, royal or not. He ate with his fingers, for God’s sake, and felt his beard eliminated the need for a napkin. He spoke with the Romanavs and they came away impressed. They had several children, the youngest one, a small boy, was quite ill with a disease that made his leg bleed to the point where it could kill him if not treated quickly and even then, it only stopped the bleeding, it didn’t cure it. The tsarina was beside herself.

She had heard of Rasputin’s alleged healing powers and asked him about it. Her son was suffering. Rasputin laid his hand on the boy, prayed, told her the boy would be fine, and he got better overnight. That did it. Rasputin was part of the inner circle. And that automatically pissed off the aristocrats of the city and country.

The royal family started having Rasputin over on a semi-regular basis, when he wasn’t traveling back to Siberia, and the chief of the secret police put a dossier together of his dalliances and presented it to Tsar Nicholas, only to be rebuffed. The tsar wasn’t thrilled with Rasputin’s behavior, but he wasn’t about to risk his wife’s wrath by doing anything with her favorite person and his son’s savior, so he buried the information and did nothing. This happened several times. Meanwhile, Rasputin both continued to gain disciples as his fame grew, especially as he came to be known as the peasant who had made it in court, and his original religious backers started to back away from him, horrified of his sins of the flesh, which he barely hid, if at all.

Something else happened a little later that cemented his position even more. The tsar and his family traveled to Germany while Rasputin was in Siberia. Their son became seriously ill and they attempted to travel back to Russia for medical aid, but couldn’t make it home. They were forced to stop prematurely and it appeared their son would die. He was given last rites and out of desperation, the tsarina called Rasputin in Siberia and pleaded with him to heal her son. He asked for a couple of hours and said he’d call her back. He prayed diligently, by all accounts, called her back and told her that her son would be healed and live and hung up. Her son recovered, lived, was healed, they returned home, and from that point on, Rasputin could never again do any wrong in her eyes, nor even in the eyes of the tsar, no matter how much “evidence” of wrong doing was laid in front of his eyes by jealous competitors, security personnel, and religious personalities.

All of this is interesting to a certain degree, but at the same time, there’s a certain degree of redundancy in the book leading up to this point. The author goes on and on about the women, the parties, the travels, the sects, Siberia, the Russian political system, etc. Frankly, it got a little boring. I made it to page 214 out of 341 pages before deciding I had gotten a good enough picture of Rasputin. After all, he never was given an actual title. He had by this time gotten nearly as much power as he would ever have. I know he would be assassinated and by whom. What would the final 125 pages have to say that would keep me riveted? I had had a hard enough time getting to page 214, reading five other books, some longer, while reading these 200+ pages, simply due to boredom. Maybe if another author had tackled the subject, it would have been more interesting, I don’t know. Or perhaps Rasputin isn’t, after all, all that interesting of a historical personage. I don’t know. I’m a little disappointed. I’m not sure what to think. He was interesting, certainly. But I feel like he was lucky, a pervert, a fraud, a possessor of potential minor supernatural powers that he made occasional use of, and in the end, someone who helped bring about the downfall of the empire through his excesses, which is really bizarre when you think about it. After how he started out, how could this happen?

This isn’t a bad book, nor is it necessarily poorly written. It just didn’t really connect with me and it’s not overly scintillating. Somewhat interesting subject matter. Another biography might be better, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book over another biography of the same person. Three stars max. Simply for the extensive research. Otherwise, it’s a two star book.

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A Review of Icon

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 18, 2014

IconIcon by Frederick Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book by Forsyth. It was epic in scale. And he pulled it off masterfully. The first half of the book is plot set up, which is typical of the author. He’s really into details and logistics, so this part of his books often bores some readers. But not me. I like finding out about all of the details that go into an operation. The second half of the book was action packed and I had a hard time putting the book down.

The plot revolves around post-Soviet Russia circa 1999. It’s falling apart, is broke, its leadership in shambles. Up steps a charismatic leader named Igor Komarov, who’s expected to become president in the upcoming election and who vows to return Mother Russia to its glory. However, he’s not what he seems to be. He’s a Hitler wannabe who is going to practice genocide on Jews, ethnic minorities, the military leadership, etc. And he’s got all of his plans written down in a “Black Manifesto,” of which there are three copies. One of them is foolishly left on his secretary’s desk and an old ex-soldier who now cleans Komarov’s headquarters sees it, reads some of it, realizes its importance and steals it. He then gets it to the British embassy, where it works its was back to British intelligence. The document is shared between British and American governments, but they choose to do nothing, so a group of highly influential and secretive world leaders meet to discuss the situation and come up with a solution — to send in a spy to destabilize Komarov’s platform and discredit him, thereby ensuring he loses the election. The person chosen to do this is ex-CIA agent Jason Monk. Monk fights it, but Sir Nigel Irvine (a great character!) convinces him to do it, and so he goes in.

When Monk arrives in Moscow, he immediately calls in a favor of a particular Chechen who is head of the Chechen underworld and he gains their support and protection. He then starts making the rounds, contacting the military’s leadership, the state police’s leader, the head of the Russian Orthadox church, and a major bank president who also presides over the television media. These people, after being confronted with the facts of the Black Manifesto, turn on Komarov and his security chief, Colonel Grishin. Meanwhile, Grishin finds out Monk is in the country and has an old score to settle with him, so he puts his Black Guard troops at work trying to locate him. Monk moves around, and this is a weakness of the book I think, and is almost omniscient in anticipating their moves and making adjustments for himself and his Russian collaborators. Sir Nigel makes it to Russia to meet with the clergy and comes up with the idea of returning Russia to a czar-based country, which is accepted by said clergy. He then comes up with a distant heir to the throne and promotes his return to Russia to take over.

When Komarov and Grishin realize their time is almost up, they do something completely crazy — attempt a New Year’s Eve coup in Moscow. But Monk anticipates this and helps prepare the military the the police, so the coup attempt fails and everything works out beautifully. The climactic scene between Grishin and Monk is largely anticlimactic, though, and that was disappointing.

It’s not Forsyth’s best book, but it’s an entertaining one, with a lot of research having gone into Russia, their crime scene, politics, etc., and it’s certainly worth reading. Monk is a bit too super human to be very believable, but he’s a likeable character, so one can overlook that. Recommended.

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