Thursday, November 20, 2014


First posted 11/20/2013

On this day in 1943 the US Marines invaded the Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. For the Marines and Navy, this was the first great battle in the Central Pacific offensive.

Col. Joseph H. Alexander:

The vast oceanic expanses of Micronesia also dictated a change in naval tactics. Most of the previous amphibious assaults in the Solomons and New Guinea had been executed against large land masses which offered penetration by surprise at undefended points. These scenarios featured relatively short distances between launch bases and target objectives, often short enough to enable a shore-to-shore landing without amphibious transports. After Guadalcanal, American commanders in the South and Southwest Pacific theaters conducted every amphibious landing fully within the protective umbrella of land-based air support.

These conditions were generally absent in the Central Pacific. Operation Galvanic, the campaign to seize the Gilberts, would feature unprecedented advancves in long-range, fast carrier strike forces; large-scale, self-sustaining amphibious expeditionary units; and mobile logistic squadrons designed to sustain the momentum of those new forces. Admiral Nimitz was forming the elements of a 'sea-going blitzkrieg' that would hold tremendous significance for the outcome of the Pacific War. But much would ride on the amphibious seizure of Tarawa.
The main island, Betio, was heavily fortified. No larger than Central Park, the 4,500 defenders had constructed a dense network of pillboxes and trenches. As Alexander notes, “Yard for yard, Betio was the toughest fortified position the Marines would ever face." The Japanese commander, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki announced to his men "A million men cannot take Tarawa in a hundred years"

The 2d Marines took Betio in four days.

It was no cake walk. One thousand Americans died and another 2,100 were wounded. The American public was shocked at the high cost of taking such a small speck of land.

Shocked, but not deterred. Alexander:

Once the American public came to deal with the shock of the bodies floating in the shallows along Red Beach, the national mood became one of grim determination.
That resolution represented doom for Japan. Her war strategy was premised entirely on the idea the Americans would tire of the war and refuse to pay the price to roll back Tokyo’s conquests. This, in turn, would open the way to a negotiated settlement. Tarawa demonstrated that this premise was a pipe dream.

Later invasions in the Marshalls and Marianas benefited greatly from the lessons learned at Tarawa. At those battles, the Navy and Marines went into action with better doctrine, better weapons, and superior numbers. On Betio, they depended on guts, courage, and the initiative of enlisted men and junior officers.

Two telling sketches from Robert Leckie. The first from the day of the invasion:

In another Amtrack was a stocky corporal named John Joseph Spillane, a youngster who had a big-league throwing arm and the fielding ability which had brought Yankee and Cardinal scouts around to talk to his father. The Old Lady and Corporal Spillane went into Betio in the first wave, a load of riflemen crouching below her gunwales, a thick coat of hand-fashioned steel armor around her unlovely hull. Then she came under the sea wall and the Japanese began lobbing grenades into her.

The first came in hissing and smoking and Corporal Spillane dove for it. He trapped it and pegged it in a single, swift practiced motion. Another. Spillane picked it off in mid-air and hurled it back. There were screams. There were no more machine-gun bullets rattling against The Old Lady's sides. Two more smoking grenades end-over-ended into the amtrack. Spillane nailed both and flipped them on the sea wall. The assault troops watched him in fascination. And then the sixth one came in and Spillane again fielded and threw.

But this one exploded.

Johnny Spillane was hammered to his knees. His helmet was dented. There was shrapnel in his right side, his neck, his right hip, and there was crimson spouting from the pulp that had been his right hand.

But the assault troops had vaulted onto the beach and were scrambling for the sea wall. Though Johnny Spillane's baseball career was over, he had bought these riflemen precious time, and he was satisfied to know it as he called, 'Let's get outta here,' to his driver and the squat gray amphibian backed out into the water to take him out to the transport where the doctor would amputate his right hand at the wrist.
On 24 November, Marine Generals Holland Smith and Julian Smith toured Tarawa:

The generals Smith began to tour the island. Even Julian Smith, who had been on Betio since November 22, was stunned by what he saw. Both generals understood at last why pillboxes and blockhouses which had withstood bombs and shells had eventually fallen. Within each of them lay a half-dozen or more dead Japanese, their bodies sprawled around those of three or four Marines. Julian Smith's men had jumped inside to fight it out at muzzle range.

Many of the pillboxes were made of five sides, each ten feet long, with a pair of entrances shielded against shrapnel by buffer tiers. Each side was made of two layers of coconut logs eight inches in diameter, hooked together with clamps and railroad spikes, with sand poured between each layer. The roof was built of two similar layers of coconut logs. Over this was a double steel turret, two sheathings of quarter-inch steel rounded off to deflect shells. Over this was three feet of sand.

'By God!' Howlin' Mad exclaimed. 'The Germans never built anything like this in France. No wonder these bastards were sitting back here laughing at us. They never dreamed the marines could take this island, and they were laughing at what would happen to us when we tried it'. Howlin' Mad shook his head in disbelief. 'How did they do it, Julian?', he began, and then, below and above the sea wall he found his answer.

Below it as many as 300 American bodies floated on that abundant tide. Above it, leaning against it in death, was the body of a young Marine. His right arm was still flung across the top of the sea wall. A few inches from his fingers stood a little blue-and-white flag. It was a beach marker. It told succeeding waves where they should land. The Marine had planted it there with his life, and now it spoke such eloquent reply to that question of a moment ago that both generals turned away from it in tears.

'Julian,' Howlin' Mad Smith went on in soft amendment-- 'how can such men be defeated?'

Sunday, November 16, 2014

We still need better press critics

First, an honest journalist pushes back against a media myth.

Gary Webb was no journalism hero, despite what ‘Kill the Messenger’ says

An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. That old dictum ought to hang on the walls of every journalism school in America. It is the salient lesson of the Gary Webb affair. It might have saved his journalism career, though it would have precluded his canonization in the new film “Kill the Messenger.”

The Hollywood version of his story a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media is pure fiction. But Webb was a real person who wrote a real story, a three-part series called “Dark Alliance,” in August 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News, one of the flagship newspapers of the then-mighty Knight Ridder chain. Webb’s story made the extraordinary claim that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America. What he lacked was the extraordinary proof. But at first, the claim was enough. Webb’s story became notable as the first major journalism cause celebre on the newly emerging Internet. The black community roiled in anger at the supposed CIA perfidy.

Then it all began to come apart. The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in a rare show of unanimity, all wrote major pieces knocking the story down for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.
Next, CNN’s so-called press critic decides to promote the myth and the movie.

Brian Stelter is far more critical of the media outlets who tried to get the story right than the troubled reporter who got all the big things wrong.

It’s also a little weird that he cannot tell the difference between a couple of Hollywood-types and serious scholars or reporters.

After watching Stelter since he took over from Howard Kurtz, I think I’ve gotten a fair idea of his MO.

--- He gives lip-service to the idea of objective, non-partisan journalism. This is not a firm conviction so much as it is spin designed to advance CNN’s brand positioning.

--- When Stelter praises traditional standards he does so as a PR flack helping his employer and disparaging its competitors.

--- The real Stelter has no time for such niceties. He is most critical of the press when it strays off the left-wing reservation. He sees the role of the media critic as that of PC kommissar and SJW.

Thus, Gary Webb was right because he attacked CIA and the Contras, the rest of the media was wrong because they placed facts above press solidarity, and movies are good when they ignore history in favor of myths and legends.

Friday, November 14, 2014

IRS, Lois Lerner, and the end of the Republic

This piece from 2013 is still astute about the issues at stake in the IRS scandal:

Mark Steyn: The Lois Lerner Defense
He makes an important point about the power of weaponized justice:

When the most lavishly funded government on the planet comes after you, eventual guilt or innocence is irrelevant: The process is the punishment.
Plus, here is an insight hidden in plain sight that completely escaped the best minds in the MSM:

Americans are fearless if some guy pulls some stunt in a shopping mall, but an IRS assault is brutal and unending. Many activists faded away, and the media began writing stories about how the Tea Party had peaked; they were over; they wouldn’t be a factor in 2012. And so it proved. As Rush Limbaugh pointed out the other day, the plan worked.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Some times we need to read something more important than political ephemera

From the reviews: "A delightful and witty book."

Which is no surprise to anyone who has read her blog.

Which story is more likely to lead CNN on Wednesday?

Obama suffers historic defeat in midterms
GOP net gains largest in 64 years

Tea Party extremists cost Republicans
GOP loses dog catcher race Cleveland marking another red state defeat

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bob Garfield would make a good poster boy for our Age of Rampant Knowingness

A life-long C-list hack is suddenly an authority on infectious diseases.

A commenter had the bad form to bring up ancient history:

You know, all of the snark and poo-pooing by Bob would be more bearable if a modicum of humility was shown. Two months ago, on 8/15, you had a segment called “Ebola is not coming to the United States.” Then, 4 weeks ago on 9/26, Laura Seay repeated that “Ebola is not coming to the United States.” Perhaps a humble admission on the day after a doctor who has Ebola went bowling in Brooklyn – or focusing some of that snark on yourselves – would make your listeners a bit more eager to follow your Consumer’s Handbook.

How we live now: The rule of the inept experts

Knowledge and knowingness

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ben Bradlee, RIP

Legendary editor who led coverage of Watergate scandal dies at 93
Tributes pour in for Ben Bradlee
Transformed the Washington Post into a major national newspaper with an international reputation
Guided the coverage of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that helped bring down President Richard Nixon
Won more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes for in his 26 years leading the Post
President Barack Obama heralded him as 'a true newspaper man'
His memoirs are an extraordinary read: funny, interesting, and free of pomposity. You can see him interviewed by CSPAN about the book here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why pop music sucks

#1 RSMcain's Bonham thesis:

Neutral Objective Fact that no genuinely great rock and roll music was recorded after Sept. 25, 1980, the day John Bonham died.

The Rolling Stones lost all claim to the title of "World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band" soon after Studio 54 opened.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Ukraine crisis without blinders

An astute and succinct analysis by David Warsh:

Two Views of Russia

It was Nuland who in February was secretly taped, probably by the Russians, saying “F— the EU” for dragging its feet in supporting Ukrainian demonstrators seeking to displace its democratically-elected pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, two months after he rejected a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. She made a well-publicized trip to pass out food in the rebels’ encampment on Kiev’s Maidan Square in the days before Yanukovych fled to Moscow.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin said the other day, “Our Western partners, with the support of fairly radically inclined and nationalist-leaning groups, carried out a coup d’├ętat [in Ukraine]. No matter what anyone says, we all understand what happened. There are no fools among us. We all saw the symbolic pies handed out on the Maidan,” Nuland is the pie-giver he had in mind
Victoria Nuland is a character right out of House of Cards or The Honourable Schoolboy.

Before she was nominated to her current job, Nuland was State Department spokesperson under Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Congressional firestorm over the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

So how did the Obama administration manage to get her confirmed – on a voice vote with no debate? The short answer is that she was stoutly defended by New York Times columnist David Brooks and warmly endorsed by two prominent Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona.
She is also the wife of Robert Kagan, an advisor to GOP presidents and GOP presidential candidates.

I really wonder what went though the mind of Mitt Romney and his closest advisors when they realized that the flack lying about Benghazi and leading the charge against Romney on that issue was married to one of their foreign policy advisors.

Like I said, Politico could not do that scene .justice; it requires the talents of a LeCarre or Evelyn Waugh.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The decline of Britian: From Profumo to Rotherham

In 1963 John Profumo was Secretary of State for War in Great Britian. He was caught up in a sex and spy scandal when it was revealed that he shared a mistress with a Soviet diplomat and presumed intelligence officer.

Because he realized that he had failed in his duties and had embarrassed his party and Prime Minister, Profumo resigned. He left politics completely. He spent the rest of his life doing charity work in London's East End.

In 2014 in was revealed that hundreds of children were raped and abused in Rotherham over a period of twenty years. The town authorities had evidence that this was happening but were slow to take action.

The top policeman Shaun Wright and the head of child services, Joyce Thacker, steadfastly refuse to resign.