Climate Change

The Washington Post in early August reported that data from a European climate agency shows that last month edged out July 2016 for the warmest month ever around the globe. That record was set as Europe grappled with a heat wave that set records in many cities. I suspect that August will also be one of the hottest on record.

We must take action to slow down climate change before great swaths of the earth become too hot to live in and seal level rises to the point that coastal cities are flooded. It’s already happening. The emergency is now.

We need to move quickly to reduce carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. That means finding energy resources other than coal and fossil fuels. They’re available—wind, sun, natural gas—but we are doing next to nothing to shift to renewable energy sources while the earth is slowly scorched and the ice at the poles is melted.

Some suggest that the U.S. is only one player in the climate change game, and changes by us won’t have much effect. But other nations are already moving in the effort against climate change. And the U.S. is a world leader—other countries follow our lead.

President Trump dismisses climate change as a hoax. He and his Republican backers are unwilling to address the emergency even as Europe is disabled by heat and the waters rise on our own coasts.

The 2020 election offers us a way of changing our government so that it becomes active on climate change. It can’t come soon enough.

Men’s Forum

Once a week, I attend a two-hour discussion group for men only in a local 50+ center. The participants range in age from their sixties to one hundred. There is no agenda for the meetings, but I note that the participants avoid subjects that will elicit passionate disagreement. Hence, because we have strong representation from both conservatives and progressives, we rarely have much to say about the Trump administration.

I hold something of a local hero standing with the group. They know about my exploits in Vietnam because several years ago I gave them my fall of Saigon presentation. Nearly all men of that age group are veterans, and these men are especially appreciative of military experience. Some of them have read my books and Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit, which came out this year. Clarke’s book tells half a dozen anecdotes about me during the last six weeks before Saigon fell.

I enjoy the group primarily because I learn from listening to them what public judgments about a variety of subjects are currently in vogue. I rarely have anything to say. My sense is that I simply don’t know enough about many current issues to be able to make a well-based comment. Other members don’t seem to be similarly constrained. I do speak up when topics I’m knowledgeable about—e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, Vietnam, the intelligence community, languages, music—come up, but even then I’m brief and to-the-point. I’m there to listen and learn.

I’m grateful to the group for allowing me to join them. Two members have become friends, and another half dozen are cordial allies. Even those who don’t see eye-to-eye with me are friendly. All of them teach me.

Intelligence

The Washington Post over the past weeks has published a series of articles on the U.S. intelligence community. The resignation of Dan Coats as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the nomination of John Ratcliffe to replace him and Radcliffe’s withdrawal brought the intelligence apparatus into focus. An article on Gina Haspel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), widened the focus. The reporting led to concern about the health and well-being of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

 President Trump has repeatedly expressed his animosity for the seventeen intelligence agencies of the U.S. government. He agreed with Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor in the face of unanimous agreement among the intelligence agencies that it did. He has verbally lambasted the agencies and publicly shared intelligence results with Putin. He defended his choice of Radcliffe—a strong Trump supporter with no aptitude or experience for intelligence management—for DNI by saying he needed someone who could rein the intelligence agencies which “have run amok.”

 All this alarms me. I spent thirty-five years as a U.S. intelligence operative and I know firsthand how often intelligence prevented disasters by warning U.S. leaders of our enemies’ intentions, plans, and acts. I am deeply concerned that President Trump will cripple the U.S. intelligence effort.

 Maybe he already has. Because intelligence is classified, the public has no information on what is going on with the agencies. We do know that the former DNI, Dan Coats, continued to report to the president facts that Trump did not what to hear—about Iran’s adherence to the treaty it signed with the U.S., North Korea’s continuing buildup of nuclear forces, Russian malfeasance. We know that Trump rejected those facts. I suspect that Coats resigned in frustration. We don’t know what Trump may have done to the agencies in retribution.

 I know from personal experience the tragedies that follow failure to believe and act on intelligence. Many times during the Vietnam war, U.S. commanders ignored intelligence warnings. It happened so often I coined the term the Cassandra Effect to describe the results. Examples: U.S. officials disregarded warnings about North Vietnamese intentions to attack at Dak To in 1967, their plans for the Tet Offensive, and their preparations to attack Saigon in 1975. The results were tragic.

 Is the same thing going on now? Is the president disregarding validated intelligence? Is that what he means when he says that the agencies have “run amok”? Is he working to disable the intelligence agencies? We don’t know. The danger is real and serious.

 

Time to Rethink the Second Amendment

The text of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment to mean that we can legally have no limits on the number of guns American citizens own.

As a result, we have more firearms than people in the U.S., almost 400 million of them. Those numbers exclude weapons in the hands of law enforcement and military forces. We have more than 120 guns for every 100 of us. That ratio is higher than for any other nation in the world. We own 40 percent of the guns in the world, but we account for only 4.27 percent of the world population.

We also have the weakest gun laws of any modern nation on earth. We do almost nothing to control who can own a gun.

Our death rate from firearms is the highest among the western democracies. Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured.

The spate of mass shootings in the past few weeks—most prominently at Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton—force us to confront the issue: Is the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, to continue? How many deaths by shooting will we tolerate before we change the rules?

My sense is that we must act at once. We can either reinterpret the Second Amendment to mean no restrictions on guns for militias or we can repeal it in its entirety.

The argument that guns are and always have been a key part of American culture doesn’t move me. Better to change our culture than to allow the killing of a hundred of us every day.

The time to act is now.

My Novels (7)

My books to be published next year are not the end of the story. I’m currently working on two more books.

One so far untitled is drawn from my experience during the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands. It tells the story of a growing friendship between three soldiers, very different from one another, and a civilian there to provide intelligence assistance to the 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Armored Brigade. I have had to do considerable research into that battle, one of the bloodiest during the Vietnam war. My New York Times article on the battles (you can read it at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/vietnam-tet-offensive.html) doesn’t begin to deal with all the actions on both sides. This is going to be tough going.

The other book, called Josh at the Door, is the story of a torrid affair between a man and woman both in their eighties. I am repeatedly irritated by the assumption of younger people that older men and women are no longer capable of passionate lovemaking. I wanted to set the record straight. I leave it to the reader to decide is this book, like all my other novels, is fiction in name only.

As readers have commented, none of my novels and short stories end happily. But all, without exception, end with hope. If I’ve learned nothing else during my long life, I know that travail brings with it learning and the possibility of a better future. I don’t write tragedies—stories that end without hope. I write stories with sad endings that offer a view toward a better future.

My Novels (6)

My other book to be published in 2020 is a collection of short stories titled Coming to Terms. The book’s forward describes its content:

Coming to Terms tells the stories of men and women confronted with pain as a consequence of love and hate, goodness and evil. Each finds a way to go on living, however imperfectly. None is left unscathed.

“All these tales come from my life, as a husband, father, soldier, and caregiver to the dying. Each major character is drawn from people I’ve known. My hope is that you and I, both, can learn from the choices these people made.”

Once again, the book is fiction in name only. The events described are all ones I lived through or knew of. The characters range from mature and virtuous to seriously misguided. They all struggle to come to terms with the life they live. Not all of them are likeable, but I love each of them. Like so many people I’ve known in my long life, these people break my heart.

This book, too, has its roots in Vietnam. I grew into the man I am today by virtue of what I went through during that war. I came to understand and feel for people I would otherwise have condemned or dismissed as unworthy of my time and attention. It was because of Vietnam that I volunteered to care for men dying of AIDS. And it was the effects of the war on me that led me to work for seven years in a hospice taking care of the dying.

One of the life lessons I learned from the war and my experience caring for others is that the only acts of significance in life are those undertaken for the good of others. What I do for myself is trivial. What I do to help others makes life worth living. Hence, Coming to Terms.

More tomorrow.

My Novels (5)

Early in 2020, two more of my books will be published, both my Adelaide Books of New York. One is a novel, Secretocracy; the other a collection of short stories called Coming to Terms.

As with all my fiction, Secretocracy is based on events in my life. It tells the story of an intelligence budgeteer, Gene Westmoreland, who refuses to fund an illegal program being pushed by the administration. He is stripped of his clearances and banished to a warehouse in a dangerous part of D.C. The administration does not want risk firing him because he might sue. It hopes to make him so miserable that he will resign. He is given no work to do and left to vegetate. But Gene is stubborn. After the 2018 election, he finds help from a senator and is restored to his job. The Congress kills the illegal program.

I set the story during the Trump administration because events like that told in the novel have become commonplace. But I lived through the story told in the book during the Reagan administration. My agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), assigned me for a tour with the Intelligence Budget Office, an independent staff directly subordinate to the Director of Central Intelligence. It’s job is to review and approve budgets proposed by the seventeen intelligence agencies before they are submitted to Congress. I refused to approve intelligence support for a highly classified program the administration was launching on the grounds that it was illegal and violated our treaty agreements with other nations. The administration was furious. It took away my security clearance and assigned me to the warehouse I described in Secretocracy. I was isolated there until a new administration took office and reinstated me.

I don’t know if the Reagan administration’s highly classified program was ever launched. When I returned to NSA, I no longer needed the security clearances for that program and therefore had no way of knowing what became of it. For all I know, it may have been successfully executed and may still be operating today.

In Secretocracy, I based the characters of an amalgam of characteristics I’ve observed in administration officials working for President Trump. But the humiliations Gene is subjected to are based on what happened to me.

More tomorrow.