Byrdseyevue: books, opinion, media, perspective

December 12, 2007

Boys Will Be Boys

One night, early morning actually, around 4:00 am, Max’s Kansas City, 1975 or thereabouts, waiting for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers- Thunders, late of the New York Dolls, keeping us waiting till we were so far past drunk it was pathetic. Thirty plus years later, all I remember is either Johnny Thunders or the band that opened for them singing, screaming and jumping to a 2 chord song called “boys will be boys”. That memory is the inspiration for the title of this post and has absolutely nothing to do with its content.

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If you attend Wharton you learn about business and you take this knowledge and perspective with you into your professional life. Which means, for example, if you run a company, you work until you reach whatever goal you have in mind or until you go under. If you’re a lawyer, you think and act like a lawyer. Same with a doctor or carpenter, or, I imagine, dog breeder, conjurer, or second story man. Be a fly on the wall in a room full of any profession and you’ll cringe at the matter of fact words you hear and the largely unexamined worldview behind them. Yet, for some reason many of us expect something different from the military.

The fact is West Point, Annapolis, VMI, any of the military institutes, provide professional training in warcraft. Military tacticians and historians break down and study battles like football coaches watch game film. Bottom line: The military is a professional career like any other. Crazy but true. A Lieutenant with a platoon (45 men) aspires to be a Captain with a company (200 men,)who wants to be a Lieutenant Colonel with a battalion, (800 men). Ands he wants to be a full Colonel with a Regiment. (4500 men with a medical, artillery, tanks and other fun stuff) That full Colonel hopes someday to get a General’s star and aid a Major General in leading a Division (15,000 men). The Major General can’t wait to be a Lieutenant General in charge of a Corps (30,000 men), and that guy has his eye on a 4th star, a full general so he can lead an army 0f 100,000 men. (all numbers are approximate, men refer to men and women.)

Of course, in order to advance up the corporate ladder these men need the occasional war. With all this in mind why on earth would any of us expect a soldier to do anything but believe he can win, gain the objective, phrase it however you want. What’s he gonna say, I don’t think I can do it. It’s too difficult. All the military guys need, if you were to ask them, is more men, materiel and money. Look at Ford. When it turned out that Quality Wasn’t Job One, did the carmaker dissolve? No, it laid off thousand and thousands of men for the greater good of the company and its mission. See the parallel?

Korea was a fiasco in which utterly ridiculous decisions were made, but that didn’t stop the military from jumping headfirst into Vietnam which was even a more difficult situation, and then Iraq. But remember the Beta Max, or Cop Rock, the Apple GL II, or the Newton? Remember junk bonds in the 1980’s, and the current sub-prime real estate mess where CDA’s- collaterized debt obligations were supposed to be the first truly risk free investment vehicle? Sometimes plans work and sometimes they don’t. These things happen . People should know better and on some level some of them do. But at the end of the day, boys will be boys.

I’m obviously not saying anything new, and certainly over-simplifying, but if you read about American since the close of WWII in 1945, It’s clear that what we’re doing in Iraq is entirely consistent with our national behavioral patterns. I highly recommend David Halberstam’s, “The Coldest Winter- America and the Korean War.” (credit to DH for the chart that allowed me to spit out the military hierarchy above, as though I have any real idea what I’m talking about.) Halberstam writes with penetrating incite about Truman, MacArthur, the State Department, Congress, American military personnel both ranking and famous as well as forgotten foot soldiers. He also covers Mao, Chiang Kai-shek, Stalin, the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee and Kin IL Sung of North Korea, and a host of others. It is his last book. David was killed in an automobile accident 5 days after the completion of this ten year project.

I’m not endorsing our foreign adventures, in fact, I’m disgusted by the hubris, arrogance, incompetence, and the total lack of historical perspective in administration after administration that sets wars in motion and plays them out. Alls I’m sayin’ is, what else can you expect? This, my friends, I’m sad to say, is business as usual.



December 6, 2007

Mind Clutter

Filed under: fiction,media — byrdseyevue @ 8:52 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I stopped watching network news ten, maybe fifteen years ago, when I realized it really wasn’t covering hard news so much as highlighting so-called lifestyle puff stories. This was when cable news was synonymous with CNN, a hard news network that focused on foreign affairs. The kind of network a man could watch a war on. And watch a war I did. Me and Saddam. In our respective bunkers. IRAQ: take one, marked the advent of voyeournews. Needless to say, it was downhill from there. If you’ve ever held a remote you know what I’m saying.

Which left me with newspapers. And a new problem. For example, the New York Times, a loyal morning friend, now reports the Democratic primary as if it’s a done deal two person race. Not in so many words, of course, but like the rest of the media it keeps events relatively simple. And exciting. For a twelve year old. Two points of view and maybe a gratuitous sentence or two of a minority opinion so it can maintain its “intellectual” bona fides. Forget the news weeklies, the internet has rendered them superfluous. It’s actually embarrassing every few years when I look at one of them as it continues to flail about, searching madly for an identity, like a boated fish spending its last moments bemoaning its color and scale pattern.

The New York Review of Books is about the only periodical that provides perspective, but I continue to read the Times and a local rag and I know that none of the other so-called major papers are gonna be any different. There are the alternative weeklies, but you know in advance just what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it. Just read a first paragraph and you can feel the outrage piggyback onto your own. Why go any further? Other than the personal ads at the back.

What’s a person to do? Funny I should ask. First, get yourself a copy of Denis Johnson’s new book, Tree of Smoke. Thought you didn’t need another book about Vietnam? Think again. Powerful and dark, CIA in the vein of Mailer’s 1991 Harlot’s Ghost. Speaking of Vietnam- perhaps the best unknown and certainly underrated novel about the Vietnam war from the perspective of foot soldiers is the 1982 novel, The 13th Valley by John M. Del Veccio. This book is what Platoon should have been. The pseudo-philosophy from the pov of one character doesn’t quite work but you can skim it if you like.

Why did I jump from the New York Times to Vietnam war fiction. Fiction is a tried and true technique to minimize mind clutter and gain a better understanding of reality, that’s why.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — byrdseyevue @ 5:09 pm

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