Remembering – Pearl Harbor Day

Jerry posted this on Pearl Harbor Day 2012 (7 Dec 2012). The second remembrance is from 7 Dec 2002. – the Editor.


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Pearl Harbor Day

Japan is our ally now, and China is building the Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which Japan planned. Japan sought to exclude the Western colonial powers – including the United States – from Asia in a sort of Japanese equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine. “Asia for the Asiatics!” was a common battle cry.

In practice the Sphere operated as a supply source for Japan, although the Japanese insisted that was only because the West wanted war, and the Empire had to be strong. Japan claimed to be the liberator of the Colonies: Manchuria liberated from Chinese occupation, Philippines from the US conquest, Taiwan from China, Hong Kong from Britain, Indo-China from France, Burma from Britain, Indonesia from the Dutch, The Malay States from Britain and Portugal, etc. It included Thailand, which managed to stave off occupation by joining the Sphere and even declaring war on the United States, but the Declaration of War was conveniently lost on its way to the Secretary of State and the United States never considered itself at war with Thailand.

The Pearl Harbor attack is a splendid example of a tactical victory spoiled by a failure of exploitation and pursuit. Had the Japanese carriers refueled their aircraft and sent them back to destroy all the fuel dumps around Pearl and the airfield, and destroyed the ship repair facilities, the war would have taken a different course. Japan still had no chance at victory, and Roosevelt was not open to offers of a negotiated peace. The attack was a strategic blunder of the first magnitude. Yamamoto may or may not have said that “We have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a sense of terrible purpose,” but it is an apt description of the Pearl Harbor attack and of its effect on the American people. The nation had been divided on the war in Europe, and Roosevelt only won reelection in 1940 on a platform of “Not one American boy is going to die on foreign soil,” but once the nation had been attacked the American Way of War took command, and no Japanese offer of a negotiated peace with return of the Philippines and Japanese payment of reparations was possible.


This is from 2 December 2002. – the Editor


A Policy for America

We had panels at the LASCON that included a discussion of Republic vs. Empire. It’s astonishing how many of my old friends have become warhawks. And it may be that we have gone so far in marching the king’s men up the hill that we have to do something with them other than march back down again.

Deposing Saddam Hussein will be no great problem. What we do after that is something else again. We will have two clients, either of which we could use to defeat Iraq; alas, if we use one we really alienate the other. The Turkish Army isn’t going to appreciate an independent Kurdistan on Turkey’s southern border. The Kurds aren’t going to want to overthrow Saddam for us without the promise of independence — and won’t be happy if we use the Turks to do the job.

Meaning we may have to put an appreciable army over there because we don’t have clients we can rely on. After which we will have to govern. And governing a place with that much oil is going to be a difficult task, with great temptations, and splendid opportunities for corruption.

Rome’s republic began its sharp decline after the Second Punic War when Rome inherited Sicily and Sardinia, two rich provinces that were never intended to be incorporated into the Republic and thus never to have citizenship. This meant they were governed by officials appointed in Rome and responsible to Rome, not to the people they governed; and they were rich provinces, and the tax farming was good and lucrative and being governor was worth competing for and —

Meanwhile, the stern old Good Government types stood ready to prosecute any politician (of the opposite party) who had profited in any way from being part of the government. Many of the prosecutions were justified in that they were certainly violations of the laws, but at the same time the laws were stricter than the morality and ethics of the governing class, and enforcement was largely done on political motivations. Perhaps nothing of that sort can ever happen here.

Eventually popular political figures appealed directly to the people against the court systems. Some of those popular figures were military as well as civilian politicians. Perhaps nothing of that sort can ever happen here.

And perhaps it is not too hard to see the future.

What Must Be Done

People keep asking me what I would do were I in charge.

Ideally I would bring our troops home, shore up the Navy, tell the world “We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own,” and disentangle the United States from the disputes in Europe, the Balkans, Korea, the Middle East, and generally everywhere. At the same time I would take the money at present paid in subsidies to clients and allies and others — some $4 billion a year to Israel and more than $2 billion a year to Egypt, for a start — and put that into developing energy independence programs.

I would develop and deploy light water nuclear reactors on the grounds that the fuel is nearly free: we have at least 15,000 surplus warheads, each with 2 to 4 kilograms of 90% enriched fissionables (fuel grade is about 10% enriched) so the expensive part of making nuclear fuel is a sunk cost: we may as well get some good out of it, since we ought to get rid of those warheads anyway.  I would put money into X projects to develop cheap access to space: over the long haul, solar power from orbit and orbital industries can be environmentally benign while very economically effective, given only reasonably cheap access to space.

Regarding access to space: airlines operate at about 3 to 5 times fuel costs. It takes about the same amount of fuel to get a pound to orbit as it does to fly it to Australia from the US. Rockets are not really less efficient than jet engines (they have to carry their oxidants, but they experience far less drag over the course of their flight because they aren’t in the atmosphere very long). There is no reason why getting to orbit need be much more expensive than a first class ticket to Australia. (Of course that means savable and reusable space ships, not expendables.)

Given costs of that magnitude, solar power satellites become quite cost efficient — their major cost has all always been the cost of getting to orbit. Space industries including mining and fabrication on the Moon become feasible given airline levels of costs to orbit.

None of this is science fiction or even all that hard. There is no new science needed. There is engineering development needed, and some of it is tricky. Rocket engine designs are mostly engineering but there is also a bit of the black art to them in determining chamber flows and combustion stabilities and the like — but what that really means is you have to build things and fly them because we don’t have either the inputs or computing power to do  third decimal point accuracy simulations, and most of what is needed in rocket science is third decimal accuracy. (Example: A 700,000 pound Gross Liftoff Weight [GLOW] rocket will be 90% fuel and oxidant; of the remaining 70,000 pounds, about 90% will be structure and tankage and plumbing and shrouds and life support and reserve fuel and other stuff. The remaining 7,000 pounds is payload, but note that this is down in the 3rd decimal place, and there’s a real difference between a payload of 700 pounds and one of 15,000 pounds — and the best calculations we have can’t narrow it more than that, and some show that it won’t have a payload at all [won’t quite reach orbit]. You have to build and fly things to find out what payloads you will get, and how to nickel and dime those up by redesigning structures and making things lighter.)

This is what X programs are for, and we ought to have several of them going. Of course we don’t, and NASA doesn’t want any.

In any event, while I trust the American Military, understand that what the military is good at is breaking things and killing people. I trust our engineers more than our diplomats, and I think money invested in energy independence better spent than money invested in conquests — and healthier for the republic. Conquests feed imperial ambitions.

Not Ideal

We are not in an ideal situation, and there is considerable history, including not only 911 but our response to it, and the perceptions of others. We cannot look like fools. We must not make empty promises or threats.

So: were I in charge I would begin the campaign for new energy technologies and emphasize that new policy while beginning to stand down from adventures that make people hate us (as opposed to hating their neighbors).

I would make it clear that in future we will behave like a republic, not like the World Empire. We have some continuing obligations, but we will try in future to reduce those, not expand our entangling alliances and overseas commitments. We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but we are the guardians only of our own. Our people may be horrified at the way you live, but we will not send our soldiers to impose our ways on you.

I would tell the world that we will protect our citizens, and some of them will undoubtedly try to persuade you to live in ways you do not like. That is their affair so long as they don’t use force. You may forbid them entry to your lands, but if they come in peace you must let them leave in peace if you don’t like their examples or their missionary efforts. But so long as you do that, you may have your silly — even disgusting — customs and practices.

But whether I’d invade Iraq as a demonstration of our resolve I do not know. My foreign policy would be to make it very clear to the ruling class of every nation on Earth:  “If you harbor the enemies of the people of the United States and allow them to use your nation to plan and stage attacks on the American people, you will be replaced; your protests that those who follow you will be worse are uninteresting. We have the same message for them, too.”

The Afghan campaign was a beginning at propagating that salutary message. It may be that an Iraqi campaign will be needed to drive the point home. On the other hand, it may not be: we may also teach the lesson that “If you do comply with our wishes and make it clear that you neither want to nor can harm the people of the United States, we will leave you alone no matter how great a villain you are.” And that may be what the current Administration has in mind. I am certain Colin Powell believes it.

So there we are. But whatever we do about Iraq, it is criminal that we are not pouring out the funds needed to reduce our dependence on that part of the world. We have the technology for energy independence over, if not my lifetime, certainly over yours. Why don’t we start?

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3 Responses to Remembering – Pearl Harbor Day

  1. Gregory Benford says:

    Jerry’s wisdom holds up across the decades. Bravo!

  2. Richard White says:

    What he (Eugene Cantrell) said.

  3. Eugene Cantrell says:

    Please keep sending out the emails of Jerry’s past comments. There are as thought provoking now as when he wrote them.
    Sure do miss his insights.

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