Thursday, December 01, 2022

A silent scream from China


Friday, November 25, 2022

Something else to be thankful for

Too many Americans today are recovering from a too-ample Thanksgiving dinner and searching for Black Friday bargains on the internet. Meanwhile, in Kyiv, one-third of the Ukrainian capital's homes are without electricity, and the lucky ones have power only for two or three hours a day. We had a scheduling problem and moved our Thanksgiving dinner forward (or is it back?) a day, and soon I'll build the fire in front of which we'll roast a thirteen-pound bird in an 18th-century oven -- not quite as primitive as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, but refreshingly old-fashioned.

I began to wonder how I could reconcile our good luck with the misery that Vladimir Putin has visited upon his neighbors. I found it in a story in the online Wall Street Journal about a Ukrainian woman who found refuge in North Carolina through an expedited government program.

Yes, the government can move fast! The Trump administration did it with Operation Warp Speed, which in 2020 developed Covid vaccines in a few months instead of the years normally taken. And now the Biden administration has done it with Uniting for Ukraine in which 85,000 Ukrainians have been granted refugee status in the US. Even more heartening, 171,000 Americans have signed up to sponsor someone. Read the Journal story, and give thanks you are privileged to live in such a country. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Monday, November 14, 2022

The last Wildcat pilot

  Ah, to be young and invulnerable! Here's Samuel Folsom eighty years ago at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, in his Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter. When he arrived in the South Pacific at the age of 22, Second Lieutenant Folsom had never flown at high altitude, and he'd fired the wing guns on his Wildcat only once, in practice. But like the other young Marine Corps pilots, he met and sometimes bested the far more experienced Zero pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the end, he was credited with one A6M Zero and two G4M medium bombers shot down. Unlike nearly half the pilots in his squadron, he survived Guadalcanal and the Second World War, and he died last Saturday at the age of 102. Photo courtesy of his son Gerrit and the New York Times  

Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford



There's joy in the streets of Kherson as its people celebrate the city's freedom after eight months of brutal occupation. Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii for the Kyiv Independent -- and if you don't choke up when you look at the newspaper's photo-essay, you must have a heart of stone. While you're there, sign up for the daily newsletter.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Putin v. Snyder

Hilariously, Vladimir Putin has sanctioned Timothy Snyder, the spellbinding Yale professor who teaches History 247, The Making of Modern Ukraine now being streamed on YouTube. (The first lecture has been watched more than 859,000 times.) 

The sanctions do make a kind of sense. Putin's entire reason for invading Ukraine in 2014 and again this year was to erase the idea of Ukraine as a country, with the result that he succeeded in making that nation even more of a country than it was. Its Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Putin unblushingly calls a "Nazi," was a native Russian speaker, who adopted the Ukrainian language as a result of the war, like millions of Ukrainians. (The same was true of Mr Snyder, who could read the language but didn't speak it naturally until he had to interview Mr Zelensky this past summer.) And the sanctions aren't without a sting: Mr Snyder's professional life is partly based on his ability to study Russian archives, which now are closed to him.

Snyder's blog post is very much worth reading: Of sanctions and silencings: Russia's war as cultural suicide. While you're there, you should subscribe to the blog. He's rather proud of himself; that comes out in his lectures, along with occasional cheap shots at the country that has enabled him to prosper as a writer, teacher, and historian. His students enjoy this stuff, and so will you if your house is fronted by virtual-signaling yard signs; but not so much if, like me, you're grateful for the privilege of living in America.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

How does this movie end?

For its weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal has teed up ten pundits to address the question, What happens when Putin goes? (That he will go, sooner or later, one way or another, is a dead certainty for Vladimir Putin, as it is for all of us.) The pundits range from Gary Kasporov, once a chess champion and more recently a busy commentator on things Russian, to Professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Kotkin of Princeton and the University of Chicago. All are interesting and all are worth reading, if only for the wide array of possibilities they envision for Russia and by extension for us.

Reading them, I came up with yet an eleventh possibility: Putin goes, whether by coup or medical misadventure. Russia then falls into chaos, and the movie ends with its becoming a satellite of China. Xi is the younger man by just one year, but he is in a much stronger position, and his tacit support of Putin’s disastrous assault on Ukraine makes a great deal of sense if the result is a strengthened NATO and a diminished Russia. With its economy weakened, its oil and gas resources shunned, and its military exposed as incompetent, where else can Russia turn?

On February 25, the day after Russian armored columns stormed into northern Ukraine, I emailed my former tutor at King’s College London and asked how he thought it would end. He was quite downbeat, assuming (as almost all of us did) that Kyiv would fall very soon. He gave a range of options, including the one “where you and I are both dead.”  Interestingly, only Prof Measrsheimer of the Journal’s pundits even mentions the nuclear option: “If pushed to the wall, Moscow would at least consider using its nuclear arsenal to salvage the situation. After all, that was NATO’s policy during the Cold War in the event that the Warsaw Pact’s conventional forces were defeating NATO’s armies and threatening to overrun Western Europe.” 

It’s a depressing notion, but I’m not sure that the combination of a weak Russia and a strong China is any less to be dreaded.


Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Claire Chennault joins the US Army, 1917

With interruptions, Claire Lee Chennault was an American military officer from 1917 until his death in 1958, and along the way he left a trail of documents that were recently scanned and made available at the National Archives. His "Official Military Personnel File" runs to 838 pages. (Well, they're actually images, but it's easier to cite them as pages.) A tip of the virtual hat to Bill and Richard Chennault, his grandson and great-grandson from his romance with Anna Mae Griffin, and to Corey Stewart at NARA's St Louis office, for leading me to this biographical treasure. I'm also working from a PDF of medical files provided by Anna Mae's great-grandson, some of them not duplicated in the NARA file.

To be sure, record-keeping a century ago was not as meticulous as today's, and the US Army had to take Chennault at his own valuation, including his birth date of September 1890, three years before the fact. (The military would finally correct it in 1958.) With his Army application in front of me, I now wonder if this was when he tweaked the year of his birth: if he seemed three years older, people would be less likely to wonder at his swift ascent from schoolboy to teacher-principal.

For more, see the Annals of the Flying Tigers