The Moon & The Planets Are ThereSaturday, July 07, 2012
|Dedication from my 1961 yearbook Edwardian
Today’s blog is going to be a complex rambling one. I have not been able to really sort my thoughts around since I read this morning an article on Afghanistan in the NY Times Afghan Air War May Be Cut Off As U.S. Pulls Out –Defining Fact of War –Crucial U.S. Role Raises Questions on Future of Taliban Fight by C.J. Chivers.
Just this section had me stopping to read in amazement:
Similar confusion greeted Lt. Cmdr. Thomas E. Hoyt when Marines called him for help in Helmand Province last October. A Navy medical corpsman had been shot through the left arm in a complex ambush, and Taliban gunmen were still firing from several directions, preventing most of the patrol from reaching the wounded man.
“He and two other Marines were cut off from the others,” said Capt. Michael J. Van Wyk, a Marine pilot serving on the ground as a forward air controller and who was pinned down by a Taliban sniper in another part of the patrol.
Upon arriving overhead, Lieutenant Commander Hoyt did not like what he heard and saw. Captain Van Wyk, he said, asked him to drop a 500-pound bomb on one of the buildings that the Marines were taking fire from. The situation was what was known as “danger close,” with Marines right beside the area to be hit.
The Marines said that the nearest friendly forces were 100 yards away. Lieutenant Commander Hoyt’s view told him the distance was shorter — the two sides were almost intermingled.
He offered his targeting sensor’s infrared video feed to Captain Van Wyk, accessible via a laptoplike device known as a Rover. This would allow the Marines to see what Lieutenant Commander Hoyt saw, to be certain he was looking at the right place before he strafed or released a bomb.
The patrol had been out already 12 hours; Captain Van Wyk’s Rover battery had just died.
To buy time and to get oriented, Lieutenant Commander Hoyt descended for a pass 500 feet over the firefight at about 550 miles per hour, a maneuver known as a “show of force” intended to intimidate Taliban fighters. As he roared by, he released a flare over the building to mark it. Captain Van Wyk confirmed he was looking at the right place.
Lieutenant Commander Hoyt made two more shows of force. But the Taliban fighters stayed put and kept firing. Marines on the ground fired a purple, a green and a yellow smoke grenade to mark where the Taliban fighters were hidden. The pilot’s confidence rose. “As soon as we confirmed where we can and can’t hit, then we could start shooting,” he said. “There were friendlies all over the place.”
Lieutenant Commander Hoyt suggested strafing instead of releasing a 500-pound bomb, and the controller agreed. The F/A-18 then made two passes, firing 460 rounds — one long burst into a canal, the other into a courtyard next to the building where the Marines had first asked for a bomb.
Part of the firefight started to subside, allowing Captain Van Wyk and the Marines to plan a landing zone for a helicopter to evacuate the wounded medic. A pair of Super Cobra attack helicopters showed up, freeing the F/A-18 to climb back to elevation.
The fight lasted perhaps another hour, and the corpsman was evacuated before its end. “Air power kept Marines from having to die that day,” Captain Van Wyk said. “They were willing to run across that open field to get Doc, and shed their blood. But air power made it so they didn’t have to.”
In the quiet after the gunfire died down, Captain Van Wyk watched as Afghan civilians stepped from hiding and began to survey the village. Then a sequence unfolded that filled him with alarm, then relief. As many as 20 of them, including women and children, came from the house he had initially wanted struck with a 500-pound bomb. Marines had been taking fire from there.
Watching the villagers who would have also been killed, he realized that Lieutenant Commander Hoyt had made the better decision. Everyone involved had been spared what might have been years of doubt and regret.
“I talked to him after and said, ‘Thank you for talking me out of that 500-pounder,’ ” he said. “I don’t have to think about that the rest of my life.”
I found the article fascinating particularly the part of a Rover laptop running out of battery juice. The whole procedure and others mentioned in the article are far removed from the idea of a blue army up on a hill being marched on by an army of gray at the Battle of Gettysburg.
A recent DVD viewing of Syriana (2005) with George Clooney has brutal footage of a drone zeroing in on a target and then taking it out. The its, of course, are real people. As I watched the film all those articles I had read in the NY Times of drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan finally hit home with a vengeance.
It was only after the allied armies entered Germany in 1945 that they saw the results of the 1000-plus airplane bombing missions featuring fire and demolition bombs. Here in Syriana I was watching a movie but it seemed real.
Imagine my shock that when I turned on my computer this morning I found that Mr. Chivers and an uncredited cameraman (himself perhaps?) in a an almost whispering and deadpan voice he takes off in the cockpit of a jet from the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and describes all that I read in the piece.You feel and hear the jolt of the catapult launch and you see an Afghan “terrorist” on a motorcycle being zeroed in by an F-18’s smart bomb gun sight and then you see the blast.
All the above is the real thing and it ends with another jolt as the jet lands on the carrier deck. This was not a movie or even a war documentary.
While I am not a war-mongering-obsessed aging male I must be in awe as I think of how far we have gone in our ability to kill and in this case the amount of money, risk and trouble these pilots take in order to minimize ancillary deaths (even though they do make mistakes). My friend a very predictably conservative Texan writes:
Talk to the grunts on the ground (We know personally an Aussie who spent two tours in Afghanistan with the Aussie Special Forces and one tour in Iraq.) and the opinion is that the war in Afghanistan has gone down the same stupid path that the war in Vietnam took.
We are no longer in it to win. The excessively restrictive rules of engagement prevent it. The Taliban does not play by the rules we set, so there is no way we can win. Since we can't shoot or bomb when civilians are present, guess where the enemy goes to shoot at us. Time to leave and let the locals kill each other off, which is what they are really lusting to do, as they have for the last thousand years. The air war illustrated in the article and video is the only possible way to fight that war with those rules of engagement. Sneak around out of sight and sound, confirm a bad guy all by himself, and spend $250,000.00 to kill him. Stupid, and way too expensive.
In this world of what seems to be extreme polarization I find that if the folks that brought down President Johnson down because of his command of the Vietnam war were left leaning liberal Democrats, here we have an example of two camps, liberals and conservatives agreeing on something. It is only a camp of concerned human beings who wonder what the return of the Taliban would do to women in that country.
Another aspect of the NY Times article and video was my realization that so many of us have been so over-awed by special effects films that when we are shown the real thing it makes no dent in our ability to be amazed, troubled, shocked and repelled.
I was around 12 when I would visit my Uncle Luís Miranda in Mexico City. He had a complete collection of Life Magazine from 1938 until Victory in the Pacific in 1945. I was particularly engaged by the WWII ads in which peace-time companies advertized their contributions to the war effort. I was amazed to find out that American Sherman tanks had Buick Dynaflow transmissions. I can still remember the whining noise of lumbering 1950 Buicks with their automatic Dynaflow transmission. A Buick Roadmaster was not really that much different from a Sherman. Both were equally dangerous to both occupants and those surrounding them.
So it is obvious that war technology in the end, after many deaths, sometimes manages to benefit mankind. I find it awfully funny in a tragic way that Newton and Leibnitz's co-discovery of the calculus led to more accurate cannon ballistics. That technology took humans to the moon and probes outside the solar system with the same if not lethal accuracy.
As I write this noon Saturday, I reflect on that speech that I heard over the radio that President Kennedy made so long ago in 1962.
At age almost 70 I am in complete confusion. Am I an Argentine, a Mexican, an American or a Canadian? Perhaps I am all of the above but when I first listened to Kennedy in that moon speech I felt American and awed by the possibility of his dream. Now all those years later the Americans believe that they are in a decline. And yet that piece by Chivers in which it is most evident that nobody can wage war as well as Americans I wonder what Americans and their country could be like if they re-channelled their inventiveness into something less destructive.
It would seem that my friend in Texas, a most conservative Texan, at that and I agree on something.
Text of President John Kennedy’s Rice Stadium Moon Speach
May 25, 1962
President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor, Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:
I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting professor, and I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief. I am delighted to be here, and I'm particularly delighted to be here on this occasion.
We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.
Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.
This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.
So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space.
William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.
If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn, generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined, will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.
Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were "made in the United States of America" and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.
The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the 40-yard lines.
Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.
We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.
To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.
And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.
To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year¹s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year--a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority--even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold.
I'm the one who is doing all the work, so we just want you to stay cool for a minute. [laughter]
However, I think we're going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don't think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job. And this will be done in the decade of the sixties. It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university. It will be done during the term of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform. But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.
I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon as part of a great national effort of the United States of America.
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
I hope to experience on Friday 13 at the Vancouver Planetarium some of that yeasteryear nostalgia and perhaps renew my ability to be awed at the positive aspects of a yet to be explored space with no monsters and aliens to distract me. 2001: A Space Odyssey