The Ghosts of Vietnam

But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

— Melville

It was just a matter of time, (NY Times):

American Is Killed in First Casualty for U.S. Forces in Syria Combat

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United States military suffered its first combat death in Syria on Thursday when a service member was killed in the northern part of the country, an area where the Americans are helping to organize an offensive against the Islamic State.

… a matter of time, (Washington Post):

First U.S. service member killed in Syria was a bomb disposal technician

Thomas Gibbons-Neff

A U.S. Navy bomb disposal technician was killed by an improvised explosive device in northern Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon announced in a statement.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, 42, of Woodbridge, Va., was killed near Ain Issa, a town roughly 35 miles northwest of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. The death marks the first time a U.S. service member has been killed in the country since a contingent of Special Operations forces was deployed there in October 2015 to go after the extremist group.

Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 2 based in Virginia Beach and was also a qualified surface warfare specialist. While Dayton was the first American to die fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, he is the fifth U.S. service member killed in combat since the U.S.-led campaign to rid the region of the Islamic State began in 2014. Last month, Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, was killed outside Mosul in northern Iraq. Finan was also a bomb disposal technician and had been working with a team of Navy SEALs when he was killed.

The first American soldier to die in Vietnam (La Colonie de Cochinchine to the French) was Lieutenant Colonel A. Peter Dewey of Chicago, who was shot to death on September 26, 1945, a few weeks after the Japanese surrender. Dewey was on his way out of the country when he and his companion Maj. Peter Bluechel failed to stop at a Viet Minh checkpoint near Tan Son Nhut airfield outside of Saigon. Dewey was attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He and his team of four was tasked with locating and releasing American POWs as well as monitoring Anglo-French efforts to regain control over what was once ‘French Indochina’ from the defeated Japanese. He wound up in a heated disagreement with the British commander Gen. Douglas Gracey over the political treatment of the locals and was ordered to leave the country.

Approaching the checkpoint the Vietnamese called out; Dewey answered in French while attempting to drive around the obstacles; the Viet Minh mistook him for a Frenchman and opened fire. Dewey was shot in the head and killed instantly; his jeep left the road and rolled over into a ditch. Major Bluechel was miraculously unhurt; he was able to extricate himself from the checkpoint under fire and make his way across the adjacent Saigon Golf Course to the OSS headquarters, the Villa Ferrier, where an American captain, a couple of journalists and four others were having lunch. Warned by Bluechel, the Americans armed themselves and held off the Viet Minh in a pitched battle that lasted for several hours until the attackers withdrew, leaving behind several dead. Lt. Col. Dewey’s body was never recovered, it turns out his Jeep was stolen and the body was taken away by the Vietnamese and thrown into a river; he became the first American Missing In Action in what would become one of the longest and in many ways the most costly war in American history.

The first American soldier to die in Korea was a nameless infantryman who was killed June 5, 1950. The soldier was a member of the 400- man Task Force Smith; a component of the US 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division, sent from Japan to prevent North Korean forces from overrunning the South. Their mission was to fly into South Korea, close up with the enemy and hold them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive by ship. The task force headed north from their debarkation airfield to a position near the town of Osan, a few miles south of Seoul. There, the soldiers dug in along the tops of two small hills overlooking the road south.

Americans rushed into Korea like those in the 21st Regiment were peace-time garrison troops, inexperienced and poorly equipped. They lacked heavy weapons needed to knock out the North Koreans’ Soviet-made tanks. The task force fielded an artillery battery of six 105mm guns with a twelve-hundred rounds of conventional high explosives but only a half dozen HEAT anti-armor rounds. They also had six obsolete bazookas, a half-dozen mortars, a couple of recoilless rifles and six heavy machine guns. Individual soldiers received a wing-and a prayer: 120 rounds of rifle ammunition and two days’ rations each.

When the North Korean tanks motored into view a little over a mile from the American positions, the artillery opened fire with their high explosive shells; these had little effect on the armor. As the leading group of eight tanks rumbled across the US lines, the single artillery piece firing the hollow-charge rounds was able to disable two of them, setting one on fire. During the melee that followed, a North Korean tank crewman shot and killed the American soldier with a submachine gun as he (the Korean) tried to escape from the burning tank.

The Americans were then approached by another twenty-five tanks, these passed through the lines undisturbed: bazooka- and recoilless rifle rounds from point blank range either failed to explode or simply bounced off. The tanks were followed a short time later by a set piece assault on the task force’s flanks by 5,000 North Koreans supported by tanks, mortars and artillery. After expending their ammunition into the surging North Koreans, the task force commander Col. Charles Bradford Smith ordered a withdrawal under fire: because of poor preparation and breakdowns of communication, the uncoordinated maneuver quickly turned into a rout. Small groups of surrounded soldiers, much of the Americans’ equipment and many wounded were left behind, also the bodies of dead Americans, some who had been executed by the North Koreans: the first US fatality in South Korea was an unknown soldier, another MIA.

The first American soldier to die in Iraq was Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher whose FA-18 fighter jet was shot down over western Iraq, January 17, 1991, a few hours into Operation Desert Storm. What Speicher’s mission was during that day or why he was flying over western Iraq as the war was unfolding over the east is not known nor was his ultimate fate. What is known is that Speicher’s aircraft was hit during a dogfight with Iraqi jets and that he was able to eject. In 1994 pieces of the wreckage were recovered by a Qatari officer on a hunting trip, the site was then examined by satellite. While the Pentagon mulled over the different ways to retrieve Speicher’s remains or to make a determination if he was still alive, the Saddam government combed the crash area removing whatever parts of the aircraft were left. In 2009, Speicher’s remains were recovered in Anbar Province and positively identified. Speicher is buried in Jacksonville, Florida.

The promise the Vietnamese made was to free itself from external rule, a promise that required 30 years and millions of Vietnamese casualties to keep.

The first American soldier to die in World War Two was Army Air Force Captain Robert A. Losey who was killed by a German bomb during an air raid in Dombas, Norway, on April, 21, 1940; part of Hitler’s campaign of conquest in Scandinavia. Losey, 32, a meteorologist by training, was the new American Assistant Defense Attaché to the US diplomatic mission in Oslo having arrived in February, only a few weeks before the invasion. He, and the American Minister, Florence Jaffray Harriman, were working to evacuate American diplomats and their families as well as Norwegian government officials to neutral Sweden when the Dombas rail yards were attacked. Losey was just inside a railway tunnel observing the aircraft when a German bomb struck the entrance, sending a splinter through his heart; also killed were five Norwegians taking shelter nearby.

Losey’s remains were recovered and delivered back to the US along with a letter of regret from the German Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring to USAAF commander Maj. General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold. Losey is buried at West Point.

The first American soldier to die in Afghanistan was CIA commando Capt. Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed November 25th, 2001. Spann was overwhelmed by Taliban militants being held at the Qali-Jangi fortress near to Mazar-e Sharif; in northern Afghanistan during the opening phase of the US Afghan invasion. The prisoners had been herded into the fortress after pretending to give themselves up, many were armed with concealed grenades and side arms. Their aim was to gain control of a large cache of weapons that had been stored in the compound earlier by the Taliban. During an interrogation conducted by Spann in the fortress’ courtyard, a number of the militants rushed him, his associate David Tyson and the Afghan guards. Spann shot several with his personal weapons before being knocked down and beaten, in the chaos that followed he was shot in the head and killed, either by a friendly fire or from a weapon concealed in the clothes of a militant.

The initial skirmish turned into a siege as the 490 militants took over the arsenal then held off US special forces, British commandos and Afghan Northern Alliance forces for over a week. Air strikes and armor reduced the militants’ numbers, as the Alliance forces bored in, surviving militants made a stand in a fortified cellar in a corner of the compound. There they withstood satchel charges and grenades, burning fuel and smoke; they laid down their arms only after the cellar was flooded with freezing water from a nearby irrigation canal.

Spann’s body was returned to the US and buried in Arlington Cemetery.


Good morning, Vietnam! The Kurdish offensive against the Islamic State ‘capital’ of Raqqa, Syria; (Map by Agathocle de Syracuse). In a very short time with minimal resources, the Kurds of northern Syria have created a formidable political and military organization. It is reasonable to think the Kurds will link its areas of control across northern Syria together and clear Raqqa in a few months. The wildcard is Turkish interference; if they meddle the operation will take longer.

The situation in southeast Asia at the end of World War Two was confused and chaotic. Effective Japanese resistance across the empire was ended August 10 after the second atomic attack on Nagasaki. Japanese forces in Indochina surrendered to local authorities on August, 15; yet these authorities — a Japanese puppet regime — could do little as they had no armed force. The Japanese, who might have been expected to maintain order chose to remain in their barracks. In Hanoi, Viet Minh cadres responded to the security vacuum by taking over government offices. On the 26th, Ho Chi Minh arrived followed by an OSS ‘Deer Team’ that included Major Archimedes Patti. The team had parachuted into Tonkin, the northern part of Indochina on March, 1945, to obtain intelligence and train Ho’s minuscule guerilla band. After the surrender, the OSS team was ordered to Hanoi to assist in locating and repatriating Allied POWs held by the Japanese in the north.

In Hanoi, Patti stood on a platform next to one-time history teacher, Vo Nguyen Giap and watched as the Vietnamese celebrated the end of Japanese occupation and the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. To the ecstatic crowd, Ho Chi Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, modeled after the American version, one that Patti himself helped to write.

Colonel Dewey and his OSS ‘Team 404’ arrived in Saigon on September 4th, following another OSS detachment as part of Operation Embankment. Dewey’s first act was to gain the release of 214 American internees held in two separate Japanese POW camps in Saigon. These men were put on a fleet of DC3s and flown out of the country the following day.

At the Potsdam Conference in August, the Great Powers Russia, America and Britain agreed the Japanese surrender in all of Indochina would be taken by the Chinese Nationalist (Chiang Kai-Shek) army north of the 16th parallel and the British would accept the Japanese surrender in the south. The British were the first to arrive: a Gurkha division from Burma (about 15,000 men) along with a small detachment of French paratroopers shipped into port on the 12th. With the arrival of the British, Dewey’s official duties were ended, but his OSS superiors had not yet decided what to do with him. Dewey made use of the opportunity to motor around Saigon and introduce himself to the Viet Minh officials who had taken over from the Japanese. OSS sympathy toward the Viet Minh was well known to General Gracey who would have none of it. He originally objected to any American presence in the British area believing it was suggestive (of US support for Vietnamese independence), but was overruled by his commander, Lord Adm. Louis Mountbatten. Gracey’s entered into Saigon with a show of force intended to express Anglo-French colonial intentions and to intimidate the locals. On the 23d, he ordered the Japanese to release 1,500 Vichy French soldiers interned since the preceding March; these men were given arms, and under the command of Colonel Jean Cedile took over the Saigon government properties from the Vietnamese. Afterward, the troops went on a murderous rampage, burning and shooting their way across Saigon. The Vietnamese responded by barricading the roads leading into town and firing on anything- or anyone appearing to be to French, including Americans traveling in unmarked Jeeps.

The transition in Indochina was complicated by FDR’s long illness and death in April; (Geoffrey Gunn/Asia Pacific Journal).

A Watershed in U.S. Policy on Southeast Asia

As the Pentagon Papers reveal, U.S. policy towards France and repossession of its colonial territories was ambivalent. On the one hand, the U.S. supported Free French claims to all overseas possessions. On the other hand, in the Atlantic Charter and in other pronouncements, the U.S. proclaimed support for national self-determination and independence. Through 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt held to his views on colonialism and proscribed direct U.S. support for French resistance groups inside Indochina. By January 1945, U.S. concerns had shifted decisively to the Japanese archipelago, and the prospect of U.S. force commitments to Southeast Asia was nixed, leaving this sphere to British forces. Following the Yalta Conference (February 1945), U.S. planners declined to offer logistical support to Free French forces in Indochina. But the American position came under French criticism in March 1945 in the wake of the Japanese coup de force in Vichy French-administered Indochina leading to Japanese military takeover and internment of French civilians. The American decision to forego commitment to operations in Southeast Asia prompted the Singapore-based British Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) commander Admiral Louis Mountbatten to liberate Malaya without U.S. assistance. At the time of Roosevelt’s death on 12 April 1945, U.S. policy towards the colonial possessions of Allies was in “disarray.”

It took some time for Truman to produce his own foreign policy, he deviated from Roosevelt in that he tended to defer to the Europeans, regardless of their prejudices and follies. He looked to them as counterweights to what was perceived as an increasingly hostile Soviet Union. If the French insisted they needed an overseas’ empire to be successful, so be it. Peasant farmers in faraway Asia were of little consequence to the United States. It would not trouble anyone if they were ignored … or sold out to the French. Washington preferred dealing with partners with whom it had long-standing commercial and political ties; Dewey’s killing did not precipitate the war in Vietnam, but it, and an attack on OSS Capt. Joseph Coolidge a day earlier, suggested the Vietnamese were unreliable and thus, expendable; that they lacked the political and administrative resources to make good on any promises they might make. This turned out to be a disastrous error that compounded over time: the promise the Vietnamese made was to free itself from external rule regardless of cost, a promise that required 30 years and millions of Vietnamese casualties to keep.


I found that in 1954 and during the Geneva Conference after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, after the French had been defeated, that we again had a chance to pull out (of Vietnam) and we failed to pull out at that time. This was the third time we had failed to pull out but got ourselves in deeper and deeper. And finally in the 60’s, again, we got involved to the point where it became an American war lock, stock and barrel, which costed us something to the tune of 56,000 men which we left in far away Vietnam, and also to the tune of 300,000 men which are today sitting in veteran’s hospitals maimed, without arms, legs, or sight, or anything else, and in bad shape; plus having torn apart a nation, the United States, which was worse than the war between the states, by the way. It was, it was a terrible situation. No, it need not have happened. It happened. But, we had every reason to not let it happen. Ho Chi Minh was on a silver platter in 1945. We had him. He was willing to, to be a democratic republic, if nothing else. Socialist yes, but a democratic republican. He was leaning not towards the Soviet Union, which at the time he told me that USSR could not assist him, could not help him because they just won a war (against Hitler) only by dint of real heroism.

And they (USSR) were in no position to help anyone. So really, we had Ho Chi Minh, we had the Viet Minh, we had the Indochina question in our hand, but for reasons which defy good logic we find today that we supported the French for a war which they themselves dubbed “la sale guerre,” the dirty war, and we paid to the tune of 80 percent of the cost of that French war and then we picked up 100 percent of the American-Vietnam War. That is about it in a nutshell.

Vietnam Syndrome

Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton never got the chance to reflect on the shoes he wound up filling; those of Dewey, Speicher, Spann, the unknown infantryman in Korea; also, the shoes nobody wants to see filled; Losey’s. Dewey’s death represented the swan song of European colonialism in southeast Asia, the question is what about Dayton’s?

Cochinchina is burning, the French and British are finished here, and we ought to clear out of Southeast Asia.

— A. Peter Dewey

By 1965 the United States was firmly stuck in France’s place in the Vietnam quagmire. The ex-schoolteacher unleashed his armies against new students: the ‘peace-time garrison troops, inexperienced and poorly equipped conscripts … and their incompetent, corrupt commanders and political bosses. it was a lopsided contest the Americans had no chance of winning, this was something even a child could see. The obvious reason is Americans are not Vietnamese, they could never give to the Vietnamese the national identity they already created for themselves. A child could see, but not the American establishment which embarked on self-reinforcing, multi-decade long practice of denying the obvious, an endeavor that continues to this day.

Even as the war was grinding to its bloody climax the Americans believed they were winning, that victory was expected. They argued afterward they were never defeated on the battlefield but this was nonsense, a poisonous, persistent myth. Even American combat successes such as ‘Tet Offensive’ of 1968 turned out to have devastating political consequences in the US. In order to maintain the triumphalist fantasy, the establishment had to find scapegoats on which to pin the defeat: liberals, media, leftists and ‘pointy headed’ Washington insiders; anti-war protesters; dirty, long-haired hippies and pacifists, black nationalists and intellectuals, communist sympathizers and draft-dodging cowards disrespectful of the flag and the troops. These are the same enemies establishment opportunists trot out today; ‘they stabbed America in the back’, preventing the triumph in Vietnam to which the establishment was entitled.

Meanwhile, the war destroyed the American left, which was split between the interests of labor and those who opposed the war on moral grounds. The Left had a proud record of public achievement as it represented efforts to advance the rights of ordinary working people against the entrenched political power of the economic elites. Among its accomplishments, it brought an end to the feudalistic involuntary indentures and debt-driven ‘apprenticeships’ of the early 19th century; freed workers and tradesmen from the banks’ nefarious lending practices and predatory contracts. It took the form of the Abolition movement which brought about the end of chattel slavery at stupendous cost; it ended child labor and gained for America’s youngsters universal, publicly supported education; it earned with blood and ashes the right of labor to organize and gain decent wages and working conditions; freedom from Pinkertons, vigilantes and strikebreakers; to set limits to the commercial power of cartels and the robber trusts.

The American Left opposed US entry into World War One and paid a steep price for it; a war that was started by- and benefited the bankers and big business and nobody else. The American Left was women who gained for themselves suffrage and the right to own property, to sign contracts and hold public office. During the Great Depression the Left’s arm twisting and ordinary Americans’ undermining of finance capitalism wrought the New Deal, a political contract between Americans and the national government: there were jobs programs, pensions for older workers, support for farmers, bank deposit guarantees, protection from financiers … for both citizens and for finance itself. The left’s public shaming and the efforts of black Korean War veterans made civil rights the law of the land for all Americans. With the Vietnam war, organized labor embarrassed itself in its haste to scramble to the side of the war makers; like so many others it had become another corrupt and spineless vested interest. Both the labor bosses and the rank-and-file felt there was too much to lose by appearing to be unpatriotic; they stood off to the side and wrung their hands as the war swallowed hundreds of thousands of young Americans. As penalty for cowardice, labor was quickly castrated by big business and by the 1980’s had become a shadow.

The anti-war Left was reduced to a single issue advocacy group aiming to end the war. It was easily marginalized; after all, who were the advocates? Liberals and insiders; anti-war protesters, dirty hippies and pacifists, etc. It didn’t matter history was at their backs and that the establishment had failed. Without the war, there was no point to the advocacy, it was path-dependent; even as the right was deprived of its victory by the Vietnamese, the end of the war deprived the left of what had become its reason to be.

Believing the victory it was entitled to had been snatched away, the establishment directed the county’s energies into running it down wherever it might be found: trolling the ghosts of Vietnam, decade after decade, in country after country, war after fruitless, pointless war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Iraq again and now Syria, against enemies foreign and imaginary, war against itself in the end …

… But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this country so wept with blood still remained without comfort. She was America, weeping for her victories, because they were not.


Note about comments.

Comments are encouraged; please be on topic, tactful, etc. Any comment that is discriminatory, hateful, ad hominum or meant to ‘troll’ or annoy will be deleted and the user banned.

Part One: It Only Gets Worse

Part Two: Abu Hajaar

Part Three: Sharia For Sale

Part Four: Ghosts of Vietnam

Originally, this installment was going to be about the Kurds in Syria; it is clear the Kurds have discovered their own national identity which will be revealed to all in good time, hopefully without too much bloodshed. Like the Vietnamese in 1945, they promise never to submit to external rule. In dark times like these, this is refreshing; if poor Kurds can refuse to submit so also can the rest of us.

53 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Vietnam

  1. Ken Barrows

    Maybe people will refuse to submit once the magic of central banks has dissipated. At that point, it may become obvious that we’re chasing our own tails. On the other hand, there will always be groups to scapegoat and blame for our inability to achieve economic nirvana.

  2. Reverse Engineer

    War is the inevitable result of Collapse. Pretty nice and historical to be the First Casualty I suppose, but the total casualties are in the millions, and does it really matter who was first sent to the Great Beyond?

    The casualties coming down the pipe here will be measured in the Billions, not Millions, and does it matter much who is first to cross the Great Divide to the Other Side?


    1. steve from virginia Post author

      It matters for several reasons:

      The first of any manufactured good is the most costly of the run: the infrastructure to produce the first allows the rest to be produced at minimal expense whether it is cars, cellphones or dead soldiers. The same way the first cellphone justifies the entire investment cycle, so does the first casualty.

      Turn the foregoing around and ‘first’ becomes what every geopolitical gain is measured against. For example: there was nothing in Vietnam to gain that was worth Peter Dewey’s life (much less the tens of thousands additional dead Americans). Stopping with Dewey would have made sense from a balance-sheet standpoint: cut America’s losses and close a losing trade or go the other way. This hard-headed rationale was lost in the politics where his (first) death simply reinforced long-standing prejudices against the Vietnamese. These prejudices carry forward: revenge for A. Peter Dewey = fury at the success of the Asiatic against the Greatest Nation Ever in The Greatest Nation’s Greatest National Endeavor, which is warmaking … leaving the greatest nation (slightly diminished) to take aim at Iran as stand ins for the Vietnamese (and lose, of course).

      First also gives meaning a narrative upon which to build. Narratives have beginnings – middles – ends with the various denouements and periods spent in rehab. The only casualty that matters more than the first to die in a (futile) war is the last.

      So far no last in sight in endless Vietnam War … hopefully we can wake up before we reach ‘billions’.

      1. Reverse Engineer

        I wouldn’t count on an awakening here anytime too soon. If “we” were ever going to wake up to the futility of industrial warfare, it should have come after WWI, “the war to end all wars”. We’ll have war until all that is left is rubble and whoever is left standing can return to pre-modernity.


      2. steve from virginia Post author

        The time right now isn’t ripe for awakening or much else, things will have to wait until after the Superbowl. Along with the lies, resource problems aren’t going away: with a dollar squeeze in China and the EU falling apart, it’s likely that crude price will dive again: it may be the ‘too-high price’ that causes a crisis is fifty bucks a barrel.

        $65 just last year. We might have another, more compressed Triangle of Doom.

        Climate is changing very quickly, too. The effects will be felt in agriculture. W/ 7.5 billions, even flat- or slightly diminished yields are dangerous. Ag problems are racing water shortages, fires, credit migraines and stupid politics as the trigger for a real shock. We may not be able to afford a war, of course nobody can afford a BIG war … like the one we fought back in the day in Vietnam.

      3. Reverse Engineer

        A shortfall in global food production will certainly get things rolling PDQ. One has to suspect though that in this situation, some countries in Africa or South America or MENA will simply be triaged off of food imports, and then newz reports will also stop coming from these countries. Why bother with War in Syria when you could simply starve the population?

        Once the population is knocked down, they also won’t need the Oil they currently use. So if you can manage the die off in places still producing Oil, it leaves a lot left over for Happy Motoring in the FSoA! I mean really, there are 30M people wasting tons of Oil air conditioning skyscrapers and desalinating water, if you knock down the population to 1M it would be like finding a whole new Ganwar!


  3. Bill Sodomsky

    Your measured and shall I say, somewhat anticipated response to RE Steve, is precisely why one must read your deeply insightful posts a number of times before jumping into the banter of commentary. The surface narrative often represents cover or obscurity to the deeper more difficult message(s) embedded in the blog topic.

    The main reason I visit EU on a daily basis is because of the high quality content presented on topics of extreme importance and the fact that it requires a great deal of intellectual rigor to catch up with the thought process that incubated the ideas contained in the message.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Bill, it’s all dry, tedious subject matter, it’s a challenge to do something … make it interesting. I presume the intelligence and good will of my readers (some of them, anyway) and appreciate the support.

    2. Jacob Colony

      Yep. Much gratitude for your efforts, Steve. You do your readers a great service.
      A latter-day Emerson, hiding out in the interweb ghetto.

  4. Creedon

    One of my theories is that the great wars were a product of increasing return on investment in oil. As that return is now definitely decreasing it may that the wars of the future will be less and less great. Ultimately we will be fighting each other with hoes and pick axes. It seems unfair that the emerging market countries have to go down first. They were the last to the table and have to leave first. The FSoA get to hold up the longest due to king dollar. It’s unfair I tell you.

  5. Eeyores enigma

    It seems to me that the rate that events unfold, such as the events outlined in this post, determines the reaction and response.

    If things continue to unfold at the current rate, which seems to be a rate at which the population can consume then forget, we could go the historical way of war as outlined.

    If things happen suddenly such as total arctic melt down and exponential methane release IMHO war becomes obsolete, ridiculous even. By the way this is almost a reality NOW.

    Not sure which is better.

  6. Volvo740...

    Hi Steve,
    I really appreciate your writings too. The wars are a nail in the eye of “the greatest nation”. It is pretty much an outspoken strategy these days to “secure energy resources” – effectively stealing them. But I suspect the ELM model is in there too. Killing demand in other places give more for us to consume. Iraq is the best example here. Local infrastructure in dismay. Exports ticking along.

    The economic system is harder for me to get a grip on. Inflation/deflation, negative rates, QE 123456, The Japanese, War on cash, manipulated interest rates, manipulated god prices. I’m sure it all hangs together somehow… And I always like your comments here.

    Thanks again!

  7. Volvo740...

    Re: the environment. I used to think the Guy McPherson + Sam Carana crowd was a little out there with its 10C in 10 years narrative. But now I’m not so sure. Even if they are only 1/5 correct that would deal a devastating blow, and one of the feedback that I find interesting is the global dimming. The fact that many of the fossil fuels we burn actually leave particles in the atmosphere that reflect incoming energy, and that without it we would see an instant +1 deg or more.

    The other one that is confirmed is that Arctic ice will have a blue ocean event in < 5 years. Apparently the albedo effect of that rivals the effect of all emissions to date. Then there is the methane…

  8. ellenanderson

    Hi Steve. I join others in thanking you for your writing. Tomorrow is 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I get John Mauldin’s newsletter. Today he has a really good write-up of the history of Japan’s militarization. It is his conclusion that astonishes me. I don’t have a link to the piece because I just get it as an email but here is the beginning:

    ” The origin of the attack was Japan’s extraordinary rise. When Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan into trade relations with the United States in 1853, Japan was a society driven by animal and human muscles. There were no steam engines or railroads or any powered industry.

    By 1905, the Japanese navy defeated the Russians, and Japan was rapidly emerging as a major industrial power. Japan’s great weakness was that it was devoid of mineral resources. It had to import almost all the resources an industrial society needed.

    In order to sustain its industry, Japan had to deal with China, the Dutch East Indies, and Indochina. All three were under some degree of control by European powers. The Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) belonged to the Netherlands, Indochina belonged to France, and all major European powers plus the United States controlled much of coastal China. These were Japan’s economic competitors.

    Over time, Japan became less and less economically secure, and in the 1930s, it invaded China. The US opposed the invasion as it did not want to face a Japanese challenge in the Pacific. It supported Chinese resistance against Japan.

    The decisive moment came when Germany occupied France and the Netherlands in 1940. Japan had agreements with both countries about deliveries of minerals from their colonies. Now, the question became whether the colonial authorities would honor the agreements. The United States did everything it could to undermine the agreements. For example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered his agents to buy up oil in today’s Indonesia to keep it out of Japanese hands. Japan invaded Indochina to secure resources there. ”

    I hope that someone will read the whole well written piece and comment. I don’t post on any other site but this one because of Steve’s excellent moderation but someone should do it. (Hint – I think that King’s excellent book about sustainable farming in the east is on Steve’s reading list.)

  9. Ken Barrows

    On Mauldin: It is food for thought. Why did Japan go industrial in the 1850s? Did they not enjoy their rural life? If we could find a reason, does it explain why it appears that every country (maybe Bhutan is an exception) wants to go industrial, too? Is life other than advanced industrial society a long, hard slog? Humans may be hard-wired for comfort. If there is a more comfortable alternative, the effects on the biosphere or other humans or other life aren’t important. If humans are controlled by greed and status, what other system than the industrial one can deliver the goods?

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      There were European openings before Perry arrived in Tokyo, Portuguese engaged in lively trade beginning in the 16th century, they also engaged in a campaign of religious proselytizing. Trade enabled the fishing town of Nagasaki to become a large seaport. Along with bibles, the Portuguese brought firearms. The Japanese copied them and made improvements which in turn enabled the centralization of Japanese authority. Afterward, the central authority closed the country and banned Christianity; Japan was off limits to traders and missionaries from 1630’s until Perry arrived.

      Pre-opening Japan offered no social mobility; there was a strict class structure based on occupation and clan. If your father was a farmer you and your sons would be farmers. The lowest samurai clan was the social (and legal) superior to the most successful merchant. These latter were restive and wanted to topple the established order and gain what they perceived to be advantages from the Europeans. So were individual clans.

      Japanese feudal society was self-sustaining and self-reliant for a surprisingly long period, it was comfortable to a degree, but it was brittle with political and economic forces kept in check by clever balancing out of interests. Anything that upset the balance was certain to bring down the entire arrangement which is what happened: ‘Young Turk’ samurai sided with merchants; the aristocracy thus divided was no match for the combination on the side of opening and Westernization. The balancing of clan interests against other clans only worked when it was but one or two clans daring to step out of line at any one time.

      The Japanese never got around to realizing what it was they lost as they chased the chimera of ‘growth’ and technical accomplishment. For all that followed: a revolution, the militarization of the entire country, wars, the destruction and misery that followed a devastating defeat … they do make very nice cameras!

      : )

  10. ellenanderson

    I will look for a good account of how the Japanese tried to resist opening up to trade with America.

    The belief that we are hard wired for greed and gluttony may not be supported by the facts. As Mauldin says “When Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan into trade relations with the United States in 1853, Japan was a society driven by animal and human muscles. There were no steam engines or railroads or any powered industry.”

    The book to read is ‘Forty Centuries of Farmers’ by King. It is a very old (and inexpensive) little book that was written just before corporate agriculture put a stop to research into sustainable alternatives. I haven’t read it in awhile. But it sets out the practices that we would probably have to adopt in order to have a chance at surviving the end of the waste based industrial system (aka collapse.)

  11. Ken Barrows

    Thanks! It may be Farmers of Forty Centuries. The Denver system has one copy, currently borrowed by someone else, but I placed a hold on it.

  12. ellenanderson

    That is it! My copy is around here somewhere. I will find it eventually. As I said it is a small but wonderful book. So small it is probably hiding under the bed.

    My fascination with feudal Japan likely comes from a youthful obsession with Toshiro Mifune.

    A political economist might now look at the following questions: “what forms of social organization are best able to support non-waste-based and sustainable systems?” Do they have to be feudal systems like Japan’s? Is lending money at interest compatible with conservation? Stuff like that. The left automatically turns to Marx (whose classifications of governments goes back to Aristotle.) But ecology and feedback loops and the like are not part of that intellectual tradition. (As far as I can see)

    Seventy-five years ago, as WWII commenced, nobody studied just ‘economics.’ The discipline was known as PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics.) What we have learned in the 20th century, at least since Pearl Harbor, is that ecology needs to be added to the discipline. PPEE anyone? Who can do it and who will listen?

  13. ellenanderson

    Thanks for that link. I like Robinson’s book. I find NC and its writers dull. That includes PP. But he raises old issues in a way that may be relevant to modern readers. Here is a link to recent Michael Hudson. It is also linked off of NC. (I got booted off of NC with a lot of other people who I thought were interesting.)
    But even Hudson talks about resources and the environment as though they were just available for exploitation depending upon our preferences.
    Did you know that shopping used to be considered vulgar? I have heard that early department stores had to hire “gawkers” to legitimize the practice of eagerly staring at window displays.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      How did YOU get kicked off NC? (I got booted as well … )

      Hudson is in good form, he’s picked up some scholarship, filled in blanks. It’s too be nobody pays attention.

  14. ellenanderson

    Well first of all I kept agreeing with ‘Attempter’ (Russ). She kicked him off. Secondly I apparently passed along some advice about how to use Adblocker. She emailed me privately at least once and was furious. I apologized and offered to send her $50 but to no avail.

    1. Eeyores enigma

      I have come to the conclusion that most blogs have no interest in honing in on the real issues (except the undertoad of course) and simply want to discuss the symptoms ad nauseam in minute detail confusing the issues even more in order to maintain add revenue and donations. NC is very much in this category.

    2. steve from virginia Post author

      That’s funny. She makes a big deal out of being successful but her dependence on web ads ??? Her site is largely clickbait. She wants the ‘quality content’ so there’s a built-in contradiction between content and structure that’s hard to get around. There is a lot of turnover in the comment dept. I suspects she bans a lot of people.

      I’m not sure why I got booted, one day I could not log on. Basically, NC is an inverse of Zerohedge, some market-oriented stuff here and there with the (lefty) clickbait. There is an element of futility to the lefty side of things, some of which I pointed at in the article, it is a matter of fashion. Right now that does not jibe with the somnolent American ‘gimme a beer’ life style. Americans live for/in their cars, no time for earnestness, well meaning or otherwise. We like irony too much.

      Meanwhile, the US has given itself the Zerohedge comment section government. We’ll see how that turns out! Dow 36,000!

      1. ellenanderson

        I agree with you about those two sites. How many of the comments on ZH are actually written by humans, I wonder. They are a real waste of time. In fact, I think that ZH is slipping badly. Way too much snark.
        I attended a presentation by Yves in Amherst several years ago. She is very serious and earnest and extremely tense which is why I suppose she is always giving people the boot even if they don’t appear to be trolls or crackpots.
        I a very rarely look at either site anymore. For a quick digest of important news I go to The Automatic Earth. They are doing a much better job of pulling together interesting material and there are only a few comments. Illargi prefaces each article with a one line comment.
        Irony makes me crazy. It is the way Americans express their alienation, I think.

  15. ellenanderson

    Have you read Architecture and Capitalism by Peggy Deamer? I have ordered a copy. It sounds as though it might be relevant to a non-reductionist theory of marginal utility.

    To return to your discussion of war – it seems that one of the MSM’s main tasks is to turn war into entertainment – to make war and warriors look beautiful and worthy of investment. Back in the days of Vietnam they hadn’t learned how to do that. It was very hard on the vets who expected to come back as heroes and be cared for. The bombings of the Bush wars were well staged but no longer. I think that the military industrial complex is thrashing around trying to find a meme that will whip us all up into war consumers. That is why I really liked your videos of the Islamic State soldiers. We need to learn to be revolted by war and by all forms of waste. That is the job of the artist and the poet at least partly?

    (Traditionally America gave land to its returning soldiers. Their descendants still own much of it today. But we don’t want to give much to current vets because there is nothing much left to give. There are no spoils of these wars to be distributed, just pain and death. Eventually perhaps our young men and women will figure that out?)

  16. Creedon

    As the debt machine collapses, debt will provide for less and less people. Maybe we are looking at 10 to 20 years of chaos before a real reorganization of the world economy can begin to occur.
    A reorganized world economy can only be done with fewer people. I think that about 2020 the world is going to have to begin facing what we are up against. This will allow for a decade or two to sort things out. During the 2020s and 2030s the migration back to the land begins.

    1. Eeyores enigma

      Ian Welsh is wrong to blame the general public/citizens for not listening to his rants, or understanding the simple things, or doing the right things.
      The only thing that really matters to 99% of the population is going to work in the morning. He has not said one thing that allows them “do the right things” and still make a living for themselves and their loved ones. In fact most of what he suggest puts them at great risk of loosing their ability to “make a living”.
      They call it “making a living” for good reason, because if you don’t then you make with the dying.
      I haven’t heard/read one single solution posited by anyone anywhere that addresses this.

      1. Tagio


        Well, yes, the civilizational model of hierarchy and division of labor/every cog in its place or the whole thing fails has locked us all into a system where either we all simultaneously change or we do nothing at all and we ride the sucker all the way down. No one will change unless everyone changes, an impossible coordination condition, so we all just continue on the same path to oblivion.

        If you are saying that change is impossible unless there is nothing left to lose, well, we may soon be able to test that.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Hamm isn’t particularly trustworthy as he constantly ‘advertises’ his book.

      The question is howcum oil drillers are profitable @ $60/barrel when the same drillers were underwater with oil selling @ $115/barrel?

      “Efficiency!” he’ll say. But efficiency might allow a cost reduction of 10%, not 60%. Drilling is work, it takes a lot of expensive machinery to get the oil out of the ground particularly if fracking is part of the process.

      Here is Matt Mushalik:

      ” … a propaganda war with the US shale oil industry has broken out.”

      OPEC’s new quotas represent … not very much. The change is little different from ordinary fluctuations/noise. There may be more to it:

      “Conspiracy theorists will now argue that the quotas are designed to cover up peak oil in OPEC.”

      That indeed is probably likely; we’re proven ourselves better at the comforting lies than facing facts then acting accordingly.

  17. steve from virginia Post author

    Matt Taibbi shows the challenge facing every writer, how to say the same thing over and over without appearing to repeat oneself. The target in this case is the (estimable?) Tom Friedman of the New York Times. Recall Friedman’s whole-hearted endorsement of the US invasion and brutal conquest of Iraq in 2003:

    Friedman’s great anti-gift is his ability to use many words when only a few are necessary. He became famous as a newspaper columnist for taking simple one-sentence observations like, “Wow, everyone has a cell phone these days,” and blowing them out into furious 850-word trash-fires of mismatched imagery and circular argument.

    The double-axel version of this feat was to then rewrite that same column over and over again, in the same newspaper, only piling on more incongruous imagery and skewing rhetoric to further stoke that one thought into an even higher and angrier fire.

    If Friedman can only hang on a little longer, he’ll become respectable …

  18. ellenanderson

    That is one of the funniest things I have read in a very long time. Black elephant = cognitive dissonance = elephant in the room that everyone will claim is really a black swan? Matt T surely can write.

    If you really think about it most of us spend our lives saying/writing/painting/singing the same thing over and over. Nothing really new under the sun. If you are a con artist then people get to laugh at you rather than admire you. There is a line between con artist and great artist. Drawing the line is the hard part.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      I’m going to be the first to laugh when these fools wind up with egg on their faces.

      (Jumping up and down:) “I told you so, I told you so, I told you so … !

  19. Creedon

    I’ve just been reading last weeks post at the Credit Bubble Bulletin. Apparently it’s full steam ahead with QE in Europe and Japan. The Central Banks are keeping the world economy running on money printing. What is the outcome of money printing. John Williams would say that it’s inflation if not hyper-inflation. The result is that the non productive aspects of our economy are allowed to keep operating; government, expensive student housing, more and more retail and commercial development, more lanes on our highways, fancy intersections. As the world is more and more over built we will have a greater and greater amount of government workers and buildings and new development that will have a hard time justifying itself.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      These guys can’t keep the banks from blowing up.

      If a big bank crashes WITH the central banks lending at full steam it would be the end of all of them.

      Japan is just a circle-jerk, it’s hard to see anyone over there taking the government & BoJ seriously.

  20. Creedon

    Steve, I am much more cynical than you are. I don’t really think that it is lending that is going on. I have heard that a lot of derivatives are triggered at a certain interest rate. Do you know if it is the ten year bond rate, the federal funds rate, the thirty year rate or what.
    If the big banks are already totally corrupt and essentially too big to fail than what we are looking at is the mass of consumers themselves getting poorer and poorer in advance of the big banks collapsing. This could take five to ten years, As you said with each devaluation of a currency the people get poorer. Trying to predict what it will happen is a fools game, but I seem to be that fool. What do do you believe would blow up the large banks? In a true bank blow up, it becomes the Jim Rickards scenario. Put your money in a safe.

  21. Tagio

    It’s kind of amazing that the banks haven’t blown up. If Deutsche Bank had been in this bad shape back in 2007 – 2008, it seems it would have blown up. It seems that the central banks have found some way to prevent banks from going over the precipice, and it is difficult to know what event, beyond their facade management techniques, will permit a bank to actually fail. I know it is popular to point to the notional trillions in derivatives, but for me, having no real detailed knowledge about derivatives, I find it hard to believe that it will be derivatives that bring the whole house of cards down. Governments now have or are implementing legal procedures for an orderly netting and liquidation of those things, placing all the derivates under some kind of resolution trust authority, sure to tie up the effects of dealing with triggering events in years of wrangling, making it a slo-mo controlled implosion. Governments also have the option of declaring the contracts null and void in the national interest (a force majeure event) if becomes the only way out.

    Accounting rules are now frauds, so it is hard to see what will really trigger a bank failure. For example, how is it even possible for Monte Paschi to be floating a 5.2B Euro stock offering at this point? Who the hell would put money in this thing without some secret government backstop deal under the table?

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      I think the same sorts of informal loan guarantees are keeping drillers afloat in the Bakken and elsewhere. ‘Banking’ is a kind of fiction with the left hand lending to the right hand with the proceeds passed back to the left, a kind of circular monetization ritual.

      Governments borrow from the same banks they are aiming to bail out, who else would they borrow from?

  22. ellenanderson

    Headline from ZH today: “Ray Dalio Praises Trump: Predicts “Huge” Changes; It Will Be “Glorious To Be Rich”

    Predicting the golden age of bank stocks! So the Silent Generation is going out in style, I guess. What do you make of this, Steve?

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Considering the US establishment does everything in its power to get richer, faster, it is hard to see where anything Trump or his underlings do that isn’t being done already. I guess they can send more goons out to rob people on the street (that is also being done, too … )

      Seeing as how we are all now living in the ‘Age of Less’, anything/everything the Trump regime does will result in ‘less’. This flies against 550 years of the ‘more’ experience, and will be a big surprise all around …

  23. ellenanderson

    Why only 550 years? Going back to Spanish gold I suppose. But what about going even further back to the end of the Black Death and the founding of the Medici bank in Florence in the 14th C? It does seem that the trajectory has been pretty much upwards since banking and lots of new gold came together.
    I know you wrote about this once but I forget.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Printing press.

      Also three-masted sailing ships which had no single inventor yet were probably more important to the Europeans at the time. Columbus took his three-masted fleet to Hispaniola … well, you know. The Spanish wound up with enough loot to allow Europe to conquer the rest of the world.

      New article, up …

  24. Creedon

    Cycles come and go. Show me another one where 7 billion people on earth were faced with the death of oil. There is a book out call “1177 B.C. The book is simply about a collapse of the global society that took place at that time. He does not, in the book, speculate a great deal on the reasons. They found City states that ended in fire and violence I believe. I have heard the author say that there was the possibility that the reason that age ended, the ‘Bronze Age’, was do their inability to get tin from Afghanistan. The people living at the time probably had no idea why they were dying.

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