Remembering My Fellow Vietnam-Era Vets

Every Memorial Day brings my mind back to the Vietnam era and memories of the hundreds of young soldiers I knew.

I was the luckiest man in the Army, with opportunities to meet and talk with so many different kinds of troops. As an Army journalist in Hawaii, where thousands of soldiers received training before deploying to the war, I met young guys from everywhere in the US, and from a few other countries.

CoverImage-forPromo112115Contrary to the common belief that most draftees were poorly educated southerners or disadvantaged young men from urban ghettos, many were educated people from mainstream America. Though politicians in Washington created a foolish program to draft some mentally disadvantaged people, ordinary draftees were often smarter than the political leaders who had sent them.

I met soldiers in several different environments. Many were returning from Vietnam, while others were undergoing training before deploying. I met many enlisted men at the lowest ranks, as well as prominent generals. I even had the honor of interviewing Admiral John S. McCain Jr., father of Senator McCain of Arizona. I later realized that the future senator, then a Navy captain, may have been in a Viet Cong prison camp when I met his father.

Some vets I encountered in my first few days after training, were already casualties of war. Serving as a parade-ground announcer during outdoor medal presentations, I would read a written citation before each honored soldier received a medal. With hundreds of soldiers in military formation, I would hear my voice echoing back at me over windy fields, as a senior officer presented each Purple Heart, Bronze or Silver Star. Many medals were posthumous, with families of each fallen soldier present to receive the medal. The sights of tearful parents, girlfriends, wives, and kids left me with indelible memories of the hardest job I ever had.

In visits to Tripler Army Medical Center, I met men who survived casualties, often with grave injuries that would trouble them for life. These brave men offered upbeat conversations as they told their stories, though I often wondered how they would survive in civilian life.

As the Eleventh Infantry Brigade deployed to Vietnam, I said goodbye to dozens of friends. Some would come home and resume life in the real world. Others would never return. Still others would come back physically, yet be forever unable to live a normal life.

All of this happened many years ago. Most of the names have faded over time. The faces remain, however. I wrote a novel based on those days, entitled “The Victory That Wasn’t.” It’s my version of how a few minor background events might have changed the entire story of America in Vietnam. Reviewers have said, “if only it had happened that way…”

Processing out of the Army with hundreds of others on our last day in the military at Oakland Army Base, I listened to final instructions, informing us that anti-war protesters might meet us with violence. I had prepared for that situation and wore civilian clothes as I walked out of the building. I wore sneakers and carried an ordinary suitcase. I had even invested in a civilian haircut before leaving Honolulu.

I was a civilian again, but my Army experience had changed me. I still knew that I had been the luckiest man in the Army. And I had shared a connection with my fellow Vietnam-era vets that exists to this day.

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What We Learned from the Hiroshima Atom Bomb

NukeExplosionWith President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japan, the seventy-one-year controversy has risen again: Was America justified in using a horrific weapon on a civilian population? Or did we let the proverbial genie out of the bottle to initiate an era of potential nuclear destruction?

Americans are usually a compassionate people. News stories reminding us of thousands of innocents in 1945 dying the most brutal deaths sicken many of us. We personalize the thought of suffering Japanese civilians.

The other side of the proverbial coin indicates that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were entirely necessary. President Truman later wrote that ending the war saved hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives.

The hypothetical question then becomes: Were the bombs the only strategies to compel a Japanese surrender? A brilliantly researched book, “The Fall of Japan,” by William Craig, Fall-of-Japanoffers eye-opening information about Japan, following the Nagasaki bomb, three days after Hiroshima. Craig’s research is factual, compiled from sources like historical Japanese records, interviews with Hiroshima survivors, and personal letters. The author offers no opinion, hypothetical assumptions, or answers to the historical debate.

But the book includes word-for-word conversations between Japanese officials, military leaders, prominent civilians and family members. For example, Craig references anecdotes, about Japanese leaders discussing suicide with their wives, with some couples committing suicide together. In one case, a man contemplated suicide, then changed his mind, causing his wife to berate him publically for his cowardice and dishonor.

Japanese officials, even the Emperor— worshiped as a god by the entire Japanese population—could not sign a surrender. The very idea of surrender was so abhorrent that many military units revolted, vowing to fight on to death.

Craig’s picture of the Japanese population in 1945 reveals an entire country—millions of people—trapped mentally in hatred against America that is comparable to today’s Islamic jihadism. Though Craig makes no such comparison, it’s easy to conclude that the Japanese people of 1945 would have followed their fanatical leaders, with bloodshed that would have dwarfed the number of deaths caused by the atom bombs.

FullFinalIn America today, many of us have friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who are Japanese-Americans. We genuinely like these people and often love them. Many Japanese Americans rank at the top of their fields, from the business world, medicine, the sciences, the arts, and professional sports. When we hear a discussion of the people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we may associate them with the Japanese American faces we know today. We identify the 1945 fanatics with our Japanese American friends and ask ourselves why so many had to die. Sadly, millions of innocent people have died in wars since biblical times. We cannot, however, honestly compare the isolated culture of the 1940s with the today’s free-thinking Japanese people.

When zealous leaders can indoctrinate an entire country with a faith-based belief in hatred of an enemy, nothing but a horrifying future can compel surrender.

One lesson that we need to learn from this story is that wars are not chess games, where every move follows logically. Logical thinkers would have expected Japan to sue for peace after its military became decimated. But we learned after-the-fact that the expectation of a logical move was a fantasy. Japan’s fanatical leaders would have fought on for years.

When leaders today make pronouncements about what we should do with an enemy like ISIS, they are playing chess as some Americans did in1945. When political sound bytes become strategies, we are fooling ourselves. Our only realistic protection is to prepare for every possible move by the enemy—logical or unpredictable—and hope we haven’t missed any. If our leaders continue to reduce our military capability and rationalize that we’re only playing chess, they leave us vulnerable to destruction.

To build and maintain the most powerful, capable military in the world is the path to continued peace. Reducing our military in a misguided plan to provide more money for politically popular, “social justice,” is sadly a recipe for war.

Funny Cross-Gender Bathroom Stories

JPRestRoomsLaws about bathrooms have suddenly become headline stories. Though media and politicians often manufacture issues, no one expected a nationwide debate about bathroom protocol.

People on social media have secured hardline positions, but few of the thousands of tweets and posts reflect any real world knowledge on cross-gender bathroom use. As a public service, therefore, I offer four true stories related to this subject.

The Newark Airport Dilemma

Several years ago, painters at Newark Airport refurbished a passenger boarding area but were careless in replacing directional signs leading to the
FullFinalrestrooms. The final signs before reaching either restroom door were confusing. If a man or woman passenger wasn’t paying attention to the sign directly on the door, he or she might enter the wrong door, causing momentary embarrassment. As regular passengers of that flight gate, my colleagues and I had all noticed the confusing signage, laughed about it, and avoided any erroneous entrances.

A new member of our group, a young woman, was unaware of the potential bathroom sign confusion. Experiencing a state of urgency before a long flight, she mistakenly dashed into the men’s room. Though the lady realized immediately that she was in the wrong room, there was no one else there, and she decided to use one of the stalls. Exiting the stall and washing her hands, she saw a middle-aged male executive entering the restroom. As soon as he saw her, he turned red, backed away, raised his hands in surrender, and croaked, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I just made a mistake.” Our young teammate looked him straight in the eye, feigned anger and disgust, shook a finger at him and said, “Don’t you ever let it happen again!” Leaving the room and laughing to herself, she immediately joined us onboard and told us the story.

An Engineer’s Shocking Decision

George, one of our company’s favorite clients, was a thirty-something engineer from a large Connecticut tech company. Before the start of a large conference at our campus, we saw George arrive at the lecture hall from a distant entrance and noted that he seemed to be wearing an earring. Though some men at that time wore earrings outside of work, they rarely wore them in a business environment. A few gay men were exceptions.They sometimes wore a single earring on the right ear, symbolically identifying themselves as gay. I was busy greeting new arrivals and asked a woman staff member to welcome George, to note whether he wore an earring, and if so, which side it adorned.

A few minutes later, our staff member, returned at a quick pace, and breathlessly told me, “It’s not a simple earring, it’s a set of two, one on each ear. And they’re not the usual gold buttons; they’re hand-painted daisies!” Our friend, George, would henceforth be called, Georgia, and was undergoing injection treatments to become a woman.

Georgia’s transformation set his entire company atwitter. Another tech guy at his company told me about the attitudes that had developed around Georgia. Some people—mostly women—voiced a laissez-faire viewpoint. Some loved the ongoing story as a staple of prurient speculation. Others had attitudes somewhere between condemnation, and “torches-and-pitchforks.”

But, of course, the big question was, “Which bathroom will she use.” The HR staff led an effort to determine new bathroom rules for the company. They generated a confidential questionnaire for all women employees, to determine their feelings about Georgia using their restrooms. More than 60 percent of the women could accept Georgia as a restroom user, apparently led by one woman, whose associates all wrote, “I don’t care what she does, as long as she does it sitting!”

My Adventure in a Roman Restroom

Entering a hotel restroom in Rome, I was surprised to see a rotund, older woman standing there, apparently ready to clean. She said nothing and made no move to leave. I stood near the urinals, unsure of how to proceed. Should I wait for her departure? Realizing that I was hesitant, the woman reached in front of me with a cleaning brush, tapped one of the urinals, and said something in Italian. Though I know very few Italian words, I was pretty sure that she had said something that would translate to “pee here.” I performed as instructed. She watched me, with scant interest. I completed my assigned task, washed my hands and departed. I remember chuckling, and saying to myself, “When in Rome…” To the best of my knowledge, the woman wasn’t a transgender person. It’s difficult to imagine her as a man, selecting special women’s clothing to participate in our thirty-second mini-drama. I don’t believe that I experienced any harm. Nor can I imagine any law that would have improved the experience.

A Young Woman’s Complaint About Transgender Bathrooms

When my daughter was a student at the University of California-Santa Cruz, I would visit and take her out for lunch. On one occasion she chose the restaurant, a student hangout in downtown Santa Cruz. A few miles from the University, Santa Cruz is a small city with a 1960s feel, largely populated by aging hippies and cannabis-loving street characters. My daughter’s chosen lunch venue mirrored that vibe.

Before we entered the restaurant, she warned me about its restroom policy. Instead of the conventional pairs of women’s and men’s rooms, management offered a series of small “People’s Rooms.” I was therefore not surprised an hour later when I found myself in line behind a young woman. As we waited for an available bathroom, I noted a framed printed statement on the wall, explaining management’s bathroom policy and philosophy.

Using more words than necessary, the restaurant owners wanted customers to know that the bathrooms were “like your bathroom, at home. There’s no need to put signs on the doors.” I didn’t pay much attention to this issue, until the young woman ahead of me, probably high on something, turned around and said, “I hate using these friggin bathrooms.” I asked why, expecting some remark related to feminism or personal privacy. But her surprising response was, “Stupid guys keep leaving the seats up!”

A Final Thought

None of these stories is directly relevant to the government lawsuits about bathroom usage. But as a group, they help to emphasize the ridiculousness of this national debate.

A question for both sides: How would law enforcement people know that someone is transgender? Do they have to carry a special card? Hmm…perhaps we need to design a tasteful transgender pin. A lovely piece of jewelry might satisfy both sides of the great bathroom debate and elevate America in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Discovering Natural Laws That Change Everything

Natural Laws of SellingAuthor’s Note: This is an article about an important book, “The Natural Laws of Selling,” and its author Daniel W. Jacobs. It’s not a book review, per se, though I recommend the book highly. The article discusses parts of the book, but it is also about the author, who has helped thousands of professionals to become confident and effective. And though Jacobs focuses on sales, his “Natural Laws” are equally invaluable for professions like teaching, clergy, politics, law, personnel recruitment and entertainment—in fact, any environment that requires relating to other people and affecting their beliefs.

SeparatorA marketing executive, a young man who I’ve known since he was a teen, recently asked me for advice on how to improve his career skills. “Is there a great online course or a book you’d recommend?”  he asked.

He was apparently surprised when I answered, “No. Like most people who have held positions in the business world, I receive three or four business book promotions a day. Over the years, I’ve sampled many courses and read a ton of books, but few have been worth my time. There is, however, one new book that is different from the rest. It’s ‘The Natural Laws of Selling,’ by Dan Jacobs.”

“I’m not a sales exec. Why would I read a book on selling?” he asked.

“You don’t sell products,” I responded. “But you do sell ideas. It’s all about human relations, and how you persuade clients or colleagues—even friends—to believe in you. I’ve known the author for many years. I was pleased to see him write a book articulating what he teaches in the workplace.”

With that, I reflected back to the day I first met Dan Jacobs in San Jose. He had called me previously to discuss a VP job with a technology marketing agency in Southern California. To be perfectly honest with him, I revealed that I had already received an offer letter from a good company closer to home, and had therefore completed my job search. Unflappable, Dan suggested that we could just have a chat over a nice lunch. He was interesting and friendly, so I accepted his no-strings-attached invitation.

head-shot-smilingMeeting him in person for the first time, I was surprised. Expecting a typical corporate image, I instead met a man who appeared more like a college professor. And I was even more surprised at how he led me through his thought processes. There was no “pitch,” and no waterfall of information about the client company he represented. He didn’t push me in any specific direction. Though he asked me about my attitude on several subjects, he didn’t turn the luncheon into an interrogation.

Overall, it felt like a casual, though sincere, discussion between two friends; viewing a common goal from different directions. I surprised myself by agreeing to fly to Orange County in Southern California, for an interview with the company’s CEO.

The actual interview was like no other that I have experienced. I met with the CEO, a tough, aggressive woman, and her HR director. Dan Joined us and played the role of advisor, subtlely redirecting the conversation at various precarious points. The CEO’s style was challenging and combative. Feeling free to counter her barbed challenges, I struck back politely, though with equal vigor. Dan somehow kept the verbal scrum on track. The meeting ended with a surprise. The HR Director handed me an offer sheet. Dan reviewed it with me, and I accepted it.

As I began my new job over the next month or so, I noticed that Dan, still working as a consultant, would arrive once or twice a week, and conduct one-on-one sessions with people at all levels and functions. I realized that he usually spent the most time with the weakest functions, especially the sales force. Each person with whom he spent time appeared to become more confident and energized. I saw each person’s performance improving.

What was Dan teaching them? He was a bit like the Mr. Miyagi character of the Karate Kid films; giving instructions that each person trusted, even if they didn’t fully appreciate their power. In Dan’s situation, however, he was giving each person a new tool that they agreed to try. And each tool made each person stronger and more capable.

That’s why I was so pleased to learn that Dan has now packaged many of those tools in his book, “The Natural Laws of Selling.”

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Does “Connecting the Dots” Protect Us?

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Part of “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” is a frantic effort to pin down details of an imminent terrorist attack, and to enable law enforcement agencies to prevent it. Set in the 1990s, before the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the main characters in the story frantically collect, combine and analyze information from multiple sources. In other words, they must “connect the dots” to form a full picture.

hijackers-groupHow does the story compare with the real-world history of the 9/11 attacks? While coping with public anger and fear in 2001, politicians and media used the catchphrase “connect the dots” to mean combining intelligence inputs from all agencies to forecast and prevent the terror plot. The implication was that all government agencies needed to share information to predict future terrorist attacks. Some politicians and media outlets proclaimed that connecting the dots would have stopped the deaths and destruction of 9/11.

In research for this book, I learned more about the difficulties of stopping terrorism, and the value of connecting the dots. Borrowing a few details from the real 9/11 investigation, my fictional attack gets through the warnings—connecting the dots—after painstaking efforts. The characters know definitely that an attack is forthcoming. They know names of some of the people, and eventually learn the cities where the attacks will begin.

Connecting the dots, however, doesn’t stop the attack! The challenges for stopping the terrorists remain daunting. In the real-world of the 9/11 attacks, the task would have been just as formidable even with the “dots” connected.

The popular viewpoint is that law enforcement could simply capture the terrorists and ship them to Gitmo. That’s an unfortunate fantasy. The 9/11 killers had each entered the US under legal visas. Though they had overstayed their legal status, law enforcement could only arrest them to be tried like citizens in a U.S. court. Following the usual sequence of events under law, each of the men would have had an assigned lawyer.

The arrest of a large group of terrorists planning to execute a major attack presents a very difficult challenge. The future killers would not have faced any major charges until they carried out or supported their murderous crimes. Until then, investigators could have only reported that several Middle Eastern men had overstayed their visas but had not otherwise broken the law. Until they committed a crime, it would have been difficult to prosecute them as members of a conspiracy.

FBI Director James Comey has indicated that the Bureau is is currently investigating hundreds of terrorist groups within the US. In other words, the bad guys are already here. Apparently, new technology and updated methods have connected many of the dots. Can we be sure that there are no others? No. Can FBI and DHS find ways to disrupt them? Maybe…hopefully…yes. Authorities have connected the dots. Nevertheless, it’s a tough job, requiring extraordinary effort, hundreds of agents, and top-flight police work.

Why Choose the 1990s for an Alternate History Novel?

The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” differs from most alternate histories since It doesn’t focus TTWW-Tiny+Buyon a single momentous event, like the Civil War, WWII, or the JFK assassination. Instead, it focuses on events of the final decade of the twentieth century, a transformative period with equal or greater impact on America’s future.

My previous alternate history, “The Victory That Wasn’t,” focuses on the Vietnam War. Reader feedback brought many positive comments from former service members and civilians who were part of that era. They enjoyed the book because they could vividly remember the people, places, and events that support the story. However, many contemporary adults are too young to remember the Vietnam years. I, therefore, wantedBackground-layer my new book to be a story set in a time remembered by anyone over thirty.

The 1990s began as a victorious time for America and ended with great uncertainty. The decade included proud high points and devastating low points. It began with a resounding victory against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army. Supported by a broad coalition of thirty nations, the quick triumph repositioned the US as the undisputed leader of the free world. And after decades of covert Cold War struggles, the USSR dissolved. It’s former satellite countries regained independence. Germany tore down the Berlin Wall and reunified the East and West Germany into a single country.

The decade also included an unusual three-candidate presidential race and a president elected by far less than a majority of voters. Meanwhile, trouble was brewing, quietly at first. The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center seems forgotten in the shadow of the horrific attacks of 2,001. Nevertheless, the 1993 attack killed six and injured more than one thousand people.

Though Americans experienced high anxiety regarding terrorism, the 1990s produced a stunning transformation due to technology. In 1990, only a small number of Americans had ever heard of the Internet. By 1999 the Internet was part of the daily life of every individual and business. This dynamic technology explosion empowered the financial world and the stock markets while masking the simmering economic problems that a few years later caused the longest recession and weakest recovery in history.

That’s the enigma that we call the 1990s. It provides a great platform for an alternate history novel.

Who’s the Murderer in My New Book?

In writing “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” I wanted to produce the kind of book that I would personally love to read. That’s why the final product is a hybrid of three different story types. It’s a murder mystery as well as an alternate history. It also falls into the“thriller” genre, with a race-against-time to stop a lethal terrorist attack.

Like most of us who write stories, I’m an avid reader. I don’t keep count, but I’ve probably read more than 2,000 novels over the years. After the first hundred or so, I began lookingTTWW-Tiny+Buy for authors who write the kinds of books that “I can’t put down.”

For example, when I read the first of many books by the brilliant Harry Turtledove, I was hooked for life on alternate histories. Every Turtledove alternate history begins with a real-world historical context, to which the author adds, at least, one fictional person or event that radically changes everything that follows. For example, “What if George Washington and King George III had negotiated a peaceful agreement in 1776?”

Another story type that I have long admired is the mystery that keeps readers guessing through twists and turns; blind alleys; and forehead-slapping “aha!” moments. For me, the master of this kind of plot is Harlan Coben. His skill in building greater levels of intrigue grabs us from the opening sentence and keeps us guessing. And when he finally reveals the truth behind the plot, we’re relieved and happily satisfied to have shared the ride.

My third favorite is the “thriller” based on interesting characters struggling with life-threatening challenges, in real-world places. Nelson DeMille is the author I most admire for his excellently researched thrillers like Up Country, Plum Island, and The General’s Daughter.

With those three types as generic models, “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” is an alternate history set in the 1990’s, with real characters and events that most readers will recognize. Their world shifts to a new reality, however, due to the failures of two petty criminals. The investigation of one of the criminals leads to a mysterious murder. The search for the killer uncovers a major terror operation and a desperate effort by law enforcement to identify and arrest the terrorists.

My question for readers: Can you identify the perpetrators before the story exposes them?