Friday Firesmith – Thinking

I’ve read at least five books on the Battle for Guadalcanal. I’ve read so many books, I can now spell the name of the island without spell check looking at me like I’ve just burned a joint and pressed keys at random. Each author brings to the table a different perspective on each individual engagement, and because these works were written independently of one another, some using the same sources, it’s a challenge to figure out what happened and why. But the evidence is there and given enough of it, a much clearer picture of our mistakes, and the Japanese mistakes, emerge.

War is basically a series of events that lead to mistakes being punished by death. The Japanese sent four carriers to Midway in June of 1942, and an undersized and overmatched American force sent all four to the bottom of the ocean. The American intelligence gathering community had gleaned enough information about the Japanese intent to set up an ambush.

One of the most remarkable techniques for gathering information on Japanese ship movement involved men (and likely women) who spend many hours every day, and many days each week, studying the telegraphic codes sent out by Japanese ships. None of these people spoke a word of Japanese, but they were able to identify individual operators of telegraph equipment through keying techniques. Each human being who operates a telegraph key does so with such individuality that it’s as clear as a fingerprint to those who study such things.

So what?

As it turns out, if you can establish how quickly an operator moves from one place to another, and we had ships that could triangulate where the signal originated from, then you could tell what sort of ship that operator was on. If he was on a destroyer then he would move quickly. If he was on an oiler he would move slowly. And by identifying how quickly these operators were, we could also tell who they were with, and the size of the force through that information.

Given we already knew enough about the Japanese codes that we could get about fifteen percent of the information we needed, and given the operators were known, we also had Coast Watchers, who spied on troop movements, planes taking off and landing, and ships leaving and entering ports on islands.

Given enough evidence, a clear picture emerged as to what was going to happen, where, when, and who would be there.

All of this had to be done quickly, and when presented to those men in uniform who made decisions of life and death over other men, the information had to be accurate or ships would sink and hundreds, maybe thousands, of men would be killed. Think about the amount of guts it took for someone to say, “The evidence indicates we need to move our forces to this place in the ocean and attack here, so we’ll win the battle.”

We’ve gotten lazy. We’ve become used to the idea that if we have an opinion, and we feel strongly about that opinion, it doesn’t matter if we can’t back it up with any more than a short news opinion by someone who doesn’t do their own research. We’ve lost our respect for those who study information and replaced it with a sense of awe of those who can scream the loudest. We’ve traded critical thinking for who we like more. We’ve given up on doing the hard work of research in order to put information out that’s judged not on content but on how many people will mindlessly repeat it.

Two opinions are not equal when one is based on evidence that has been cross-referenced and the other is based on how it makes someone feel.

Imagine the battle of Midway, based on feeling. Imagine a commander taking a poll of people and using the information from a group of people to make his decision rather than basing it on intelligence gathering.

That’s what we’re doing these days instead of seeking out facts, looking at historical data, and listening to people who have spent decades in research. To blindly go forth into the future having some sort of aversion, and even a disdain for knowledge is as dangerous as driving without headlights, or sailing without a compass, or going into battle without any idea what awaits.

This is an extinction level event. It will destroy us all, in the end, if we abandon thinking.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

10 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Thinking”

  1. I’m tired of trying to reason with people who smugly think they’re another John Wayne, Robert E Lee, Davy Crockett, Jack London or Paul Bunyan. People who disregard evidence based logic in favor of talk radio rhetoric. Yes, they’re wearing me down to the point it’s easier to avoid them than suffer them.

      • The principle is the same. People who are afraid look for a leader that says will protect them (ex: “I alone can fix it.”). The leader has help with a propaganda team who puts forth lies that the followers do not question. Why? Because authoritarian followers are too insecure individually, gravitate toward those who validate their fears, seek and see their strength in an authoritarian leader.

        To question their fears and challenge them would be rational and that simply would require a measure of individual responsibility that they are not ready to accept.

        This gave us Charles Manson, Jonestown, and religion just to name a few.

  2. CAI, I’ve studied both Manson and Jonestown, and I have to agree with you. Religion is like some sort of catalyst for hate and manipulation, and it keeps working very well, despite the centuries of evidence against it.

  3. Sorry Mike, I’ve been away so only now was able to read your column.
    I think it’s ironic that so few people responded. Is it because your words required them to think? Is it because they are afraid to confront the fact that populist leaders are exactly as you mention – validating their fears, catering to the lowest common denominator, rejecting logic and facts and generally failing to recognize or respect both research and history?
    The fact that populism has become so prevalent is quite terrifying. What scares me is the lack of insight into a course of action that would lead to a positive outcome. People are blindly following the path of least resistance without any thought of where their actions will lead or the repercussions of their empty reasoning.
    I think this article is excellent. I really wish I knew why more readers let it pass.

    • Populism is not always a bad thing. There have been many populist leaders that have done good for people. This is why I place the bad populists in the category of cults. Cults limit thinking because the followers aren’t looking for freedom, they are looking to be told. Cult followers look for someone to lead them, populists seek followers to lead.

      The reason the non-thinkers may not be responding is perhaps these same people who argue they value the lives of babies and shake off arguments that they don’t devalue women are twisting their brains in a knot to support the tear gassing of women and children. Or maybe to them, tear gassing women and children are okay because they are brown people, emphasizing brown and downplaying people. Then they need to defend their racism by insisting it’s not racist. Their poor little brains must be aching.

      • Thanks for the reply CAI.
        I agree with what you’re saying and I must admit the potential outcome is quite disturbing. I think education is the answer to much of what is wrong. But it has to be the right education, the kind that encourages questioning, problem solving and independent thought. As Mike says, it needs to focus on facts and historical awareness of what the repercussions were when people followed fear-based leadership.
        How anyone could justify using tear gas on children, or even denying them the right to personal safety, is mind-boggling. The fact that people didn’t rise up en masse to challenge this inhumane practice is even more upsetting. How are we losing our connection with basic compassion and empathy? Will we survive as a viable species?

        • Education IS the answer, at least a major part of it. That’s why Jefferson started the first free college in this country. He knew and said an educated populous was important to a democracy. That’s exactly why conservatives have done everything possible to diminish our ability to get educated. That’s why they use the term as “liberal colleges” as a pejorative. That’s why they have cut back federal funding toward colleges. That’s why people like the Koch brothers make donations to colleges only if they can place conservative professors into that college. Being liberal means questioning things and the conservatives can’t stand that. An ignorant population is easier to control.

          The orange gelatinous ass currently in the White House has diminished our position in the world. ( The next President will have a tough hill to climb to rebuild our reputation, but the world has seen that we are capable of putting a literal moron in the highest position of our country, so even a genius next time could mean another moron the next time. (another reason to nix the Electoral College).

          In the end, it may not matter, climate change is creating an unstable world which will bring new conflicts that may prevent any consensus of doing something to reverse the situation. This will involve mass extinction and possible elimination of the human race. You can thank every GOP member and voter for that. That prediction is less than 20 years for it to really start happening, and climate scientists have always been conservative in their predictions only to be proven that they should’ve been less so.


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