Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer died last week at the age of 90. Although his name is hardly a household word, he was notable as a Tuskeegee Airman and the the only black fighter pilot ace (an "ace" being a pilot who shoots down at least five enemy aircraft) to come out of World War II. In his later life, he became a vice president of General Foods and a venture capitalist.
For anyone not familiar with who the Tuskeegee Airmen were: at the beginning of WWII, the military was segregated and blacks were not allowed to be pilots. Indeed, a War Department study in 1925 concluded that "Negroes" didn't have the intelligence, character, or leadership to be in combat units, including pilot roles. The Tuskeegee Airmen were formed to test (and some hoped, to prove) that theory. Their name came from the fact that they were trained in and around Tuskeegee, Alabama.
To the surprise of many, the Tuskeegee Airmen, especially the "Red Tail" P-51 Mustang pilots who escorted bombers in North Africa and Europe, performed exceedingly well. For many years, it was believed that not a single bomber was ever lost on their patrol--an achievement not unrelated to the fact that only one of the Tuskeegee Airmen ever became a combat ace.
Apparently, as numerous Tuskeegee Airmen have related to me, their commanders instilled in them a strict focus on their primary mission. They were to bring the bomber crews home alive. And that meant staying with the bombers, not going chasing after dogfights and combat glory. The group's perfect record has recently been questioned, but nobody argues that very few bombers were lost when escorted by the "Red Tails"--a feat especially notable given that bomber squadrons sometimes lost as many as half their number on missions.
Bomber pilots who objected to integrating the service began to rethink their objections when it became clear that their chances of getting home went up when they saw red-tailed Mustangs pulling up in formation. Skin color becomes secondary when the person in question is keeping you alive in a combat situation. The performance of the Tuskeegee Airmen was also a factor in Harry Truman's decision to desegregate the military in 1948.
Interestingly enough, the same dynamic seems to be playing out now, as President Obama sets his sights on overturning the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy about gays serving in the military. In a New York Timesarticle on Monday discussing some of factors leading to President Obama's State of the Union declaration to overturn the law this year, an interesting statistic emerged. A 2006 Zogby International poll of military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan found that "three quarters were comfortable serving around gay service members." But a 2008 Military Times poll of "largely older" subscribers showed that 58 percent objected to lifting the ban.
There are undoubtedly numerous factors at play. Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are necessarily younger, and may be more comfortable with gay colleagues in general. And they've already experienced the incorporation of women into combat units without seeing effectiveness destroyed. But they are also seeing comrades they suspect (or know) are gay performing with distinction next to them in battle situations. In foxholes, there are not only no atheists, there are apparently a lot fewer bigots.
(For a really good primer on the history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell: an analysis of the arguments, pro and con, of overturning it, the difficulty of overturning it--the policy now requires an act of Congress, thanks to Congressional objection to Clinton's attempt to end the ban on gays by executive order in 1993--and the real costs of continuing the policy, check out this article by Colonel Om Prakash in the fall issue of the Joint Force Quarterly. An award-winning essay.)
The question of how people's minds and attitudes change is a complex one. Intellectual argument itself is clearly not sufficient. But the history of the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the changing attitudes among military personnel currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan about gay service personnel, certainly seems to argue for the power of example. Once the members of a group we view as incapable of performing a particular job well, or without negative consequences, show us otherwise by example rather than argument, our biases and objections begin to dissipate. Especially in the high-stakes world of combat, where the consequence for choosing bias over competence can be your life.
But if that's true--if some of the strongest forces of persuasion and change are familiarity, example and experience--then it also presents something of a conundrum. If a group is excluded or hampered--overtly or subtly--from serving in the military or any other profession, how can they ever provide the example and experience that, in the end, is perhaps necessary to change minds enough to allow them in? It's a strong argument for affirmative action--a policy that, while imperfect, provides a means by which minority groups can gain enough numbers in resistant populations to show, by example, that resistance isn't necessary.
That the Tuskeegee Airmen and other black soldiers who served in WWII convinced Truman to integrate the armed services, but still returned home to a country that discriminated against them as much as ever, argues, perhaps, for the power of the foxhole. If every citizen in America had had the experience of the bomber pilots brought home alive by Tuskeegee Airmen, civil rights legislation would probably have passed much sooner.
In that sense, gays in the military have an advantage over the blacks who served in WWII. The majority of Americans are now aligned with the combat troops when it comes to the acceptability of gay service members. Now it's just the law that's out of step.
More on the F-16 and Cessna crash, and whether the collision of a military and a civilian aircraft was also a collision of cultures
Early this month an Air Force F-16, under the command of an experienced Air Force pilot, rammed into a small-civilian Cessna 150 propeller plane, not far from Charleston, South Carolina. The Air Force pilot ejected to safety; both people aboard the Cessna were killed.
The next three paragraphs are background for the pointed and interesting reader-messages I am about to quote. If you’re already up to speed with previous installments (one, two, three), you can skip ahead to the messages. They highlight an aspect of the modern military-civilian divide I had not considered before this episode.
In an original item on the crash, I noted some of the perils civilians could face when flying near designated military areas—even though this crash happened in ordinary uncontrolled airspace. That is, it occurred when neither plane was within a Military Operations Area (MOA), where civilian pilots are warned about risks from high-speed military aircraft, nor inside the controlled “Class C” airspace that surrounds Charleston’s airport. (Medium-sized commercial airports like Charleston’s typically are ringed by Class C airspace, so the controllers can sequence in the airline, cargo, civilian, military, and other traffic headed toward their runways. The very busiest airports, like LAX or JFK, are surrounded by larger zones of Class B airspace for their more complex traffic-control jobs. In case you’re wondering, Class A airspace is the realm above 18,000 feet where most jet travel occurs.)
A newly discovered artifact buried with one of Jamestown’s most prominent leaders suggests he could have been a crypto-Catholic.
After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.
“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”
The paper of record’s inaccurate reporting on a nonexistent criminal investigation was a failure that should entail more serious consequences.
I have read The New York Times since I was a teenager as the newspaper to be trusted, the paper of record, the definitive account. But the huge embarrassment over the story claiming a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton for her emails—leading the webpage, prominent on the front page, before being corrected in the usual, cringeworthy fashion of journalists who stonewall any alleged errors and then downplay the real ones—is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility. And the paper’s response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable.
This is not some minor mistake. Stories, once published, take on a life of their own. If they reinforce existing views or stereotypes, they fit perfectly into Mark Twain’s observation, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (Or perhaps Twain never said it, in which case the ubiquity of that attribution serves to validate the point.) And a distorted and inaccurate story about a prominent political figure running for president is especially damaging and unconscionable.
The new version of Apple’s signature media software is a mess. What are people with large MP3 libraries to do?
When the developer Erik Kemp designed the first metadata system for MP3s in 1996, he provided only three options for attaching text to the music. Every audio file could be labeled with only an artist, song name, and album title.
Kemp’s system has since been augmented and improved upon, but never replaced. Which makes sense: Like the web itself, his schema was shipped, good enough,and an improvement on the vacuum which preceded it. Those three big tags, as they’re called, work well with pop and rock written between 1960 and 1995. This didn’t prevent rampant mislabeling in the early days of the web, though, as anyone who remembers Napster can tell you. His system stumbles even more, though, when it needs to capture hip hop’s tradition of guest MCs or jazz’s vibrant culture of studio musicianship.
Has the Obama administration’s pursuit of new beginnings blinded it to enduring enmities?
“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” In this way Ben Rhodes of the White House, who over the years has broken new ground in the grandiosity of presidential apologetics, described the courage of Barack Obama in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the Iran deal. Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.
Orr: “Sometimes a thing happens. Splits your life. There’s a before and after. I got like five of them at this point.”
This was Frank offering a pep talk to the son of his murdered former henchman Stan in tonight’s episode. (More on this in a moment.) But it’s also a line that captures this season of True Detective so perfectly that it almost seems like a form of subliminal self-critique.
Remember when Ray got shot in episode two and appeared to be dead but came back with a renewed sense of purpose and stopped drinking. No? That’s okay. Neither does the show: It was essentially forgotten after the subsequent episode. Remember when half a dozen (or more) Vinci cops were killed in a bloody shootout along with dozen(s?) of civilians? No? Fine: True Detective’s left that behind, too. Unless I missed it, there was not a single mention of this nationally historic bloodbath tonight.
The agreement doesn’t guarantee that Tehran will never produce nuclear weapons—because no agreement could do so.
A week ago I volunteered my way into an Atlantic debate on the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement. The long version of the post is here; the summary is that the administration has both specific facts and longer-term historic patterns on its side in recommending the deal.
On the factual front, I argued that opponents had not then (and have not now) met President Obama’s challenge to propose a better real-world alternative to the negotiated terms. Better means one that would make it less attractive for Iran to pursue a bomb, over a longer period of time. Real world means not the standard “Obama should have been tougher” carping but a specific demand that the other countries on “our” side, notably including Russia and China, would have joined in insisting on, and that the Iranians would have accepted.
Even with the overwhelming recent New York cover story, the women pay a price for speaking out.
Who still defends Bill Cosby? After newly unsealed depositions revealed that the comedian admitted to acquiring sedatives to give to women he wanted to have sex with, his longstanding backer Whoopi Goldberg recanted her support for the man accused of dozens of rapes over the years. The singer Jill Scott, too, said she was wrong when she suspected a media conspiracy against him. And if Cosby’s former costars, including Phylicia Rashad, still believe him to be the target of an illegitimate smear campaign, they haven’t spoken up to say so in a while. Cosby’s lawyer is currently making the rounds in the media to say his deposition has been misconstrued—but that argument, even if believed, doesn’t refute the idea that he used drugs to take advantage of women.
U.S. officials are turning to Russia for help with Iran and Syria, even as the Ukrainian conflict persists.
If you believe all the talk out there lately, Vladimir Putin is not only duplicitous and hypocritical—the Russian president’s also been pretty damn busy recently. Busy cutting secret deals with the same Europeans and Americans he has been vilifying for years. And if you believe the rumors, the Europeans and Americans have also been busy selling out Ukraine to the Russians.
Not that any of this would be unusual or particularly surprising. Cynicism, duplicity, and hypocrisy are often the reserve currencies of politics, where interests tend to trump values.
There have long been suspicions that the United States and Europe might give Ukraine up in exchange for Russia’s support in securing a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, Washington has been seeking Moscow’s backing in securing a managed, orderly, and negotiated exit for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, which would go a long way toward ending the conflict in that country.