• If The Shoe Fits

    Victory at Sea

    Reading David M. Kennedy's well-researched article "Victory at Sea" (March Atlantic), I was pulled up short by his assertion that Magellan would have appreciated the "crossing the T" naval maneuver at the Battle of Surigao Strait. Magellan would not have even understood the context of the maneuver, much less appreciated it. His military experience was as a soldier, even though he was a very able navigator and sea captain. This was not unusual -- in Magellan's time naval battles were fought either like land battles, with one ship grappling and boarding another, or by ramming, as with triremes and galleasses. He lived barely long enough to see the era in which major guns became the principal weapon for destroying enemy ships, ushered in by the British man-of-war Great Harry in 1514. Even then naval battles were a swarming melee, and geometry was not a factor in strategy until the British Admiralty issued its "Fighting Instructions" in 1653, creating the line-ahead formation of ships. The "crossing the T" maneuver became possible only with the advent of steam, and it was not actually realized until this century, in the Russo-Japanese Battle of Tsushima Strait (1905) and the First World War Battle of Jutland (1916).

    Larrie D. Ferreiro

    I was disappointed that some mentions of General Douglas MacArthur were less than laudatory. "Dugout Doug" is not a label to be slapped on a great general known for exposing himself to danger. To somehow make his stay in Corregidor a case of abandoning his troops is very unfair. Compounding that by describing his departure and flight to Australia as some sort of cowardly act is not in keeping with the facts. William Manchester tells that the Australians threatened to remove their troops from Europe if MacArthur was left to be captured or killed in the Philippines. In that case they wanted their troops in Australia, to defend against a future Japanese invasion. MacArthur had asked that his wife and child be brought out, but he would stay with his men. Roosevelt ordered him to leave. Events proved that it was the proper decision.

    Many military people enjoyed sniping at MacArthur because of his theatrics and ego, but he was nevertheless an exceptional leader. I served as a gunner in the 7th Amphibious Force, Seventh Fleet, in actions up the New Guinea north coast and in Dutch New Guinea, Biak, Halmahera, and the Philippines on October 24, 1944, as the Battle of Leyte Gulf began. For three days we fought off kamikaze attacks as the enemy tried to retake the beachhead. We were often referred to as "MacArthur's Navy," because in the island-hopping strategy our actions were synchronized with those of the army on land.

    Most veterans of the 7th Amphibious would, I believe, have my bias in regard to General MacArthur. His management of our part of the war in the Pacific kept a lot of men alive.

    Charles Isaacs

    David Kennedy says that German U-boats were "not true submarines at all but submersible torpedo boats that could dive for brief periods before, during, and after an attack." He implies that German U-boats were unique in that they could not "remain submerged for long." All submarines of this pre-nuclear time had to surface periodically to recharge their batteries and restore oxygen reserves. Germany's U-boats were not only true submarines but the most advanced submarines of their day. Many of their features, as well as design innovations that the German navy had planned before the end of the war (such as the now ubiquitous "teardrop" hull), were incorporated by both Soviet and Western alliance navies after the war.

    Len Peyronnin

    David Kennedy asserts that aircraft carriers were "long advocated by visionaries such as the American Billy Mitchell...." In fact William A. Mitchell, of the Army Air Service, was a determined foe of naval aviation. Among his many mistaken pronouncements was "Airplane carriers are useless weapons against first-class powers."

    Kennedy's implications notwithstanding, the U.S. Navy led the world in many key aspects of naval aviation (for example, the first flight from [1910] and landing aboard [1911] a warship; the first catapult launch of an aircraft [1916]; the task-force formation built around the aircraft carrier [early 1930s]). Kennedy might more accurately have given credit to such "visionaries" as Admirals John H. Towers, William A. Moffett, and Ernest J. King.

    Malcolm Muir Jr.

    Admiral Ernest J. King was undoubtedly wrong to let merchantmen sail individually along the East Coast, but he would have been right had he insisted on the same pattern for crossings of the North Atlantic. The huge Allied losses to German U-boats would have been immeasurably reduced if the convoy concept had never been put into use. I'm still puzzled that Allied naval authorities never asked themselves why the German wolf packs lay in wait exactly where the convoys were sailing.

    The answer: the Triton cipher, the German naval code, when it was finally broken, revealed that German U-boat captains were fully informed by Admiral Dönitz about where and when the convoys would sail. This very important point is curiously missing from Kennedy's otherwise informative article. From early 1943 faster merchant ships were allowed to cross the Atlantic individually -- and also the very slowest ones, such as the Norwegian freighter Henrik Ibsen, 3,000 tons and built in 1903, which actually sailed all alone between UK and U.S. ports for six war years without ever encountering either a U-boat or the Luftwaffe. (Norway, having put its 1,000 merchant ships at the disposal of the Allies, lost more than 500 of them -- a costly and by no means insignificant contribution to the war effort.)

    Anders von Tangen Buraas

    A reader of David Kennedy's "Victory at Sea" could come away with the impression that our military leaders of that era were weak of character, blundering, cruel, and incredibly lucky -- and even with the conclusion that we did not deserve the ultimate victory. Most of us who worked and served in those years want today's youth to know what willingness and patriotism we felt on December 8, 1941.

    Had Dönitz gained complete control of the Atlantic, and had Yamamoto set up his Eastern Pacific Headquarters in Hawaii, the ultimate victory would still have been ours, although at a later date. The average American of those days had a spirit difficult to find today, when America-bashing is considered "correct."

    John O. Healey

    I was surprised and a little dismayed that in the otherwise excellent account by David Kennedy the air-sea Battle of Okinawa was barely mentioned. The U.S. Navy sustained its worst losses of the war, in terms of ships sunk or disabled and in casualties, in that battle. True, the grand pendulum of the Pacific war may have swung in our favor by the start of that campaign, but that didn't stop the Japanese from sending wave after wave of kamikazes, in relentless and suicidal attacks on our fleet. I know, because I was there.

    Ward Bushee

    Once again, I thank the correspondents who have added clarifying detail to my account of the naval battles of the Second World War. Readers of Freedom From Fear, the book from which my article in The Atlantic Monthly was drawn, will find in it a more-extensive discussion than the article permitted of several matters raised here, including MacArthur's generalship, American innovations in naval air power, the Triton cipher, and the Battle of Okinawa.

    Stakeholder Society

    As he begins to discuss Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott's new book, The Stakeholder Society ("Against Inequality," April Atlantic,) Jack Beatty asks readers to put on their social-engineering hats. This is our first clue that we are about to be taken for a wild ride.

    Ackerman and Alstott have identified a widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots in American society today. Their solution is to give $80,000 to every citizen as he turns twenty-one. This would give everyone the opportunity, for example, to pay for a college education, considered the great equalizer. What a preposterous and exciting idea! Give young people a "stake" early in life, when it can do them the most good!

    D. LaBarbera

    Jack Beatty mentions "the increasing income, wealth, and opportunity gap ... between the rich and the rest of us," but he fails to mention the reason for this: U.S. tax policies.

    The production worker earning $10 an hour in a manufacturing plant pays 7.65 percent in Social Security and Medicare taxes. A chief executive officer with $200,000 in taxable income pays only 3.57 percent ($4,240.80 in Social Security tax and $2,900 in Medicare tax).

    For an investment of $50,000 in a low-income-housing tax shelter, the CEO can receive $70,000 in tax credits over a period of ten years. The CEO can invest his accumulated wealth in tax-free municipal bonds -- about $60,000 tax-free on $1 million each year. In addition, 401(K) programs can shelter about $25,000 a year in income, with a slightly larger contribution from the company. Capital gains are taxed at 10 percent or 20 percent, and stock options are often added in.

    As long as our tax policy favors the wealthy, the gap between them and the rest of us will continue to widen.

    Warren Himmelberger

    Small-Town Cop

    New work from Tracy Kidder ("Small-Town Cop," April Atlantic) is as welcome as the springtime in New England. No writer sees more clearly, respects his subjects more, or writes about them better, than he does. No wonder they so clearly trust him; no wonder his readers do too.

    George V. Higgins

    Precisely what is the diameter of the .12-gauge shotgun barrel? Based on the sizes of 20-gauge through 10-gauge shotguns, I'd say that no small-town cop has a cruiser big enough to hold one.

    Rob Ellis


    Rob Ellis is right. Tommy O'Connor's shotgun was a 12-gauge, not a .12-gauge.

    Virus Wars

    Re Robert Buderi's article "The Virus Wars" (April Atlantic): urban legends aside, it is impossible -- repeat, impossible -- to acquire a virus simply by opening an E-mail!

    Surely Buderi realizes this, and I'm certain his interviewees do too. The article, however, includes several vague statements that without clarification will simply fuel the panic. (I can't begin to count how many E-mails I've received in the past few years warning of a killer virus traveling by E-mail -- warn all your friends! Usually the "news" is attributed to a Microsoft employee who's just trying to help save the world.)

    Buderi's opening refers to an "electronic message" that boggled computers at an IBM research center. Don't blame the messenger! The E-mail itself is incapable of executing any programs, virus or otherwise. Of course, if one downloads an attachment to an E-mail, that's another story (which should make folks think twice about forwarding and reforwarding those smutty Viagra cartoons).

    Later Buderi suggests that an executive could spread an infection throughout a company's computer system by sending an "electronic memo" to all employees. This is very misleading. "Electronic memo" suggests to most readers that the executive sent a simple E-mail. But, as I've explained, that would not spread a virus. If the executive composed the memo in a word-processing program that was infected and then attached the document to an E-mail that was sent to all employees, the virus would spread to each employee who downloaded and read the attachment.

    Aren't there enough millennium wackos and neo-Luddites out there already? Does The Atlantic need to feed the frenzy of fear with easily corrected ambiguities?

    Christopher D. Cuttone


    It is true that you can't get a virus simply from reading text-only E-mail -- and nowhere does the article state that you can. However, viruses are commonly spread by means of E-mail -- often through Word and Excel attachments, as my article points out.

    In the cited instances, care was taken to avoid the term "E-mail." The phrase "electronic message"was used interchangeably with "rogue program" -- clearly not simple E-mail. The use of "electronic memo" followed a discussion of how macro viruses spread in word-processing and spreadsheet files.

    What's more, since the latest E-mail systems make it extremely easy to open attachments, there is often little distinction between reading E-mail and potentially unleashing a virus. IBM reports that in a few cases attachments can be opened as the user simply "opens the mail."

    If the Shoe Fits

    I have seldom seen the case better made (and never as amusingly) for the importance of math in modern life than in the article by Cullen Murphy in April's Atlantic Monthly ("If the Shoe Fits"). Thanks!

    Silvio Levy

    I do not question Cullen Murphy's claim that modern technology can tailor-make our clothes to our individual bodies. I do question whether cost-effective industry has not been heading for some time in the opposite direction. Underneath my one-weight-for-all-seasons suit the sleeves of my 15 1/2, 32/33 dress shirt don't show their bagging, but the sleeves of my medium sports shirts must be shortened. Forty years ago many sports shirts came with sized sleeves.

    My L/XL hat wears a groove in my 7 3/8 head that eventually makes it fit, but my old 9 1/2D feet must choose either a tight modern D/medium or wallow in EE/wide. Fifty years ago I sold shoes at Gimbels with a choice of every size available from AAA to EEE. At that time I bought 11 1/2 socks, too, which are now usually offered in a single size, 10-13.

    William J. Hyde

    The Atlantic Monthly; July 1999; Letters - 99.07; Volume 284, No. 1; page 6-9.