Life Long Lessons from General Marshall's China Mission

May 15, 2018

This magnificent book--"The China Mission by Daniel Kurtzt-Phelan--tells the story of General George Marshall’s heroic attempt to try to negotiate a settlement between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communist parties after World War II, from late 1945 through early 1947.
His mission, despite valiant effort, ultimately failed.  He went on immediately following that assignment to become Secretary of State, a position from which he launched the “Marshall Plan” and oversaw with President Truman the protection of Greece and Turkey from Soviet domination.
I found life long lessons emerging from this story:
1.     Some endeavors–like this one–are unattainable despite all the will in the world and superior leadership.
In the end, the visions of Mao Tse-tung and Chaing Kai-shek were simply too discordant to be reconciled.  This reality was accentuated by each side greatly over-estimating the ease with which it could win over the other militarily.
 Marshall, persisting relentlessly for over a year, did all that he could have in this situation.  He did not give up easily but he did not fail to see the reality of the challenge.
In hindsight, he may have been “too close” to Chaing to have convinced him of the need to change his ways if he was to receive the support of the U.S.  But he did lean heavily on Chaing, and I doubt if Chaing had the mindset to change anyway.  To say Chiang was deep-seated in his ways is  an understatement.
Mao, on the other hand, always suspicious of the U.S. ( and finding good reasons to be because of the support we were giving Chaing) knew he would have the support of the Soviet Union, even if it was not all that he wanted it to be.
2.     Marshall learned from this experience as he went on to be Secretary of State.  He focused on not undertaking more than could be done.  He became even more beholden to the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 
He resisted the pleas to create “Marshall Plans” not only in Europe but in Latin America and Asia.  He knew we could not spread our resources too thinly.  He wanted to act on what he knew we could “win.”
3.     Impressively but not surprisingly, Marshall’s failure to achieve the goal he sought in China did not dim one iota his confidence and energy in pursuing the position of Secretary of State and then Secretary of Defense following his return to the U.S.  In other words, he did not let this “defeat” get him down. 
4.     Marshall’s integrity leaps off the page in the transparency with which he dealt with Zhou Enlai and Chaing and everyone.  He spoke directly and honestly.  The ability of Marshall to deal with all sides was remarkable.  Also remarkable was the strategic quality of the plans he put together.  The failure of this mission  cannot be attributed to a lack of strategic thought, candor or energy on the part of Marshall.
5.     A lesson emerging clearly from the China mission was that in the end only the country itself could resolve what would be the conclusion of a civil war.  The fact is Mao gained the support of the “people.”  Chaing did not.  We were backing a corrupt, autocratic leader.  We failed to learn this lesson in Vietnam.  The outcome was tragic.
6.     Like some of the wars with which we have been engaged, e.g., Syria, Vietnam, we found that a large percentage of the supplies we sent to the nationals ended up getting into the Communists' hands, sometimes because the nationals were selling them to them.  As one communist said, “It is all right for the United States to arm the Kuomintang because as fast as they get it we take it away from them.”
7.     Like Vietnam and Afghanistan and Syria, there was the continued tension in the U.S. between “bring the troops home” and “bringing in more troops to win the day.”
8.     The book brings to life the shining qualities of Marshall’s leadership.  Here are two excerpts which  I particularly liked:
“Early in his career watching Black Jack Pershing lead American forces in World War I, Marshall had grasped a lesson that stayed with him, ‘when conditions are difficult, the command is depressed and everyone seems critical and pessimistic, you must be especially cheerful and optimistic.  The more alarming and disquieting the reports received or the conditions viewed in battle, the more determined must be your attitude.’”
At the start of World War II, Marshall received a letter from a high school student asking what was the secret of success.  Marshall’s answer:  “Giving the best I had to each job and not permitting myself to grow pessimistic over the slow progress or inevitable discouragements.”
As one of his aides said about Marshall’s renewed fervor after every setback:  “He subjugates himself to a purpose.”

"Wrecking Ball In Chief"

May 9, 2018

"Wrecking Ball in Chief": These were the well-chosen words Susan Rice used to describe President Trump in her op-ed column in today's NYT, reacting to his and our country's withdrawal from the Iran agreement.

This adds to and for me is by far the most worrisome of the destructive foreign policy decisions President Trump has made:

1. Withdrawal from the Trans-Atalntic Partnership has hurt our economy, lessened our leadership position in Asia and been a boon to the Chinese.

2. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate treaty has curtailed our leadership position in the world and works against the environmental challenges our world faces.

3. The renegotiation of NAFTA is fracturing our relationships with our closest allies and is risking damage to our own businesses.

4. The decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem fractures whatever small possibility exists to bring Israel and Palestine together in a settlement.

5. Our sanctions against steel and aluminum undercut our partnership with our European allies as well as Japan.

6. We launch a missile attack on the government of Syria, but present no strategy or plan to resolve this conflict. Nor is there any evidence of a strategy or plan to resolve the still-boiling trauma in Ukraine.

What unites these dangerous actions and absence of action are two things, both perilous:

1. The utter absence of a cohesive foreign policy strategy and plan other than  an arrogant, dismissive "we will go it alone", "it is only our interests that count", "we don't need to collaborate"  mind set. Needless to say, this mind set feeds and supports all the most dangerous instincts and actions of other countries with whom we see ourselves in some form of conflict, e.g. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia.

2. The willingness to uni-laterally and will-fully abrogate agreements and treaties which have been drawn after extended discussion with allies and sometimes with those with whom we disagree. The "word" of our country has been badly compromised. This will have negative impacts we can not predict today

What makes the withdrawal from the Iran agreement the most concerning of all Trump's dangerous actions is that it elevates the greatest risk our world faces: nuclear proliferation and ultimately nuclear destruction. It does so in a way that pokes a big thumb in the eyes of our closest allies. We talk about Russia wanting to sow discord between Europe and the U.S. You could not choose a decision more likely to do that.


What are we to do?

In the short term, continue to value, insist on and support a "free press" and the "rule of law", including investigations of the kind Mueller is conducting.

In 2020,  ensure Trump leaves office by electing a man or woman who brings the values, character and wisdom the Presidency demands--including: 1) recognizing that we have to work together with other countries if we are to achieve our nation's and world's future and (2) that our President must model values which we would want our children to emulate. In my lifetime of now almost 80 years, we have had Presidents with some character traits and who have taken some actions which I cringe at. But never have I seen a President whose commitment to truth and to respecting other people has been so utterly lacking.

What Automobiles, Tobacco and Guns Share in Common: They Are Deadly Public Health Issues

March 25, 2018

As many as 50 people—50 men, women and children—might still be alive today if the common-sense gun policies supported by 80% of the American public were in place.  
That’s right.  Fifty people today, 50 more tomorrow, 50 every day after that, might still be alive if  we were acting  on what we know to be true.  

For someone of my age, this fight for life through the adoption of responsible gun policies recalls other fights for life through common-sense regulations. Fights including automobiles and tobacco.

Take automobiles. Today, about 35,000 people die annually as a result of automobile-related accidents.  That’s tragic, but consider that if automobile fatalities per mile were occurring at the same rate today as they were in the year I was born, those 35,000 deaths would not be 50,000, not 100,000, not 200,000, and not even 300,000.  They would be closer to 400,000 people each year. 

Back then, seeing this carnage, nobody talked about banning cars.  But they did come to demand common-sense 
regulations. Seat belts became required; so did airbags.  You were required to pass a driver’s test.  (How, I ask, do you justify requiring a test to drive a car and not a test to shoot a gun?)  You have to get your license renewed every five years.  There are fines for traffic violations and sometimes suspension of your license. 

Make no mistake.  These common sensed regulations didn’t come easily.  Car manufacturers complained about the cost of some of the safety devices. Drivers complained about being "forced" to use seat belts.  But the evidence prevailed.  So did common sense. So did public will.  
Or  take tobacco.

What if people were smoking today  at the same rate as when I was a teenager in the mid-1950s?  Almost half the population  smoked then, compared to 15% smoking today.  If that rate of smoking still prevailed, and if the linkage of smoking to mortality remained about the same, up to one million more people might have died last year from smoke-related diseases.  Instead of what is still a tragedy of almost 500,000 people dying from smoke-related illnesses, the death toll could be closer to 1,500,000.  

Believe me, getting common-sense regulations for cigarette smoking was a decades-long battle.  If you think the NRA is a strong lobby today, you should have seen the tobacco lobby.  It supported politicians committed to the industry.  It supported medical conventions and encouraged doctors to recommend cigarettes; I’m serious.  It lobbied against research to establish the linkage of smoking and cancer.  But we kept getting more data linking smoking to cancer, just as we are today on the linkage of guns to gun-related deaths.  

As a result, warning labels were mandated on cigarette packages.  Age limits were imposed on the purchase of tobacco; advertising was regulated to shield children from its influence; excise taxes were increased. 

What drove these changes in automobile and tobacco regulation?  There was increasingly compelling data and research. Above all, this research showed that automobile and tobacco related fatalities werematters of public health.  

We came to recognize that whether a person smokes is not just a private issue.  It's a public health issue.We learned the damaging impact of secondhand smoke.  

We recognized that how a person drives a car is not just a private issue.  It affects others.  It can kill others.  So we insisted that you had to have a license  and demonstrate you were able to drive.

Just as with tobacco and automobiles, owning a gun is not only a private matter. It is also a matter of public health. Tragically, we witness that every day.  So just as with tobacco and automobiles, use of guns must be regulated responsibly.

Importantly, changes in behavior resulting from the regulation of tobacco and automobiles also changed the “culture.”  It is no longer “cool” to smoke.   When I joined Procter & Gamble, there was an ashtray in front of every board seat.   You would walk into a store or restaurant and it could be “cool” to be smoking.  Movie stars were portrayed smoking; men and women. No longer.

It’s no longer “cool” to drive without a seatbelt.  It’s stupid.  That’s what strong social movements can do.  

Culture changes impact everything.  Including business.  Businesses stepped up to forbid smoking on their premises and encourage safe driving habits. 
We’re seeing businesses step up on the gun issue.  Walmart has banned the sale of assault weapons and now has increased the age to 21 at which one might buy a rifle.  Dick’s has done the same thing.  Rental car companies and airlines like Delta have stopped giving preferred discounts to members of the NRA.  Kroger has banned the sale of large magazines. 
 Businesses are getting the message. 

I urge you support businesses which are adopting responsible gun policies.  Let them know that’s why you’re shopping there.  And let those which aren’t adopting similar policies know you’re going to support their competitors.

Focus on electing candidates who support responsible gun policies and rejecting those who don’t.  Nothing counts as much as your vote. Demand to know exactly where a candidate stands on universal background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of people who have been involved in domestic violence and banning assault weapons and large magazines. 

The wind is at our back on this, but it’s going to be a continuing battle.I’m inspired how young people are taking the field.  Let us be worthy of their commitment.   
As I said at the outset, as many as 50 men, women and children might still be alive today if we had adopted responsible gun regulations.  This estimate is not a matter of sheer speculation.  Nineteen state already require background checks for ALL gun sales. In these states,  we are seeing up to a 40-50% lower incidence of gun deaths linked to domestic abuse, suicide and involving law enforcement officers.

These facts don’t call for banning guns. They don't call into question the practices of millions of responsible gun owners.  They don’t deny any reasonably interpreted right conferred by the Second Amendment.  They do call  for common-sense regulations of the kind we have applied to automobiles  and tobacco. Regulations that recognize that having a gun today is not only a private matter; it is a matter of public health.  Let’s act on what we know to be true.  Let’s demand that legislators, business leaders, everyone do the same.  Let’s start saving lives. We can do this.

*This an edited transcript of a talk I gave to a rally of "Moms Demand Action" in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 25  2018

Perspectives from A Fine Book on the World We Live in Today

March 20, 2018


A fascinating book which presents the beliefs and lives of Winston Churchill and George Orwell.  Most impressive about it is the brilliantly selective use of quotations from both writers and what I found to be wise perspective on the meaning of their lives on our contemporary situation and my own life. 

A few examples:

·      I am struck by how often in history the “wisest” writers and thinkers have felt the world was going down the drain.  The historian Arnold Toynbe began the 1930s observing that it was becoming common to think that “the Western system of society might break down and cease to work.”  In 1935, the Shakespearean scholar, A.L. Rowse, wrote that it was “too late to save any liberalism, perhaps too late to save socialism.”  In 1938, after the Munich Agreement, the novelist, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her sister, lamenting “the inevitable end of civilization.”  

Despite the easy-to-support assertions, “civilization” has shown the ability to sustain itself against great setbacks.  It’s worth remembering that today as we bemoan what’s going on around us and work to make it right. 

As George Orwell wrote after World War II, lamenting what was going on around him but still looking forward:  “Spring is here, even in London…and they can’t stop you from enjoying it.  The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going around the sun and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

On the other hand, we must not fail to see how narrow the gap is between calamity and avoiding calamity.  If it hadn’t been for Churchill, a “peace agreement” might have been reached between the leaders of Britain and Hitler.  Many leaders, including Lord Halifax, wanted to find such an agreement.  And also, in our own history in America, there were those who advocated that Lincoln agree to the Confederate states withdrawing from the Union.  The challenge Churchill faced in World War II was huge.  As just one example, in 1942, Churchill was crushed one day to learn that, of a convoy of 34 ships coming from Canada, 20 had been sunk.  

·      I’ve often remarked on how every life is made up of “successes” and “failures.”  That is certainly true of the lives of Churchill and Orwell.  Churchill’s defeats were many prior to World War II and after World War II.  Yet, he displayed towering strength and willpower during the war.  Without him, it may not have ended the way it did.

Orwell, with his books Animal Farm and 1984, has achieved more notoriety and success after his death than before.  When he was alive, his book sales were measured in the hundreds and thousands.  Since his death, an estimated 50 million copies of his books have been sold.

In Animal Farm, Orwell described an existence that spoke directly to the tragedy of Communism.  Later, he wrote, “Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of truth.”  It is not just the future that belongs to the all-powerful, but also the past.

·      Both Churchill and Orwell were, at their very heart, focused on understanding reality and, drawing from that, conclusions in a direction that fostered individual freedom.

I love this from Ricks:  “In war time, people will believe the worst if they are not told the truth, or something close to it, perhaps mixed with a vision of the way forward.”  That is what any leader in any time must provide to his or her organization.

Orwell, like Churchill, would spend the post-war period warning of the great dangers that still existed despite the defeat of the Nazis.  In fact, “great dangers” will always exist as part of human nature.  These tendencies to exercise power to one’s own or to one’s group’s advantage. 

We must always stay rooted, to the best of our ability, in the sanctity of the individual and doing what we are called on to do and what we believe is right. 

"Looking Back-Looking Forward: Reflections and Recollections"--Personal Essays

March 19, 2018

I recently published a series of essays and reflections on personal experiences, beliefs and readings which, in one way or another, have significantly influenced my life.
They include essays on my time with the Walt Disney Company and at Yale University; my battle with cancer; the role of religion in my life; and what I describe as a “Personal Model for Living.” 
A few of these essays capture blogs which I’ve posted on this site over the past several years. 
I’ve tried to capture my view of our responsibility to ourselves and to each other, particularly the young.  I include direct extracts from and reflections on the writings of my favorite authors, as well as our relations with other countries, particularly Russia, with which I have had a long relationship.
While the content is diverse and eclectic, I hope readers will find threaded throughout a commitment to service, to respecting and helping others and to the values of integrity, tolerance, justice, courage and simply never giving up.

The essay collection is available on Amazon and other book-sellers.


Liberal Democracy Cannot Be Taken for Granted.

February 13, 2018

Subject: NYTimes: As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible
What’s happening in Poland and Hungary Is a chilling reminder that  liberal democracy cannot be cavalierly taken for granted. If it is not seen to be delivering for the majority and articulated by a strong grounded leader it can be turned back by a messianic leader like Orban in Hungary preying on deeply embedded nationalistic grievances.

Imagine at how saddened the leaders who led Hungary and Poland out of the Communist era a quarter-century ago must be today. We must not allow that to happen in our own country. Our balance-of-power structures and our spirit of democracy are far stronger than in those countries but it is still not to be taken for granted. 

Times When We Just Need to Listen--from My Minister, Paula Jackson

"There are times when it is better not to speak, when we need just to listen. Sometimes we are called to behold the mystery of another person ́s beauty, or of their grief, or their anger or their suffering, and just be there. We learn from beholding and listening, or we comfort by being there, if that ́s what is asked of us and we have nothing else to give. If something is required of us, we will know when the time comes. But we have to stop talking long enough to hear."