The Best Defense

West Coast thought: People who applaud tax increases also support having a draft

Last week I had a series of appearances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. A couple of observations from that trip:

--Tax increases are not anathema, as least to the people to came to my talks. When the person introducing me at the Seattle Library mentioned that a recent approval of a tax increase would keep open more library branches on weekends, there was a round of hearty applause. I heard the same sentiments from people in LA about the recent vote in their state to raise revenues, I think for education.

--Nor is a draft out of the question to these people. To my surprise, the same crowd in Seattle that applauded the tax hike also warmly welcomed my suggestion that the country would benefit from having some sort of draft.

--Overall, I sensed a kind of nostalgia for the days when government worked, and a fingers-crossed belief that it still can. It is amazing how potholed California's highways have become. One woman says she has her wheels realigned every three months. 

--There sure didn't seem to be any recession in Seattle or San Francisco. But LA's Westwood neighborhood had a surprising number of vacant storefronts. I don't know LA well enough to interpret the significance of that. Real estate is the most local of businesses. I remember a smart guy telling me he only invested in commercial real estate on the north side of Orlando and stayed away from the city's south side, which he said was a whole different market, one distorted by Disney World's force field.   

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The Best Defense

Paul Kennedy's warning on how the Royal Navy became irrelevant during World War II -- and are we doing the same now?

OK, I have finished Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery. It has been a long time since a single book gave me so much to think and blog about.

His bottom line is that military might rests on economic power, especially in the industrial era. But he says that the British Navy could have done better in World War II.

He lists three major errors in the Royal Navy's understanding of conflict in the mid-20th century:

--They overvalued the power of battleships and underestimated the threat to surface ships presented by aircraft and submarines.

--They neglected the major naval lesson of World War I, which was that the submarine had forever altered the nature of maritime combat.

--They didn't really understand the best role for aircraft carriers, which they saw more as scouting vessels for battleships than as the striking arm of the fleet.   

The result was that during World War II the British Navy was the biggest navy in the world, so it wasn't so much weak as it was irrelevant to the tasks at hand.

This is an interesting warning to those who believe we don't really need to think as long as we are strong. I wonder if our military establishment today resembles the Royal Navy of 1938 more than we understand -- that is, big, powerful, and irrelevant. That's my scary thought for the day.

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