QUESTIONING LEADERSHIP

There are more and more stories surfacing, all designed to portray Donald Trump as dangerously delusional. But one of the problems with these type of stories is that they can go both ways. For example, Trump is roundly criticized for saying he didn’t think the U.S.S. Gerald Ford Aircraft carrier looked right. He also complained about the cost and the efficiency of the elevators. Here is a report on that from Business Insider:

Trump Ranted About US Aircraft Carrier to Military Officials: Book (businessinsider.com)

I don’t doubt that this story is accurate. But it is also ridiculous. One notices that Trump didn’t demand they overhaul the ship. He just said complained about the cost and said: “The generals and admirals were horrible businessmen, Trump complained repeatedly, and particularly terrible at acquisition and deal making on ships, ensuring the military was always being ripped off,” the book said.

One will note that President Eisenhower warned us about this when he was President. Here is what he said in his farewell address:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. [emphasis added]

Trump was basically saying the same thing. That there is danger in having all decisions made by what he called the military industrial complex. Yes, he has red hair. Yes, his personality can be annoying. But, at least in this case, he had a point. Check out how many former flag officers are now bagging big bucks from Defense Contractors. The conflict of interest is obvious. There are some people who describe what they consider to be spectacular failures as a result. They are not necessarily correct in their evaluation, but these are legitimate questions. Here is what William Astore wrote about this in March of this year:

The spectacular and expensive failures of the U.S. military – Alternet.org

He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel (USAF) who taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Post Graduate School. I don’t pretend to be qualified to answer his questions or confirm the validity of his opinions. But read what he wrote about the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers:

* And speaking of boats, perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the Navy has had serious problems of its own with its most recent Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. That service started building carriers in the 1920s, so one might imagine that, by now, the brass had gained some mastery of the process of updating them and building new ones. But never underestimate the allure of cramming unproven and expensive technologies for “next generation” success on board such vessels. Include among them, when it comes to the Ford-class carriers, elevators for raising munitions that notoriously don’t operate well and a catapult system for launching planes from the deck (known as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System or EMALS) that’s constantly breaking down. As you might imagine, not much can happen on an aircraft carrier when you can’t load munitions or launch planes effectively. Each new Ford-class carrier costs in the neighborhood of $14 billion, yet despite all that money, it simply “isn’t very good at actually being a carrier,” as an article in Popular Mechanics magazine bluntly put it recently. Think of it as the KC-46 of the seas.

So, instead of being offended that Trump would ask questions, maybe General Milley should have asked himself if Trump had a point. Perhaps if he did that, Trump wouldn’t have felt the need to bring it up over and over and over again? Is the problem here that Trump kept asking the same question or that Milley just didn’t want to hear about it? In other words, what if Trump had a point?

I think the advancements in technology are a large part of what has kept us safe. The success of Iron Dome in protecting Israel against multiple rocket attacks borders on miraculous. On numerous occasions the U.S. had completely destroyed sophisticated air defense systems thought to be effective. Check out how quickly the U.S. overwhelmed the Iraqi air defense system. But history also teaches us that sometimes the most important lessons come from highly flawed messengers. Sometimes we assume that because some lacks what we consider to be the right level of expertise that nothing they say could be true. And if we don’t like someone, we may not hear something very important.

I have personal experience with this. When I worked for Spartan Stores, Inc. we had an SI Order Matic Machine (We called it Big Blue). It was 30 ft high, and it was really amazing to watch in action. We were all very proud. All these boxes of groceries would just slide down onto this multistory conveyor system and the boxes came out the other end, in exactly the right order to put on pallets. I sometimes took visitors from other countries on a tour of our distribution warehouse just so they could see this amazing machine in action. Yet I remember talking to someone who worked on the machine, and he laughed and said, “Sometimes I wonder if this does not take more effort than it is worth.”  I ignored this, because to me the SI Order Matic was an obvious success. For the record, I had little influence over the operation of this machine.

Later, I went to work for Fleming Foods. When I visited their distribution center, I instantly noticed they did not have an SI Order Matic. That surprised me, so I asked them if they had ever considered it. They laughed and said: “We had one, we realized it took more effort to run it than it was worth, so we tore it down and went back to manual picking.” I later learned that Spartan Stores discontinued using the SI Order Matic for the exact same reason, in 1987.

Penicillin was discovered by a Scottish scientist named Andrew Fleming.

Alexander Fleming Discovery and Development of Penicillin – Landmark – American Chemical Society (acs.org)

He had a bunch of petri dishes that contained colonies of staphylococcus, the bacterial that causes boils. But on one dish, he discovered one area where the bacteria was not growing. He noticed that there was a blob of mold there. Prior to this, no one seriously considered mold to be much help in curing illness. He then did more tests and found out this mold juice killed streptococcus, meningococcus, and diphtheria bacillus. He was able to isolate penicillin from the “mold juice.” He published a report on this in 1929. But not much was done until some doctors at Oxford started working on it in 1939. Ironically, the first person they used it on was a man who scratched his face while pruning roses and developed a life-threatening infection. He was injected with penicillin and started to recover, but they ran out of the drug, so he died anyway. But someone realized how valuable penicillin could be if made available to British troops wounded on the battlefield. To make a long story short, a decision was made to visit the U.S. and get help producing this more efficiently. Several U.S. Pharmaceutical companies including Merck, Squibb, Lilly, and Pfizer were looking into this when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the need became urgent. By March 1942 there was enough penicillin available to treat one patient. By 1943 they were able to produce 21 billion units, in 1944 they produced 1,663 billion units. In 1945 that had increased to 6.8 trillion units. By 1949 the annual production of penicillin in the U.S. was increased to 133,229 billion units and the price dropped from $20 per 100,000 units to less than ten cents. Penicillin has saved a lot of lives, including mine. I was injected with massive doses of penicillin when I got Scarlet Fever while in basic training.

The point being that sometimes the greatest lessons come from listening to people who notice things that matter. Mocking Donald Trump, President of the United States, and ignoring important questions because you don’t like his personality is the opposite of leadership.

TDM

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