Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

 

El Chapo

 

Large areas of Mexico growing and shipping illegal drugs in the open; El Chapo arrested, escaping and arrested again; drug traffickers expanding territory and reach into the US; US Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested for working with cartels; gruesome killings by cartels in Mexico and the US, Mexican government officials complicit in drug trafficking; and government reports warning of the dangers of cartels; all are bits of information making headline news and topics of scholarly research but making little sense of the strategic danger Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs) pose to US security—as well as major human rights problems.  This short post will posit that the chief danger of MDTOs is their vertical (government structures), horizontal (area, demographic, and local structures), and subterranean (law enforcement and security organizations, businesses, political groups and activists, and other areas of cover) penetrations.  This growing reach and sophistication of MDTOs threatens human security and the viability of government by allowing the cartels to have increasing capabilities, freedom of movement, and impunity from prosecution.  This penetration into the critical power structures and human domain of an area or country is therefore critical for understanding the subject and addressing the issue.

 

Police, Drug, Poppy, Field, Agriculture, Crop, Mayo, Village, City, Tajumulco, San Marcos, Guatemala, Border, Mexico, Operation, Destroy, America, Plant, Car, Health, Opium,

Mexican police destroying drug cultivation fields

 

VERTICAL PENETRATION OF THE STATE.  The recent arrest in the United States of Edgar Veytia, the Attorney General of the Mexican state of Nayarit, on drug trafficking charges (court document, https://www.scribd.com/document/343568363/Edgar-Veytia-Complaint-NY) is not an isolated case. Declassified US Government documents reveal a very real problem of high ranking or federal level Mexican officials complicit in drug trafficking, a complicity reaching into military, security, and governance structures in varying ministries of the Government of Mexico. [See National Security Archive, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB515/ and http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB445/

The problem is so acute it makes headline news. So often while conducting interviews with US border security officials I would ask the question: What is Mexico’s connection to the MDTOs? The answer was often enough, “The government is the cartel.” See Lee Morgan, The Reaper’s Line; Mike Ligon, Ten Years on the Line: My War on the Border; Terry Kirkpatrick, Sixty Miles of Border. Nathan Jones, Mexico’s Illegal Drug Network and the State Reaction; and Anabel Hernandez, The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers.  While the exact nature of the GoM to the cartels is debated, understanding the deep penetration of the state is critical for understanding the threat and the cultural terrain.

 

The net result of the penetration of the state is large areas of Mexico (major land areas) where illegal drugs are grown, stored, and shipped in the open with complete impunity. The GoM attempts to interdict some of these locations have done little to arrest the problem—and some experts add are cover operations of their complicity. The local populations and indigenous groups have suffered much in these operations. And Mexican military detachments have openly assisted in transshipment operations across the US-MX border as witnessed by many local sheriffs of the Border Association. See their Congressional Testimonies here, http://www.aila.org/infonet/testimony-on-border-incursions

 

The aforementioned sources have done an excellent job noting these issues in detail but special attention should be given to Ion Grillo. His two books, El Narco; and Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, are extraordinary expositions of the problem, which his investigative journalism has uncovered. Illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and political corruption are intertwined in the open in such places as Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Video documentaries like Vice News,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB_66Z7G7_Y illustrate the point well.   

 

 

Dr. Mireles and his self-defense group

 

 

HORIZONTAL PENETRATION. Places like Altar, Mexico, the Michoacán state, and Guerrero state, are notable examples, and the last two have given rise to self-defense groups seeking to retake their state.  José Manuel Mireles Valverde, a Mexican doctor who helped form a self-defense group/vigilante group (the terms depend on one’s viewpoint) made international headlines and called attention to the issue of horizontal penetration. Dr. Mireles and his group repeatedly asserted that the local cartels had completely taken over (penetrated) the economy, security forces, and governance of the Michoacán state leaving the local population as victims to violence, murder, rape, and extortion—and home invasions. The documentary Cartel Land (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkLlO-nY6G8) is an extraordinary view of the subject.

 

As cultural intelligence experts and practitioners note, penetration of the population, or human terrain, is among the most dangerous outcomes of cartel activity. The ability of cartels to coopt, bribe, incentivize, and animate local populations with jobs, propaganda aiming to generate support, narcocorrido (drug ballads), and social support and community support programs all works to strengthen MDTO operations. Ion Grillo, noted earlier, has done much work to expose this problem that occurs in Mexico—and a problem that has entered the United States as border communities and other areas embrace the drug cartel narrative. 

 

[I personally witnessed this problem when substitute teaching in the Tucson Sector during the 2016 school year. The cartel culture was on occasion embraced as a glamorous lifestyle, one to be imitated. Local police forces in Texas have attempted to  address this problem by developing anti-gang and cartel programs to help school aged children to avoid the trappings of the gang and cartel lifestyle.]

 

But the problem is also evident in the United States, but with different objectives.  MDTOs, the most severe threat among international organizations, effectively exploits family ties on both sides of the border.  At 2015 DEA report notes:

The foundation of Mexican TCO operations in the United States is comprised of extended family and friends. Families affiliated with various Mexican TCOs in Mexico vouch for US-based relatives or friends that are deemed trustworthy enough to help run various aspects of the drug trafficking operations in the United States. Actual members of Mexican TCOs are usually sent to important US hub cities to manage stash houses containing drug shipments and bulk cash drug proceeds. (DEA, National Drug Threat Assessment, https://www.dea.gov/docs/2015%20NDTA%20Report.pdf

 

Exploiting Hispanic communities by blending into the local terrain, the MDTOs keep a low profile and avoid confrontation and overt actions that could disrupt their expanding operations. (Ibid). The point here is that a lack of “spillover violence” is not an indicator of security but the very opposite—a point missed by many accounts that focus on the lack of violence theme in contrast to Mexico.

 

Douglas, AZ, a typical town penetrated by cartel activity

 

SUBTERRANEAN PENETRATION. Among the most dangerous advances of the MDTOs is their penetration of the subterranean (underground) structures of a country or area.  When cartels are able to penetrate the local police (security), political, business, social, and educational structures of an area they have increased their presence and operational capabilities by gaining valuable intelligence, influence, impunity, and cover. An insightful analyst or warfighter concerned about this topic should be focused not just on presence and operations of the MDTOs but penetration and increasing penetration into these areas. For instance, when MDTOs made inroads into local police in Nogales, Arizona, and government structures of Douglas, Arizona, or Border Patrol in these areas of the Tucson Sector (See Ligon, Kirkpatrick, and Morgan sources cited earlier) the problem becomes exponentially more problematic. 

 

Applying cultural intelligence and studies, or operationalizing it as the Marine Corps doctrine states, involves understanding how cultural terrain can be exploited by a malign actor. The MDTO threat to the United States serves as an example of how these non-state actors or Transnational Criminal Organization can gain power by penetrating vertical, horizontal, and subterranean structures of a country and its communities.

Dr. Scott Catino serves as a security consultant in the Richmond, VA area. He is a veteran of OEF, and OIF, and served two terms as a US Fulbright Scholar in Bahrain. He is co-author with Ed Ashurst of Alligators in the Moat: Politics and the Mexican Border.

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Martin Scott Catino

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If peace has not come to the Mideast, it is not because of a lack of effort, and a lack of ideas. There are many approaches to use, influence, and cultivate “culture” in the Mideast to affect positive change and mitigate conflict. We could easily call these efforts that have spanned decades a monumental failure, but that blanket statement would reflect a strategic reality but not the local and individual progress, which has occurred across this vast region.  Lives in the Mideast have been touched, changed, and affected, and here are just some of the broad cultural approaches. In general, they fall into two main categories: targeting troubled areas of culture; and cultivating cultural aspects for long-term benefits regionally.

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1. The youth of the Mideast. Cultural programs ranging from job training and creation, to “football [soccer] diplomacy” (building communication between Palestinians and Israelis), to education and other focused activities have been used in earnest. Some of these have had marked success and remain a major aspect of cultural change. State Dept. funding to expose Mideast youths to messages, social media, and cultural and educational exchanges continue to target this critical demographic group.

2. Women of the Mideast. Women in the Middle East are among the most potent and active voices and energy for progress: human rights, the rule of law, and cultures of peace and security.  Women in the Middle East often embrace the individual rights championed by the West, but not for individual benefit. This seems odd, but many women in the Mideast see women’s rights as  a means to help their family, extended family and community.  US led and Western programs targeting these women have proven beneficial, and likely to bear fruit well into the future.

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Cathedral of St. George, Beirut

3. Religious engagement. Here is among the most difficult areas to penetrate. Religious engagement and related activities seeking to channel religious activity, both nationally and locally into social services and charitable work have met with stiff resistance. Insurgent and other Violent Extremists Organizations (VEO) have made the control of local mosques and charities among their priority aims. Finding ways to engage national and religious leaders has brought some progress. But engaging local religious leaders is far more problematic and would require efforts, resources, and skills that are not easily available and would be generational in time needed to affect change.

4. Social Media. Despite the millions of dollars used to use, dominate, and exploit social media, this avenue has met with mixed results.  Voice of America (VOA) has had some success, and continues to be a major aspect of America’s reach into a global world. During the Cold War VOA was among the most potent ideological weapons of the West, but this has changed. The diffusion of technology, co-option of it by VEOs, and increasing skills and use by malign states like Iran, Hezbollah (sub state), and others make this area less effective today.

5. Hollywood and other Western entertainment. It was not surprising to find former President George Bush repeatedly telling foreign audiences that he does not like Hollywood movies because they give a false image of Americans. This is not just a reflection of his personal view. The fact of the matter is that an inadvertent influence and image is messaged through Hollywood, which depicts American culture as violent, selfish, immoral and individualistic rather than family oriented.

No matter how focused, funded, supported, and monitored our Information Operations and messaging to Mideast audiences may be, there will be a deluge of influence washing over Mideast audiences often through Hollywood’s influence.  No matter how fictional these images may be, many societies in the Mideast will believe them, in whole or part. No surprise we find Rocky posters and pictures in insurgent hideouts during the 1990s.

6. The strategic tourist. You have most likely heard the term “The Strategic Corporal.” This term refers to the fact that in the digitalized and globalized 21st century and Battle Space, the decisions of corporals will have strategic effects. Those who witnessed and lived through the Quran Burning incident in Afghanistan a few years ago understand this issue well.

But it is not just a military issue. As global connectivity decreases the time to travel and communicate, the media focuses and disseminates the negative, we will find another effect: The Strategic Tourist. When Americans and other Westerners get arrested for having sex on the beach (not the drink) in the UAE, or for promoting Starbucks in the Forbidden City in Beijing, or for building a school in Afghanistan that promotes female education, the outcomes may be violent or at least create effects that reach far beyond the locality.  These effects become more than stories but examples supporting national and regional cultural narratives influencing negative sentiments about the United States.

But there is a positive influence of personal engagements with foreign cultures. Some of the more anti-American people I ever met seemed to soften in time when they see Americans up close and realize that the images of Hollywood do not match the realities.

Indeed, some people may never respond to the most sincere cultural efforts to bring peace. But there is no substitute for using a warm hand to reach a cold heart.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

 

 

Critical thinking as a practice has arrived into the military-security community riding the wave of social science and interdisciplinary studies innovations that have both enhanced and degraded overall skills requisite for the modern warfighter. But let us not overlook the significant value of critical thinking since other practices have failed to meet the practical demands of a complex, volatile, dynamic and lethal operational environment. Simply stated: mission success requires that USG (United States Government) personnel embrace this art. Too many soldiers and security studies scholars have paid a hard price for slighting it. Let us learn from these mistakes in order to make security studies and service more effective.

DEFINITIONS: What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is defined as “the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improve it.” (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, 2014. Critical thinking: concepts and tools. 2). Critical thinking, when broken down to its essence and relevancy, has three main parts that create the practical focus necessary for deepening one’s reasoning and analysis.

Commitment. Critical thinking is “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking” (Paul and Elder)—all terms and aspects that require the individual to commit to thinking more thoroughly, deliberately, and comprehensively while applying structures and tools to test the assumptions, biases, and mindsets so often found in unstructured or “normal thinking.”  A key point should be clear on this subject: without a commitment to “think about thinking” the outcomes of our assessments will suffer significant failures. Given the criticality of the security environment, such failures can be severe.

Mental Process. Critical thinking is also philosophical in that it believes that natural thought patterns are often weak, biased, and incomplete. The human mind is capable of extraordinary feats, creativity, memory, and judgment—as well as intuition and forecasting. But the human mind is also flawed, biased, and incomplete in memory, capable of routinely failing to provide the depth, scope, and comprehensive required for effective security operations and mission success. Disciplining one’s mind to think critically about sources, key assumptions, arguments–and avoiding cognitive biases–is a practice that should be embraced and developed into a habit that becomes reflexive.

Structured approaches and tools of application.  Richard Heuer (1999). The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis rightly notes that a commitment to think more critically is important but not enough. More accurate analysis and judgment requires both “decomposition and externalization”—capturing the key variables and writing them down. Heuer notes on page 88:

It is noteworthy that Franklin over 200 years ago identified the problem of limited working memory and how it affects one’s ability to make judgments. As Franklin noted, decision problems are difficult because people cannot keep all the pros and cons in mind at the same time. We focus first on one set of arguments and then on another, “. . . hence the various purposes and inclinations that alternatively prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.” Franklin also identified the solution—getting all the pros and cons out of his head and onto paper in some visible, shorthand form. The fact that this topic was part of the dialogue between such illustrious individuals reflects the type of people who use such analytical tools. These are not aids to be used by weak analysts but unneeded by the strong. Basic limitations of working memory affect everyone. It is the more astute and careful analysts who are most conscious of this and most likely to recognize the value gained by applying these very simple tools.

Heuer, among others, rightly calls attention to the need to capture and articulate in written form the key variables necessary for more accurate assessments.

PRACTICAL TOOLS.

But let us not get too conceptual with the notion of critical thinking. The military-security environment requires timely, accurate, relevant, and actionable assessments, and these challenges are met by applying some very important tools. Here are some of the most valuable that can be used quickly and effectively.

Source Evaluation: Evaluating sources for accuracy is essential for critical thinking. Is the source a direct observation (versus indirect or hearsay), reliable (history of proven accuracy), expert (provided from someone with expertise on the subject), corroborative (can be corroborated by other sources), and free from distortion? Testing one’s sources rather than quickly receiving them is important. Applying these criteria will help source evaluation and mitigate the practice of careless acceptance of information.

 

Key Assumptions Check. Carefully identifying the key assumptions used in any argument or assessment is important. Taking the time to identify, isolate, and challenge key assumptions deepen one’s analytic framework and enhance overall utility of one’s work. Take the time to use this simple tool in your assignments, briefs, arguments, and thought process.  You may be surprised at the benefits even in a short period of weeks.

Deception Detection. The military-security environment differs significantly from the non-military environment in that deception is used more widely, commonly, and effectively. The Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, Iran, and many other state and non-state actors practice(d) denial and deception (D&D) and disinformation so effectively that the United States suffered major setbacks in policy as a consequence—a subject too broad to cover in this short piece. I recommend as an overview on the subject, Roy Godson, Strategic Denial and Deception (2000). International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, Volume 13, Number 4, pp. 424-437.  Deception detection applies equally to our own US public and media sources in print and other formats, which should be examined likewise (Joseph Caddell 2004, DECEPTION 101―PRIMER ON DECEPTION. US Army War College).

Using deception detection techniques is thus critical to thinking critically. The Critical Thinking Handbook rightly notes:

In reality, analysts too seldom check for the possibility of deception, even when there is a well-known history of its use. The search for clues that deception is being conducted is often time consuming and requires extensive fact checking and hypothesis testing. Nonetheless, it can be critical in cases where the stakes are high. Analysts should be concerned about the use of deception when the deceiver would have a lot to gain through his efforts and has strong capabilities to deny or manipulate U.S. intelligence collection assets.(US Army TRADOC G-2, The Critical Thinking Handbook, 142).

MOM (motive, opportunity, and means). The acronym MOM is used commonly to detect deception. Analyzing sources and arguments with these three criteria or key questions on the information is an important start to critical thinking. I urge students to begin to apply this simple acronym to test for deception.

Understanding critical thinking as commitment, process, and practical application of effective tools will significantly enhance both the soundness of one’s assessments and the depth of analysis. Given the high stakes of the security environment, the costs of neglecting the practice of critical thinking is not a viable option.  It should be the objective of every serious warfighter and security practitioner to make critical thinking a habit, a habit directly related to mission success.

German soldiers penetrating deeply into Soviet territory during Operation Barbarossa, June 1941

When the German army crossed the border of Poland and pushed into the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the largest land battle in history had begun. Hitler boasted:  “The world will hold its breath and fall silent when BARBAROSSA is mounted.” Indeed, the massed army and fury of the Nazi assault was breathtaking, and Western leaders predicted an imminent collapse of the Russian bear, slain by the German huntsman like so many other nation-states during the early years of WWII. But the victories of the Wehrmacht would come to a grinding halt at the gates of Moscow a mere six months later. Historians would later call it Hitler’s blunder, an act of arrogance and inability that was doomed to fail in the monstrous lands, manpower, and industrial might of the Soviet Union. 

Some historians have taken exception to this view, and assert that the possibility of a German victory was indeed real. R.D. Hooker, Jr., writing in the prestigious Parameters journal, noted:

Yet the truth may be altogether different. Distorted not only by the Allied victory in the west, but also by Russia’s eventual, crushing victory in the east, the cold evidence suggests something quite different. In fact, the German army stood on the threshold of a shattering victory in August 1941. Only Hitler’s decision to send the Panzers of Army Group Center away from Moscow and into the Ukraine robbed the Wehrmacht of a victory that would have changed the world for generations. For five decades, a skewed interpretation has led American military thinkers to ignore and denigrate the wellsprings of German military power. The best lessons of World War II may well lie, largely ignored, in the ashes of history. ( Parameters, Spring 1999, pp. 150-64.)

Moreover, Barbarossa is re-evaluated by another significant fact.  Hitler was right: The Soviets were planning an invasion of Europe. Modern scholarship benefiting from an openness of post-Cold War relations and historical archives have learned much about Stalin’s aggressive designs on Western Europe. Had Hitler not attacked as he stated, the Soviets would no doubt have done so at a later date when they had consolidated power and recovered from the great purges of the times.

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Yet, the very day of the assault in June 1941 revealed a significant factor in Germany’s defeat, an action easy to overlook in the smoldering ruins of Soviet tanks and cities: a powerful coalition of nations was coming together to defeat Nazi Germany. Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and the United States were willing to ally against Hitler’s genocidal plan for lebensraum (living space) and conquest of Europe.  

The United States Government uses the acronym DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics) to identify the national instruments of power that can determine not only the strategic outcomes of nations, but the destiny of an era.  The “D” for diplomacy is certainly significant, and a valuable area essential for developing analytic frameworks. Diplomatic partnering allows the communication, resources, weaponry, manpower, technology, logistics, and finances to be leveraged directly against an enemy. Ultimately, Hitler’s plans were frustrated in large part to Soviet manpower and ingenuity, as well as Western leadership that utilized its immense diplomatic skills to move manpower and resources to the strategic points of the fight. The outcomes were historic.

Diplomacy can be a frustrating process leading to lengthy and painful engagements with the most unlikely of partners–like Soviet Russia. But the outcomes justify the efforts. Even though the Grand Alliance immediately broke down in the aftermath of World War II leading many to question its integrity and utility, the victory over Fascism would not have been achieved without it.

The Interwar Period

August 22, 2016

                       “Children, what do you know of the Fuhrer?”

This period in European History is indeed remarkable. There are some major lessons learned that are relevant for the present. The times were so notable that most major military training programs cover this time frame as a lesson in creeping aggression and the manipulation of societies, and their responses.  

Here are some major points to consider:

1. Propaganda is often very effective in manipulating the masses, directing popular focus and energy, and creating potent organizations.

We are raised in environments and patriotic and democratic societies that emphasize the superiority and dominance/triumph of truth over error, and consensus opinion over dictates of government. I believe this is a correct path ethically and politically. Nonetheless, propaganda and lies (disinformation) can be very effective in the short term, causing major responses that benefit the dictatorial and totalitarian sinister powers of the age. This was the case in the interwar period. The Fascists and Communists were masters of propaganda, and the latter more so. Communist propaganda demonstrated a deep mastery of human psychology and the dark knowledge of human nature. Its effectiveness is witnessed in the death of multiplied millions of its victims and the robotic obedience of its adherents.

For those of you interested in this subject, please take a few moments to view Nazi Germany’s master propaganda piece: Triumph of the Will (1934). Here is the video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHs2coAzLJ8 This video illustrates the propaganda tactics of a rising Nazi movement. 

2. Often the existence of one enemy can give rise to another as destructive or even more so. I am speaking here of the Communist threat sweeping Europe and the Fascist response.

No doubt the rise of Communism as a local and regional force and challenge was duly noted by Europeans. But what was the response to it? Fascism rode to power in large part on an anti-Communist message, pledging to fight Communism, protect the sacred and religious values the Red Menace threatened to destroy, and protect life and property against the Bolshevik revolutionaries. 

Yet Fascism created a threat nearly as problematic to local populations: purges, imprisonments, a loss of freedom, restriction of liberties, and ultimately genocide and World War. Often in politics, the cure is worse than the sickness–or nearly as bad. 

3. Slumbering populations of Europe.

There was a terrible price to pay for “slumbering,” lacking the political virtues of vision, readiness, and foresight. It is remarkable again that the indicators of violence, genocide, and destruction were increasing during the interwar period and too few responded. Many Jews hoped against hope that Hitler would not carry out his evil designs of genocide. Many European and Western leaders believed the diabolical and belligerent language of Mein Kampf (Hitler’s autobiography) glorifying war and mass killings were just rhetoric meant to appease a wounded generation of zealot patriots but never meant to be acted upon. And countries of Europe like Poland and Great Britain believed even to the very days preceding the invasion of Poland that a peaceful solution would be achieved with Hitler, who was deemed a reasonable man.

Thus many Europeans slept, or we can say were sleep walking.

Other examples could be given that underscore the importance of watchfulness in periods like this and in a larger sense in all times of political crisis.  Keeping a broad scope and emotional detachment during periods of crisis is absolutely essential for maintaining readiness and the structures of peace.

The guns and artillery of World War I had barely cooled when troubles began anew, signs that the peace may be short lived. Studying this period reveals some interesting if not amazing aspects of the times and of war in general.  Here are some major themes and axioms to consider–lessons learned from history.

Winning the war does not necessarily mean winning the peace. The victory over Germany was indeed real and complete. Yet the peace afterward was difficult to manage. The Allies were divided on their approaches to reconcile Germany. Moreover, the destroyed economies, lives, and infrastructure of Europe created instability, unrest, and conflict. Finding leaders who understand and manage such chaos requires skills no less acute than those needed in war.  Europe struggled to find those leaders and solutions during the time.

Aggressors like Adolf Hitler exist in periods of peace and can potentially manipulate masses to war and to mass murder. Had the Allies understood the emotional paralysis of the period (war weariness), the danger of popular reluctance to confront major troubles, and the potential for further bloodshed in a major war, no doubt Hitler would not have been given such freedom to violate treaties and impose his will over Europe. The lesson learned is staggering: Had Europe acted decisively against Hitler in his early years of developing his designs and war machine the horrible deaths and brutality of WWII would have been prevented.  Indeed fear and inaction have terrible consequences collectively and individually.

Soldiers from Fort RileyKansas, ill with Spanish influenza at a hospital ward at Camp Funston.

War brings unplanned and unknown consequences that significantly exacerbate plans for peace and stability. The 1918 Flu Pandemic that swept Europe and the globe killed as many as 100 million experts believe, and serves as an example of facing the unknown during and after war. It seems almost too horrible to contemplate that after the world’s first global war, an event that took nearly 18 million lives, another catastrophe of even greater magnitude would occur so unexpectedly–and that by the Hand of God not man.  

Giving careful attention to the endings of war, preparing for natural disaster as well as political ones, and fighting the tendency of war weariness are all critical components of a secure peace. Doing otherwise is to flirt with disaster and undo the hard won victories of war

Air Commando Hoi B. Tran and the Tet Offensive of 1968

By Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

 

Hoi Tran 1

 

Today, February 10, 2016, is another Tet holiday (New Year) celebrated by the Vietnamese American community–along with Vietnamese around the world.  Amid the food, celebration, reverence for ancestors, reuniting of families, and children receiving red envelopes containing money from their elder family members are the memories from 48 years ago when the Tet Offensive occurred.  “Tet,” as it is frequently called, was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War and a result of the North Vietnamese Communists breaking the truce and seeking not only a tactical surprise but also a strategic victory over South Vietnam and its American allies.  Consequently, major civilian and military command and control centers came under waves of attack by 80,000 Communist troops striking over 100 towns and cities across South Vietnam.

Saigon Under Attack During the Tet Offensive

Among the many free Vietnamese resisting that offensive was Hoi B. Tran, air commando of the VNAF (Vietnam Air Force).  But the young Major was not surprised at the Communist onslaught. He noted in his memoirs:

The Communists took advantage of our weakness whenever they deemed necessary.  They would fight and kill us mercilessly when they had the upper hand, and they would shamelessly ask for a truce to negotiate when they he were about to succumb. . . .  We knew their dirty tricks but always gave them the benefit of the doubt only to end up on the short end of the stick!  It was their old fight/talk-talk/fight tactic they employed since the Korean War in the fifties. Hanoi had used this very same dirty tactic to mount a general offensive during the most solemn occasion in the Vietnamese culture, the Tet or Lunar New Year of 1968. Our U.S. ally and our military brass were well cognizant of the concept, ‘The best defense is a good offense.’ However, being civilized nations, we did not dare violate the principle of decency. (Hoi B. Tran, A Vietnamese Fighter Pilot in an American War, 254.)

Despite the surprise, intensity, and scale of the attacks the Vietnamese Communists suffered their most devastating defeat of the war, their entire covert infrastructure and Viet Cong suffering losses that would not be recovered for several years afterward. Hoi Tran’s air base typified the victory earned in that time, such a remarkable victory that General William Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam, personally visited the base. Hoi Tran noted again:

At the end, the Tan Son Nhat joint U.S and Vietnamese defense forces were successful in their fight to repulse the Communist attackers. Casualties to our defense forces were very light in the view of the size of the forces committed to overrun the base. The Communist attacking forces sustained over nine hundred killed in action, and some were taken prisoner. General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, must have been very pleased with the effective and successful defense of Tan Son Nhat. He personally came to the base, and I was honored on behalf of Colonel Cuon to take him and his staff around the defense perimeter and the apron to count enemy dead bodies. It was clear the warning from our sympathizer in the pacified hamlet surely helped our defense preparation. Undeniably, the courageous American and Vietnamese defense troops at Tan Son Nhat saved the base from being overrun by the Communist assault forces. (Hoi B. Tran, 259).

But the American news media, critics of the war, and a wavering presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson allowed the enemy to snatch victory from defeat as a patriotic public continued to grow weary of the war and its casualties.  Despite these realities, dedicated soldiers like Hoi B. Tran emerged from the period and continue to remind us all of the importance of resolve—and that freedom in any age requires a courageous response to aggression.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00070]

From 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m on Saturday, February 6 at Hastings (Sierra Vista, AZ), Ed Ashurst and Dr. Scott Catino will be signing their new book: Alligators in the Moat: Politics and the Mexican Border. Well-known, local Arizona rancher Ed Ashurst has revealed in this book his years of interesting personal experiences on the border encountering illegal aliens, human smugglers, security officials, and politicians– both national and local.
Dr. Scott Catino is a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and specialist in national security issues.

06FEB16 book signing

Lewis Leininger

Mr. Lewis Leininger

The Arizona Military Affairs Forum proudly presents World War II veteran Mr. Lewis  Leininger. This Friday, 22 May, at 4:30 p.m. at the Community Room in the Sierra Vista Library, Mr. Leininger will talk about World War II, home front America, The Great Depression, and the raging battles of the Pacific War, events he witnessed firsthand on the USS North Carolina.

Come join us for this event with an extraordinary veteran who recently undertook the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. and to the World War II Memorial.

Feel free to join any time after work and during the event.

Please contact AMAF director Dr. Scott Catino for questions. 610-674-2814. mscottcat@yahoo.com

LTC Oliver North

It was a privilege to participate in the Frontlines documentary on the terrorist threat on the US Mexico Border. LTC Oliver North’s introduction aptly noted the urgency of the matter. The documentary is published here: https://www.nratv.com/series/frontlines/episode/frontlines-season-4-episode-2-border-security-the-terror-threat

Chuck Holton (pictured below) did an excellent job capturing the insecurity of the border, the transit of the area by not only “illegals” but also OTMs (Other Than Mexicans), including Specially Designated Countries (like Iran). Bottom line: The US Mexico border is easily penetrated and poses a significant risk of terrorist activities.

Chuck Holton

But we need not speculate about terrorist activities on the US Mexico Border. In 2011, as the documentary noted in detail, the border was penetrated by Iranian agents as they infiltrated with the intent of assassinating the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, D.C. as well as the intent to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies there. Had not the operation been interdicted by a DEA agent posing as a cartel member, and the FBI, the outcomes could have been catastrophic. I discussed this event–The Iran Assassination Plot–briefly in the documentary (pictured below). Reports of the presence of ISIS, Somalian terrorists on both sides of the border, and gangs like MS 13 should all be taken seriously. What we as Americans are most likely seeing is a development of organizational structures by these groups as they transit the area. The absence of major attacks does not indicate a lack of activity, but rather an organizational stage similar to Al Qaeda’s work during the 1990s before it attacked on 9-11.

Scott Catino

But on a daily basis Arizona ranchers like John Ladd (pictured below) face a major problem: armed cartels breaking through the border fence or transiting ranches as they move their human and drug cargo to nearby highways and areas for points deeper in our country.  Many Americans do not realize the danger and delicate balance between cartel operations and rancher life along the border. While these ranchers are adaptive, tough, and experienced with the problem it only takes a chance meeting to end in tragedy, a chance meeting with a rogue cartel member not following strict orders, or a desperate, hungry, dehydrated operative moving weapons and money south to Mexico.  The death of rancher Robert Krentz in 2010 illustrates the point.

John Ladd

If border security is going to improve it will take more efforts like this documentary to raise public awareness of the seriousness of the issue.