Posts tagged ‘POW’

Business Lesson From the Vietnam War

I just finished watching the PBS series on the Vietnam War and found the experience powerful and educational.  My only disappointment was that every soldier they interviewed and followed through the war ended up in the anti-war movement (or in the case of one POW, his wife did).  I agree with their perspective, and see the whole war as a giant waste, but unlike most people on campus nowadays, I like hearing from people with points of view that are different than mine.  I get nervous just having my expectations reinforced.  Surely there are veterans who thought the war was winnable and the US largely honorable -- I know some of these folks -- but we really do not get to hear their voices very often.   But with this proviso, the series was terrific.

One of the most important -- and hardest -- lessons of business is to think at the margin.  Perhaps the toughest corollary to this is: Sunk costs are sunk.  I don't care how much we have already spent on that factory -- that money is gone -- if it is going to take another $100 million to finish, are the benefits of the factory worth that $100 million? If not let's stop work on it no matter how much has already been spent.   I have worked to teach this to my wife.  I don't care how much the tickets for the show on Sunday night cost -- that money is gone -- isthe enjoyment we expect to get from the show worth the remaining costs we face (getting in the car, fighting for parking, etc)?

Transit projects thrive on the sunk cost fallacy.  Agencies explicitly try to get some money, spend it, and then claim the rest of the money has to be spent because we have already "invested so much".  Here is an example:

But what is really amazing is that Chicago embarked on building a $320 million downtown station for the project without even a plan for the rest of the line -- no design, no route, no land acquisition, no appropriation, no cost estimate, nothing.  There are currently tracks running near the station to the airport, but there are no passing sidings on these tracks, making it impossible for express and local trains to share the same track.  The express service idea would either require an extensive rebuilding of the entire current line using signaling and switching technologies that may not (according to Daley himself) even exist, or it requires an entirely new line cut through some of the densest urban environments in the country.  Even this critical decision on basic approach was not made before they started construction on the station, and in fact still has not been made.

Though the article does not mention it, this strikes me as a typical commuter rail strategy -- make some kind of toe-in-the-water investment on a less-than-critical-mass part of the system, and then use that as leverage with voters to approve funding so that the original investment will not be orphaned.

It amazes me that no politician in California has shut down the insane California high speed rail project, but I will bet you any amount of money that when they do the rail agency will be screaming that it can't be shut down because they have already spent billions of dollars and shutting them down would waste all that money.  Sorry, but that money has already been wasted, the point is to avoid all the additional money that will be wasted going forward.

The government decision-making around the Vietnam War seemed like nothing so much as a series of sunk cost fallacies.  We can't give up now, not after so many brave men have already died!  That last sentence could be the title of about half the episodes.   But sunk costs shouldn't matter in a go-forward decision -- but they do matter to ego and prestige.  Politicians talk about things like "the nation's honor" but what really matters at its heart is their own ego and perception.  Abandoning sunk costs, for the real humans making decisions (whether Presidents or CEOs) is about confessing past errors of judgment.  Its a hard thing to do, so hard a lot of extra people had to die in Vietnam before it could happen.  I can't find a transcript but Kissinger had some amazing quotes in Episode 9 that pretty baldly outline this problem.

 

 

Worst Law That I Can Remember

This is simply an awful law.  If you had asked me ten years ago if we would see the President (a Democrat yet) claiming the right to assasinate Americans and the Congress threatening to pass a bill requiring the indefinite detention, without trial, of people within our borders, I would never have believed it.  At first I was excited to see that Obama was threatening a veto, but then I read that he was not upset about indefinite detention, but only that Congress was threatening to tie his hands and proscribe certain options.  Obama wants to have the choice of whether to offer certain individuals due process or indefinite decision.

For more, see Rand Paul v. John McCain

Postscript:  As usual, I am left flat by the debate over whether certain injustices, like indefinite detention, apply to all humanity or just foreigners.  I have yet to parse anything in our founder's national rights arguments behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that justify why folks born outside our borders have fewer rights than those born inside them.

Update:  More here, including a lot from the ACLU.  We are supposed to feel better because John McCain says that this only applied to Al Qaeda.  But how in the hell do we know with any confidence that the folks the President locks up are Al Qaeda?  Its bad enough to declare a whole new crime, that of being a member of a certain organization.  The US, through its history, has been much better than most nations in avoiding banning certain parties and organizations.  But even if we accept this law, doesn't there need to be some due process?

I suppose I understand that if I captured a guy in an SS uniform in WWII who 10 seconds ago was shooting at me, locking him up as a POW might not require a ton of due process.  Last I checked, the AQ folks didn't have a uniform or anything.  And most of them are not routinely shooting at us.

We didn't even pass this kind of horrible law at the height of Cold War anti-communist hysteria.  Can you see Johnson or Nixon (or Hoover) being able to indefinitely detain anyone they thought was a member of the Communist Party?

Still Missing the Point

Discussions about Guantanamo still seem to focus on moving the prisoners to another facility.  This is exactly the danger I warned about several years ago -- that focusing too much on Gitmo itself as a facility was missing the whole point.  The problem was indefinite detentions without due process, not the facility per se.  But since so much of the press latched onto Gitmo itself as the problem, it as allowed the administration to say that it is solving the problem by eliminating Gitmo and moving the prisoners  (either to Illinois or Afghanistan, the plan keeps changing) while still clinging to the position that it should still have the power to detain people at the President's pleasure.

Dhalia Lithwick has a good article on just what a mess we have created at Gitmo.  Are there potential, even past, terrorists there?  Probably.  But I could probably say that there are current or past criminals in any random 1000 people I might sweep off the street.  That doesn't justify locking them up  -- as a country, we have always said that it is better to free the innocent at the cost of potentially missing some of the guilty.

And please don't hammer me again in the comments with "there is a war on and these are just POW's."  Sorry, they are nothing like traditional POW's.  They were not caught on the battlefield, were not in uniform, in many cases were just turned in by other people for a bounty.  I think I would accept that maybe slightly different rules apply to these folks than to a person arrested on 5th Avenue in New York, but on the other hand supporters of their detention need to admit that some extra scrutiny needs to exist vs. traditional POW rules, as in this case their very combatant status is unclear, something that was not the case in, say, with most POW's in WWII.

My Problem with the KSM Trial

I have been saying for years that some sort of due process needs to be applied to Gitmo detainees.  I am not knowledgeable enough to know if this should be a civilian trial or military tribunal or what, but just the fact that they are non-citizens does not give us the right to detain them indefinitely without due process.  Yeah, I get the POW/battlefield analogy, but one also has to reasonably admit the nature of this process today is different than in, say, the defined battlefields with combatants in uniforms in WWII.    The very question of who is a combatant is unclear, so it merits more due diligence to make sure these assertions are made correctly.

Anyway, I suppose I am happy KSM is getting some sort of due process.  But I must say I absolutely hate the precedent being set here -- no, not the one the Conservatives are worried about, bringing a terrorist to trial in a civilian court.  I don't like the precedent of a trial where the government promises that there is already a pre-determined outcome.  US Attorney General Holder seems to be saying there is no possibility of acquittal, but a trial without a possibility of acquittal is not a trial.

The Arizona Great Escape

[Note this post is a reprint from prior years]

This week is the anniversary of one of my favorite bits of Phoenix history.  Many people have seen the Steve McQueen movie "the Great Escape",
about a group of 60 or so prisoners who cleverly dug a tunnel out of a
German POW camp and escaped in various directions across Europe, many
of whom where eventually recaptured.

I don't know if such an event occurred in Europe, but an almost
identical real-life POW escape (tunnel and all) occurred right here in
Phoenix, Arizona almost exactly 60 years ago.

Like many isolated western towns in WWII, Phoenix played host to a
number of German POW's, in our case about 1700 in Papago Park.
Phoenix, and in particular Papago Park, with its arid climate and red rocks, must have been quite a culture shock to the Germans.

Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, but it is fascinating and you can read it all here.  A short excerpt:

The
German prisoners asked their guards for permission to create a
volleyball courtyard. Innocently obliging, the guards provided them
with digging tools. From that point on, two men were digging at all
times during night hours. A cart was rigged up to travel along tracks
to take the dirt out. The men stuffed the dirt in their pants pockets
which had holes in the bottoms, and they shuffled the dirt out along
the ground as they walked around. In addition, they flushed a huge
amount of dirt down the toilets. They labeled their escape route Der Faustball Tunnel (The Volleyball Tunnel).

They
dug a 178 foot tunnel with a diameter of 3 feet. The tunnel went 8 to
14 feet beneath the surface, under the two prison camp fences, a
drainage ditch and a road. The exit was near a power pole in a clump of
brush about 15 feet from the Cross Cut Canal. To disguise their plans,
the men built a square box, filled it with dirt and planted native
weeds in it for the lid to cover the exit. When the lid was on the
tunnel exit, the area looked like undisturbed desert.

There
is some dispute about how many people actually escaped -- official
records say 25.  Others argue that as many as 60 escaped, but since
only 25 were recaptured, 25 was used as the official number to cover up
the fact that German POW's might be roaming about Arizona.

The prisoners who led this escape were clearly daring and inventive,
but unfortunately in Arizona lore they are better known for their one
mistake.  Coming from wet Northern European climes, the prisoners
assumed that the "rivers" marked on their map would actually have
flowing water in them.  Their map showed what looked like the very
substantial Salt River flowing down to the Colorado River and eventual
escape in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the Salt River most of the year (at
least in the Phoenix area) is pretty much a really wide flat body of dirt.  The German expressions as they carried their stolen canoes up to its banks must have been priceless.

It
never occurred to the Germans that in dry Arizona a blue line marked
"river" on a map might be filled with water only occasionally. The
three men with the canoe were disappointed to find the Salt River bed
merely a mud bog from recent rains. Not to be discouraged, they carried
their canoe pieces twenty miles to the confluence with the Gila river,
only to find a series of large puddles. They sat on the river bank, put
their heads in their hands and cried out their frustration.

We
probably shouldn't make too much fun of these hapless U-boaters, living
in a land so far out of their experience:  Apparently the prison guards
made Sargent Schultz look like Sherlock Holmes:

Although
the men left in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the camp officials were
blissfully unaware of anything amiss until the escapees began to show
up that evening. The first to return was an enlisted man, Herbert
Fuchs, who decided he had been cold, wet and hungry long enough by
Christmas Eve evening. Thinking about his dry, warm bed and hot meal
that the men in the prison camp were enjoying, he decided his attempt
at freedom had come to an end. The 22-year old U-boat crewman hitched a
ride on East Van Buren Street and asked the driver to take him to the
sheriff's office where he surrendered. Much to the surprise of the
officers at the camp, the sheriff called and told them he had a
prisoner who wanted to return to camp.

One
of the last to be re-captured was U-boat Commander Jürgen Wattenberg,
the leader of the breakout.  Interestingly, Captain Wattenberg hid out
in the hills just a few hundred yards from my current home.

Phoenix POW Escape -- December 23, 1944

Today is the anniversary of one of my favorite bits of Phoenix history.  Many people have seen the Steve McQueen movie "the Great Escape",
about a group of 60 or so prisoners who cleverly dug a tunnel out of a
German POW camp and escaped in various directions across Europe, many
of whom where eventually recaptured.

I don't know if such an event occurred in Europe, but an almost
identical real-life POW escape (tunnel and all) occurred right here in
Phoenix, Arizona almost exactly 60 years ago.

Like many isolated western towns in WWII, Phoenix played host to a
number of German POW's, in our case about 1700 in Papago Park.
Phoenix, and in particular Papago Park, with its arid climate and red rocks, must have been quite a culture shock to the Germans.

Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, but it is fascinating and you can read it all here.  A short excerpt:

The
German prisoners asked their guards for permission to create a
volleyball courtyard. Innocently obliging, the guards provided them
with digging tools. From that point on, two men were digging at all
times during night hours. A cart was rigged up to travel along tracks
to take the dirt out. The men stuffed the dirt in their pants pockets
which had holes in the bottoms, and they shuffled the dirt out along
the ground as they walked around. In addition, they flushed a huge
amount of dirt down the toilets. They labeled their escape route Der Faustball Tunnel (The Volleyball Tunnel).

They
dug a 178 foot tunnel with a diameter of 3 feet. The tunnel went 8 to
14 feet beneath the surface, under the two prison camp fences, a
drainage ditch and a road. The exit was near a power pole in a clump of
brush about 15 feet from the Cross Cut Canal. To disguise their plans,
the men built a square box, filled it with dirt and planted native
weeds in it for the lid to cover the exit. When the lid was on the
tunnel exit, the area looked like undisturbed desert.

There
is some dispute about how many people actually escaped -- official
records say 25.  Others argue that as many as 60 escaped, but since
only 25 were recaptured, 25 was used as the official number to cover up
the fact that German POW's might be roaming about Arizona.

The prisoners who led this escape were clearly daring and inventive,
but unfortunately in Arizona lore they are better known for their one
mistake.  Coming from wet Northern European climes, the prisoners
assumed that the "rivers" marked on their map would actually have
flowing water in them.  Their map showed what looked like the very
substantial Salt River flowing down to the Colorado River and eventual
escape in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the Salt River most of the year (at
least in the Phoenix area) is pretty much a really wide flat body of dirt.  The German expressions as they carried their stolen canoes up to its banks must have been priceless.

It
never occurred to the Germans that in dry Arizona a blue line marked
"river" on a map might be filled with water only occasionally. The
three men with the canoe were disappointed to find the Salt River bed
merely a mud bog from recent rains. Not to be discouraged, they carried
their canoe pieces twenty miles to the confluence with the Gila river,
only to find a series of large puddles. They sat on the river bank, put
their heads in their hands and cried out their frustration.

We probably shouldn't make too much fun of these hapless U-boaters, living in a land so far out of their experience:  Apparently the prison guards made Sargent Schultz look like Sherlock Holmes:

Although
the men left in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the camp officials were
blissfully unaware of anything amiss until the escapees began to show
up that evening. The first to return was an enlisted man, Herbert
Fuchs, who decided he had been cold, wet and hungry long enough by
Christmas Eve evening. Thinking about his dry, warm bed and hot meal
that the men in the prison camp were enjoying, he decided his attempt
at freedom had come to an end. The 22-year old U-boat crewman hitched a
ride on East Van Buren Street and asked the driver to take him to the
sheriff's office where he surrendered. Much to the surprise of the
officers at the camp, the sheriff called and told them he had a
prisoner who wanted to return to camp.

One
of the last to be re-captured was U-boat Commander Jürgen Wattenberg,
the leader of the breakout.  Interestingly, Captain Wattenberg hid out
in the hills just a few hundred yards from my current home.

Note:  I self-plagiarized this story from a post I made a year ago.  If the repetition bothers you, I am happy to refund you the full subscription price you paid for this site.

Best of Coyote III

Well, it worked for Johnny Carson, why not for me?  Instead of
leaving you with dead air (photons?) while I am knocking the rust off
my beer pong skills back at Princeton, I will share with you a few of
my favorite posts from my early days of blogging.  Since most of these
posts were viewed by about 5 people, there is a certain temptation to
just recycle them without attribution, given the unlikelihood of
getting caught.  Instead, though, I will share them as my best of
Coyote...


This post was from early December, and commemorated the 60th anniversary of a facinating event in Arizona history.  Many people are familiar with the movie the Great Escape or the TV series Hogans Heroes.  Few know, though, that there was really a great escape ... by German POW's in Arizona!  Here is my post "WWII Great POW Escape -- In Phoenix?"

Many people have seen the Steve McQueen movie "the Great Escape",
about a group of 60 or so prisoners who cleverly dug a tunnel out of a
German POW camp and escaped in various directions across Europe, many
of whom where eventually recaptured.

I don't know if such an event occurred in Europe, but an almost
identical real-life POW escape (tunnel and all) occurred right here in
Phoenix, Arizona almost exactly 60 years ago.

Like many isolated western towns in WWII, Phoenix played host to a
number of German POW's, in our case about 1700 in Papago Park.
Phoenix, and in particular Papago Park, with its arid climate and red rocks, must have been quite a culture shock to the Germans.

Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, but it is fascinating and you can read it all here.  A short excerpt:

The
German prisoners asked their guards for permission to create a
volleyball courtyard. Innocently obliging, the guards provided them
with digging tools. From that point on, two men were digging at all
times during night hours. A cart was rigged up to travel along tracks
to take the dirt out. The men stuffed the dirt in their pants pockets
which had holes in the bottoms, and they shuffled the dirt out along
the ground as they walked around. In addition, they flushed a huge
amount of dirt down the toilets. They labeled their escape route Der Faustball Tunnel (The Volleyball Tunnel).

They
dug a 178 foot tunnel with a diameter of 3 feet. The tunnel went 8 to
14 feet beneath the surface, under the two prison camp fences, a
drainage ditch and a road. The exit was near a power pole in a clump of
brush about 15 feet from the Cross Cut Canal. To disguise their plans,
the men built a square box, filled it with dirt and planted native
weeds in it for the lid to cover the exit. When the lid was on the
tunnel exit, the area looked like undisturbed desert.

There
is some dispute about how many people actually escaped -- official
records say 25.  Others argue that as many as 60 escaped, but since
only 25 were recaptured, 25 was used as the official number to cover up
the fact that German POW's might be roaming about Arizona.

The prisoners who led this escape were clearly daring and inventive,
but unfortunately in Arizona lore they are better known for their one
mistake.  Coming from wet Northern European climes, the prisoners
assumed that the "rivers" marked on their map would actually have
flowing water in them.  Their map showed what looked like the very
substantial Salt River flowing down to the Colorado River and eventual
escape in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the Salt River most of the year (at
least in the Phoenix area) is pretty much a really wide flat body of dirt.  The German expressions as they carried their stolen canoes up to its banks must have been priceless.

It
never occurred to the Germans that in dry Arizona a blue line marked
"river" on a map might be filled with water only occasionally. The
three men with the canoe were disappointed to find the Salt River bed
merely a mud bog from recent rains. Not to be discouraged, they carried
their canoe pieces twenty miles to the confluence with the Gila river,
only to find a series of large puddles. They sat on the river bank, put
their heads in their hands and cried out their frustration.

I
know how they feel every summer when we go to Lake Powell and find the
water lower than the previous year.  Anyway, we shouldn't just make
light of the escapees.  Apparently the prison guards made Sargent Schultz look like Sherlock Holmes:

Although
the men left in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the camp officials were
blissfully unaware of anything amiss until the escapees began to show
up that evening. The first to return was an enlisted man, Herbert
Fuchs, who decided he had been cold, wet and hungry long enough by
Christmas Eve evening. Thinking about his dry, warm bed and hot meal
that the men in the prison camp were enjoying, he decided his attempt
at freedom had come to an end. The 22-year old U-boat crewman hitched a
ride on East Van Buren Street and asked the driver to take him to the
sheriff's office where he surrendered. Much to the surprise of the
officers at the camp, the sheriff called and told them he had a
prisoner who wanted to return to camp.

One
of the last to be re-captured was U-boat Commander Jürgen Wattenberg,
the leader of the breakout.  Interestingly, Captain Wattenberg hid out
in the hills just a few hundred yards from my current home.

Carnival of the Vanities #118

WWII Great POW Escape - in Phoenix?

Many people have seen the Steve McQueen movie "the Great Escape", about a group of 60 or so prisoners who cleverly dug a tunnel out of a German POW camp and escaped in various directions across Europe, many of whom where eventually recaptured.

I don't know if such an event occurred in Europe, but an almost identical real-life POW escape (tunnel and all) occurred right here in Phoenix, Arizona almost exactly 60 years ago.

Like many isolated western towns in WWII, Phoenix played host to a number of German POW's, in our case about 1700 in Papago Park.  Phoenix, and in particular Papago Park, with its arid climate and red rocks, must have been quite a culture shock to the Germans.

Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, but it is fascinating and you can read it all here.  A short excerpt:

The German prisoners asked their guards for permission to create a volleyball courtyard. Innocently obliging, the guards provided them with digging tools. From that point on, two men were digging at all times during night hours. A cart was rigged up to travel along tracks to take the dirt out. The men stuffed the dirt in their pants pockets which had holes in the bottoms, and they shuffled the dirt out along the ground as they walked around. In addition, they flushed a huge amount of dirt down the toilets. They labeled their escape route Der Faustball Tunnel (The Volleyball Tunnel).

They dug a 178 foot tunnel with a diameter of 3 feet. The tunnel went 8 to 14 feet beneath the surface, under the two prison camp fences, a drainage ditch and a road. The exit was near a power pole in a clump of brush about 15 feet from the Cross Cut Canal. To disguise their plans, the men built a square box, filled it with dirt and planted native weeds in it for the lid to cover the exit. When the lid was on the tunnel exit, the area looked like undisturbed desert.

There is some dispute about how many people actually escaped -- official records say 25.  Others argue that as many as 60 escaped, but since only 25 were recaptured, 25 was used as the official number to cover up the fact that German POW's might be roaming about Arizona.

The prisoners who led this escape were clearly daring and inventive, but unfortunately in Arizona lore they are better known for their one mistake.  Coming from wet Northern European climes, the prisoners assumed that the "rivers" marked on their map would actually have flowing water in them.  Their map showed what looked like the very substantial Salt River flowing down to the Colorado River and eventual escape in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the Salt River most of the year (at least in the Phoenix area) is pretty much a really wide flat body of dirt.  The German expressions as they carried their stolen canoes up to its banks must have been priceless.

It never occurred to the Germans that in dry Arizona a blue line marked "river" on a map might be filled with water only occasionally. The three men with the canoe were disappointed to find the Salt River bed merely a mud bog from recent rains. Not to be discouraged, they carried their canoe pieces twenty miles to the confluence with the Gila river, only to find a series of large puddles. They sat on the river bank, put their heads in their hands and cried out their frustration.

I know how they feel every summer when we go to Lake Powell and find the water lower than the previous year.  Anyway, we shouldn't just make light of the escapees.  Apparently the prison guards made Sargent Schultz look like Sherlock Holmes:

Although the men left in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the camp officials were blissfully unaware of anything amiss until the escapees began to show up that evening. The first to return was an enlisted man, Herbert Fuchs, who decided he had been cold, wet and hungry long enough by Christmas Eve evening. Thinking about his dry, warm bed and hot meal that the men in the prison camp were enjoying, he decided his attempt at freedom had come to an end. The 22-year old U-boat crewman hitched a ride on East Van Buren Street and asked the driver to take him to the sheriff's office where he surrendered. Much to the surprise of the officers at the camp, the sheriff called and told them he had a prisoner who wanted to return to camp.

One of the last to be re-captured was U-boat Commander Jürgen Wattenberg, the leader of the breakout.  Interestingly, Captain Wattenberg hid out in the hills just a few hundred yards from my current home.

UPDATE

One reason I thought of this story, beyond being close to the anniversary, was this story about new Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith.  Though I am not necesarily a supporter of Mr. Goldsmith's views, the article is a good insight into where campuses are today in terms of academic freedoms.  His conservative views and opinions are treated like some hidden scandal that was missed in his hiring and would surely have disqualified him for the position if known.  I am sympathetic not because I am conservative, but as a libertarian and defender of free markets, I was thought to be an odd duck on campus as well.

The part of the article that got me thinking about the Great Escape was this:

Before he stepped down from his post as a U.S. assistant attorney general this summer, Goldsmith penned a March draft memo arguing that Central Intelligence Agency officials could transfer Iraqi detainees out of their native country for interrogation without violating the Geneva Convention.

The memo said that detainees would still have to be treated in accordance with international humanitarian norms. But Goldsmith's position has drawn fire from human rights activists and some scholars who argue that the memo marks a dramatic reinterpretation of the 1949 treaty, which safeguards the rights of prisoners of war.

I know nothing about the 1949 treaty, but it seems odd that holding POW's in other countries would be outlawed so soon after we did so much of it ourselves in WWII.  Generally, my understanding is that detention of German prisoners in the US went very well for all concerned - in fact, the biggest problem I have ever heard about is that many Germans did not want to leave and be sent back to Germany after the war (see also here).  My guess is that such a ban may have resulted from Soviet actions in the later stages of WWII.  The Soviets sent many, many German prisoners back east, never ever to return, living out a life of slavery in Siberia and other happy locations long after the war was over.  Anyone have any other background on this?