Friday, July 18, 2014

The Realities of Our Interconnected World

The world in which I grew up was relatively simple. Most people lived and died in the area in which they were born. Transportation was still mainly by train, with automobiles slowly gaining ascendance. Communication between cities consisted mostly of what is now called, “snail mail.” Radio and land-line telephones provided our only electronic links with the rest of the world, supplemented by newsreels between double features at the local movie houses on weekends. Television had just been invented but was not widely available. Computers and the Internet were scarcely even dreamed of.  Individual countries had separate economies that dealt mainly within their own borders. Events on one side of the world had little effect on people or economies on the other.

Our world today is far different. Electronic networks bind us to people all over the globe. Social media allows interchanges between individuals of different cultures with vastly differing lifestyles. Globalization has bound the economies of most nations together in webs of interdependence. Events in one part of the world can have catastrophic effects on markets far distant from one another. Closure of a pipeline in a remote area can drive up world-wide oil prices. Drought in South America can affect the price of a cup of coffee in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Economic destabilization of one country in the Euro Zone threatens all the economies of the Western world. Labor rates have been leveled throughout the globe.

Nations are now interdependent in ways unimagined in the mid-Twentieth Century. Sometimes I wonder if our political systems are up to the task of coping with the new realities. They will be only so long as people dedicated to the advancement of humankind are willing to devote their energies to the effort.

Many people throughout the world yearn for a return to simpler days. Demonstrations at global economic meetings demonstrate the depth of such movements. Political parties dedicated to nationalistic economics are proliferating. Anti-immigration groups are growing in many Western countries. Longing for the days when each nation-state could control its national economy is evident throughout the world. Unfortunately for those who long for the past, I believe that time has passed them by.

Nations and peoples throughout the world must learn to live together under the new realities. Nostalgia for a simpler past will not cut it on the interconnected globe on which we live. The problem is that we don’t seem to know how to do this. Humans tend to divide the world into “us” and “them.” Differences in skin pigmentation, language, religion, and the “developed” and “undeveloped” nations created chasms that are hard or almost impossible to bridge. Has our technology outstripped our political capabilities. Can we learn to live together in harmony?

I fear that all I am doing is raising questions. It will take people far wiser than I to solve the complex problems of globalization. But I remain an optimist, a “glass half-full” person. Humankind has solved daunting problems before, and I believe that we shall again. However, looking backward with nostalgia is not the answer. As my mother-in-law used to say, “The good-old- days never really existed--especially for women.” We can’t go back. We must move forward.

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Electronic Window on the World

Few computers existed when my generation came of age. My first Navy duty station, the Naval Research Laboratory, had one of them for use in scientific calculations. That computer occupied an entire floor of a large laboratory building. It consisted of hundreds of interconnected aluminum chasses filled with vacuum tubes. The machine hardly ever ran   more than half an hour without at least one tube burning out and shutting it down. Yet it made the computations for the first space flights conducted by the U.S. Today, my iPhone has greater capacity than that laboratory computer.

Many people my age are still reluctant to adopt the computer lifestyle. Some even seem to take pride in not spending any time interacting with electronic machines.  I understand this reluctance. My children and grandchildren do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at computer screens. For a time, I too resisted moving my mind into the 21st Century. However, my desire to maintain contact with my progeny finally overcame my reluctance. Like it or not, electronic messaging has become the preferred method of communication for the younger generations. I now text, have both personal and professional Facebook pages, and tweet extensively. At first shocked to receive text messages from me, my children and grandchildren now regularly exchange electronic messages with me.

When Peter the Great established St. Petersburg in the early 1700s, he called it his “Window on the West.” I look on my computers as my window on the world. Not only is a vast amount of knowledge now available at my fingertips, but a new world of human interaction also awaits my participation. E-mail and texting allow real time communications. Facebook provides instant interaction with a circle of friends that has no geographical limits. By far, my widest range of interaction with other humans comes through Twitter.

When my daughter offered to set up an electronic marketing program for FALL EAGLE ONE, my debut novel, I had no idea what I was getting into. After she set up my Twitter account, I began experimenting in earnest. I seem to have a facility for composing 140-character book sales pitches, so that soon became a part of my routine.  After a few weeks, a light suddenly came on inside my head. I realized that Twitter can be an ever-expanding platform for marketing my writing. As my “followers” re-tweet my postings to their “followers,” my message spreads like the expanding ripples from a rock thrown into a glassy-surfaced pond. The more people hear about one’s work, the more sales can be expected.

I learned early on to adopt a courteous attitude in my Twitter communications. After all, good manners alone dictate that one should thank others for taking the time to re-tweet your posts or become new followers. However, the contact I feel with my followers soon went far beyond just good manners. Regular exchanges on the Internet with many of the same people establishes bonds of communication that continue to expand. A kind of friendship actually develops. My horizons have broadened to encompass other countries and other societies. I currently have over 5,600 “followers” from all over the world. My life is much richer because of these contacts. I hope that interacting with me has enriched the lives of those who read my electronic communications.

My sympathies go out to those of my generation who choose to limit their interactions to the physical world. They are missing out on a whole world of intellectual stimulation. For as long as my mind continues to work, I plan to write fiction and interact with my Internet friends. I pray that my remaining time may be productive. 

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Another Glass Ceiling Shattered

Admiral Michelle Howard

Last Tuesday, July 1st, Admiral Michelle Howard became the first woman four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, joining the first women who hold four-star rank in the Army and the Air Force. Admiral Howard is becoming the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO), the second most powerful job in the Navy. Many people who hold this billet go on to be CNO.  By the way, Admiral Howard is also an African American.

Her new position is but the latest in a career filled with “firsts.” She was among the first women to attend the Naval Academy, graduating in the Class of 1982 (the first class to include women at all was the Class of 1980). A Surface Warfare Officer, she served in increasingly responsible positions aboard ship and ashore. When she took command of the dock landing ship, U.S.S. Rushmore, in 1999, she became the first black woman to command a U.S. Navy warship. She was later to become the first black woman to command a strike group at sea and the first to attain the rank of vice admiral.  She is a super smasher of “glass ceilings.”

Admiral Howard’s path to these achievements was not easy.  “This is not for wimps,” she told an audience at NOVA Southeastern University in Florida. “You have to develop a sense of humor. You have to develop stamina because there’s going to be tough days. Like the pioneering women of old, you have to let some things go. It can be scary going into an environment where no one looks like you. I have been in rooms where I was the only woman and the only minority.”
As a twenty-nine-year Navy veteran, I can well imagine the discomforting situations Admiral Howard faced.  One of the central characters of my new novel, Asphalt and Blood, is “Bull” Barker, a young African American petty officer in a Seabee battalion in the Vietnam War.  While happy and comfortable as a Seabee, Barker encounters many instances of overt racism as the story progresses. Getting Barker right is one of the most difficult challenges I faced in writing Asphalt and Blood. 

The Navy has changed a great deal since I retired. In an interview last Monday, Admiral Howard commented that many of the obstacles she faced and overcame no longer exist, at least not to the degree they did at the outset of her career.  Repeal of the combat exclusion law has allowed women to serve on all types of ships and aircraft. Now even submarines are open to women.

“Admiral Howard is also a great example of how much we lose as a Navy and a nation if we put artificial barriers in,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told a crowd of about 150 people at Howard’s promotion ceremony. “If we don’t judge people on their ability, based on their capability.”

Like any successful executive, Admiral Howard has her detractors. One contemporary hinted that she might not have been required to cross as many hurdles as her male counterparts. In an interview with Navy Times, Rear Admiral Sonny Masso refuted such claims. “Do I think she’s a token female, a token African American?” Masso commented. “I would say absolutely and emphatically not. With her performance and critical jobs across the spectrum, …she has brought an extraordinary amount of experience that is equal to any of her peers.”

To those who would question the ability of women to command in combat, I would cite Admiral Howard’s performance while Commanding Task Force 151 during anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. In April 2009, when Somali pirates seized the cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, and her skipper, Captain Richard Phillips, Admiral Howard devised a plan to get him back and sent destroyer, U.S.S. Bainbridge, to perform the rescue. Navy Seals aboard Bainbridge later shot and killed the pirates and freed Phillips.  A win-win situation for everyone but the pirates. This woman is a warrior!

In closing his remarks at the promotion ceremony, Secretary Mabus concluded, “I hope that I have always been as passionate about that (judging people on their abilities), but the intensity has increased since I became the father of three daughters, and I refuse to believe that there are any ceilings for them, glass or otherwise. That they can get to where their abilities take them. And with that, they and countless others in the Navy now have a wonderful role model in Michelle Howard.”

To paraphrase a popular TV commercial of past years, “Admiral Howard gained her new position the old fashioned way—she earned it.”

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.