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In Idiot's Guide to War Games

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Official U.S. Navy Photograph, U.S. National Archives Collection. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, U.S. National Archives Collection.

OR... Heckuva job, Brownie!

In July of 2004 a five-day emergency preparedness war game was held by FEMA in the city of Baton Rouge, La. to test the responses of federal, state, and local agencies to a possible category 3 hurricane impacting New Orleans and environs. The scenario they developed called for the levees to overflow and a million citizens to be displaced from their homes, all eerily prescient forecasts of the catastrophe named Katrina to come ashore just over a year later. (The even more astounding parallels can be found online by simply googling the fictional Hurricane Pam.)

President Bush stated on television shortly after that no one could have foreseen the levee breeches that flooded New Orleans and apologists later claimed that Katrina presented unforeseen circumstances, but the truth is that even now little has changed. Even a slight rise in the magnitude of a hurricane in that locale could cause up to 100,000 casualties and the only major difference in emergency preparedness by “authorities’ is the pre-stocking of 10,000 body bags in New Orleans.

There must be a mindset in all bureaucracies to ignore the obvious inconvenient truths (pardon the pun). A case in point is the great American victory at Midway in WWII. The Japanese Navy, while secretly steaming their way to attack the island, prepared daily war games envisioning what they felt was every possible option and variation they might confront. This included being ambushed by a U.S. Carrier Group, but this particular simulation was the only one to cause the Japanese to lose and, considered to be a freak fluke, was disregarded as improbable, leading of course, to the loss of four Japanese carriers and turning the tide of war in the Pacific.

Hector Bywater, a British naval writer and intelligence operative, wrote a book in 1925 called “The Great Pacific War” which foresaw most of the actual tactics to come, including the early overwhelming Japanese victories throughout Asia and the Western Pacific, then the relentless American island-hopping campaign culminating in the capture of the island of Chici Jima by the U.S. for use of its airfield as a base for bombers heading for Japan. (In reality, of course, it was the nearby island of Iwo Jima which was captured for its airfield.) Even the very names of warships involved in the coming battles proved prophetic. 

Interestingly, one of the book’s most enthusiastic readers was a young Japanese naval attache named Isoroku Yamamoto, who lectured on it at a naval training school, and who also made a point of greeting Bywater at an embassy function and quizzing him extensively about the book. (Yamamoto, of course, went on to head the Japanese navy during WWII.) One suspects that soon-to-be Admiral Yamamoto paid more attention to the earlier parts of the book detailing Japanese victories than to the later inexorable, bloody grind to a final U.S. victory.

Moving along from war games for a moment, and in honor of our Editor Ms. Gannon’s growing—if reluctant­­—proficiency in algebra, I’d like to mention some recent discoveries concerning Archimedes, the great mathematician, who is known to have written over 100,000 words on such topics as equilibrium, buoyancy, the dynamics of floating bodies and much more. Alas, all that has come down to us of these out of the dark ages are much later translations of two short works. 

Recently however, a dot.com billionaire named Jeff Bezos came across part of another one and donated it to a Baltimore museum for study. This codex was erased in the middle ages and rewritten as a prayer book. Using modern X-rays this lost book of Archimedes demonstrated the basis of calculus, usually attributed to Newton in 1671. Still, some of the erased text remains unreadable. Perhaps x-rays of yet other palimpsested prayer books may still await discovery and the history of higher mathematics will have to be rewritten. 

‘til next time, All Homage to Xena!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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