Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 06 Feb 2004 - 05:17:05 GMT

  • Next message: derek gatherer: "Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu"

    >From: M Lissack <>
    >Subject: Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the
    >Date: Sun, 1 Feb 2004 11:36:06 -0800 (PST)
    >the note below illustrates what happens when people
    >who do not bother to read original work attempt to
    >critique it on the basis of a few phrases
    >unfortunately this tendency is all too common
    >-------- Original Message --------
    >Subject: Re: FW: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's
    >ill-fated drive toward the Yalu
    >Date: Sun, 01 Feb 2004 18:59:06 +0000
    >From: Arel Lucas <>
    >Dear fellow scholars,
    >I realize that I'm jumping into the middle of
    >something, and that this behavior might be
    >ill-mannered, ignorant and useless, but I keep hearing
    >about this stream from my husband Keith Henson, and,
    >as the inventor of the word "memetics," I feel it's
    >possible I might have something to say.
    >In the first place, I've heard that someone on this
    >list has been defining "meme" as a "catalytic
    >indexical" (if that's the correct spelling--if it
    >isn't I can't find a definition). I disagree on both
    >counts, assuming that I understand the definitions
    >"Catalytic" I take in the chemical sense, as
    >"Pertaining to or causing catalysis," which is from
    >the Greek word for "dissolve," or more anciently, to
    >"loose down," "the causing or accelerating of a
    >chemical change by the addition of a substance . . .
    >which is not permanently affected by the reaction."
    >(The New Century Dictionary, 1946). (I apologize for
    >the HTML. I really should shut it off. If it makes
    >this hard to read and you're interested enough to want
    >a plain text copy, I can send one.)
    >"Indexical" I take in the WordNet sense,
    >, essentially
    >pertaining either to (1) an index, or (2) a fact or
    >Here are the two counts: (1) Catalytic: I agree
    >that causing or accelerating chemical change is
    >essential to the definitiion of the action of memes on
    >the brain. However, a catalyst is not permanently
    >affected by the reaction it causes. This is where I
    >disagree. It leaves out the evolutionary aspect that
    >is the basis of the defition of the word "meme" and
    >the reason for the creation of the concept by Dawkins,
    >an evolutionary scientist. When a hemoglobin molecule
    >catalyzes oxygen reactions, it temporarily changes
    >shape but does not keep that shape after the reaction
    >is over. If it changes shape permanently, it does so
    >in response to damage, ontogeny or phylogeny, but not
    >in response to the reaction. In that case, it either
    >changes or cannot catalyze the reaction it typically
    >facilitates. A meme is not like hemoglobin. It is
    >more like oxygen. Memes are capable of mutation and
    >dissemination in and from each brain that receives
    >them. They can also stop right there and cause no
    >reaction at all (an essentially Buddhist or Zen
    >response in the rare case where it is not the result
    >of an ineffective meme or ignorance, indifference or
    >genetically based dissociation on the part of the
    >receiving brain).
    >Count Two: A meme is not a fact or assertion. Nor is
    >it an adjective (as is "indexical"). I think the
    >definition of meme has by this time absorbed those of
    >"culturgen" and other "idea-related" concepts of
    >evolving information patterns that affect brains and
    >cause behaviiors. Nor does a meme pertain to any sort
    >of index. I have been an indexer, and I can assure
    >you that all ideas or memes on the planet have not
    >been indexed. At the point when I began to work on
    >one, there was no publically available thesaurus of
    >semiconductors--and still might not be one. I
    >produced one with several thousand words for Applied
    >Materials, a private company, and they copyrighted it.
    > I only got started. And that was just one field,
    >bordered by physics on the one hand and industrial
    >processes on the other, with a dimension of social
    >organization. A lot of definitions have been offered
    >for memes, and I've defined it in various ways at
    >different times, but "facts" or "assertions" have no
    >legitimate place in these definitions, because "facts"
    >have absolutely nothing to do with the way the brain
    >works, and little to do with information (especially
    >defined in physics and engineering).
    >I realize I don't have Count Zero, but it belongs to
    >my husband. (If you don't get that feeble joke, you
    >might not be geeks.)
    >Incidentally, about MacArthur & the Yalu, I'm not a
    >historian, but as a newly minted curator and an
    >archivist of 6 years' duration I've taken an increased
    >professional interest in something that before had
    >been just a hobby pursued since I was a teenager (I'm
    >now 62). The little reading and discussion I've done
    >about MacArthur's truncated drive into China has led
    >me to believe that MacArthur was actually right and
    >that, with the near-perfect hindsight that historical
    >study can bring, could have continued on into China
    >and won. As it turns out, the Chinese had massed
    >their entire forces along the Korean border and were
    >ill-equipped and supplied. Had Truman, overwhelmed by
    >fears and advice that he would start World War III,
    >not stopped him, the Chinese government might have
    >been conquered at that point. Of course, what would
    >have happened after that might have been a prolonged
    >and early Vietnam-type conflict, so perhaps it
    >wouldn't have been such a good idea. I remember
    >talking witih the son of Chinese immigrants who had
    >been deprived of all their businesses and belongings
    >and chased from China under threat of death by the
    >Communists. During the time I was reading and
    >listening to tapes about MacArthur & Truman, he told
    >me that he really wished the Americans had continued
    >that drive. His parents, he said, would not be the
    >bitter and poverty-stricken exiles they were in the
    >early '90s.
    >By the way, do you know who won the Korean War? Kim
    >Philby. He was the British spy who ultimately
    >defeated MacArthur and led to MacArthur's paranoid
    >assumptions of infiltration of the US government.
    >Every time he turned around, it seemed to MacArthur,
    >the Koreans knew what he was doing. It never seems to
    >have occurred to MacArthur that the spy he knew was
    >ratting on him was in the British service, with whom
    >the Americans were sharing their troop movements and
    >other intelligence. No wonder he assumed Washington
    >was riddled with Communists! His suspicions helped
    >fuel the McCarthy era. So Philby indirectly caused
    >that too. Ah, memes!
    Interesting stuff. Arel should chime in on this list with more like the above. I'll need to take these points into consideration for future reference.

    Philby's name happens to pop up in Ted Morgan's 2003 book _Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America_. On page 291 Philby is mentioned, in the context of the long secret Venona decryption project, as playing a role in the Soviets shifting the codes they had been using previously to WWII.

    The Venona decrypts are spooky in that they don't seem to make McCarthy's brand of anti-communist recklessness any more palatable, but the Soviets did apparently have some spies well embedded within higher echelons of the US gov't. The notion that Washington was riddled with Commies was probably not far off track. McCarthyism was but a subset of anti-communism. Morgan's book shows that anti-communism preceded Tailgunner Joe in the guise of the Dies commitee and HUAC for starters. I'm thinking McCarthyism may be a misnomer especially if applied to people preceding him (ie the proto-McCarthyist or whatnot). It all fits under the umbrella of anti-communism, McCarthy's personal slant being but one instance of this variable mindset.

    The MWCD10 definition of McCarthyism has "unsubstantiated charges" as one key element. If the Venona transcripts offer substantiations, then what?

    One name that appears in Morgan's book is that of OSS agent Duncan Lee. I take interest in this name because he is also mentioned by OSS agent Archimedes Patti in his book _Why Viet Nam?_ where he goes into detail on his own Deer Team connections with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh effort against the Japanese. Patti's view of Uncle Ho is somewhat critical at times but not unsympathetic. He does come off as a tad Francophobic, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the historical context of the Southeast Asian region he was operating within :-) I still wonder why the US didn't flat out tell the French to bugger off and then support Ho Chi Minh's aspiration to nationhood, cutting the Soviets and ChiCom's off at the pass or at least moderating the Viet Minh toward a more neutral stance. Were the policy analysts blinded by anti-communist sentiment or just ignorant of Vietnamese history (especially Vietnam's long standing suspicion of Chinese intentions)?

    Maybe I'm being retrospectively soft on communism or looking at things with too much benefit of hindsight (ie- two costly Indochina wars fought by France and US respectively).

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