Posted by Bob Lord
I just finished one of the most powerful, most compelling books I’ve ever read, Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse. I hope to write more on the book in future posts. It reveals the horrible ugly truth about the Vietnam War, in a way no other book on the subject has. It will change your view of America forever. You can read Jonathan Schell’s excellent review of it here or you can take my word for it, buy the book, and put everything else aside until you've finished.
This post, however, focuses on a thought I had while reading the last chapter of Turse’s book, a thought which I hope, directly or indirectly, will inspire one person, one day, to take on a huge task and succeed. That person probably will be a younger person, with the energy, the focus and the intelligence to follow the path I suggest. But that path is available to anyone. I hope you’ll stay with me until the end. If you believe in the power of the human mind, as I do, I hope you’ll pass it on.
We live in an age of unlimited information, but one in which the human qualities of patience and diligence are in precious short supply. Therein lies an opportunity, for the few who have the patience and diligence to pursue the truth. After the jump are the remarkable stories of the achievements of four individuals who had such diligence and patience.
Michael Burry. If you’ve read The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, you know Michael Burry. Burry is a doctor whose hobby was investing. His investment decisions were based on painstaking research. Back in the halcyon days of the housing market prior to 2007, investment bankers were churning out mortgage-backed securities offerings at a breathtaking pace. Each offering was described in a very lengthy prospectus, which contained in small print the details of such things as the identity of the mortgages comprising the pool of mortgages underlying the securities being sold. Burry did something that, according to Michael Lewis, no other investor bothered to do. He actually read the prospectuses, line-by-line, word-by-word. This gave him a huge advantage over practically every other investor. You see, he determined, before just about everyone else, that the mortgage-backed securities market was destined to crash. When he acted on the knowledge he gained through his diligence and patience, but based on the same information made available to all investors, he made millions.
Alex Shimkin. I learned about Shimkin from reading Kill Everything That Moves. Shimkin was a young journalist for Newsweek with a thirst for the truth. He was based in Newsweek’s Saigon bureau, where the media and the military had a daily exercise known as the five o’clock follies. Each day, military spokespeople would brief the media on how well the war was going and issue a report of the day’s events, including body count statistics. By this time, the media entirely disbelieved the military’s laughably rosy reports and paid little attention to them. Shimkin also disbelieved the military, but he nonetheless analyzed every bit of information in each daily report. Unwittingly, the military, through its reports, was handing out the pieces of a puzzle it did not want solved. Ultimately, through painstakingly detailed analysis, Shimkin and his colleague, Kevin Buckley, uncovered atrocities committed on a scale that dwarfed that of the infamous My Lai massacre. Unfortunately, Newsweek watered down Shimkin and Buckley’s report in a way that allowed the truth to be hidden for decades. Shimkin died tragically within a year or so of completing his work, leaving Turse to speculate what might have been had Shimkin’s work been released in full.
That is not to say Shimkin’s work was in vain. Decades later, another young journalist, Nick Turse, took on the monumental task of putting together all the pieces and telling the true story of America’s actions in Vietnam. Shimkin’s work made a major contribution to Turse’s final product. But Turse’s own diligence and patience were no less exceptional than Shimkin’s. He spent years reading thousands of pages from declassified reports that nobody else bothered to review, and interviewed dozens of Americans and Vietnamese with first-hand memories of horrific events still burned in their minds. The combined work of Shimkin and Turse is a picture of America’s actions in Vietnam that none of us likely want to see, but that all of us must see. And, like Wheeler and Burry, they took the same information available to all of us, but applied extraordinary diligence and patience to achieve truly remarkable results.
Through the combination of diligence, patience and the human mind, we all have the ability to achieve the remarkable. Pass it on.