Why Military History and Lemay: The Story of Now

“Why are you writing so much about Gen. Curtis Lemay?” asked one reader. “Really Byron, what does Lemay have to do with investing?” asked another. “It makes for really interesting history,” said a third reader, “but where are you going with the Lemay series?”

Fair enough. Let’s think about why a few historical articles about Curtis Lemay fit within a publication entitled Whiskey & Gunpowder.

A Great Story — the Route that History Took

First of all, Lemay played a big role in shaping the modern world, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Lemay’s world is, in many respects, the route that history took to arrive at our world today. So Lemay’s life and times make for a great story, and most people like great stories.

Indeed, the muse of history seldom lets go of a great story. Recall the first words of Virgil’s Aeneid. “Arma virumque cano.” I sing of arms and the man. For near 3,000 years, people have liked great stories. And what better place to tell a great story than in the comfort of the Whiskey Bar? Of course, I know that the Lemay story has taken a number of readers out of their comfort zone. Too bad. Have another drink.

It’s All About NOW!

Then there’s the OTHER reason why I’m writing about Lemay — because I’m not just writing about Lemay.

I’m writing about NOW! I keep saying, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” And Lemay was the “man” for the “hour” at a certain time. That’s the history. But what about NOW?

Can we in the U.S., today, recognize our own “hour?” Because that hour is upon us — NOW! We live on the cusp of Peak Oil. We live in a world where the U.S. dollar is poised for a crash. The U.S. is a nation that appears more and more unable to govern itself for the long haul. That’s for starters.

Ours is a complex civilization that could quickly collapse — in every sense of the word. Really, we’ve built a society, economy and political process that’s utterly poised for a takedown. It could be the grid powering off (recall August 2003), natural disaster (Katrina writ large) or the dollar cratering (they’re working on it). We’re set up for an asymmetrical hit.

The Hour Is Upon Us

So the “hour” is here. It’s upon us, if only we would collectively look at the clock and tell time. Can we?

And thus I wonder if we, as a nation, can still recognize the right “man” (or “woman”) when that person is needed. So far, I’m not impressed with who I see entering into, and operating within, the ethereal reaches of U.S. governance.

Is anyone out there putting together a comprehensive energy policy with the vision, drive and speed with which Lemay built the Strategic Air Command (SAC)?

At the Federal Reserve, is Ben Bernanke — recently reappointed as Chairman — really the Curtis Lemay of monetary policy, to defend the dollar over the long haul?

Is the Securities and Exchange Commission guarding the capital markets against the looters of Wall Street? Really, SEC is no SAC.

When I discuss how Lemay gave military advice to presidential administrations full of amateurs and charlatans, does it hit any nerves? Has the U.S. endured any, umm… “long wars,” lately?

Condemned to Repeat It

What’s that old saying? If you don’t study history, you’re “condemned to repeat it?”

And do you know something else? You might even die.

So lighten up, shooters. Sit back. Take another nip. Enjoy the cigar smoke. I’ve got more stories. Lots of ’em.

Until we meet again,
Byron King

September 17, 2009

The Daily Reckoning