Saturday, September 19, 2009


We last pondered the delicate balancing act between liberty and security and allowed that our military, law enforcement and intelligence communities need to work smarter, more efficiently and avail themselves of all our available assets. Those assets include all the high tech gadgets that we have marveled at in our science fiction movies and TV shows to include unmanned drones, laser range-finders, handheld global positioning systems that display the precise coordinates of any target, rifles and pistols that shoot around corners, video cameras the size of a pin head, robotic explosive sensors and even a James Bond type of high-energy tactical laser and many, many more. Well, we know that this once science fiction is now our reality. The big question is who invents this stuff?

The United States government spends billions (with a capital B) of dollars annually in research and design and that number is likely equaled by our British Friends and certainly the Russians, Japanese and the Chinese. Relatively speaking the rest of the world muddles toward their own technological epiphanies rather slowly and by mostly borrowing (stealing) or buying from those rarified, enlightened R&D sectors.

When I ponder spy tech, its attendant gadgetry and all it entails I often think of Ian Flemings’ iconic James Bond Quartermaster, Major Boothroyd (Q), of Her Majesty’s Secret Service (HMSS MI6). Q was the equally iconic Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn who first played that role in the 1965 movie, Thunderball. It always appeared that Q was exclusively inventing and perfecting sinister gadgets for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character who invariably used these gadgets for his seemingly routine, miraculous escapes… I have recognized at least two as OSS inventions.

In World War II the United States’ Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the leadership of General William Donovan and Colonel G. Edward Buxton collected and analyzed strategic information and conducted special intelligence operations not assigned to other US agencies. Bottom line: the OSS reported directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and was charged with the primary wartime intelligence and espionage effort though other agencies like the FBI had equally important responsibilities notwithstanding Hoover’s paranoid adversarial perspective of the OSS). The OSS sphere of influence, however, was in the major and critical theatres to include Europe and Asia. They were our intelligence and espionage nuts and bolts folks and almost sixty five years after the end of WWII we are just learning the true extent of their efforts.

Donovan correctly realized from his exploits during and following WWI that critical to any victory in WWII would be the earnest application of science & technology and a dynamic organization – areas where the United States excelled. Turns out that we had our own Q and his name was Dr. Stanley Platt Lovell a New Englander who worked his way through Cornell University and by his tenacity and genius built the Lovell Chemical Company of Watertown, Massachusetts. While Lovell held over seventy patents he was a humble man who often characterized himself as a “sauce pan chemist”. He proved to be well beyond that personal estimation. In modern terminology he always thought outside the box, saw that other elusive dimension and most importantly was able to build a consensus for his ideas.

A consummate judge of character, ability and an ultimate delegator - OSS Director Donovan approached Lovell and asked him to head the OSS Research and Development branch and be the OSS liaison with the scientific community in both government and private industry. Lovell was initially skeptical about any role he might be able to play but Donovan was able to cajole and inspire him to accept.

Author, former bureau chief of U.S. News & World Report in Berlin and 60 Minutes producer John Marks relates in his
Search for the Manchurian Candidate: CIA and Mind Control about that moment.

“General Donovan minced no words in laying out what he expected of Lovell: "I need every subtle device and every underhanded trick to use against the Germans and Japanese—by our own people—but especially by the underground resistance programs in all the occupied countries. You'll have to invent them all, Lovell,because you're going to be my man."

“Like most of his generation, he (Lovell) was an outspoken patriot. He wrote in his diary shortly after Pearl Harbor: "As James Hilton said, 'Once at war, to reason is treason.' My job is clear—to do all that is in me to help America." Because of the opportunities afforded him in life Lovell perceived the OSS assignment as an ultimate expression of patriotism and a further chance to “pay back” his country.

“Lovell quickly turned to some of the leading lights in the academic and private sectors. A special group—called Division 19—within James Conant's National Defense Research Committee was set up to produce "miscellaneous weapons" for OSS and British intelligence. Lovell's strategy, he later wrote, was "to stimulate the Peck's Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist and to say to him, 'Throw all your normal law-abiding concepts out the window. Here's a chance to raise merry hell.”
For all you literary neophytes Peck’s Bad Boy (Henry Peck) was the fictional star of books and newspaper stories authored by George W. Peck in the late 1800’s. Seems that this mischievous lad loved to play mean and devious pranks on others and for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of creating mayhem. Good metaphor – that’s what the OSS did. Lovell was so good at his job of inventing so much lethal weaponry and diabolical gadgets that he earned the nickname “Professor Moriarty”. Donovan had made that initial observation much to Lovell’s chagrin.

So much for a gentlemanly approach to warfare. This was a no holds barred conflict where victory by any means was the rule of law and where all sides used whatever resources at their disposal. Historian and Rutgers professor John Whiteclay Chambers II in the preface to his historical study for the National Park Service, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Training in World War II noted that,

"The OSS developed scores of gadgets, secret devices, weapons, and munitions. They ranged from flexible swim fins and self-contained underwater breathing devices to buttons, shoes, and pipes with secret compartments, and a variety of lethal inventions including single-shot, cigarettes and fountain pens as well as flashless pistols and machine guns. Among the special munitions, one innovation was a batter nicknamed “Aunt Jemima” that came packed in Chinese flour sacks to deceive the Japanese. It could be harmlessly baked in an oven, but with a fuse attached, it became a powerful explosive that OSS saboteurs could blow up a radio tower, railroad line, or even a bridge with it.”
And so it went and by the end of the war in 1945 the OSS had produced — in less than three years after its creation, “more than twenty-five special weapons and dozens of sabotage devices, along with scores of other gadgets, including concealments, radios, and escape and evasion tools.” Those items included the ludicrous (cat guided bombs) to the myriad practical devices that helped the Allies win the war.

I am proud to say that our Family in the person of Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and my grandfather was involved in that effort. Buxton was Director Bill Donovan’s second in command and acting OSS Director in Donovan’s absence (a regular happening). One of Buxton’s good Friends was that same Stanley Lovell who commented on one of their early meetings and their relationship in his revealing 1963 OSS memoir, Of Spies and Stratagems. The full text of Lovell’s book can be found at (won’t hyperlink).

“Colonel Buxton was "Wild Bill's" Deputy Director and strong right arm. Their commands in World War I had been side by side. Together they had helped found the American Legion. Ned Buxton was never Bill Donovan's alter ego; rather he was his indispensable balance wheel. Because he recognized this to be so, Colonel Buxton was the first man Colonel Donovan recruited. He was the only man in O.S.S. who could make the Director reverse a decision when it was poorly thought out or woefully premature, reverse it and have the Director thank him for asking that it be done.

None of us stood in awe of Ned Buxton, as many did of the legendary Wild Bill, but all of us loved him. His orders to me were similar to David Bruce's advice. "You decide what needs to be done. See me if you want to check on it, but don't bother Colonel Donovan until it's accomplished. You're experienced enough to know how to operate."
With the victory won and the nation in recovery Stanley Lovell, General Wild Bill Donovan and many more OSS alumni attended Colonel Buxton’s funeral that cold March day in 1949 in Providence, Rhode Island. We thank Lovell for his Friendship and contributions to freedom and liberty.

Donovan was right. We had our own Professor Moriarty all along in Stan Lovell.

Sic transit gloria secretorum.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, September 13, 2009


When an unrelenting and totally dedicated opposing force threatens the very existence of your country and way of life, all the concepts of right and liberty including some personal freedoms and civil liberties may be temporarily suspended - for the good of the many and the ultimate preservation of our society. Amid the angst and controversy of 911 the United States has seen fit to do just that in the national interests though these interruptions appear to be minuscule and reasonable considering the circumstances. To the conspiracy theorists, it is the beginning of the end and harbinger of totalitarian government. Others fear that we have gone too far in our prosecution (or lack thereof) of alleged terrorists. All sides raise credible issues.

The pendulum swings back and forth. No doubt that this is an incredibly complex issue that’s rolled up into American Constitutional law and the United States Bill of Rights, United States foreign policy and the continuing evolution of the values and perspectives of all our citizenry.

The eighth anniversary of 911 has reminded us once again that the price of liberty is substantial and has renewed the debate about the balancing act between national security interests and civil liberties. The potential of our survival as a nation rests somewhere between those who would embrace a unilateral civil liberties preservation perspective no matter the cost (ACLU) and those that espouse an ultra draconian suspension of any and all rights in order to head off terrorism and prevent future attacks. Not since World War II has there been such a dedicated effort to defeat an enemy that threatens our borders and very way of life.

It is imperative that the debate, analysis and the never ending dance between these two perspectives continue as we need to get it right. The pendulum has already started its return to center as the perception of the threat to our national security has diminished, though some question that conclusion. The very real threats and the great potential for more terrorist attacks, both domestic and foreign, require our continued extraordinary vigilance and an attitude that will allow us to fight fire with fire. The experts are warning us that it will happen again, sooner than later.

We need only note that the rules of war have changed. Our very patient and committed enemies are fighting a war of attrition and seem willing to continue that battle ad infinitum.

Yes, we need to guard against the dangers of a totalitarian society though some in our midst may not want to admit that we are literally at war against a foe that has been described as the "enemy of civilization." To them we are the Great Evil and for you Star Wars fans, we are literally the Dark Side. They are diametrically opposed to us and will take our concepts of morality, freedoms and laws and treat them as weak points to be exploited for their benefit. They are dedicated to one proposition – to bring us down and eliminate us from the face of the earth, period. It’s as simple as that… I would offer that telling our enemies what we are going to do and how we are going to do it isn’t in our best interests (duh).

The purpose of war is the defeat of an enemy - victory and ultimately the achievement of peace. We are not engaged in some chivalrous, knightly or even 17th century warfare contested by gentleman (were that Saladin lived in our time). General William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

Let’s make sure that our military, law enforcement and intelligence folks have the tools to get the job done. They need to be able to work smarter and more efficiently and use all of our available assets. Let’s give them all the credit for keeping us out of harms way to date…


Ned Buxton

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Since we have recently engaged the topic of civility it seems appropriate that we ratchet that down to a more personal level. We really aren’t doing enough individually to create a better world, let alone better neighborhoods.

I remember the now legendary Cragged Mountain Farm (CMF) in Freedom, NH (photo above) where in the early 1950’s I spent several summers under the careful watch and tutelage of close Family Friend and camp owner/founder/operator/counselor/mentor Dr. Henry Utter, a renowned pediatrician from Providence, Rhode Island. Dr. Utter was the first practicing pediatrician in Rhode Island and founder of CMF in 1927. The Utter Family still operates CMF, eighty-two years later. Methinks they're doing something right.

Little brother David Seabury also attended along with another fellow camper (I’ll call him Carl) who had thick glasses and was sickly and geeky looking. Carl had leg braces and a faltering gait and suffered from an obvious infirmity that I can only guess was either polio, cerebral palsy or a combination of the two. Carl had a big heart, though, and was always in the thick of things and for his persistence and innocence was the brunt of some cruel jokes, pranks and inquisitive, insensitive stares from just a few folks that didn’t know him. He didn’t mind, rather persevered and endeared himself to all who cared enough to get to know him.

We need note that the staff and most of the campers at CMF were that sensitive, rarified breed that appreciated and embraced Carl. The idyllic communal camp environment provided a perfect example of how to live a fun, healthy and responsible life. As I have commented in previous posts it was those early years at Cragged Mountain Farm that set the stage for my adult life and my pursuit of the great outdoors.

Carl was part of that experience and perhaps one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever met. It’s safe to say that even after fifty plus years I will never forget Carl and the lessons I learned from him.

I certainly had issues growing up (lots), but was gifted athletically and capable of engaging all sorts of games and activities without encumbrance. Carl was forever relegated to the sidelines, a professional though frustrated spectator banished from the field of play. That surely didn’t mean that he didn’t want to be out there. His inner spirit was indomitable… He was always working that tetherball.

Mind you, we weren’t best Friends and that certainly is my loss. I do remember talking and communicating with Carl mostly showing him how to play ball and encouraging what was always his herculean effort to do so. He enjoyed his stay at Cragged Mountain Farm and I suspect that his spirit this day is not far from that mountain. I learned a real lesson by Carl’s innocent example that resounds with me even in my maturity. That lesson is always defend those less gifted, fortunate and/or unable to defend themselves. The least that I intend is to never forget him and up his memory whenever I can.

Though Carl has always been on my mind – when I saw the 1980 movie, My Bodyguard I was reminded again of Carl and the treatment he got from a few of his fellow campers. In My Bodyguard a school bully - Melvin Moody played by a young Matt Dillon - in one of his first film roles – heaps mental and physical abuse on the wealthy new kid on the block - Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace) - who ultimately seeks protection from older student Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), a burly loner who's rumored by his fellow high schoolers to have killed -- and possibly eaten -- his own brother (yikes!). Seems that he actually shot and killed his nine year old brother in a tragic shooting accident a year earlier. That was his demon…

Martin Mull, Ruth Gordon and Joan Cusack also starred in this wonderful coming-of-age story about an improbable friendship between two outcasts. All during the flick I just hoped that I could have just one minute alone with Melvin Moody. There wouldn’t have been anything left. Dillon did a brilliant job bringing the insane cruelty of his character to the big screen. Ultimately justice and decency triumphed and prevailed with his character and his adult muscle bound champion being put in their place. Who says that violence isn’t sometimes the answer?

That movie begged the question to what degree are we are our Brother’s keeper? My surmise is that if he/she is weaker and unable to fend for themselves like the Carls of this world, then we have the responsibility to step up and be their champions. The bullies of the world without compliant fodder would think twice about victimizing the weak. There too will then come that time like in My Bodyguard when the weak, emboldened and empowered, fight and win their own battles.

As one US President once stated, “The essence of (our modern) civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.” That certainly means changing attitudes and championing the cause of those less fortunate. We need to start being more aggressive by looking for opportunities to become part of the ultimate solution. If you want to be pragmatic; it’s really a pay me now or pay me later scenario. That includes getting involved in your community and volunteering to help with the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries – just to name a few. Your church or temple probably offers lots of opportunities as well like the Food Bank at St. Matthews Cathedral in Dallas…

Then there’s Jerry’s Kids and the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon. We can all contribute to that very worthy cause.

Thanks Carl. Thanks Dr. Utter - non ministrari, sed ministrare.


Ned Buxton