Patience, Diligence and The Human Mind

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.

Marcy Wheeler. You may have to be a political junkie like me
to recognize Marcy’s name. She’s a blogger. But you may recognize her screen
name and blog, Empty Wheel.    During the Valerie Plame / Joe Wilson /
Scooter Libby affair, Marcy likely read every document, official or unofficial,
that became available. I’m guessing she read most documents more than once. Her
analysis was published on the Firedoglake blog and other places. She left no
stone unturned. For example, many of the official documents were released with
names and other important information redacted (blacked out). Other analysts
merely speculated on the redacted information. Not Marcy. She measured the
length of the blank spaces and determined how many letters were in the redacted
names before reaching a conclusion. Ultimately, her work was noticed and
contributed significantly to the investigation of Bush administration officials
and our collective knowledge of an important chapter in our history.  Here’s an indication of how well regarded her
work became: Shortly before the 2006 election, I attended a fundraiser for
Harry Mitchell, which was headlined by Steny Hoyer and Joe Wilson. When I met
Joe Wilson, I remarked to him how I’d lost too many otherwise billable hours
reading about his saga on the internet, at which point he exclaimed: “Yeah,
that Empty Wheel, she’s amazing. She knows more about me than I do.” Marcy
started out as just another amateur investigative journalist / blogger, working
with the same information available to all of us. But her diligence and
patience allowed her to make an outsized contribution.

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.

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