How to Win a War (Make it Personal)

With Commander N.D. Nguyen (USN Retired) aboard the U.S.S. Midway.
With Commander N.D. Nguyen (USN Retired) aboard the U.S.S. Midway.

The Battle of Điện Biên Phủ started on March 13, 1954.  Both sides in the fight wanted to emerge as the victor to establish a favorable position in the planned negotiations about “the Indochinese problem”.  After fighting for fifty-five days, the besieged French garrison in French Indochina (Vietnam) was overrun, and all French positions were captured by the communist Việt Minh.

Although the resulting negotiations technically set up national elections across all of Vietnam, the country was effectively divided into two separate states, a communist controlled North Vietnam, supported by China and the U.S.S.R.; and a democratic South Vietnam, supported by the United   States.  Seven-year-old Nguyen Dinh Nguyen fled from his home in Hanoi, along with his parents and siblings, to the relative freedom of Saigon.

A dozen years later, America became fully engaged in the War in Vietnam, and coincidentally, N. D. Nguyen joined the South Vietnamese military.  He was sent to the United States to be trained as a pilot.

How he did it, I can’t say, but in April of 1975, with a murderous band of communist soldiers from the north closing in—and with the last contingent of American Marines valiantly defending and evacuating the U.S. Embassy and other installations—N. D. Nguyen evacuated his parents and siblings from Saigon to Guam.

Upon arriving in Guam, Nguyen’s mother asked, “Son, we ran from Hanoi to Saigon; now we run from Saigon to Guam; Tell me, where do we run to next?

One can only imagine how she must have felt.  But, it’s worked out OK.  Nguyen’s parents are still alive—they are now ninety-four and eighty-nine years old—and they reside quite happily and peacefully in southern California.  N. D. Nguyen himself is a retired U.S. Navy Commander.  And, he recently retired a second time, ending a long career at Spawar Systems, Inc. in San Diego.  His business card reads,  “N.D. Nguyen,  Scientist”.

Commander Nguyen graciously told Linda and me his story while we were visiting the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier much like those that Commander Nguyen had flown from during his military career.  (My thanks to Derek Kenney and Columbia Management for inviting us aboard.)  mh


A Notable September Birthday

September 29, 2013 will be the one hundred and thirty-second birthday of history’s most important economist, Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises.  He was born in the city of Lemberg in Galicia, Austria-Hungary in 1881.  He attended the University of Vienna, where he studied under the founder of the Austrian School of economics, Carl Menger.  In 1906 he was awarded a doctorate from the University’s School of Law.  His subsequent accomplishments are beyond counting, so I’ll leave it to one of Mises’ most accomplished students– my teacher, Dr. George Reisman—to introduce him to you:

It was my great privilege to have known Mises personally over a period of twenty years.  I met him for the first time when I was sixteen years old.  Because he recognized the seriousness of my interest in economics, he invited me to attend his graduate seminar at New York University, which I did almost every week thereafter for the next seven years, stopping only when the start of my own teaching career made it no longer possible for me to continue in regular attendance.

His seminar, like his writings, was characterized by the highest level of scholarship and erudition, and al­ways by the most profound respect for ideas.  Mises was never concerned with the personal motivation or character of an author, but only with the question of whether the man’s ideas were true or false.  In the same way, his personal manner was at all times highly respectful, reserved, and a source of friendly encouragement.  He constantly strove to bring out the best in his students.  This, combined with his stress on the importance of knowing foreign languages, led in my own case to using some of my time in college to learn German and then to undertaking the translation of his Epistemological Problems of Economics—something that has always been one of my proudest accomplishments.

Today, Mises’s ideas at long last appear to be gaining in influence.  His teachings about the nature of socialism have been confirmed in the most spectacular way possible, namely, by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and by the substantial conversion of mainland China, Russia, and the rest of the Soviet empire to capitalism.

Some of Mises’s ideas have been propounded by the Nobel prizewinners F.A. Hayek (himself a former student of Mises) [PhD. Univ. of Vienna] and Milton Friedman.  His ideas inspired the “miracle” of Germany’s economic recovery after World War II.  They have exerted a major influence on the writings of Henry Hazlitt [1894-1993], Murray Rothbard [1926-1995], and the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education, as well as such prominent former students as Hans Sennholz [1922-2007; PhD. NYU] and Israel Kirzner [b. 1930; PhD. NYU].  They live on with increasing power and influence in the daily work of The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which publishes books and journals and holds conferences, seminars, and classes on his ideas.

Mises’s works deserve to be required reading in every college and university curriculum—not just in departments of economics, but also in departments of philosophy, history, government, sociology, law, business, journalism, education, and the humanities.  He himself should be awarded an immediate posthumous Nobel Prize—indeed, more than one.  He deserves to receive every token of recognition and memorial that our society can bestow. For as much as anyone in history, he labored to preserve it.  If he is widely enough read, his labors may actually succeed in saving it.


Dr. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise On Economics, which itself should be required reading.  He now holds the title Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pepperdine University.  The material quoted above is an excerpt from a speech Dr. Reisman presented to an audience of his peers and their students at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama on the occasion of Mises’ 125th birthday.  The entire text of that speech can be found on Dr. Reisman’s website  

Ludwig von Mises wrote more than twenty books.  The most important are The Theory of Money and Credit, 1912, and Human Action, 1949.  The most accessible to lay readers is Planned Chaos.  That book of only forty-three pages is available (at no cost) at  The book shows that rather than creating an orderly society, the attempt by governments to centrally plan and administer has precisely the opposite effect. By short-circuiting the price mechanism and forcing people into economic choices contrary to their own wishes, central planning destroys the capital base and creates economic randomness that eventually ends by killing prosperity.  To say that the book’s message is still timely would be a gross understatement.   mh

Keep Calm and Carry On

First, my thanks to Dr. Mark Dotzour and to Simon Sinek for bringing the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster (displayed on the back of this newsletter) to my attention.  Both Mark and Simon have written excellent blog posts featuring this poster, and I encourage you to become familiar with their websites.

Dr. Dotzour1 is Chief Economist and Director of Research for The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University in College Station.  A native Wichitan, he earned a PhD. at the University of Texas at Austin, and for the better part of four decades, he’s been married to my cousin Lu Ann.  Obviously, Mark’s a very smart guy.

Simon Sinek2 was born in Wimbledon, England.  He is the author of Start With Why:  How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, published by Portfolio Hardcover in 2009. Simon now lives in New York City, and teaches a graduate level class on strategic communication at Columbia University.

This is the time of year that traditionally has given us weakness—indeed, in some cases, panic—in the equity markets.  Countless reasons have been given for this seasonal tendency, and some of those reasons even seem credible, though none can provide us with certainty.

I myself could offer a dozen what-if scenarios for why a market setback might still happen this year.  But, as I’ve said many times prior, if we sell out now and wait for the smoke to clear, only you would know when to get back in.  Heaven knows I wouldn’t. 

But please don’t mistake my attitude for complacency.  It is anything but that.   Unlike Britain in 1939, we’re not facing annihilation.  But, it might not hurt to remember that a grossly outmanned people—the land of the stiff upper lip—were the first to successfully push back the Nazi juggernaut.  In so doing Britain helped send a monster to, uh … his just end.  Without doubt it was the British attitude of defiance and self-assuredness—embodied in Winston Churchill and our poster of the month—that gave that tiny island nation its inestimable advantage.

Let us then be Churchilian investors, assuming the same attitude of persistence and fortitude—and yes, Patience, and Discipline, and Confidence in the Future; and come what may—keep calm and carry onmh