The Exact Moment Virginia Changed Forever

For veteran observers of the Virginia General Assembly, a brief oral exchange between an Amazon executive and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday was a bright flash of insight into Virginia’s new political landscape.

You do not see people, especially not people seeking a major expenditure of state funds, get that cavalier with the chair in that committee.  The nervous laughter from the audience that followed, and then lingered for a few seconds, was exactly that:  Laughter from nervous people.

A very big player has arrived on the scene in Virginia.  Everybody else just moved back one or more steps in the pecking order.  Live with it.

The principals in this video snippet are Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta County, co-chair of the committee, and Holly Sullivan, head of world-wide economic development for the massive firm bringing a new subsidiary headquarters operation to Arlington near Reagan National Airport.  Senator Thomas Norment, the other co-chair, sat silently for this moment, but earlier he had thrown his own verbal bouquet at Sullivan, seeming to apologize for asking tough questions in an earlier private meeting.

This was the first and perhaps most important legislative airing of the Amazon proposal and the record economic development incentives, discussed often on Bacon’s Rebellion and detailed on the Governor’s internet homepage (name any other economic development deal ever featured there.)  To call the “hearing” a love fest would be to imply an interchange among equals.

The bill being considered is Senate Bill 1255, sponsored by Senator Frank Ruff, and it creates the major grant program paying Amazon $22,000 per job created, with a potential payout of $750 million over several years.  Another Ruff bill, Senate Bill 1617, deals with the major higher education expansion Virginia promised in the deal, much of the growth coming to Virginia Tech.  As of this posting, neither bill is accompanied by a formal fiscal impact statement – we just have the information prepared by the proponents.

The consideration in Senate Finance lasted 15 minutes, mostly presentations of praise.  Not one senator asked a question after Hanger asked his.  No one from the audience asked a question or raised an objection when given a chance.  There were no slides going over the details, and nobody even asked if anything had changed from what was announced months ago.  It is safe to assume all of the legislators and staff had their opportunity to ask questions or raise objections out of the public eye, but we’ll likely never know.

Most of you may not recognize the significance of that thirty seconds shown above. But Virginia just changed. “Just kidding!” Sullivan shouted after walking away from the podium, before returning to soften the blow.  She may have been, but I’m not.

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39 responses to “The Exact Moment Virginia Changed Forever

  1. “Live with it.”

    No, never ever! Not in the land of Patrick Henry. And his modern day successors, laugh!

    No, gentlemen, VOTE IT DOWN!!!!!!!

    Then wait. And wait happily forever if necessary. Unbelievable.

    • You may like the change or not, you may call the change progress, but….this deal changes things immensely. Just sayin…And I wasn’t the only person who considered that exchange illuminating. Since I figured out how to copy and post it, thought I’d share.

    • Women versus men got nothing to do with it.

      Money has got everything to do with it.

      Sadly, I have come to suspect that in Virginia money can buy most anything, even things that addict citizens. Perhaps I should not have been surprised given what I saw when Disney came to Virginia to buy a civil battlefield, or least despoil one, and milk it dry. But even then, Disney in the end failed, to the great credit of Virginians, despite the best efforts of some of its leaders willing to sell some of its heritage and blood, in precisely one of its most sacred places, in return for dollar bills.

      Here, after such a wonderful job done by some in Virginia, the appearances and body language and words and laughter, and its tone, in this hearing of the Virginia Finance Committee of the General Assembly, and what apparently went before, are hugely important in setting the stage for the future, not to mention the present, on a most serious issue where much negotiation remains, an event that likely constricts the ability of very able people to negotiate in the future. That is how I read it. And, though I suspect everyone regrets that sad fact being exposed now out in public, something needs to be done here. Attitudes need to be readjusted, hardened and firmed up. Virginia is in a far stronger position than most seem to know. So toughen up, Virginia.

      So what happens next. Nothing? We’ll see.

  2. Looks like maybe the ‘Virginians’ have, like Trump, have just run up against their first woman with power and don’t quite know what to make of it.
    Just sayin …

    • Not disagreeing….

    • Maybe. Or perhaps the fossilized, dinosaur politicians-for-life in the General Assembly ran across someone with a fully functioning cortex who refused to admire the emperor’s new clothes. The fact that it was a woman probably catalyzed their surprise but these geezers are used to being surrounded by the sycophants of the Richmond elite who line their own pockets telling the General Assembly members how smart / handsome / witty / well dressed they are.

      Show me a person who is both reasonably well informed about the Virginia General Assembly and not beholden to that General Assembly and I’ll show you a person who sees our General Assembly as largely a pack of empty suited, corrupt buffoons.

  3. “Virginia Works” is another economic deal featured on the Governor’s subdomain, by Warner. Here’s a peek from 2005:

    • That looks like it was targetted to rural Virginia. Too bad the Dems didn’t do something like that at the national level…instead of saying: ” we’re going to put the coal companies out of business”.

  4. this the new model for future economic development in Virginia?


    but, hey… look at THIS:

    UVA Plans New School of Data Science; $120 Million Gift is Largest in University History

  5. Gosh, who would have thought that capitalists could manipulate governments in their favor?

    Did someone say tax breaks for the wealthy? Reduced regulations for polluters? Lax treatment for predatory lenders? Reduced protection for consumers? Less oversight of financial institutions?

    At least we’ll get a well-endowed IT center out of this.

    • True. The three horsemen of the Virginia political apocalypse … Dominion, Altria and Omega Protein may have a fourth ghoul joining them in the form of Amazon. However, Amazon is still a babe when it comes to operating in the corrupt world of the General Assembly. Amazon thinks it will garner power by brining jobs to Virginia in exchange for payments into its corporate coffers. How long will it take them to realize that stuffing cash into the pockets of our legislators is the tried and true way to have things done your way in Virginia?

  6. What did Virginia have to offer Amazon? A site that: is close to the nation’s capital providing ready access to national legislators and regulators; has ready access to national and international airports; is served by public transportation; is in the middle of a highly-educated workforce; is close to many first-class cultural events and forums (Wolf Trap; Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, etc.); is in a state with high quality higher education; is in a state that is traditionally friendly to business; is in a relatively low-tax state; and is close to Jeff Bezos’s new house.

    Would Amazon have chosen to locate in Virginia without the state and locality offering a multi-billion dollar bribe? We will never know.

    As a consolation, at least a lot of the money being committed to Amazon will be payable only four years after the jobs have been created, not up front. And the investments in higher education will not benefit Amazon alone, but should also put the state in a better position to attract more high-tech companies. Now, the administration and General Assembly need to figure out how to spread the newly anticipated wealth to other parts of the state.

    • I agree. But as stated earlier, this is a very strong deal for every party in interest, but just like the deal deserves great respect, the parties to it deserve equal and mutual respect across the board now and into the future. That’s key. That mutuality of respect was grossly missing on Disney’s part in the early 199os. A more arrogant group of people, I have never witnessed. Why invite them to live in our house? So the deal was doomed if only by Disney’s arrogance. And it should have doomed the deal. Never sell your respect for money. You will always come to regret it, no matter the amount of money involved. A great lesson taught by Admiral Ernest King. If he didn’t respect you, he wanted nothing to do with you, except fire you, after rolling over you if it served his purposes. WW11’s greatest Admiral by far.

    • Dick, we ended up with half of HQ2. Did we end up paying half the bribe?

      • Great observation. No, and not even close. In fact Md offered three times as much, and Amazon walked away. Those folks in Richmond who did the deal earned Amazon’s respect first and foremost. So don’t let any politicians down there now blow it, like happened from the get go up in New York.

      • When we put together the bribe (er, proposal), we thought we would be getting the whole thing. So, you might be able to make a case that we paid twice as much as we had to!

        • “Dick, we ended up with half of HQ2. Did we end up paying half the bribe?”

          “When we put together the bribe (er, proposal), we thought we would be getting the whole thing. So, you might be able to make a case that we paid twice as much as we had to!”

          The state incentive offer was reduced by about half when the job count was cut in half. At around the same time, the company increased its annual wage/year commitment from $100,000 to $150,000.

    • A site that: is close to the nation’s capital providing ready access to national legislators and regulators;

      Irrelevant … many big tech companies do just fine with very small government relations offices in the Washington Metropolitan Area

      is served by public transportation

      Irrelevant … hundreds (thousands) of “sites” across America are served by public transportation and the NoVa form of public transportation is hardly world class

      is in the middle of a highly-educated workforce;

      Bingo. Tech companies inhale young, well educated people and exhale extraordinary profits

      is close to many first-class cultural events and forums (Wolf Trap; Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, etc.)

      Close. More like is in a densely populated urban environment where Amazon’s hipster employees can easily access everything from custom grind coffee shops to Nepalese vegetarian restaurants

      is in a state with high quality higher education;

      Sort of. U of Maryland runs a far better computer science program than any Virginia university. However, the Virginia Tech promise of a Crystal City (National Landing?) campus was brilliant.

      is in a state that is traditionally friendly to business;

      Nope. How do you explain the other half of HQ2 going to New York City?

      a relatively low-tax state;

      Nope. Virginia is not a low tax state and New York City certainly is not a low tax place.

      and is close to Jeff Bezos’s new house.

      Yep. Although I’d rephrase to be ” … close to Jeff Bezo’s new house and close to the place where Bezos wants to second part of his life … why should billionaire Donald J Trump have all the fun when Bezos has even more billions?

  7. All this talk about respect and bribery… very counterintuitive! Seems like I heard that same kind of talk not that far back from developers being charged proffers! I mean the nerve! We charge developers for roads and schools and here we are PAYING Amazon for them! Good Grief! I’m sure that point is not going unnoticed!

  8. So, nothing was done for Amazon that hasn’t been done for other companies. The difference is the scale, and the difference I noted in that meeting was, well, the deference. As Jane noted way back at the top of the string, the power dynamic was quite clear. Way, way back at the start of this, I said Virginia should be careful what it asked for, because the arrival of this kind of economic power combined with a will to intervene would change the state. It will. It has.

    • Economical power is a reality we cannot avoid unless we break up a too dominant player in a market, or many interelated markets. That has got to happen sooner later.

      Pay To Play, or buying legislation with money, has got to stop in Virginia right now. Otherwise Amazon will effectively own state government, like beer distributors now own parts of it.

      But there was NO bribery here whatsoever. Not Any, None. That is the great power and virtue of this deal. The incentives demand that Amazon bring great prosperity to the state, and its citizens, including students, while at the same time those incentives serve the interests and economic growth of Amazon too, that in turn again benefit Va. generally. This is a brilliant deal for all involved.

  9. I still believe Bezos feels Amazon will be broken up because of its size and power in the market. This will occur either because of an antitrust suit or settlement, or in advance of one. Bezos, IMO, established the two new HQs as a precursor to rearranging Amazon’s operations so that he can have control over how Amazon is split up. Breaking up Amazon in advance of government action is a much better strategy than doing it Uncle Sam’s way.

    • Maybe. Or, Amazon is smart enough not to put all their eggs into one basket. When Seattle tried to fleece Amazon (and a few other large companies) by assessing a special tax on large companies to pay for homeless support they (Amazon) threatened to cancel their Seattle expansion. My guess is that this incident caused Amazon to re-think putting all of its HQ2 into one place.

  10. In 2017 Amazon generated $338,661 of revenue every second of the year … 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

    They didn’t need the bribe and the bribe will not make a material impact on their financial results.

    What they did need was evidence of a Quisling-like capitulation by our state government.

    Amazon could walk away from National Landing without so much as a smirk. However, our political elite in Richmond would find it much harder to explain how they “let the big one get away”.

    The bribe was an asymmetric show of power. The Amazon executive laughing at the fossils in our General Assembly is just the start.

    Once you give up your lunch money to the school bully you should expect to not only continuing to give up your lunch money but perhaps your new backpack, your allowance and more.

  11. By the way, how has Richmond fared in their deal with Dan Snyder to bring the Redskins Summer Camp to River City?

  12. Dick says: This shows how much I know: I have never heard of Adm. Ernest King. I will have to educate myself.

    Dick go to

    Then click onto Tinian and then go down to FOOTNOTE 1(G) Central Pacific Amphibious Drivers – Ernest King USN, Raymond Spruance USN, Holland Smith USMC, and 1941 Flex 7 Maneuvers.

    There you will find my take on Admiral Ernest King, how respect is the key to power, and how power works and is exchanged in this fallen world of ours. Here in a portion of my essay on King found there.

    “Flex 7 – Dawn of New Age for Amphibious Assault:

    King took command of the US Atlantic Fleet on 17 December 1940. One of his top priorities was the US Marines, their ability to quickly launch contested beach landings, particularly on the Caribbean islands held by the German dominated Vichy France, and to reinforce exposed outposts far out in the mid-Altantic. This included landings on the Portuguese Azores to control of that mid-Atlantic rampart against any German aggression against the Caribbean, and landings on Iceland to relieve the British garrison there for other duties and insure safe transit through the North Atlantic to keep Britain alive. So King promptly set sail for the Caribbean and General Holland H. Smith USMC.

    The Marines were furiously at work. For months “Howling Mad” Smith had been pushing key elements of his First Marine Brigade to its limits, dredging and jack-hammering a rough tent camp out of swamp and concrete hard ground at Deer Point that flanked Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while he also madly trained his men for a looming amphibious war. It was the culmination of 20 years work, trying to build and master a revolutionary doctrine of sea-borne assault that busted through modern enemy beach defenses and seized beachheads impervious to successful counterattack. Getting this far had been a long struggle for the Corps, one often frustrated by the Navy, its history of too little cooperation, equipment and understanding, and occasional outright opposition. Thanks mostly to its own tenacity, the Corps stood on the cusp of cracking open a nut that would alter and enlarge America’s part in World War 11. Still the obstacles were many. And now the pressure cooker of impending war was gathering a full head of steam. General Smith was famously protective of US Marine prerogative vis a vis the Navy. His views built on his experiences going back to the imperial Admiral Sims in the early 1920s were plain: over-bearing Admirals did not mix well with amphibious assault. Most Admirals knew little, if anything at all, about the subject, yet insisted on running the operation. Like King, Smith possessed an important combination of qualities, an intellectual perfectionist who was also direct, fearless, and driven by principle to achieve excellence in war. So as Marine General Holland Smith watched Admiral King’s stately approach in his flagship USS Texas to take command of Flex 7, the General was surely loading for bear. As was the Admiral. Flex 7 would hold historic consequences.

    The Admiral began testing the General soon after the Admiral’s fleet sailing under wartime conditions commenced its run on the island of Culebra. Three times the Admiral summoned the General to the Admiral’s flag bridge perched within the battleship’s conning tower several decks above Smith’s lowly station. Three times the 57 year old General clambered up the ladders leading to the Admiral’s perch only to be asked a trivial question then dismissed. On his third dismissal, Smith suggested that the Admiral “regularize our meetings” given that the General was not the Admiral’s “messenger boy.” King then informed the General that his landing plans for Flex 7 were totally unacceptable. The Admiral had decided that Smith’s three battalions of Marines and two battalions of Army troops, 5,000 men, would not be landing on Culebra at all, but 60 miles away across a beach on the island of St. Johns. Impossible, the General retorted. Steep mountains rimmed the landward sides of the beach. Without beach exits there could be no beachhead. Only Culebra worked, that’s why the Marine had used it since the 1920s.

    The Admiral dismissed the General’s concerns. This ignited a disputation on beaches, beachheads, and bridgeheads, the General and the Admiral going toe to toe, neither giving ground.

    Finally King announced that he was sick and tired of hearing about “beachheads.” “Call it a beach,” he demanded. “Why don’t you Marines get it straight?” Having none of it, the General fired back what hit King between the eyes. “Because I’ll lose the confidence of my young officers should I force them into a landing that makes no sense, violating all acceptable doctrine of amphibious assault.” King then abruptly changed course. He demanded that Smith’s Marines assault the south coast of Puerto Rico. I’ve got no maps or charts of it, the General snorted. That was the General’s problem, not the Admiral’s. King refused to share his maps and charts but relented to loaning his flagship’s catapult seaplane for reconnaissance. By now, of course, the General’s schedule for training his troops before the exercise was fast going down the drain.

    Next the General’s fly over ‘recon mission’ revealed King’s selection to be a privately owned beach backed by a canal and malarial swamp. Landing there was not only illegal, it would expose his landing troops to malaria should they survive murderous defilade fire. This too had to be argued out with King upon the General’s return to the Admirals Flagship and yet another arduous climb up to King’s perch high above the gun decks of the USS Texas. And so it went. Spruance, a witness these events, said that King and Smith quarreled constantly over amphibious tactics and doctrine during Flex 7 between February 4 and 12, 1941.

    What was King after here? What was he trying to accomplish? Consider that three weeks before the Flex 7 exercises, King wrote Admiral Stark, Chief of US Naval Operations, stating:

    “I feel quite strongly that I should have available for service at all times not less than 3 large and 3 small transports for about 3500 troops (and necessary equipment) … that will enable getting troops ashore in time to prevent the ‘first waves’ from being overwhelmed before the following waves can arrive, and to carry (equipment that enables) the troops to maintain themselves after they have secured a beach-head (emphasis added).” Clearly, King knew full well weeks before Flex 7 what a ‘beach-head’ was: namely, how critically important the rapid and powerful seizure of a defensible beachhead perimeter was to the success of amphibian assault.

    But also consider King’s antique verbiage in the very same paragraph: “I am coming to the conviction that a division of large transports should comprise 3 large transports plus an Arcturus, the latter to carry extra landing boats, tank lighters, etc. … and to carry multifarious ‘impedimenta” that will enable the troops to maintain themselves after they have effected a secure beach-head.”

    Arcturus and multifarious ‘impedimenta”? This newly minted Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet obviously hasn’t learned the lingo. Likely too he has very little or no practical experience in the art of seaborne assault. Rather he’s just begun his work, digging into its issues. But he’s quickly grasped from somewhere (likely the Marine Landing Manual) the critical ingredient of assault landings from the sea: to hit the beach fast, heavy, and hard with as many shock troops and war machines as possible to establish and hold a defensible beachhead. So he’s already into the essence of the assault problem and he’s firing out strongly worded memos to the top man in Navy telling him “to sent me now available for service for all times three big attack troop transports plus an Arcturus to get multifarious ‘impedimenta” ashore to seize and hold beachheads. King might have been a novice before Flex 7 but he’s extremely quick at getting to the root of big practical problems, and taking strong action to solve them, going direct to the top of the Navy chain of command. Here the proof is in the pudding. Those three ‘large’ attack troop transports, so long needed but withheld by the Navy before, would show up now pronto for Flex 7. King cut to the quick, got big things done fast, to insure critical results. It’s the essence of King’s genius at command.

    Consider also King’s post Flex 7 thumbnail assessment. “Flex 7 “represented a new development in the amphibious technique of the Marine Corps (as) assault transports … specially equipped to launch landing boats rapidly were available for the first time. The Marine Corps had experimented intensively with the development of special boats that would facilitate the landing of troops and weapons on a hostile beach … Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers bombarded the beaches, changing their range farther island as the first landing boats inched in. The coordination of fire and the maneuvering of the boats, so that their occupants might hit the beach simultaneously, called for careful experiment … Although the results left much to be desired, they at least exposed the lack of services and equipment necessary to conduct such operations … (and) that for the first attempt in handling a joint force of five thousand men, something useful had been learned … Creeping and walking normally precede an ability to run, and … so far as amphibious landings were concerned, the Marines had learned to walk and were beginning to get up to speed …”

    King’s assessment is remarkable. It shows he appreciated how fiendishly difficult and complex amphibious landing on contested shorelines was, and how much the Marines had suffered from “lack of services and equipment necessary to conduct such operations.” And how much he appreciated what Smith’s Marines had achieved in light of those facts that most often arose by failure of his own US Navy. Equally important, it shows how far King thought the Navy and Marines had to go “to get up to speed.” In fact it would take 3.5 years, mostly in brutal combat, for the Navy and Marines to get fully up to speed, going full bore, on amphibious assault. Tinian proved that. King’s satisfaction with the performance of Flex 7 proves that he grasped the difficulties, obstacles and shifting nature of the problems that his command, Naval and Marine alike, had to master if they were to get fully “up to speed” on the art of assault from the sea. Later he would factor his Flex 7 insights into his war planning of WW11. For now he drove hard, ruffling feathers, for solutions for Marines. The Corps was now part of King’s share of the Navy.

    Even before Flex 7, King clearly saw that the Marine Corps and their hard earned doctrine of seaborne land assault was the spindle around which much of the oncoming war would turn. Thus on 1 February 1941 he declared the newly formed 1st Marine Division “an integral and important part of (his newly formed) US Navy Atlantic Fleet.” At Flex 7, although a novice at the specifics, King was going fast down the right alley, getting the big picture on amphibious assault, its needs and opportunities, its issues and solutions. His rapid uptake shouldn’t surprise. He’d spent a lifetime picking apart novel war machines and their maneuver, doctrines and tactics, seeing what works and what doesn’t. And what’s needed to overcome problems and get the job done with excellence. As usual with innovative doctrine and technology, he waded into the details, testing and challenging all assumptions, pushing everyone involved hard. Aggressive before, King’s command of the “undeclared war in the Atlantic” put him into overdrive, testing, probing, evaluating and learning about expanding the power of his command, finding problems to fix and new capabilities to deploy, while he assessed the readiness of the force and competence of those commanding it. The last insight got him into the subject of Marine General Holland Smith, and the US Army troops and commanders, at Flex 7.

    King’s standards in judging fitness for high command were stern. Rank did not confer privilege, it imposed stern responsibilities and high performance. Anyone found to be floating on past performance, rank, or reputation, instead of proven current excellence, was out. His rationale was plainly stated. “War has changed little in principle from the beginning of recorded time … machines are as nothing without the men who invent them, man them, and give them life. War is force … (breaking the enemies will to fight). War is men against men. Mechanized war is still men against men, for machines are masses of inert metal without the men who control them – or destroy them. Any man facing a major decision acts, consciously or otherwise, upon the training and beliefs of a lifetime. This is no less true of a military commander than of a surgeon who, while operating, suddenly encounters an unexpected complication. In both instances men must act immediately, with little time for reflection and if they are successful in dealing with the unexpected it is upon the basis of past experience and training.” (See Fleet Admiral King, Naval Record, by Ernest King and Walter Muir Whitehall, W. W. Norton & Co. 1952).

    This explains much. For example, it tosses light on King’s otherwise inexplicable refusal to share his plans and charts of the Puerto Rico beach with General Smith. One can only imagine their exchange. “I’ve got no maps or charts of it,” the General snorted. “So what,” the Admiral replies. “Consider your command post destroyed, your maps and charts up in flames. What the hell then, General? Surely by now you, a Marine General, knows how to conduct a reconnaissance and act on that!”

    While total speculation, this exchange would be typical of King, right in line with the demands he placed on any subordinate he deemed fit for command in war. For King the reason was obvious. Without fail, the commander “while operating (in war would) suddenly encounter an unexpected complication” upon which he “must act immediately with little time for reflection.” Victory or defeat, the lives under his command, depended on his “past experience and training” to deal with the sudden confusion, chaos, fog, and horrendous pressure of war. Without the intervention of command decisions coolly and rightly made then executed, the consequences of battle often go from horrible to horribly worse. In King’s world, this was not platitude or theory, but an obvious fact that either broke your forces or drove them to victory.

    In addition, King believed that another important component of competent command was the commander’s ability to take thoughtful action that anticipates events and constructs the means to turn them to best advantage. This he called “initiative.” He defined such initiative as “… the freedom to act only after all of one’s resources in education, training, experience, skill and understanding have been brought to bear on the work at hand … (and take action that) requires intense application in order that what is to be done shall be done in a correlated part of a connected whole – much as the link of a chain or a gear-wheel in a machine … (Thus) war requires exercise … of the full powers and capabilities of every officer in command … and subordinates (who) are to become habituated to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves. It requires hard work – concentration of powers- to exercise command effectively and, frequently, even harder work to exercise initiative intelligently. When told what to do, make sure that “how” you do it is effective, not only in itself, but as an intelligent, essential and correlated part of a comprehensive and connected whole. (King, Exercise of Command, Correct Use of Initiative, 22 April 1941)

    Even more important, King demanded that such initiative be pushed all the way down the line of command, and that all commanders demand that all individuals within their commands act with full initiative when performing their jobs, down to every sailor manning a mop or gun battery. Thus the US navy’s warfighting capacity and effectiveness, its ability to learn and adapt, to move quick and hit the enemy hard, and to do all of it again and again, all of this power, King magnified exponently. Hence King led and drove the most powerful and complicated navy in world history on worldwide campaigns of unmatched reach, ingenuity and success, while insisting that his own staff not exceed 20 executive officers.

    This tells us much about the consequences that flowed from Ernest King’s experience and understanding gathered at the early 1941 Flex 7 manuevers. It’s hard to imagine an officer with more “initiative” than General Holland Smith who drove the East Coast program of innovation and refinement and training for US amphibious landings in 1940 and 1941. Nor is it possible to imagine a group of officers with more “initiative” than the cadre of US Marines who drove the radically new developments in the art of amphibious assault during the 1930s, efforts that would change the face of war in World War 11. This goes a long way to explaining why “Admiral King was very partial towards Marines, and I thought and still think that this came from his previous experience with Marines on maneuvers (in 1941) under the command of General Holland M. Smith. This was the beginning of Admiral King’s education in amphibious warfare and the capabilities of the Marines.” (Oman T. Pfeiffer, King’s WWII Marine Staff Officer, Master of Seapower, by Thomas B. Buell, Naval Institute Press, 1980.)

    This also helps to explain why the Flex 7 landings were carried out according to Smith’s original plans despite the Admiral’s initial protestations. It’s why, although their performance was not to Smith’s satisfaction, King sent Smith a note stating: “At the close of the recent intensive landing force exercises, I wish to express to you and to the troops under your command in this area my feeling of satisfaction that such well trained troops, so well commanded, are an integral part of the Atlantic Fleet, and my confidence in their capacity to do their full part and to do us all credit in whatever active operations may come our way. Well Done! E. J. King

    For King, the third critical test for command was character. King’s rude obstinance at Flex 7 was the Admiral’s way of testing the strength of the Marine General’s convictions and his nerves under pressure. For ten days he picked, probed, and challenged Smith’s competence, his aggressive spirit and hard earned experience in his area of expertise, as well as its practical details and problems, while King also evaluated the readiness of his Marines to meet the challenges they’d soon face in War. In dealing out this stern treatment, King was trying to force the “false solutions of a birth deck cook” on the General, and test how he reacted, given King’s expectation that Smith’s subordinates and superiors would try to force such shabby and false solutions on the General in the war looming on the horizon. Obviously Holland Smith’s strong resistance to anything less than excellence, and the force with which his character shone through his Marines going through their paces, doing revolutionary tasks, not only passed King’s third test of command, but did so with flying colors. Having accomplished this with a lack of services and equipment necessary to conduct such operations … doing their best with what they had, magnified their achievement in King’s view. Fortunately for the nation, King was a highly competent judge, and supremely placed and able to act on his judgement. This helps to explain why King’s high opinion of Marine performance in Flex 7 (one grounded in their 20 year struggle that developed the theory and practice of contested amphibious warfare despite all obstacles) earned them and their commander the central roll in America’s assault on Japan’s heavily defended islands in the Pacific. King made this quite clear:

    “Shortly before the first full landing, three Army General staff officers arrived from Washington as observers … but (King) soon discovered that they regarded themselves as in a position to criticize the amphibious techniques of the far more experienced Marines. Creeping and walking normally precede an ability to run, and as it seemed to King that, so far as amphibious landings were concerned, the Marines had learned to walk and were beginning to get up to speed, while the army had yet to master the art of creeping, he (King) was both amused and annoyed by the attitude of the observers.”

    King also noted that the three Army General Staff officers “apparently” reported to General Marshall “that King had no regard for the niceties of high command and was only concerned with getting the Army combat units ashore in the proper place and time. To King that was quite enough of an undertaking, but evidently this view was not shared, for General Marshall when King called on him in Washington several weeks later was, although polite, distinctly cool in his manner … and did not seem particularly cordial to (King’s) suggestion that the Army and Navy work together on other fleet landing exercises. (Marshall) appeared to think that landings were easily managed and that while Marines might be competent in this respect, they were hardly capable of commanding an entire division, with its adjuncts of engineer, communications, medical, and intelligence units! Such a point was unintelligible to King… (given the Marines’ record of accomplishment over the past twenty years).” (See Fleet Admiral King, Naval Record, by Ernest King and Walter Muir Whitehall, W. W. Norton & Co. 1952, pg. 321-22).

    Almost surely King’s characterization of General Marshall arose out a meeting in April between King, as Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, and Marshall, as Chief of Staff of the Army, during which King insisted that Marine General Holland Smith command all amphibious troops, including all Army troops, during the planned amphibious landing on the Azores. On that occasion Marshall acquiesced to King’s demand. But this controversy proved to be only the opening battle of an internecine war that raged within WWII, during which King confronted Marshall and/or MacArthur again and again on issues relating to the US Marine Corps. The record is plain. On matters of conviction, among officers unafraid to confront power with highly informed principle, Ernest King and Holland Smith were without equals in WWII, save as regards to one another. Fortunately, too, each man could also rattle strong cages, shake up group think, sloppy performance, and ill-advised plans and interference, and thus alter the course of events. Each could also react properly and with distinction when they were the targets of such challenge, including by one another. Smith’s Chief of Staff Col. Graves Erskine recalled that when Admiral King laid out his overly detailed instructions as to How the Marines were to land on the Azores:

    “I could see Holland Smith getting ready to explode. He drew himself up, and usually when he was real mad he would start breathing heavily, and I could see it coming. He finally exploded at King and told him he was going to issue the orders and he would determine the scheme of maneuvers for any operation, that no admiral was going to give orders to the Marines and tell them how to go and fight. That was his job … Some junior officers were discreetly leaving the room as King declared “I am the Commander-in-Chief, I’ll have you relieved.” (But) Smith stood right up to old Admiral King (saying) “Relieved or not, as long as I am in command, I am going to command.”

    Finally King, realizing that he’d overstepped his own bounds of proper command, calmed down, and both men “continued their discussion in reasonable fashion.” (Erskine, Oral History USMC). Here King won his struggle to restrain his instinct to control. Such self mastery, often waged against one’s own selfish interests, is a precious commodity in war where its far too often in short supply. Thus it served King extremely well. His insistence that Holland Smith command the V Amphibious Corps by reason of the Marine General’s highly competent and fiercely independent character and his willingness to stake his career on getting the job done right, likely saved King’s Central Pacific Compaign from crib death twice. It happened first when Smith challenged King’s orders to attack Nauru instead of Makin. It occurred next when he successfully reversed Turner’s decision to attack Betio without troop carrying Amtracs. Thus “Howlin’ Mad” saved the US Navy, his Marines and US Army troops from twin debacles. Similarly Smith overturned Admiral Nimitz’s effort to undercut the command authority of the US Marine Corps by ordering Spruance’s 5th Fleet to sail into the Battle for the Gilberts without its Marine V Amphibious Corps Commander. Here Howlin’ Mad saved the Amphibious Corps’ command over its Marines and US Army soldiers in combat.

    It was a remarkable performance. On arrival in Hawaii Smith demanded transfer out of his assigned quarters to those more suitable to his rank. Next, when King arrived to review the kick off the Central Pacific Campaign at Nauru and Tarawa, Nimitz invited Spruance and Turner to discuss the plan, but excluded Holland Smith. As the Marine General sat alone in his small office down the hall, Turner carried in Holland Smith’s memo rejecting the plan. Turner initialled the memo then handed it to Spruance. Spruance read it then passed it to Nimitz who read it as if for the first time then handed it to King without commment or expression as if to step behind two human shields, Turner and Smith. King watched this performance then he took the memo from Nimitz and read it with what appeared growing amusement. Smith’s memo told King why his Narau operation already approved and now being planned by US Navy for the Marines and Army had zero chance of success. It was a fool’s errand. The Marine General’s memo explained why.

    King immediately agree to switch out Nauru. Why not, General Smith knew what he was talking about. Smith’s courage to deliver his unvarished judgement to (and Turner’s courage to endorse it in front of) higher command was precisely why King (and Spruance) had selected Holland Smith and Kelly Turner to their commands. Why the hell should Spruance and Nimitz and their US Navy staff approve and plan these major amphibious operations when they knew so relatively little about the subject. It was absurd. The war and mens’ lives were at risk. Nimitz did not agree. His actions make this plain, trying to keep General Smith locked up in Hawaii, sitting clueless in the dark, during the Tarawa and Makin battles, so as not to upset the delicate sensibilities of the US Army despite the fact that Smith had saved the 27th Infantry division from a debacle at Nauru.

    Thus the General started off his job by challenging first the orders of the top man in the US Navy (King), then Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, and finally Turner on the Betio seaborne assault. He did this soon after V Amphibious Corps creation and his selection to command it. General Holcolm, the Marine Commandant, had called this “the Big Job” by reason of its power and the special place it held in Marine Corps history, a command specially created by King to defeat efforts by the US Army to gain control of the Corps. King in so doing gave the Marine Corps command of more troops (army and Marines) ashore than ever before in history. And King gave the Marines a bifurcated parity with the US Navy in amphibious assault operations. Nimitz’s attempt to undermine this parity so as to keep the US Army happy, and to keep the Marines under the Navy’s thumb, ran headlong into Howlin’ Mad Smith. Howlin Mad won. It wasn’t the first time he risked his career to retain command of his troops and do the right thing. Nor was it the last. Long lasting major consequences flowed from Holland Smith’s courageous display of integrity right up front in his first exercise of high command.

    Unfortunately too many US subordinate commanders in WWII failed to exercise such integrity. And too many of their superiors too often ignored or punished those who rightfully challenged their opinions, plans and actions in WWII, however ill advised. Not only did such incompetence destroy the initiative of immediate subordinates, it put their entire command at unnecessary risk and diluted its operational effectiveness, doing untold harm. Here in the Central Pacific Campaign at its start things were different. King had initiated that difference years before, demanding character driven initiative down the chain of command. Holland Smith with King’s support compounded that difference, pushing it down his chain of command. Hence Smith had a superb staff and, on average, his subordinate commanders were also superb, down to and including the enlisted ranks. So the qualities Admirals’ King and Spruance so admired 3 years earlier during Flex 7 were put into place at Tarawa, saving America’s Central Pacific Campaign from a ruinous debut. It’s all quite remarkable.

    Here the proof is in the pudding. Commanders of high character, working up and down the chain of command, were potent game changers from 1940 through Tinian in the late summer of 1944 in the Pacific Ocean war, all to the nation’s benefit. The Marine Commandant saw this coming well in advance. “Good, Holland can pound a table as hard as any admiral,” said General Holcomb, upon learning of Smith’s selection to command all landing forces during the Central Pacific Campaign.

    This drove Admiral King to insist on Holland Smith’s selection to the “Big Job” over the resistance of Admiral Nimitz. King wanted an antidote to Nimitz’s obsessive discretion, his compulsive need to push disagreement on important matters under the rug, hiding them from full and open consideration by others, including by King. He knew such behavior cost lives and lengthens wars. So King kept Nimitz on a tight leash. And pushed Marine Holland Smith into Nimitz’s chain of command. King needed Smith and Turner to help keep the decision making process open and transparent and performance driven, insolated from political corruption. It worked. “Howlin Mad” proved a powerful antidote to disaster. Another antidote was King’s selection of Admiral Turner, another fiercely independent and outspoken commander, making a matched pair in the arena of US Navy and Marine Central Pacific amphibious assault under the quietly brilliant and effective Raymond Spruance, the balancing wheel between his two strong willed subordinates. This too was no accident. These three men, working under Admiral Nimitz, helped plug the hole that King considered the major weakness in Nimitz’s competence as a commander.

    Thus it should be no surprise that King wasn’t Holland Smith’s the only naval admirer at Flex 7:

    “…Spruance was impressed by Smith’s professional knowledge, his stubbornness, and his zeal. The Marine General obviously knew his business. Spruance received an eye-opening demonstration in the latest equipment and techniques of amphibious warfare. Smith was especially enthusiastic about his new ‘alligator’, a tracked armored vehicle that could float on water and crawl over land. Two and a half years later alligators would help win the battle of Tawara. Spruance (at Flex 7) decided that if he ever needed a Marine to command an amphibious assault, it would be Holland Smith. (The Quiet Warrior, by T. Buell, Naval Institute Press, 1974).

    King considered Raymond Spruance the smartest officer in the Navy, and so invited him and kept him close to Kings side at Flex 7. Then charged with improving Caribbean naval bases against the German threat, Spuance later commanded the Central Pacific Campaign.

    The game changing results of Flex 7 also began to be felt immediately.

    “Thanks to Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet, and Major General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, 1st Marine Division, the drive to get America’s amphibious Forces ready for war was accentuated in early 1941.” (The Amphibians are Coming, William McGee, 2000, BMC publications.)

    “After Flex 7 the Navy and Marines began getting the amphibious equipment they needed” said Admiral Turner as reported in The Amphibian’s Came to Conquer, by Vice Admiral George Dyer, US gov. printing office).

    Flex 7 dramatically impacted all aspects of amphibious assault in 1941 before Pearl Harbor plunged America into World War II. (see also generally U. S. Marines and Amphibious War, Jeter Isely & Philip Crowl, Princeton University Press, 1951.)”

    • Read with interest. As a former Navy man myself, I believe ““false solutions of a birth deck cook”” refers to the “berth deck.”

      • Well, there is always some wise-ass naval person in the crowd. Guess, its my dyslexia, but King would have my head nevertheless.

        That Berth Deck Cook reference was King’s opinion of head of Naval War College who told King to fight a war game against Japan without going though Saipan. That exchange might be in the long footnote 25 under the Saipan section, or perhaps the earlier Tinian footnote listed above. Of course King’s later forcing the Saipan invasion, overriding MacArthur, Marshall, and Nimitz changed the war too, much for better, until after Saipan and Tinian, politics got control of the war, instead of competent strategic planning. A story yet to be fully told.


      • Admittedly the best military men I’ve met don’t sleep at night; they gestate. Then they hit the decks running; “a new day is born” and all that.

    • If we compare how Admiral Earnest King educated himself and educated hundreds of thousands of military personnel from Admirals and Generals on down to the lowest enlisted ranks with how we educate our students from K through 12th grade to undergraduate college through graduate schools in our system of higher education, only then we can begin to truly understand how GROSSLY WE ARE FAILING OUR KIDS.

      Below is my earlier discription of our failed higher education system:

      Above I said:

      “IN Addition, retention rates in college do NOT mean kids are learning.”


      Keeping kids in college (retaining them in a place they should not be) is malpractice in education. It’s immoral, too. It is particularly immoral when an institution’s policy in retaining as many students as it can violates the students’ self interest, while at the same time it promotes the self interest of the school.

      For example, when such a retention policy drains money from the student’s pocket or loan while the institution then pours those monies of its improperly retained students into its own institution’s pockets. This is cynical beyond imagination, and it goes on all the time in education. And it is now standard practice. Its done not only to take the students’ money when the students are not learning but it is also done in order to falsely raise the rankings of institution at the students expense, while falsely claiming to benefit the student, including the claim that the student is being educated, when the student is receiving little or no education at all, only learning bad habits.

      We know this behavior is rampant. The false gods of rankings, and money, now powerfully motivates all of our schools of higher education, from the best to the poorest. As regards the poorest, see for example my post found at:

      That is one reason now why most all our schools inflate students grades. Why they refuse to grade on a curve. Why they refuse to enforce outside study by students. Why they refuse to demand that students read or write outside the classroom. Why they refuse to legitimately test and grade their students, and report results. Why our schools refuse to be accountable for how they educate their students, or whether they educate students at all.

      Indeed now, for many students, college is a summer at the beach, or far worse. Most students hardly study at all. College is not the real world, nor does it prepare most students for the real world. Indeed, it does quite the reverse. College is a largely bogus teaching industry for most kids without real or legitimate standards, much less coherent standards. It is without accountability. It is a place that touts itself as a Temple of Learning where far too often there is little or no learning going on at all. It’s just a stopover place where our kids can acquire a toxic brew of horrible habits – acquire the sexual habits of rabbits (the hook-up culture), binge drinking and drugs, or learn to be victims of, and aggrieved by, others said to be different from them. Or they learn self-hate of themselves, their families and their culture by reason of who they are, and/or by reason of who their parents are, or where they worship, or what the believe in by reason of where they came from.

      Quite literally, many students today graduate as damaged children, instead of educated adults. They have attended college that are in process of destroying their culture and ours, not preserving and enhancing our culture and passing it onto our young students. Many school are in the business of money laundering toxic cults and ideologies instead. Thus college don’t teach kids real history, most particularly their own. They erase the history of their students instead, then poison a clean slate in the heads of their students, instead. Yes, it is true. College today mostly destroy our history, they destroy our faith, destroy our culture, they destroy our traditions, they destroy out system of government, churning out ill educated children with ideas in their heads to bear no semblance to the real world they will encounter. Armies of Bernie Sanders truth believers.

      Of course this conduct of uncountable and out of control intellectuals and pedagogues has happened again and again through history Hence, because its common is sick societies, it should be setting off alarm bells in our heads.

      Hence, many of our students would have been far better off not to have graduated at all, but to have dropped out, and/or never attended, or funked out, and only then returned to college with an altogether better attitude, call it maturity given the life lessons learned during their time in exile, in the real world.

      I saw the time and time again at UVA. The students who dropped out or funked out often gained a great advantage over the rest of us. One of those guys who funked out, went into the army and returned to UVA went on to totally redefine the skyline of the city of Philadelphia. Had he been “retained” at Virginia under its current policies, instead of taking that army intermission, more likely then he would have learned nothing save how waste away ever more of his life, perhaps even beyond the point of repair.

      The policy that high college ratings require high retention rates is an awful policy that does great harm to colleges and students alike. And it is only one awful policy driven by ratings among many awful policies driven by ratings.”

      For more details see:

  13. Some context may be helpful here. Senators Hanger, Norment, and Ruff are members of the MEI Commission, which vets all large custom grant proposals before they go to the General Assembly. The senators and finance committee staff were regularly engaged in the HQ2 project for more than a year prior to the announcement in November. For example, VEDP briefed the full MEI Commission on HQ2 several times in detail (including collectively hundreds of slides/pages of custom content), with the HQ2 portion of those meetings typically ranging from one to three hours. Additionally, VEDP had many meetings with money-committee staff to discuss HQ2 matters as well as a variety of one-on-one meetings with the senators. VEDP also briefed the full senate finance committee the same week of the project announcement in November. Finally, Amazon met with the full MEI Commission prior to the company’s final location decision. During all those various meetings and briefings, the senators and their staff asked many questions and raised important issues/concerns that we worked to address. House appropriations leaders and their staff were similarly engaged throughout the process.

  14. Going back again through the video, Steve’s post, and all subsequent comment, I can see that I over-reacted in my first comment to Steve post, and I apologize for that.

    However, I believe Steve’s post raises a very important new reality that changes the landscape in Virginia, one that not only brings the possibility of great benefit in many different was to the state, its people, and government, but new challenges as well, challenges that likely if handled right, will result in a whole range of new additional benefits across the board to all involved. Obviously, all of these new realities require free, open, and candid, discussion and debate and open disclosure too, including open disclosure such as been evident to me regarding this entire matter from the day of its announcement.

    On a personal note, I cannot think of a company that has brought to me personally more benefit than Amazon. Your should see my monthly book purchase bill. Amazon literally brings a library and university research tool into everyone’s home. At that is only the start of its contributions to all of us.

  15. Reed,
    Great history on Adm. King, One of his legacies was not taking the German U-Boat threat seriously until many ships were sunk.

    • Yes, you are surely right about that, he surely failed there.

      While it was not a good excuse, I recall at least part of that problem, and King’s failure to properly deal with it, had to do with yet another inter-service rivalry, a times quite vicious, over allocation of vitally needed assets in Pacific that were being instead sent over the Atlantic for a pie in the sky invasion of Europe wanted by George Marshall in the summer or early fall of 1942 (never happened until June of 1944) while King was struggled mightily to get the Navy and Marines into the South South Pacific to secure lanes of transit into NZ and Australia, and use islands there to stage Marines into Tugali and Guadalcanal in the Florida Straights of Solomon Islands. There was also a fight over jurisdiction as Army Air Force claimed the new B-17s could protect East Coast. King’s Navy was also too slow to impose good convoy tactics, light carriers, depth charge vessels, recon, etc. A massive shortage of ships and planes fouled up cooperation and solutions across the board, particularly first years of war. Stuff was withheld as bargaining chips too, to get what each service wanted for itself.

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