Welcome to all our new subscribers! ButWhatFor? covers anything, as long as it’s interesting. Thanks for joining!
A new long read is shared at the end of every month. The Friday email is about sharing and discussing works from others. If you enjoy the newsletter, please forward it to a few friends/colleagues or click here to share on Twitter to help us grow!
2021 was a fun year for But What For?, though I wish I had been a more consistent writer for you all. So far, I have kept to my promises in December, so hopefully that bodes well for 2022.
If there is anything specific you would like to see in 2022, please let me know in the comments or email me directly. I appreciate knowing what you find interesting or would like to see going forward.
In terms of fun stats, 2021 saw an article break 100,000 views for the first time. Although that number doesn’t really mean anything special for the newsletter itself, personally, it’s fun to see it. Thank you to everyone that shared and forwarded that article — it ended up being the largest source of new subscribers in 2021 as well.
Speaking of subscribers, I want to say thank you to everyone that has stayed subscribed through the fits and starts of writing on my end — and thank you to all those that joined this year.
At the end of last year, I had 233 total subscribers. Last week, subscriber count climbed above 1,500 free subscribers, and — and this blows me away — I now have 2 paying subscribers! Two people are paying me to write this newsletter, which is something I never imagined could have happened. You can subscribe here as well, if you would like.
I hope everyone has been able to enjoy the end of the year, found time to spend with your families, and is looking forward to 2022.
Take care and Happy New Year,
This story was prompted by a 1964 compilation of Reader’s Digest stories called Secrets & Spies: Behind-the-Scenes Stories of World War II. I found the book in a used bookstore while waiting for a takeout order at a Korean restaurant next door, but Amazon has a few used copies (in the link above).
I also wrote a follow-up article to this one that looks at the attack on Pearl Harbor through the eyes of the Japanese military, which you can find here: Planning the Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Views: 100k+ across Substack, butwhatfor.com, Medium, and HackerNews
I was actually quite sad that this story didn’t get much traction or any shares (hint… hint… 🧡). To me, Frederick Taylor Gates’ story is a good reminder that if you focus on doing the right thing for the right reasons, eventually it should come back to you.
Or, as Charlie Munger says: “Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day — if you live long enough — like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve.”
I had fun writing this one because I got to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes for a couple of days while digging through decades-old websites and finding scans of documents from the 1800s.
I am also a bluegrass music fan, and the Murder of Omie Wise is one of bluegrass / American folk music’s most popular songs… but, was Omie’s story fiction? Or was it true — or somewhere in between?
My Twitter game was not very good this year — I have to go all the way back to January 2021 for my most-liked Tweet. Twitter shares (and Facebook shares) are actually where the majority of new subscribers seem to come from, so maybe I should work on that in 2022 (hint… hint.. feel free to share this on both platforms 🧡).
If you made it all down here, please take a moment to share it with someone that might find it interesting — I appreciate your support greatly!
Before the CIA, there was the OSS — the Office of Strategic Services. The organization was formed in 1942 to shore up American intelligence capabilities at the request of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Before the end of WWII, the OSS eventually employed ~24,000 people and had operations across Europe and Asia. Amongst its responsibilities was frustrating the German war effort, and to that end, it wrote a short set of “best practices” — the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.
The manual carried ideas that subversive groups in Nazi-occupied territory could use to damage Germany’s efficient war machine. Interestingly, these simple sabotage guidelines seem to have worked their way into modern-day best-practice guides for bureaucracies with ideas such as:
As many of you know, I work in early-stage tech investing. As part of that, I look to the past to see if there is anything we can learn about the future. I fail at accurate predictions roughly 100% of the time, but at least it is an interesting exercise.
As people today continue to worry about a stock market bubble and an inevitable crash to come, I started digging into historical stock market bubbles and crashes. After a little searching, I got introduced to John Law from the 1700s and one of the first attempts to create a paper money system — which worked out pretty well actually, for a time.
The very first article I published on my website, back before I had even made a Substack account, was a summary of James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. I think it had a grand total of 16 views or so — so I re-wrote the article in 2021 in an attempt to make it easier to read and share with new subscribers.
It’s an interesting book if you want an overview, in layman’s terms, of how habits are formed, how they function over time, and how you might be able to create new ones. I have a few new habits thanks to the book — writing these articles (with fits and starts), exercising (though, that is hit or miss), and finding time to spend with family (interesting to think of that as a habit, but it very much is).
This was a follow-up to the Most Viewed article above. It looks at the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor from the perspective of the Japanese military. Ultimately, the attack was a desperate gamble by a Japanese military pinched between US embargoes on military-related supplies and ramping needs on continental Asia for those same raw materials.
Through espionage efforts and a daring military strategy, Japan surprised the world’s strongest navy and brought the western hemisphere into the second world war.
Those that have been subscribers for a while have probably picked up on my affinity for Theodore Roosevelt due to the number of quotes I pulled from his writing. One of Roosevelt’s most famous speeches was given after his presidency while he was traveling in France — and it is now known as “The Man in the Arena.”
Have a great weekend — and Happy New Year,
If you made it all the way down here, you might want to check out Refind — it is an AI-powered article recommendation platform. Their slogan is “the essence of the web, every morning in your inbox,” and it learns what you find interesting over time.
Full disclosure — if you click on that link, I get “advertising credit” on their platform, which essentially gives me free forwards to their readers. I use Refind myself, so I don’t view this as a conflict — but if you do, you can just search their name online to find them.
But What For? Writing about anything, as long as it’s interesting
Writing about anything, But What For? Because anything can be interesting.