How great shoes came to be
Over the years, I have flown literally thousands of practice bomb runs. Each time, I concentrated on the tactics, techniques and procedures of delivering the bomb on time and on target. While I may have been concerned about threats, communications, navigation or a myriad number of things that may cause my run to be less than perfect, there was one thing I never worried about: the weapon. The credibility of the United States’ nuclear deterrence hangs in the balance as the country decides whether or not to extend the life of the B61 nuclear bomb. As Gen. C. Robert Kehler so eloquently put it during recent congressional testimony, “deterrence statements are backed with credible military forces — that includes reliable weapons, that includes trained people, [and] plans to use them.”
The B61 weapon is more than 40 years old, and its reliability is declining. Nevertheless, there are those that think we can make do with what we have. Philip Coyle, a co-author of the recent Union of Concerned Scientists report on the nuclear enterprise, even went so far as to say that “[National Nuclear Security Administration’s] plan [to refurbish the B61] violates the spirit if not the letter of the administration’s pledge to not develop new nuclear weapons. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world.”
Let’s use the nuclear bomber inventory as an example to examine the argument. The B-52H is currently undergoing modifications to enhance communication and avionics. Nobody is claiming that at the end of the modification contract the Air Force will have a new bomber. They will still be B-52s.
Some question why we cannot use the B83 instead (a newer weapon), and do away with the B61. As Gen. Kehler mentioned in his congressional testimony of Oct. 29, the B83 is not certified for all of the bombers and fighters required. In addition, the B83 would have to enter a similar life-extension plan entailing more costs in the future.
In order to understand why the B61 must be refurbished, it is helpful to understand the life cycle of weapon systems in the U.S. Air Force inventory. As weapon systems age, their components become obsolete. Original manufacturers sometimes go out of business. In some cases, military contract officers are forced to look for new sources to replicate the original manufacturing or repair process. Over time, this becomes increasingly expensive. Imagine paying 10 times the original cost for a part that is obsolete just so you can keep your 40-plus-year-old car running. Eventually, the cost and lack of new replacement parts makes the weapon system cost-prohibitive and unsustainable.
The B-2, the primary aircraft for the B61, also faces these same challenges, as do other weapon systems in the U.S. nuclear forces inventory. In essence, we can no longer refurbish the parts needed to repair it, so new parts must be designed and produced. Often these new parts carry with them new capability. For example, the original computers in the B-2 are less powerful than today’s smartphones. Fortunately, these computers are in the process of being replaced, and the increased computing power will, in essence, make the B-2 more capable, safe and reliable, as well as less expensive to operate.
The plans and training that go into a credible nuclear deterrent is wasted if the equipment is neither cost-effective to operate nor reliable. Since the 1950s, the United States has invested decades of effort and billions of dollars to develop a nuclear force that is credible. The time, effort and resources required to create the equipment, training and plans that make a credible nuclear deterrent represent an investment in our future security. For the most part, this capability is bought and paid for. Yet, it does require continued diligence to ensure the nuclear deterrent remains credible into the future.
Thus, refurbishing the B61 may seem to be overwhelming in this budget environment, but the alternative is a nuclear weapon of declining reliability. All of the hours spent training and the best plans in the world cannot compensate for this fact. Perhaps more damaging to U.S. foreign policy, however, is the diminished credibility of our nuclear deterrent.
When brothers Cyrus and James Clark, rug merchants in the south of England, realized that the leftover woolen cut-offs made comfortable sheepskin slippers, one of the world’s most famous shoe stores was born.
Clarks shoes was founded in 1825 in the small town of Street, not far from the bucolic Glastonbury Tor, in the English county of Somerset. Its headquarters is still based in the town and from its offices on the high street opposite the Bear Inn, the private company presides over the production and design of 52 million pairs of shoes annually. Most of the shoes today are assembled in China and Vietnam, but the firm’s huge distribution center, with a capacity to stock 5 million pairs of shoes at one time, remains in Street, which has a population of just 11,000.
In his book, “Clarks, Made to Last: The Story of Britain’s Bestknown Shoe Firm,” author Mark Palmer gives us an in-depth history of the respected shoe brand that now boasts 1,156 stores worldwide and employs more than 15,000 people.
The Clark brothers were devout members of the Quakers, a Christian offshoot faith that sprang up in the late 17th century in England. Quakers proposed a practical form of Christianity, focusing more on charity, rather than on dogma and the clergy. They often took up unpopular causes, such as opposition to slavery and war and the need for prison reform. They were also noted for their paternalistic attitude and ethical commitment to their workers. Still, working hours in the factory in the 1820s stretched from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a break for breakfast and lunch. On Saturdays, the day ended at 5 p.m.
It’s not surprising that many Quaker companies, including Clarks, helped fuel British capitalism in the 19th century. At the time, Quaker influence on British industry was hugely out of proportion to their numbers, and their progress became something of a business phenomena. Many of those Quaker companies still exist today, notably the confectionery and chocolatemakers Cadbury, Fry’s and Rowntree; cookie and cracker firms Huntley and Palmers, Jacob’s and Carr’s; along with major bankers Barclays and Lloyds.
Mr. Palmer, an editor at The Daily Mail, and a scion of Huntley and Palmers, has trawled the archives of Clarks and unearthed some novel insights. Ironically, Huntley and Palmers, the largest cookie factory in the world at the time, bailed out the shoe company in 1863.
Queen Victoria visited the shoe firm’s stand at the famed Great Exhibition of 1851. “Very pretty,” her highness commented.
During the Crimean War, the British government requested that the company make sheepskin coats for the troops. At first, Clarks declined the order based on moral principles, but then decided to use the profits from making the coats to build a school in the town of Street.
One of the company’s most famous shoes was the Desert Boot, invented by James’ great-grandson Nathan Clark while he was serving in Burma with the Royal Army Service Corps in 1941.
The boot was described in a 1957 advertisement as the “world’s most traveled shoes” and has been sold in 100 countries. It was named one of the “Fifty Shoes That Changed the World” by the British Design Museum in 2009. Ten million pairs of the boot have been made, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as noted celebrities — former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, Rihanna, Robbie Williams and Bob Dylan — often donned a pair. Before them, Hollywood actresses Margaret Lockwood, Anna Neagle, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer and Marlene Dietrich all modeled Clarks shoes. Even soccer player David Beckham was a poster boy for the footwear in his Manchester United days.
The company has weathered some bumpy days. In the early 1990s, after a bitter feud, shareholders voted by the slimmest of margins to keep the company private and avoid going the way of so many other Quaker firms that had been bought out, notably Barclays and Cadbury.
The firm’s longevity is a testament to history, as family firms seldom stand the test of time. According to the United Kingdom’s Institute for Family Business, only 13 percent of family companies survive to the third generation. Clarks has gone on for seven.
The company now has more than 290 stores in the United States and Canada, with 130 more planned for opening by 2016.
Clarks has remained true to its Quaker foundations in its commitment to its workforce and the local community of Street. Around 80 percent of the shareholders are family members, and the remainder is owned by employees or former employees. The company’s brand awareness for comfortable shoes has remained intact for nearly 200 years. Clarks’ longevity deserved a book, and Mr. Palmer has produced a slice of British entrepreneurial history worth recording.