The Ten Greatest Live Rock Performances

By Nick Deiuliis

In the early 1950s, legendary disc jockey Alan Freed first used the phrase ‘rock and roll’ on his Cleveland radio show.  Rock was born.  We’ve been discussing and debating it ever since.

Rock music is a contradiction.

On one hand, it is a pasted-together mosaic of musical styles; blues, country, jazz, folk, pop, gospel, and even classical.  Old things presented in new ways. Not revolutionary as much as evolutionary.

On the other hand, rock is unique and stands apart from other music. Particularly when its energy is projected on stage when performed live.

Yes, the true essence of rock is best captured live, separating it from other musical styles. And sometimes a confluence of events captures a rock performance that stands the test of time and elevates beyond the norm of other musical genres.

I’ve often thought about, after viewing or experiencing a great live rock performance: where does it rank? And what would be the ten greatest exemplars of the live rock performance? Ten gems that hit a note above all the others?

Those questions would be great fun to assess. And irresistible to try to answer.

A Highly Unscientific Approach

Before we count down the ten greatest, here are our screening criteria:

  • We’re ranking single song performances only, not complete concerts.
  • Performance films are excluded. Apologies to Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense), The Band (The Last Waltz), and Prince (Sign O the Times).  All great viewing and performance, but more cinema than live rock.  That doesn’t mean a few of the Top Ten didn’t make it into a concert DVD, but these selections are live performance first, concert film second.
  • DJs and sampling electronic music are not considered. The performer must be playing instruments or singing, live.  Sorry, Daft Punk (’06 Coachella) and Fatboy Slim (’02 Brighton Beach).
  • Super Bowl halftime show performances are not considered. They are more entertainment spectacle than live rock performance.
  • No ‘unplugged’ renditions (forgive me Nirvana and Clapton fans). You know the setup: the performers sitting on stools, surrounded by a small TV studio audience. They’re interesting when done well.  But they are purposely toned down and constructed exclusively for TV/digital media broadcasting.

Special weighting and bonus points are awarded for the following:

  • Outstanding live performances that are not widely known or don’t garner enough attention.
  • A special historical context of when or where the song was performed. Having time and place convene to transform the performance into representing something bigger.
  • Adding a visual and theatrical element to the live performance. Taking the recording and presenting it with supplemental props live can create another level of song experience.
  • Enthusiastic audience participation. Thousands of strangers connecting organically during a live rendition is a sure sign that the performance has achieved greatness.  Which means heavy weighting toward European and South American venues; audiences there are order of magnitude more passionate than American audiences.
  • Amazing live musicianship. In the end, the music matters the most. Always has and always will.

Lest I forget, there is one critical requirement to make the list: a video capturing the specific performance must be readily available for viewing.  What’s the point of including a great performance in the ranking if one cannot easily check it out on YouTube?

To start, we have two honorable mentions, beginning with Veruca Salt, “Seether” (1995; Glastonbury, UK).  What ever happened to Veruca Salt?  They looked to be the next big thing back in the 1990s, but then the Chicago-based band fell off the radar.  Watch them play “Seether” at Glastonbury in ’95 to see what might have been if they kept it going. Funny how time flies, but most of those attendees in the crowd are now well into their 50s running businesses, governments, and maybe even grandkids to and from events.

Second honorable mention goes to Gary Numan with Nine Inch Nails, “Cars” (2009; London, UK).  Numan’s “Cars” was on the first album I owned (one of those K-Tel hits albums) and I’ve adored the new wave song ever since.  Check him out making a special appearance in his hometown to play it live with Trent Reznor and band at a Nine Inch Nails show.

Here We Go: The Ten Greatest

#10: Peter Gabriel (with Paula Cole), “Come Talk to Me” (Secret World Live; 1994; Modena, Italy)

As this list unfolds, it will betray a bias I have long suffered from: favoring concert openers.  There is something magical about the moment when the recorded soundtrack stops, they cut the arena lights, and the act takes the stage. Gabriel used “Come Talk to Me” from the Us album to open his Secret World Live tour in 1993-1994. Us was created at a time of personal turmoil for Gabriel, and this song’s lyrics address his relationship strain at the time with his daughter (after Gabriel moved out of the family home and began cohabitating with actor Rosanna Arquette).

Gabriel has a long history of putting together bands with top-notch musicians and making great use of props (including himself, which trails back to his Genesis days), both of which were on display for this performance.  Gabriel emerges from a phone booth, singing into a telephone, extending the cord as he tries to connect with Paula Cole, who performed the female vocals (Sinead O’Connor provided the vocals on the album track).  A refined, beautiful performance that is both musical and theatrical.  It’s high art.

#9: Megadeth, “Symphony of Destruction” (That One Night; 2005; Buenos Aires, Argentina)

I am not into the thrash metal genre; I lean more toward the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden persuasion when it comes to heavy metal.  But the long-sober Dave Mustaine has emerged as one of metal’s underappreciated thought leaders, and his band managed one of the most awesome displays of live audience participation in rock history when they performed “Symphony” in front of a mass of rabid Argentinians.  The chanting drowns out the guitar, no small feat when it’s a Megadeth show. Repeat after me: “Megadeth, Megadeth, aguante Megadeth!”  No wonder Argentina is Dave Mustaine’s favorite place to play.  If you want another exemplar of Argentinians’ flair for live concert participation, check out AC/DC at River Platte in 2009; “Thunderstruck” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” are epic.

#8: Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” (Capitol Theater; 1985; Passaic, New Jersey).

The video of this performance essentially ignores the audience.  There are no stage props, other than SRV’s trademark hat, belt, boots, and guitar strap. And you miss none of it because it is impossible not to be transfixed on his playing and singing.  He’s in a performative trance; you could light him on fire, and he wouldn’t notice.

Vaughan is one of those true genius talents that stands out from all others; anything added alongside his live playing becomes wasteful distraction and dilution from the man and his guitar. I ranked Vaughan up there with Hendrix and EVH in the Top Ten Rock Guitarists of All-Time, and SRV may indeed have been the very best of them live.  Still can’t fathom how he simultaneously played guitar and sang like that on “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.”  One of my greatest musical regrets is not having the chance to see him work such magic live.

#7: U2, Intro / “Zoo Station” (Achtung Baby Tour; 1993; Adelaide, Australia).

I wasn’t going to construct a top ten live performance list and not include one of my favorite bands through the years (and another opening song).  I must admit being torn between one of two U2 performances to choose from, with the close runner-up being “Sunday Bloody Sunday” at Red Rocks, aka, ‘This is not a rebel song!’ But I must give the nod to the Dubliners’ early 1990s reinvention of their band and their reimagining the concert as a performance medium.

Achtung Baby was a huge creative and brand risk for U2.  They took the risk, and we reaped the reward. Then the band broke more ground by presenting the album tour as Zoo TV, an innovative digital and visual display to accompany the music.  Zoo TV managed to take the groundbreaking music of U2 found on Achtung Baby and present it in a revolutionary packaging that made it better. You hear the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s “Television, The Drug of a Nation” being played, those massive stadium screens light up, Bono’s outline emerges from the stage, and then Edge hits the intro notes to “Zoo Station.”  Special.  Will U2’s current run of shows covering Achtung Baby at the Vegas Sphere measure up? Hope so.

#6: Metallica, “Enter Sandman” (Tushino Airfield Concert; 1991; Moscow, Russia)

Although not a rabid fan, I like Metallica and have seen them numerous times. When “Enter Sandman” first came out, it was bold and new.  And quickly became old and tired after endless radio play. But looking back, Metallica’s live performance of “Enter Sandman” outside Moscow in 1991 was mind-blowing for three reasons.

First, the size of the crowd was conservatively estimated to be somewhere in the 500,000 range (some estimates were as high as 1.6 million!). Second, that audience was pent up for too long under communism and was ready to explode when the band took the stage (another set opener, by the way; this one preceded with Metallica’s traditional playing of Ennio Morricone’s western movie score). Third, the festival (which also included AC/DC, The Black Crowes, and others) served as a symbolic tearing down of the USSR communist state and the start of a more open Russia.

The visuals of some Red Army troops participating in the crowd and other Red Army troops holding back the crowd were poignant.  James Hetfield’s lyrics of “exit light, enter night” reflected the reverse order of how Russians were feeling in 1991.  A band and song in the right place at the most historic of times. Unfortunately, a stark contrast to Russia today.

#5: Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again” (raw version: One Night in Paris; 2001; Paris, France or polished version: Tour of the Universe; 2009; Barcelona, Spain) 

I’ve enjoyed Depeche Mode for decades, but I always thought they were better in the studio and on record than they were live.  Until I saw them perform the classic “Never Let Me Down Again” toward the end of their shows.  That song has been a personal favorite from the Music for the Masses album and I consider it to be their best single.  The band performing it live further elevates the experience. You can see for yourself with two recommended versions: the Paris installment being rawer and more chaotic, or the Barcelona installment a few years later with a more polished rendition.

The song is a fan staple live for another reason: when the band extends the coda at the end of the number and Dave Gahan waves his arms in the air in unison with the audience.  It is one of the best live rock concert sights to behold, an experience that simply can’t be captured on record.

#4: Rush, Intro Medley / “Spirit of the Radio” (R30 Tour; 2004; Frankfurt, Germany)

Pound-for-pound, Rush is the most talented group in rock history, and that goes for their work in both studio and on stage. Hard to believe that three human beings could be so creative for so long.

Rush was incredibly prolific, sporting a song catalogue stretching over half a century.  So, it’s always tough for the band to construct a live setlist that checks all the boxes for all the fans.  One creative solution was when the band decided to open on the R30 tour with a video from comedian Jerry Stiller kicking off the band’s nearly seven-minute instrumental medley through a portfolio of their earlier masterpieces that included “Finding My Way”, “A Passage to Bangkok”, “Anthem”, and “Bastille Day”. Oh yeah, and then they launch right into a full rendition of “Spirit of the Radio”, the seminal Rush song.  Pure rock and roll heaven and, in my opinion, the best live opener ever.  Happy I was fortunate enough to experience it first-hand.

#3: Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil” (Altamont Speedway; 1969; Tracy, California)

People ask why I disdain the 1960s.  If I could point to one event to explain why, it would be the Rolling Stones performing “Sympathy for the Devil” at Altamont Speedway in late 1969.  Commentators often speak of it marking the end of 1960s culture.  Wrong; only the date of the performance was indicating the end of the 1960s.

Altamont marked the culmination of what 1960s culture wrought.  It wasn’t pretty. What would one expect when you combine drugged-out concertgoers, drugged-out performers, and drugged-out security attired in the vests of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels?

Jagger was assaulted by a fan before he even took the stage (he was lucky to be only punched in the head; earlier the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane was knocked out cold by ‘security’), “Sympathy for the Devil” was interrupted by violence in front of the stage, Jagger’s plea to “brothers and sisters” to calm down went unheeded, and a front row murder happened minutes later (during “Under My Thumb”).  This performance makes the list for its context of time (end of the 1960s), song (talk about lyrics fitting the moment), and history (peace-and-love generation being exposed as something quite the opposite).

#2: Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” (The End; 2017; Birmingham, UK)

For decades, music critics ignored and put down heavy metal. Which meant the pioneering work of Black Sabbath was demoted far too long. That changed with time, and in early 2017 the band wrapped up their final tour, where over its course one million people saw them perform.

The last show of the last tour was a curtain call in the industrial English city where it all began for the band: Birmingham.  Fittingly, the final song, as the encore, was “Paranoid”.  For this musical genre, it was akin to if the Beatles were to hold one last concert in Liverpool and end it with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” How Ozzy manages to sing fluidly yet be unable to speak a sentence coherently remains one of life’s mysteries.

Another mystery is how Tony Iommi can play those riffs while missing parts of his fingers. But sing and play they did during the encore “Paranoid.” And the hometown crowd in Brimingham, spanning multiple generations of fans, appreciated every word and note. Underrated and underappreciated for far too long; but better the recognition comes late than never.

#1: Queen, “Radio Ga Ga” (Wembley Live Aid; 1985; London, UK)

This should not shock any rock fan. The historical context alone would place it at the top.

Perhaps the slight surprise is with the song selected from Queen’s Live Aid set, “Radio Ga Ga”.  It came right after the truncated version of Bohemian Rhapsody, after Freddie Mercury was comfortable with the setup and fans were focused on the band. And the audience engagement with “Radio Ga Ga” was off-the-charts phenomenal.

Mercury connected directly with every human being in that stadium, from the front row to the nosebleed seats.  And the audience connected right back. Prior to the show, Queen was asked if they agreed to play Live Aid to support the cause of fighting world hunger or because it was an epic event they couldn’t afford to miss.  Freddie replied, “To answer that honestly it’s a bit of both.” Is Freddie the greatest frontman in the history of rock? If not, he is damn close.

And on that day at Wembley, Mercury set the gold standard for live performance at the biggest of moments.  Oh, and if you want another great Wembley performance, check out INXS in 1991 with the intro to the Live Baby Live concert, “Guns in the Sky”; Michael Hutchence was special and no telling what he would’ve accomplished had he lived longer.

Well, there you have it.  An authoritative (not) objective (definitely not) top ten ranking of the greatest live performances in the history of rock.  Happy viewing.

Notes from the Underground: Libertarianism Hiding in Classic Lit

By Nick Deiuliis

Fyodor Dostoyevsky is widely recognized as one of the giants of literature.

Of his most noted works, the first and shortest is the novella Notes from the Underground, published in 1864. It’s also his most underrated and most insightful, particularly for modern times.

Some consider Notes from the Underground classic literature.1 Others say it is more political commentary. Social scientists point to it as a study in psychology.

All correct. Yet Notes is first and foremost something else: a basis for philosophy and policy rooted in the freedom of the individual to choose and the individual’s protection from control by the state and wider culture.

I interpret Notes as advocating for triumph of the ‘I’ over the ‘we,’ the ‘self’ over the ‘collective,’ and the ‘individual’ over the ‘public good.’

I read Dostoyevsky’s classic and contemplate a warning of how the Left (whether manifesting through communism, nihilism, or utopianism) presents a danger to the individual; and how the Left cuts against the grain of human nature. In many ways, Notes from the Underground was serving as a foundation for American libertarianism before the movement took root. And it is a decisive refutation of the modern-day nanny state.

A closer look at (or revisit of) Notes from the Underground is worthwhile to anyone who considers himself or herself a classic liberal and defender of the individual.

The Story

The first lines of the novella read, “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man.”

Notes from the Underground is not a story for the meek of heart. No sunshine and happy endings. The book is humorous at times, but it is certainly a dark humor.

The main character narrating the story is the anti-hero Underground Man, a miserable bureaucrat who spent his career abusing his position to make life difficult for other people.2 His directional perspective of being ‘underground’ serves as a metaphor for being separate from, an outcast to, society. He falls into some money, quits his job, and writes the notes as a form of confession.

That’s the focus of the first half of the book, titled “Underground”. The narrator observes that utopian society attempts to remove suffering and pain, but that humans desire both and need both to be happy. The narrator confesses his realization that attempting to remove pain and suffering in society takes away an individual’s freedom.

Underground Man realizes human beings are cursed with consciousness; it is what causes us to suffer. But it also allows for our free will and individuality.

He argues that despite humanity’s attempts throughout history to create a utopia where everyone lives in harmony, anyone can decide to act in a way that might not be in their own self-interest as defined by society or government. Some do so simply to validate their existence as an individual and to protest. And no one knows for sure whether the individual will choose a rational or irrational path.

The second half of the book, “Apropos of the Wet Snow”, consists of a series of adventures and events that occurred in the narrator’s life.

One of those stories is central to the book. The narrator tries to help a prostitute by promising to save her. She finds herself enthralled by the Underground Man’s lectures, his confidence, and ends up looking to join him. He then revokes everything he said to her, telling her he was laughing at her all along, and ridicules her miserable life and reality.

Then he breaks down and admits he was only seeking power over her and desired to humiliate her. He starts to self-loathe and focuses on his own poverty and embarrassing life. He doesn’t save her, she leaves and is never seen again.

The concluding sentences of Notes recall themes explored by the narrator in the first part, and he tells the reader directly, “…I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway…”

The Learnings from Notes

In the arenas of policy and classic liberalism, Notes contains a plethora of key passages that resonate more than ever.

Start with perhaps the underlying key premise of the book:

“What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.”

Dostoyevsky is making a subtle but crucial point here: human nature yearns for the ability to self-select for oneself and to not be chained to the decisions of others (whether ‘others’ are controlling individuals, religion, or the state). Arguing that the state or a third party is better informed to make decisions for the individual than the individual himself or herself misses a key point (and is a dubious assumption when considering the track record of anything run by bureaucrat): the individual’s innate desire to decide for themself cannot be quelled.

Underground Man uses the analogy of humans serving as glorified organ-stops in oppressive societies to illustrate how the individual instinctively longs to decide their own destiny:3

“For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ?”

Dostoyevsky freely admits that humans enjoying freedom will often choose paths that are irrational, against their self-interests, and that may lead to misery for society. But that doesn’t mean oppressive forms of government that cripple the individual spirit won’t lead to the same or worse (think of Stalin and Mao and how we measure their ‘transformation’ of society to ‘paradise’ in the tens of millions of murdered innocents).

“In short, one may say anything about the history of the world – anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational. The very word sticks in one’s throat.”

Place those words from 1860s Russia into the context of today; with the war in Ukraine, Hamas terrorism, and Uighur genocide. Or with the breakdown of law in our cities and the epidemic of opioid death in our rural communities. There is no guarantee of rational order in the world, and there never was. Whether it be with democracy, colonialism, communism, socialism, or free will. Truer than ever.

Underground Man provides his thoughts on those who argue moral superiority and wish to superimpose their views or ways onto others. Read the following and try to not be instantly reminded of today’s elite and expert classes:

“There is the odd thing that is continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages, and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbors simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with such strange qualities?”

Most experts in the field point to this passage as Dostoyevsky’s criticism of utopianism and, ultimately, communism. The idea that if you eliminate private property and make everyone equal, it not only makes people happy, but it makes the world neatly rational. Nonsense, of course, as shown by the epic misery brought to humanity by the Left.

And today there is a special refinement to the way of the Left. Leaders of the Left no longer bother to live their lives consistent with their preaching to everyone else as to how to live life in a moral and just way. Hypocrisy is paraded in the open, for all to see. That’s why a Hollywood star who is a self-proclaimed climate activist sails around the world on carbon-spewing yachts. And why a self-anointed Climate Czar who looks to impose travel restrictions on society flies private charter jets at will.

If you wish to think of Notes from the Underground as simply great literature and not policy thought-provoking, consider Dostoyevsky’s analysis of human nature:

“Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself–as though that were so necessary–that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar.”

Dostoyevsky concisely summarizes why large government, bureaucratic control, and nanny states ultimately fail to improve the standing of people the state policies were specifically designed to help.

I wonder if Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, or Barack Obama read Notes from the Underground. If so, did any of them underline that passage? Because it made an impression on them, they agreed with it, or they disagreed with it?

The narrator then addresses head-on what has become an all-too-common rebuttal of the Left, with:

“You will scream at me (that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one is touching my free will, that all they are concerned with is that my will should of itself, of its own free will, coincide with my own normal interests, with the laws of nature and arithmetic. Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!”

Save that passage for every time one hears the bureaucrat’s defense of onerous control of the individual by the state with the position that government knows what is best on the topic(s) and that the individual remains largely free. Hogwash, as Dostoyevsky’s narrator articulated.

In the first part of the book, “Underground,” the narrator marks the supremacy of the individual to choose whichever path desired, even if the path is illogical or irrational when compared to the norms of society. Check out:

“You, for instance, want to cure men of their old habits and reform their will in accordance with science and good sense. But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but also that it is desirable to reform man in that way? And what leads you to the conclusion that man’s inclinations need reforming? In short, how do you know that such a reformation will be a benefit to man?”

Humans are inherently driven, albeit to different levels. Being truly satisfied is a state many never reach. What makes one think that providing economic security at the cost of surrendering freedom is desirable? We are not sheep.

Consider this sentence from the book:

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering: that is a fact.”

Society cannot be organized in a way that guarantees the happiness of citizens.

And one may argue that being in love with suffering is nothing more than human nature associated with achievement. Someone earns a million dollars, and they immediately desire two million dollars. Someone wins a championship in sports and immediately desires another title. Someone climbs Mount Everest, and they want to start planning to summit K2. The drive to achieve cannot be extinguished by a forced contentment injected by policy.

Concluding Thoughts

Notes is a short book, but an incredibly dense one, packed with passages that speak to so many contemporary policy and current events issues. Invest in a highlighter to mark key sentences, and then place Notes from the Underground close by for easy access in the future. It’s something you will pull off the shelf and reference more than you think.

This is one of those books that every college student should read before graduating (I would argue every high school student should read it, but that might be stretching things in this day and age of failing public education). Notes warrants a place on the syllabuses for English Lit, Civics, Psychology, and Philosophy.

There is something for everyone to take away from Dostoyevsky’s first classic. Now more than ever.

[1] And a bleak one at that!
[2] Dostoyevsky often portrays his protagonists as unattractive and the characters opposing them as more likable. Perhaps he felt doing so made his messages more impactful.
[3] Organ stops are buttons that are manipulated (pulled out or pushed in) by the organ player to send compressed air through a specific organ pipe.

The Battle of Hurtgen Forest: Costly Failure and Lessons Learned

By Nick Deiuliis

Those with a keen interest in World War II are familiar with the European Theater’s famous Allied campaigns: Italy, D-Day and Normandy, Market Garden, Battle of the Bulge, and the final thrust over the Rhine River and into the heart of Germany. Movies, books, and series have been dedicated to them.

Yet there is a battle nestled in the middle of that chronology that gets little attention.  It was the worst performance and drubbing the US Army suffered in World War II.  A famous infantry division with Pennsylvania lineage played a central role and paid an epic price in the debacle.

The late 1944 campaign was the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

Revisiting and analyzing the battle provides insights on leadership, strategy, and tactics that remain relevant both on battlefields and in board rooms.


The Allies were pushing up against the German border in September 1944.  In sight were the gateway to the industrial Ruhr and the heart of Germany, and possibly the end of the war.

Farther to the south on the frontline sat a heavy forest just inside western Germany, the Hurtgenwald, occupied by German forces and cut by a stream, the Kall. The region is enclosed by a triangle, with corners of the cities of Aachen and Duren, and the town of Monschau.

The Hurtgen Forest area was part of the Siegfried Line and had been prepped by German engineers for prolonged battle. Trees were carefully cultivated for decades into neat, straight rows providing clear fields of fire.  Mines were densely laid on trails, paths, and breaks. Pillboxes were built and set up to create kill zones.

39th Inf. passes through the dragon`s teeth north of Roetgen.

American leadership believed that for the advance to the Roer and Rhine Rivers and deep into Germany to continue, the forest had to be entered and the far high ground, the town of Schmidt, had to be seized.

The Allies quickly learned that wasn’t going to be easy.

Leadership Woes

American leadership was inept during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.  Much of the blame can be attributed to 1st Army commander, Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges.

HIRTEEN COMMANDERS OF THE WESTERN FRONT photographed in Belgium, 10 October 1944. Front row, left to right: General Patton, General Bradley, General Eisenhower, General Hodges, Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson. Second row: Maj. Gen. William B. Kean, Maj. Gen. Charles E. Corlett, Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, Maj. Gen. Leonard P. Gerow, Maj. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada. Third row: Maj. Gen. Leven C. Allen, Brig. Gen. Charles C. Hart, Brig. Gen. Truman C. Thorson. Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History.

Hodges’ career up to the Hurtgen was out of a Hollywood script. A southerner who didn’t make it through West Point (geometry class flummoxed him), he rose through the Army ranks the hard way, starting his soldiering career in 1905 as a private.

He earned two Purple Hearts in World War I but discarded them and considered them “sissy.”1  Hodges’ boss during the Hurtgen ordeal was the legendary Omar Bradley, who prior to the war was Hodges’ subordinate, and who still addressed Hodges as ‘sir’ despite the reversal in who reported to whom.

Although Hodges competently led the 1st Army through France after D-Day, he was by late 1944 mentally exhausted and spent. The scale of duties overwhelmed him; he made decisions slowly and micromanaged.  Worse, he would not visit the front line and tended to command from the rear, with little information (or worse, misinformation).

Hodges would brutally demote subordinate officers, sacking them at the first sign of setback.  That made those reporting to him extremely cautious in decision-making, to the point of being paralyzed. It didn’t help that his staff and other direct reports were constantly infighting.

He was archaic in tactics, favoring a mentality more representative of World War I than the current conflict.  Hodges favored the tactics of “straight on” and “smashing ahead” over flanking.2  Hodges and his staff believed the Germans were close to collapse, convincing him more of the need for blunt and direct frontal tactics.

Hodges saw the Hurtgen Forest as a threat to his flank in his drive east toward the Roer River and, ultimately, the Rhine River.  Yet the density of the forest made it highly unlikely that the Germans could amass enough armor and infantry to serve as a credible threat to the Allied advance.

Historian Russell Weigley summed it up best: “The most likely way to make the Hurtgen a menace to the American Army was to send American troops attacking into its depths.”3

That’s exactly what Hodges did.  And no one under him had the confidence or courage to question him.4

Early Phase of Battle

Thus, in late September 1944, the US 9th Division entered the Hurtgen, hoping to outflank the city of Aachen to the northwest. After a few weeks, little ground was gained at enormous cost; 4,500 causalities were suffered to advance 3,000 yards.  That’s a casualty for every two feet of gained ground, an attrition rate that soon depleted the fighting strength of frontline battalions.

Although the German defenders also paid a heavy price, the German high command in mid-October was confident the Americans would not be foolish enough to attempt another assault through the Hurtgen Forest. Field Marshal Model understood how the forest neutralized Allied advantages in mobility, armor, and airpower.

But the Germans misread the extent of ineptitude and stubbornness of American leadership.

The 28th Division Enters the Forest

The US 28th Infantry Division was originally a Pennsylvania National Guard organization.  Its original nickname, the Keystone Division, was derived from its keystone insignia on uniforms (the keystone is the emblem of Pennsylvania).5

The 28th had done it all in Europe leading up to the Hurtgen Forest: fighting and dying through the impenetrable hedgerows of France following D-Day, marching through Paris triumphantly, and breaking through the famous fortified defenses of the Siegfried Line.  The 28th crossed from France onto German soil in September 1944, having learned valuable lessons from prior campaigns but paying a high price in casualties.  A rest was badly needed.

So, in late September, the 28th was moved into reserve in Belgium.  Major General Dutch Cota, who enjoyed a stellar reputation till the Hurtgen, rested the 28th while rebuilding the ranks with inexperienced replacements and preparing for the next fight.

General Eisenhower and Major General Cota at the 28th Div. C.P. Rott.

But the 28th Division was the only corps in reserve after the failed attempt of the 9th Division to give the Hurtgen a go.  Thus, in late October it was hastily brought forward and ordered back into action.

Ironically, the 28th Division’s motto was “Fire and Movement.”6 The Battle of Hurtgen Forest presented a situation where the former was challenging while the latter was often impossible.

The assault into the Hurtgen commenced on November 2 after a few days of delay due to cold, cloudy, and wet inclement weather; conditions that would be the norm for the duration of the campaign. Cota deployed three infantry regiments, the 109th, 110th, and 112th, in the attack.  Tanks were attached to each regiment but were often useless in the terrain and weather.

American plans were for the 109th to aim for the village of Hurtgen to the northeast, the 110th targeted Raffelsbrand/Simonskall to the southeast, while the 112th was to head east to Kommerscheidt and then to the key objective of Schmidt.

That’s three separate lines of attack.  And due to delays in launching attacks at other points across the wide front, the 28th in the Hurtgen would be the only attack occurring those first few days of November, meaning the Germans could dedicate full attention to the battle.

The first day of attack on November 2 devastated the 110th; as they attempted to advance to the southeast they were mowed down by machine guns and artillery.  Zero progress was made and by the end of the week the 110th had lost effectiveness as a fighting force.

The 109th made limited progress until it encountered a dense minefield, stopping short of Hurtgen village and suffering heavy casualties.

The best American progress on November 2 was by the 112th in the middle, having reached the village of Vossenack on the way to the ultimate objective of Schmidt.  By the next day, the Americans in the 112th traveled down the ravine to the Kall stream, traversed the stream, and climbed the opposite bank toward Schmidt.  Germans in the town were taken by surprise, and the Americans surprisingly held Schmidt by late afternoon on November 3.

But snipers made movement in and around Schmidt impossible. And it was tough to reinforce the position with 30-ton Sherman tanks due to the muddy, narrow, and steep Kall trail.

Field Marshal Model and the Germans were initially surprised by the attack, thinking the Americans would be too smart to try an assault into the impenetrable forest. Ironically, at commencement of the 28th’s attack, Model and his staff were conducting map war game exercises to play out a hypothetical American campaign in the area.

Model responded quickly. He sent some officers to the front and kept others back at his headquarters to monitor and manage the battle.  Cloudy weather negated Allied air power and the Germans were able to quickly move troops and tanks to the outskirts of Schmidt and Hurtgen village.

The Americans in Schmidt were too few to handle the coming counterattack.  They were oblivious to the threat, felt the Germans lacked enough remaining armor to mount an attack, and were short of anti-tank equipment and mines. General Cota remained far from the front lines, out of touch with developments and thinking the battle was already won.

The morning of November 4 delivered a strong dose of reality.  German artillery opened on Schmidt, tanks blew apart the town, and screaming German infantry surged toward the undermanned Americans.  The Americans, routed and in disarray, fled.  Schmidt was back in German hands by noon.

Some of the routed American forces regrouped at Kommerscheidt (between the Kall stream and Schmidt) and a few Shermans arrived up from the nearly impassable Kall trail.  The Kall trail was the only avenue for reinforcement and supply, but it was a muddy, narrow mess.  Engineers worked continuously to make it barely passable for tanks and antitank equipment.  A tank broke down on the trail and impeded progress for days until it was shoved over the ravine. The pace to traverse the trail was excruciatingly slow, and the route was lightly defended and vulnerable to continuous German attack.

At the time when the desperate Americans needed leadership the most, they didn’t get it.  General Cota remained far from the front and was confused.  General Hodges showed up at Cota’s command post and went on a tirade.  An intimidated Cota was sending orders to the front line for Schmidt to be retaken at once and to “roll on.”7 Obviously, the detached American generals had no clue as to the critical state of their troops or the battle.

By November 7, Kommerscheidt had fallen. The Kall trail was under heavy attack, making an attempted night retreat deadly and difficult.

It wasn’t until the next day that Generals Eisenhower and Bradley became worried enough to show up at Dutch Cota’s headquarters.  Eisenhower commented, “Well, Dutch, it looks like you got a bloody nose.”8

The first winter storm hit on November 9. A truce allowed US wounded to be evacuated across the Kall stream and up the trail.  Finally, the decimated 112th was off the front line.  The 110th was possibly in worse condition, reduced to less than sixty infantry, including reinforcements.

Sherman tanks mounted with 105mm. howitzers open fire in a muddy field amid the Hurtgen Forest on November 17, 1944.

Of the over two thousand Americans who set foot east of the Kall stream during the battle, only three hundred managed to make it back to the western bank.  In about a week of battle, the Americans suffered over 6,000 casualties, to the Germans 3,000.

The reputation of General Dutch Cota went from hero prior to the Hurtgen to inept leader after.  The most likely explanation as to why he was not relieved of command was that prior purges by Hodges and the recent Hurtgen combat losses drained the depth of officers.  There was no one able enough to replace Cota.

Costly Third Attempt

But the American generals, including Hodges, did not learn, and for months continued to throw troops into the meatgrinder of the Hurtgen Forest.  Next up was the 22nd Infantry Regiment.

The regiment was commanded by Colonel Charles Lanham.  Lanham led from the front to the point of recklessness.  Many considered him brilliant but crazy.  No one questioned his courage.

He expected much of his officers and told them, “As officers, I expect you to lead your men. Men will follow a leader, and I expect my platoon leaders to be right up front. Losses could be very high. Use every skill you possess. If you survive your first battle, I’ll promote you. Good luck.”9

A German bunker in the Hurtgen Forest (2018).

The 22nd started eighteen days of hell in the Hurtgen on November 18.  After three days, the regiment lost its three battalion commanders, and the attrition rate among rifle company leaders was over three hundred percent. By the end of the sixth day, the regiment suffered fifty percent casualties.

Yet the regiment fought on, suffering more than 2,800 casualties to advance just over 300 yards a day. One soldier fell for every two yards gained. The casualty rate was a staggering eighty-six percent of normal regiment strength.

The Damned Dams

American leadership spent years after the battle defending the decision to enter the forest.  One of the more popular explanations was the need to secure two forest dams that controlled the water level of the Roer River flowing northward, which sat to the east and between the Allies and the Rhine River. The Allies believed they could not attack eastward to the Rhine as long as the Germans held the dams and could threaten to flood the Roer River Valley.

Yet General Hodges made no plans prior to battle to capture the dams on the Roer, just inside the Hurtgen Forest. The dams were apparently the key to the river, but it would take prolonged battles in the forest by several divisions before Hodges ordered an attack against them.

Hodges did not press for air attacks on the Roer River dams until late November, but they failed. Direct hits were made, but the concrete structures were so massive that damage was negligible.

In mid-December, months after the Americans entered the Hurtgen, a ground assault on the dams was launched. It would not be until February 1945 that the Allies controlled the dams and could land on the eastern bank of the Roer River.

American leadership blundered by not proposing an easier avenue of approach southeast of the Hurtgen Forest, allowing Hodges to seize the dams and then clear the terrain downriver.  The Battle of Hurtgen Forest didn’t have to be.

The Hurtgen’s Bloody Tally

The slaughter and misery dragged into December 1944, when the Americans finally pulled out of the forest.  By that time, Allied attention was fixed on German Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s breakthrough in the Ardennes; what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

American soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division in defensive positions in the Hurtgen Forest, December 1944.

All said, 120,000 American troops were deployed in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, suffering 33,000 casualties.

Combat fatigue, pneumonia, and trench foot claimed 9,000 of that gruesome toll.  Soldiers lacked sufficient boots and winter clothing.  Hot food and dry cover were almost nonexistent.  Men spent long nights frozen in foxholes.  American domination of logistics and supply enjoyed throughout the war failed in the Hurtgen.

Making Coffee in the Hurtgen Forest, December 1944. By Tony Vaccaro.

The campaign absorbed enormous resources and destroyed morale. It weakened the American front and set the stage for the initial German success in the Battle of the Bulge.  The worst American setback in the European Theater prolonged the war.

Historian Carlo D’Este saw the American performance in the Hurtgen Forest as “the most ineptly fought series of battles of the war in the West.”10  Hemingway referenced World War I by describing the Hurtgen Forest as “Passchendaele with tree bursts.”11  Colonel David H. Hackworth, a battalion commander in the Vietnam War, called the Hurtgen battle “one of the most costly blunders of World War II.”12

Six Lessons

Because it was disastrous, and because we tend to best remember victories, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest has been virtually forgotten.  It is only briefly mentioned in the memoirs of Generals Eisenhower and Bradley and has been overlooked by many historians.

The battle should have been avoided.  Its lessons must be remembered if we are to honor those who paid the ultimate price.

The Battle of Hurtgen Forest provides six key lessons:

  • Leadership matters, and poor leadership negates inherent advantage. Eisenhower, Bradley, Hodges, Collins, and Cota failed to understand the strategic irrelevance of the forest and the ability to reduce it and avoid it by flanking to the southeast.  Hodges applied obsolete tactics and lost composure at the worst times. Hodges and Cota both led from the rear, failing to grasp the frontline situation as events unfolded, compounding mistakes with more mistakes.
  • Preparation and homework are prerequisites to success. The Allied command went into the Hurtgen unprepared and with no clear agreement on why they were there to begin with. A simple reconnaissance of the Kall trail would’ve warned of its challenges.  Much was made of the need to capture the dams on the Roer to the southeast of the Hurtgen as justifying the battles.  Yet there was a lack of clarity, before and during the battle, on intended timing of dam capture, the impact the dams could have on flooding of the Roer River, and on alternatives to address the dams (including flanking or bombing them).
  • Avoid terrain and environment that neutralizes your strengths. Since Sun Tzu, strategists understood the importance of picking the proper field of battle.  Yet the Allies chose the worst place for battle.  The Hurtgen’s thick woods, ravines, steep ridges, lack of roads, mud, and weather eliminated Allied superiority in mobility armor, and airpower.  Tanks were largely useless until late in the battle and airpower was hampered by cloud cover.
  • Supply chain weakness will hamper success in modern warfare and economy. The Kall trail was the primary lifeline for Americans on the frontline for much of the battle. Yet the trail was too steep, too narrow, too muddy, and too prone to German attack.  This crucial artery of movement was far too fragile to feed a victory.
  • Success demands teams have the proper tools and equipment. One of the Allies’ greatest strengths during the war, logistics, failed miserably during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Soldiers were deprived of the basics: hot food, winter gear, and boots to protect from trench foot.  The failure to equip troops with the essentials resulted in thousands of avoidable casualties.
  • Underestimate your adversary’s capacity and will at your own peril. The Allies in late 1944 were too overconfident. They ripped across France, were now inside Germany, the industrial Ruhr was within reach, and the fighting spirit of the German army was thought to be poor. A blunt and direct assault into the Hurtgen would be easy and unresisted.  The Germans benefitted from such ignorance and foolishness, which carried on beyond the Hurtgen and bled into the Battle of the Bulge.

History is written by the victors. But if the victors desire to remain on top, analyzing and learning from the failures is essential.


[1] Atkinson, Rick, The Guns at Last Light, p. 310.
[2] Atkinson, Rick, The Guns at Last Light, p. 311.
[3] See; The Hurtgen Forest, 1944: The Worst Place of Any.
[4] That held true even after the war. Loyal Hodges subordinate General Joe Collins stated post-war, “We had to go into that forest to secure our right flank.” And, “What was the alternative?”  (Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light, p. 314.) How about a flanking maneuver around it?
[5] The Germans in World War II gave the 28th Division another nickname, the Bloody Bucket Division, because of the blood-red color of the keystone insignia and the vicious fighting tactics used by the 28th through Normandy.
[7] Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light, p. 321.
[8] Pereira and Wilson, All Souls Day: The World War II Battle and the Search for a Lost U.S. Battalion, p. 146.
[9] See; The Battle of Hürtgen Forest: A Tactical Nightmare for Allied Forces.
[10] D’Este, Carlo, Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, p. 627.
[11 Hemingway, Ernest, Across the River and Into the Trees, p. 218.
[12]; The Battle of Hürtgen Forest: A Tactical Nightmare for Allied Forces.

Natural Gas Development and Human Health in PA: Let’s Get the Facts Straight

By Nick Deiuliis

Poor policy favors superficial optics and follows manufactured storylines. Sound policy aims for substantive improvement and values rational decisions based on objective data. ​

Today a poor policy path is being promoted to harm a life-sustaining industry, manipulating concerns for human health as a convenient tool. It’s happening in Pennsylvania with its natural gas industry and local communities. ​

A ground game is churning that fabricates a storyline of the natural gas industry hurting residents: causing asthma, causing childhood cancers, and adversely impacting newborns. Making and broadcasting disgusting and baseless accusations to vilify and take down a noble and societally crucial endeavor, and in the process hurting the very region and communities the opportunists claim to work in the interests of.

This past August, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) released the results of its studies on public health impacts from natural gas development in southwestern Pennsylvania. The studies left much to be desired; they suffered from fatal design flaws, many of them self-inflicted.

Yet the studies failed to find causation that would link natural gas development to health problems. The biggest ‘bombshell’ findings were a pair of very weak (and in one case, nonsensical) associations of natural gas development and two discrete health issues. No smoking guns identified.

But the rollout, presentation, and subsequent reporting of the findings (or lack thereof) were staged to garner maximum speculation, innuendo, and debasing of the natural gas industry. An all-too-common occurrence in media and academia today.

Mountain of Evidence Prior to the Pitt Studies

Over the years prior to the recent Pitt studies, substantial research has been conducted by numerous organizations on the impacts of natural gas development on public health. ​ The studies yielded disappointing results for those hoping to link shale development with human health risks: the expected risks have not materialized while efforts to find clear causation of natural gas development on health risks have come up short.

Consider the massive body of scientific work and measurement performed on point prior to this summer.

In the then-largest study of its kind, a 2015 Yale-led investigation found no evidence that trace contamination of organic compounds in drinking water wells near Marcellus shale development in northeastern Pennsylvania came from deep hydraulic fracturing shale horizons, underground storage tanks, well casing failures, or surface waste containment ponds.

The Yale study was followed by a Duke-led effort in 2017 to assess the impacts of natural gas development on groundwater in northern West Virginia. The Duke study concluded that there was a clear indication for the lack of groundwater contamination and subsurface impact from shale-drilling and hydraulic fracturing. And that trace metals associated with potential health impacts also showed no correlation with proximity to shale gas activities. ​

In 2018 the University of Cincinnati assessed the risk of methane making its way into groundwater in the Utica shale region of Ohio. The study found no relationship between methane concentration or source in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites. ​ The study did, however, show a decrease in methane concentration in some regularly monitored wells during the study period. And that pH and conductivity did not change as shale gas drilling increased, nor with distance to the nearest shale gas well. Data did not indicate intrusion of frac fluids. ​ ​ ​

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health (DOH) were also busy in 2018, conducting studies and issuing reports that concluded Marcellus shale emissions did not exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) limits and that the emissions are not expected to be harmful to healthy citizens. Estimated additional lifetime cancer risks were found to be very low from exposures to chemicals near natural gas activity (average levels of carcinogenic chemicals detected were generally similar to levels typically seen in ambient air in mixed urban, suburban, and rural areas across the US). And significantly fewer Air Quality Index (AQI) days worse than “Good” were measured at a monitoring site near natural gas facilities versus local comparison sites.

Penn State performed a 2018 study of groundwater in rural regions of Pennsylvania (Bradford County) where natural gas development is present. The study found only rare instances of possible gas contamination amid an overall trend of improving water quality despite heavy Marcellus shale development. The Penn State researchers saw possible contamination by natural gas in only 0.5% of the nearly 1,400 shale wells studied in heavily drilled Bradford County. The remaining water chemistry data highlighted that groundwater either improved or remained level from samples taken prior to the 1990s.

“The most interesting thing we discovered was the groundwater chemistry in one of the areas most heavily developed for shale gas – an area with 1400 new gas wells – does not appear to be getting worse with time, and may even be getting better,” said the director of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

2023 Pitt Studies Findings

The recent Pitt studies, spanning years and millions of dollars in expenditures, showed no ‘causation’ and a limited, highly questionable pair of ‘associations’ between natural gas development and two specific health issues. ​

In statistics, it is important to differentiate between ‘association’ and ‘causation.’ Two variables may be associated without a causal relationship. For example, there is a statistical association between the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool and the number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in for a given year (they indeed do show an association when tracked over a specific period of time). However, there is obviously no causal relationship.

Causation, on the other hand, means that the exposure produces the effect.

The Pitt studies found no causation from unconventional shale development to any of the health risks studied. Rather, researchers stretched to find two associations using skewed measurements, atypical definitions, and not attempting to account for key environmental and other factors that have proven demonstrable impacts on health.

The studies relied on a very limited proximity metric which doesn’t identify any exposure pathways, assumes constant emissions, and ignores critical factors like weather, work, air dispersion, lifestyle choices and known existing hazards. In addition, the studies assumed all natural gas wells “are created equal.”

Despite these flaws and limitations, the researchers acknowledged, “No evidence was found to support an association between exposures to [natural gas] activities and other environmental factors and the risk of leukemia, [central nervous system] tumors, and malignant bone tumors, including [Ewing’s Family of Tumors].” An extremely low lymphoma association correlation was found, underscoring the limited methodologies employed.

Asthma exacerbations were not linked with proximity to wells in pad preparation, drilling or hydraulic fracturing phases, regardless of how close wells were to homes or the number of wells nearby. Curiously, the only association claimed was to the natural gas production phase, when little to no activity occurs on the pad and emissions are minimal.

Ironically, Pitt’s own data on asthma in western Pennsylvania show a 50% decline of severe asthma cases between 2014 and 2020, even as natural gas production in the study region increased by over 200%. And across the study period, air quality in the Western Pennsylvania region has generally improved, with PM2.5 particulate matter, an asthma trigger, declining in the eight-county study area to well below NAAQS (EPA). Reviewing the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s “Most Challenging Places to Live with Asthma” informs that no region (including Pittsburgh) with natural gas development falls in the top 20, but Philadelphia, Allentown, and Harrisburg each do.

The Pitt study found birthweights for mothers living close to natural gas facilities remain in the normal healthy range, and no association to other adverse birth outcomes. The average birthweight was within the national average of 2400-4000 grams, and the greatest reduction in birthweight associated with natural gas well exposure was only 0.8% below the average, still well within healthy ranges. The researchers pointed out this “poses little health risks.” Interestingly, the odds of preterm birth were higher for those living with no natural gas activity near the mother’s residence during pregnancy.

Fatal Flaws of the Pitt Studies

The Pitt studies suffer from fundamental limitations in design and methods that, coupled with how the findings were presented to the public, raised anxiety unwarranted by actual data. ​

Researchers never visited shale gas sites, refused opportunities to do so, didn’t take air or water samples, or generate any new, original data or measurements. Statistical speculation trumped actual measurement.

If the researchers had spent time in the field, they would have seen how natural gas development is safe, well-regulated, and produced here better than anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the researchers relied solely upon statistical models and static locational information. They ignored key influential factors like actual emissions, wind, air dispersion, weather patterns, not to mention other potential environmental sources of exposure or outdoor hazards.

In a Question-and-Answer document regarding the research studies, the Pennsylvania DOH cautioned: “Establishing cause-effect relationship in environmental studies is very difficult. In many cases, it is also not generally feasible to be able to gather information on or understand all the possible factors that may impact health such as genetics, other exposures over a lifetime and lifestyle factors that may impact the health outcome in question.”

Consider the finding of association of natural gas development to lymphoma (0.006%-0.0084% association between diagnosis and well location) and no association with other cancers, including Ewing Sarcoma. The researchers primarily relied on the relation of the disease and how close sufferers lived to a fracking facility. Because data was limited to information found on birth certificates, the studies wrongfully assumed people lived at the same address for up to 29 years, while ignoring daily travel to locations like schools and workplaces. Such an approach would be laughable if it were not for the serious issues at hand.

The researchers admit the cancer study did not adequately account for variables the American Cancer Society lists as common lymphoma causes. These include genetic predisposition, infection, and exposure to radiation (such as the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania uranium waste facility where government monitoring has shown higher radiation levels).

The asthma assessment suffered from similar methodology flaws, failing to account for known asthma triggers including indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and refusing to present this data to the public. Nor did Pitt researchers explain why they labeled all asthma exacerbation cases as “severe” when the standard in medical studies is to categorize asthma exacerbation cases as mild, moderate, and severe. Without explanation, researchers broke these medical research norms. ​

The asthma data were limited to information found in medical records. Meaning that while smoking status was accounted for, a child’s exposure to secondhand smoke was not. Other known asthma triggers that were ignored, as identified by the CDC, include indoor and outdoor air pollutants, dust mites, mold, and pests. This leaves a huge gap in the potential other external factors that are known to trigger and exacerbate asthma.

Conflicts and Bias

Fundamental to the credibility of research is that researchers are, in fact, independent and unbiased.

One of the lead researchers for these studies publicly advocated for increasing mandatory setbacks from shale gas activities during a 2021 public forum. Unfortunately, the researcher drew conclusions well before finalizing these studies and chose to advocate for a public policy that is being pushed by anti-energy activists seeking to ban natural gas development.

Consider the money trail to assess who benefits from the baseless speculation that ensues. Little if any new, empirical research was conducted in the studies. Of the $2.584 million in taxpayer funds spent on these studies, $1.5 million went to pay salaries and benefits of the researchers, while another $932,000 went for various, unspecified administrative fees. ​

A concerning lack of transparency stokes more concern about how the study was performed. The researchers failed to adhere to the provisions of the taxpayer-funded contract, which required it to conduct a public forum on at least an annual basis to advise on the status of the ongoing studies and, by extension, gain valuable input from all stakeholders affected by the studies (“On at least an annual basis, the Principal Investigator(s) and study team shall present study progress to date in a public forum in conjunction with the Department.” Section E.2.B (Work Plan) of Attachment 1; Contract number 4400018535). Despite claiming that it would “welcome open and collaborative conversations with the board (External Advisory Board) when we have data to share,” it appears that no open or collaborative conversations were held with the External Advisory Board or interested public stakeholders.

The studies considered proximity to only one potential exposure, unconventional natural gas wells, rather than taking a holistic approach of examining whether other activities or exposures may have contributed to adverse health impacts. For example, the study region hosts two uranium disposal sites which have been demonstrated to have uranium concentrations in groundwater that are 22x higher than the EPA’s maximum concentration limits. Additionally, pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of some cancers, leading credible researchers to examine the presence of treated croplands in proximity to incidents of cancer. Yet, the cancer study did not adequately factor in these or other potential exposures, as well as personal genetic or lifestyle factors that may influence health outcomes.

With respect to asthma, the Pitt researchers excluded residents of the city of Pittsburgh from their study population even though Pittsburgh is within the study region and many of its residents live in proximity to shale gas wells. No rational reason is offered for excluding Pittsburgh residents. But well-established research has shown that the rate of asthma in urban areas is meaningfully higher than the rate in rural settings. By removing Pittsburgh’s population from the study group, including a control population that would be expected to have statistically higher asthma rates, the study skews the findings by failing to draw from the control population in a consistent manner across the study region.

How the Process Works

One must understand the process used in the Pitt studies (and many others like it from across the country) to judge the findings objectively. The reactions of various parties upon the release of the studies provide a window into how this type of research has been co-opted to fulfill predetermined views of the natural gas industry by those opposed to it. ​ The intent is to build a process that functions as a positive feedback loop, with each subsequent link reinforcing the pre-desired outcome or view.

The studies used two primary datasets. First, the researchers access medical information of patients with maladies of concern, in this case childhood cancers, asthma, and birth outcomes. In these medical datasets, a home address is associated with the patient.

Second, researchers use locations of natural gas wells, and dates when they were drilled, hydraulically fractured, and producing. ​

The researchers then determine the strength of the statistical relationship between the home address of the patient and the distance to a well pad (or other natural gas infrastructure of interest such as a compression station).

It’s a simple approach bordering on useless. It will fail to deliver any meaningful insight or solid conclusions beyond innuendo and rank speculation.

That’s why this methodology creates the need to use squishy descriptors such as ‘links’, ‘ties’, and ‘associations,’ but can’t be used to determine basic cause and effect. ​

The study authors say they welcome additional data and research. Yet regulatory agencies conduct extensive studies on actual air quality, radiation, and many other compounds of potential concern from industrial operations, including natural gas development. Environmental, health, and safety professionals at energy companies collect and analyze data regularly to protect their workforce, contractors, host communities and the environment. These extensive datasets are consciously ignored by those predisposed to creating worst-case speculative scenarios.

By design, the public sees only the alarmist headlines.

The reactions to these much-anticipated studies were telling. Some reactions were theatrical and prepared ahead of time (mostly journalists and environmental group bureaucrats with self-serving agendas) while others were raw with emotion emanating from genuine anguish (parents experiencing personal loss and tragedy). All the reactions were carefully commandeered by opportunists to nurture that positive feedback loop.

Constrained by the flaws of the study design, it was impossible to answer the questions of concerned residents, who came away empty-handed without the being told what is causing illnesses. ​

The researchers offered that “this was only the beginning” and “the first step,” both of which are code for justifying millions of dollars in additional expenditures to feed a machine dependent on fear and anxiety.

Media plays a collaborative role in manufacturing the emotion and bias. The news reports were what one commentator notably described as “overwhelmingly sloppy” with headlines, promoting outcomes that weren’t explicit in the studies.1 Many outlets conveyed conclusions not made in the studies, which is unethical, bordering on legally actionable. ​

Consider the following headlines appearing after the town hall presentation:

  • “Study: Asthma severity, rare childhood cancer likelier near gas wells”
  • “Research suggests link between fracking, rare childhood cancers”
  • “A Pennsylvania study suggests links between fracking and asthma, lymphoma in children”
  • “’Is it safe to live here?’: Questions loom at presentation of reports on fracking and health in southwestern Pa.”
  • “Fracking is making Pennsylvanians sick. Lawmakers must act.”

Most headline readers come away with conclusions that the studies did not conclude. Which is the objective of the journalists writing the headlines. Yet compare those headlines to what the studies and researchers stated:

  • “The researchers were unable to say whether the drilling caused the health problems, because the studies weren’t designed to do that.”
  • “But the researchers said they found no association between gas drilling and childhood leukemia, brain and bone cancers.”
  • “Limited evidence existed for a tie between gas extraction and central nervous system tumors.”
  • “But no relationship was found between fracking and leukemia. Similarly, results did not show a link between rare bone cancer and shale gas development that was statistically significant.”
  • “The studies used a retrospective model, which looks back in time at participants’ health instead of tracking patients in real time.”
  • “If you are just looking at the studies and trying to demonstrate some kind of causation, and trying to say that this is the end-all-be-all of the situation, that is not what these studies are designed to do.”

Welcome to modern-day mainstream media, now devoid of ethical standards, in the fields of domestic energy and environment. No wonder that Gallup found only 18% of Americans today have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in newspapers. ​

(1) My personal observation was that the media reporting was “calculatingly curated.”

Jane Says ‘End Fossil Fuels Now’…But Jane’s Addiction Is to Fossil Fuels

The flyer arrived in the mail in early summer. The local speakers series was announcing its lineup of luminaries coming to Pittsburgh for the 2023-2024 season. Jane Fonda was the first guest on the schedule; her short bio mentioned the Jane Fonda Climate PAC.

Reading the brochure and seeing Fonda brought strong emotions.

Fair disclosure: I am not a fan of Jane Fonda’s off-screen antics. Her two-week visit to North Vietnam in 1972, capped with the infamous photos of her perched atop a Hanoi antiaircraft gun and smiling alongside NVA troops, remains a hurtful betrayal of America and its veterans. A shameless, embarrassing bid for attention and publicity.

But…embracing a classic liberal view of individual rights, including freedom of speech, I can’t fault the 85-year-old Fonda for going on the speakers tour. Or for running a political action committee (PAC) to fund politicians that match her ideology and policy leanings.

After all, this is America and it’s a free country, right? Perhaps that’s stretching wishful thinking with the Left running government these days. But call me an optimist.

Interestingly, a few days after the speaker series brochure arrival, I stumbled across an article featuring Fonda in the Wall Street Journal’s style section. It’s one of those features where a series of everyday questions are posed to the celebrity, offering insight into the celebrity’s preferences, likes, and lifestyle. (I’m not a regular reader of the style section, which my fashion sense corroborates).

Realizing Fonda was the guest, I gave a thorough read to the Q&A. Many of her answers in the May interview are riddled with climate change concern and advocacy for climate action. But her answers to the lifestyle and daily routine questions betrayed personal actions in conflict with her environmental talking points.

And once again, I was shocked by the degree of elitist hypocrisy on display, this time from Fonda. With such hypocrisy being a common occurrence these days, one would expect to be desensitized to it by now.

The timing and intersection of brochure and article were sweet serendipity for this energy policy afficionado.

On one end we have Fonda’s approaching speech that, based on the brochure, suggests a discussion on the need to address climate change. And then there’s Fonda’s expose in the Journal chatting up her lifestyle.

It was time to put the celebrity climate talk to the test of the celebrity lifestyle walk.

Jane Says: Climate Action Now!

Fonda clearly considers herself an advocate for the environment and a voice to urge decisive action on climate change. Those themes play prominent in many of her appearances, interviews, and speeches.

She formed the Jane Fonda Climate PAC, a political action committee that gathers donations to fund the campaigns of dozens of politicians who favor extreme environmental ideology and policies.

The organization’s website is professionally done and incudes a five-minute video of Fonda pleading to cut fossil fuel emissions and to end the influence of those evil fossil fuel companies.

She mentions ‘bomb cyclones’ in California. Ironically, she points to the Texas freeze of 2021 and New England blizzards as signs of global warming, err, climate change (isn’t the term ‘climate change’ so much more accommodating to the religion of radical environmentalism than ‘global warming’?).

She implores us to elect leaders who will act with urgency. Especially in America’s biggest cities, which need to move away from fossil fuels immediately. She reminds us that the evil fossil fuel industry never rests and that its lackies in Congress are hard at work planning the next nefarious moves.

Fonda touts her activist street cred across the website (absent is any mention of her Hanoi campaign of 1972). She proudly promotes how she was arrested five times for protesting the government’s inaction on climate change.

She warrants that the Jane Fonda Climate PAC is laser-focused on one goal: doing what it takes to defeat fossil fuel supporters and elect climate champions at all levels of government. She reflects that it is the most important thing she will do in her lifetime.

Of course, the site urges personal aggressive action on climate change, consistent with the typical climate-speak everywhere these days of ‘reaching a stark turning point,’ ‘time is short,’ and ‘the world is ending if we don’t all act ASAP’ (the same climate alarmism we’ve been hearing the last hundred years).

On social media, the Jane Fonda Climate PAC posted a message asking, “Each of us one day will have to answer the question: what did I do to protect the planet…?”1

Jane’s Addiction to Fossil Fuels

That social media post by the Jane Fonda Climate PAC got me thinking: what if the ‘one day’ it referenced was today? How would Fonda’s personal lifestyle today stack up to her rhetoric and lecturing others about the climate crisis and the need to stop using fossil fuels?

That’s where the interview came into play. In it, Fonda happily discusses in detail much of her daily routine and interests.

When one considers the carbon footprint and fossil fuel inputs that come with a day in the life of Jane Fonda, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for the Code Red crowd. Here’s a brief inventory:

  • Fonda says the first thing she does in the morning is play online games. Let’s assume the games2 are played on a smart phone, smart tablet, or computer. All those electronic products carry massive carbon footprints on a life cycle basis, and all need fossil fuels as a necessary input to the manufacturing process. Worse yet, many links of their production chains carry egregious ecological damage and human rights violations in the developing world.
  • Something had to charge those electronic devices to power them. That something would be electricity, which carries a significant carbon footprint and will rely on fossil fuels at some point on a life cycle basis, most often directly. If Fonda plugs in her devices in California, she should know wind and solar power generation require substantial fossil fuel inputs and backup. Plus, California’s grid to this day (and into the future unless blackouts are desired) relies on fossil fuel generation for much of the time and year.

Alright, Fonda is off to a not-so-sustainable start to her day, committing serious climate sin before lunch. But maybe there’s time left in the day to repent and get back on a zero-carbon path to redemption.

However, things on the climate action front go from bad to worse.

  • Fonda works out to stay in shape, which is great. She has a personal trainer who travels to and from Fonda’s home to assist in her workouts. How does that trainer travel to her home? Uh oh. If one assumes the trainer uses a car, that’s going to require fossil fuels.3 If the car is an EV, the fossil fuel inputs and carbon footprint may be worse than a gasoline powered car, because EVs have monster carbon footprints when one breaks down each step of their manufacturing process. And when the trainer charges the EV, it uses the same power generation sources that the smart devises used, which inevitably have carbon footprints and rely on fossil fuels.
  • Fonda says part of her workout regimen includes weights and resistance bands. If the weights are metal, there was surely a carbon footprint and fossil fuel use attached to making them; if the dumbbells are of the plastic or urethane finish style, the carbon footprint is worse, since plastics and polymers require natural gas and petroleum products as feedstocks. And the resistance bands? Goodness, those are typically latex, a chemical! That requires fossil fuels as an input to manufacture.

The carbon math is starting to stack up against Fonda’s preaching. But there is still time to make up lost ground. Let’s see if Fonda’s fashion habits can get her back on track to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

  • Fonda says her closet is big. Which means the large size had a large carbon footprint to construct. And usually, large closets are parts of large residences, another fossil fuel hog when building. The closet (and residence) must be heated, cooled, and lighted. Those things require energy and inevitably fossil fuel-derived and/or -powered energy.
  • Fonda mentions many of her clothes are shiny. Often shiny in clothing equates to materials and coatings that are petroleum sourced. Should’ve stuck with neutral colors and boring materials if looking to save the planet.
  • Fonda’s go-to everyday clothing item is yoga pants. Such apparel is typically made from blends of Lycra spandex, nylon, polyester, or similar light and stretchy synthetic material. All those materials cannot be manufactured without fossil fuels.
  • Fonda, like most of us, has a favorite pair of shoes. For her they are of a fake alligator skin variety. That’s great for the alligators, but ‘fake’ is code for synthetic, as in petroleum based. Does she realize she is walking around with crude oil strapped to her feet?
  • Fonda’s top jewelry item is a pair of gold earrings. Did she understand the unbelievable carbon footprint that gold jewelry demands? Not to mention the murky supply chain of gold and what it means to human rights. They make look great on the ears, but those shiny trinkets increased atmospheric CO2 and might have done much worse to laborers in Africa or China.
  • Fonda has a favorite perfume and uses makeup. The perfume is nothing but a mixture of chemicals, each of which must be painstakingly industrially processed and carries a carbon footprint (along with its distribution and packaging). The cosmetics industry is one of the most carbon-intensive industries, particularly on a per unit basis.

Well, Fonda wanting to feel and look good is more environmentally destructive than we had hoped. Things are starting to look ecologically dire for Fonda’s personal choices. But there is still time to change the highway to climate hell she is on.4 Maybe her dietary choices will save the day…for Fonda and the planet. Let’s see.

  • Fonda adores pizza, especially truffle pizza. Like many, she has a preferred pizzeria. A quick review of the LA establishment’s website shows it is a Neapolitan pizzeria, which means it utilizes a brick/ceramic oven to make the pizzas.5 Guess what those ovens are typically fired with? That’s right, the fossil fuels of wood and/or natural gas. Yikes! And not to mention the fossil fuels burned to get to and from the eatery, to build the restaurant, and to power it.
  • Fonda admits to a guilty pleasure: kosher hotdogs. Oh no. Meat products are the worst when it comes to carbon footprint. It’s hard to believe that someone as passionate about the climate is not vegan.
  • Fonda likes ice cream, and who doesn’t? She particularly is a fan of packaged ice cream bars. Unfortunately, ice cream carries a horrendous carbon footprint in its processing, transport, and refrigeration. Packaged ice cream bars are worse. Really bad choice there when assessing environmental credibility.
  • From time to time, Fonda enjoys an alcohol beverage. Nothing wrong with that. Except her favorite, vodka, cannot be produced or bottled without mining, drilling, and flowing fossil fuels. If one desires a zero-carbon lifestyle, alcohol is verboten.

This is getting ugly. Time for a Hail Mary attempt to salvage Fonda’s lifestyle. How about her travel habits?

  • Fonda’s favorite hotel from past travels is the Ritz in Paris. The feel of the place was magical to her; the sheets, service, food, etc. The Ritz in Paris, and all the over-the-top luxury that embodies it, is one of the most energy intensive service locations in the world. All its excess piles up the carbon emissions and fossil fuel use, especially on a life cycle basis. The establishment must shut down immediately if one believes global fossil fuel use must be cut in half and eventually eradicated.
  • Fonda’s wish list for future travel is to Finland.6 I’m not sure where Fonda calls home(s) these days, I’m guessing she may need to fly to and from Finland. And unless she is spry enough to snowshoe and cross-country ski to the wilderness locations in Finland she wants to visit, her logistics would include ground/snow/ice transport powered by fossil fuels. The best thing for the climate is for Fonda to stay home and skip any travel.

Contrasting the Preaching and the Doing of Climateers

Members of the Code Red crowd who are reading this should be in panic mode by now. It turns out, by Fonda’s own admission, she lives a life that is egregiously carbon intensive and relies extensively on fossil fuels.

I mean, WTF JF.

This individual is a passionate advocate for climate action and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. She says it is the most important thing she will do in her life!

Yet Fonda can’t demonstrate a lifestyle that practices what she preaches. And all of it is arrogantly on full display across national media. Hypocrisy hiding in plain sight, yet a collaborative media refuses to expose the obvious.

The moxie these days of elites such as Jane Fonda. But that moxie provides opportunity to highlight unprecedented hypocrisy when it comes to much of the radical environmental movement these days.

Environmentalism has morphed into a virulent religion of rigid ideology. If the high priests of the movement refuse to practice what they preach, it is up to the rational and logical to call them out.

This commentary is dedicated to those who served in Vietnam.

(1) Jane Fonda Climate PAC post on X, August 7, 2023.
(2) Wordle is Fonda’s game of choice, introduced to her by fellow eco-warrior and celebrity Ted Danson.
(3) Perhaps Fonda lives on a public transportation line, allowing the trainer to travel to and from her home by bus or subway (yeah, I doubt it, too). Such a commute would still carry a substantial carbon footprint, particularly on a per passenger ride basis, as public transportation ridership continues to plummet across the country.
(4) Shout out to UN carnival barker Guterres who quipped, “We are on a highway to climate hell.”
(5) Having family roots from Naples, I consider pizza a food group of its own. I share Fonda’s love for the food. Pizza unites us all! But you can’t enjoy a zero-carbon slice; that’s impossible.
(6) She wants to meet with reindeer herders to find out how climate change is impacting their lives. Celebrities…