Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

The recent "so help me God" controversy in the Air Force brought to mind something that happened closer to home some 30 years ago.  We had just been stationed in NY, and my younger HS freshman daughter was able to earn a scholarship to a very fine Catholic High School, choosing this over the huge, but well rated public school serving our area.  About two weeks into the school year, I received a call from the principal to stop by when I had a chance.  I said I was able to do so that afternoon, and an appointment was made.

I arrived in Sister's office, wondering what might be amiss.  The secretary ushered me in, and after introductory pleasantries, Sister said, "We owe you and your daughter an apology, and even more so, I wish to complement you on the excellent religious conscience you have instilled in her."  Totally confused, I simply said, "Thank you", and waited for more.

Well, it seems that that morning, the students had a chapel service of some sort.  Since there were a fair number of non-Catholics in the school, "active participation" was purely voluntary.  The non-Catholic students did not have to sing, pray aloud, etc.  However, whilst filing into the chapel, it seems that my daughter was the only student in her class that didn't genuflect before entering their assigned pew, an act of "reverence" their home room nun had said was expected of all when she gave them their "conduct in chapel" lecture".  Rather, she made what we Orthodox call a "small reverence", bowing her head and making the Sign of the Cross.  Obviously, she stood out like a sore thumb, and her home room nun took exception and sent her to the principal, as she was still doing this after a couple of obtuse mentions of "proper reverence in chapel".

Sister Principal told me that she had asked my daughter if she had any religious or personal objections to genuflecting, and daughter said, "No, not an objection."  Sister Principal then asked why my daughter refused to genuflect.  My daughter said, "It isn't a refusal, but a choice.  Genuflection is a meaningless action to the Orthodox, Sister.  While not as noticeable, I make what we call a small reverence before the Altar of God in the Chapel.  It shows the same reverence, but just in a manner meaningful to the Orthodox.  I was raised to never do anything before the Altar of God for any reason other than showing Him reverence.  Genuflecting would simply be to show uniformity or to please Sister X, and I think that would make genuflection, in my case, irreverent."

Of course, the Principal was gobsmacked that a freshman had such a solid understanding of reverence, and wanted to offer her praise to such fine parenting.  I had to admit that I and her parish priests had instilled the general notion of reverence, and that my daughter deserved the credit for applying it so well to a real life situation.

So why the above in commenting on the Air Force controversy?  Well, there is the issue of religious freedom that is attacked by requiring non-believers to swear an oath to a deity in which they have no belief.  Myself, I also see the other side of the coin, and here's why: 

On Oct 12, 1960, the officer swearing in a group of us into the Corps began with a short explanation of how solemn the oath is.  Not in "so help me God" terms, but in terms of total subordination to the Constitution, to include, as generations of Marines had done, putting our lives subordinate to and in support of the Constitution.  In short, there is nothing trivial about taking the oath of office.  Not one word, not one concept is to be taken lightly nor with coercion or reservation.

However, it is what he said next that really stuck with me.  He said that we should note that there was no reciprocal oath by the Corps, the government nor the Constitution in return.  Rather, what binds us together is that all Marines swear a common, simple, yet profound oath to support and defend the same Constitution.  Thus, everything we do as Marines, individually and as a Corps, is bound the the individual oaths taken by every Marine since Tun Tavern.  A lawful order by a superior is in execution of that oath, and obeying is equally in execution of that oath.  We have all sworn to be Marines with equal commitment.

So, the other side of the coin, IMHO, is that to require a troop to swear a meaningless 4 words ("so help me God") only serves to trivialize the Oath and the deity.  It adds words and a concept that is effectively meaningless and irreverent, not just to any deity, but to the solemnity of the Oath, itself. It is an oath taken with coercion and/or reservation, and includes a phrase intended only to please those administering the oath, failing to understand that oaths are more than an administrative exercise.  And thus, it is not only an affront to the person making the Oath, but to the Constitution and the deity who's name is being invoked without meaning for the sake of uniformity.  If my use of the deity in my oath is not sincere, then what of the rest of the Oath?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Winning Without a Battle?

Can you win a war without stepping on a battlefield?  Can you ever be in a position to win a war before the hostilities start?   

Retired General Anthony Zinni, former Commander of U.S. Central Command, says yes in his new book ’Before the First Shots Are Fired’.   A thoughtful read, for me anyway.  Zinni clearly states that a military response to threats is not always the best option and certainly not the only option.  Two of Zinni's conclusions that I take away from this book are:

1] “Words and ideas are as important to victory in today’s conflicts as bullets.”


2] Our foreign aid budget is pitiful, our State Department, USAID, and the other government agencies that we critically need to be on a par with our military are underfunded, undermanned, and poorly structured for their current objectives.”

Conflict-of-interest-alert:  I liked Tony Zinni before I ever picked up this book.  His public scolding of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ten years ago for the blunder of invading Iraq was identical to my thinking. And his defamation by the neocons and smear attempts by the right wing press made him OK in my book.  On top of that he and I are of the same generation, both former Marines, and both served in Vietnam.  Some of you though may take offense at his later supporting calls for ‘The Surge’.  Or for also criticizing Obama's strategy.  And some press accounts have labeled him a warhawk and a shill for the military industrial complex.  So be forewarned.

PS - Regarding that #2 point above.  I recently served as a pallbearer for a 98-year-old WW2 vet who was also a veteran of the State Department.  He had served on the USS Astoria but was lucky enough to have been transferred to another ship just prior to its sinking at the Battle of Savo Island. He served throughout the war and saw much action but was prouder by far of his time in foreign service as part of the State Department after the war.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Eradicate the brutes?

So apparently the armed might of the United States (sort of...well, the armed aerial might, anyway) is to be deployed to "eradicate the cancer" of the Islamic State. But that's okay because we're not going to send in the 1st Infantry Division and the Iraqi "government" is now a sweaty love-heap of nonsectarianism and the Saudis really, really promise not to send money to the Islamic theocrats in Fallujah and...well, because we're Good and they're Evil and Good always wins in the movies. And who doesn't love a good movie, right?

Well, okay then!

I know I was advocating using the USAF to act as the Iranian-Iraqi airforce a couple of months ago. I still think that the offer of CAS might have opened up a way for my country to slowly regain some sort of diplomatic re-entry into a region where it has done everything possible to help create geopolitical conditions as fucked up as a football bat but was largely convinced by my commentors here that it was a bad idea then and I don't see anything to suggest that this is any better an idea now that it's being proposed as some sort of regional U.S. aerial fun-fair.

The rabid Sunni theocrats and 8th Century wannabes that run the so-called "Islamic State" are some real sonsofbitches alright and like all theocrats of every variety the notion of their controlling anything more than the local soup kitchen gives me the giggy. But - and, admittedly, he writes purely for the comic effect - Gary Brecher has a damn good point:
"What the jihadis have accomplished is grim enough, but their showoff videos of beheadings and mass executions are minor surges in what is, like it or not, a rational process: The partition of Iraq into three, rather than the previous two, ethnic/sectarian enclaves. Before I.S.I.S made its big move, Iraq was an unstable, immiscible column divided into Kurdistan and “everything else,” with “everything else” ruled by a weak Shia army.

Now the natural three-term partition is in place again, with the Sunni of the center, Saddam’s tribe, back to doing what they do best. I don’t mean to minimize the brutality of the operation, but this is a fairly bloody part of the world, and we contributed rather significantly to that blood-mush ourselves."
Um. Oh, yeah, that. Oops.

I have never had much of an opinion of people in general. The Public IS an ass, by and large. But this is more than usually asinine. Something like 61% of the U.S. public thinks that more rubble = less trouble in the Sunni portions of Iraq and Syria. And that's because...John McCain says so?

What the fuck, people?

The bottom line is that in the zero-sum game of Middle Eastern politics it was always going to be difficult to resolve the issues inherent in the multi-sectarian post-Ottoman, post-colonial "states" like Iraq and Syria. There was the "old" way to play it - where the ruling faction (Tikritis in pre-2003 Iraq, Iranian-Shia clients in post-2008 Iraq, Alawite Shiites in pre-rebellion Syria) butchered the non-ruling factions if they ever got uppity. But we largely helped break that mold when we rampaged into the region killing people, breaking shit, proving that the old post-colonial secular governments were useless other than for being corrupt and weak, knocking groups around and throwing arms and anger all over the place. After that, and given that we ensured that the Sunnis in Iraq were dealt a bloody losing hand, it was nearly inevitable that if they didn't just roll over and die that they would choose to fight. And the more bloody and worse losing hand they were dealt ensured that the fighters they'd throw out would be the most ruthless they could find. The "Free Syrian Army" isn't a loser because they can't fight; they can't fight because they're the losers, the "moderates", who still see options other than red-handed war. The IS guys aren't that stupid. They know that the best in life is to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.

And we think a couple of GBU-28's is gonna change that?

The Sunni in the region are going to be horribly, bloodily crushed. Or they will find leaders and fight and will, eventually, establish some sort of polity that will probably be led by someone and look like something the U.S. isn't going to "like". If the U.S. is going to get involved in this hot mess - which I'm not sure we need - we need to start from there. Anything else, any other "policy" is based on complete foolishness, as is this. IF we're going to spend blood and treasure, we should at least understand what we're spending it on and what it might buy. This nonsense tells me we haven't the slightest fucking clue other than to play some idiot game for the morons in the U.S. public and the courtier press.

Honestly, people. Can't anybody here play this goddamn game?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Interesting position on Russia

The Cold War was primarily a standoff between two military powers.  The Soviet impact on, and involvement in, the world's economy was negligible.  Probably one of the major reasons the USSR collapsed.  It was Soviet military, and the resultant political power, that we wanted to keep in check.  We are now dealing with a new Russia, and that new Russia has become an economic player far greater than the old Soviet Union.  Now, when Russia rattles it's political saber, there are economic ramifications of concern.  Yet we still seem to be stuck in the Cold War mentality that Russia is always to be opposed.

This morning's Athens Newspaper, Ekathimerini, has a couple of interesting pieces about the Ukraine mess.  Of interest was their editorial, stating that a "stable and powerful Russia" is a key ingredient to global economic security.

An OpEd similarly addressed the situation, concluding with, "The world today has become a very complicated place, a place where there is no room left for experimentation, naivete or dogmatism."

Point is, we seem to be of the mentality that we have to have an "enemy" to be a real superpower.  We oppose terrorism, radical Islam, dictators, and our old foe, Russia.  But then, after opposing Assad, we learn that the "rebels fighting for democracy" include a strong ISIS element, and now, perhaps, Assad isn't so bad after all.  As far as Russia is concerned, well Putin was KGB, and perhaps new Russia is really the old Soviets after all, and didn't we have to stand up against them for decades?

Perhaps the fall back on blind ideology is simply part and parcel to being a power in decline?  Maybe we can't get beyond GWB's "If you are not with us, you are against us"?  Maybe it's time to learn to coexist with those who primarily are simply not against us, and replace dogmatism with pragmatism, even if it means we aren't be biggest player on the block.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Turkish Historical Society releases World War I archival photos

Interesting link from Hurriyet, a major Turkish Daily and reportedly the third most visited news website in Europe, probably due to the large number of immigrant Turks and Kurds in northern Europe.  In any case it shows a large digital album of 100 year-old photographs.

Unfortunately they are not captioned.  Photo #23 was particularly intriguing: six Turkish soldiers smiling at the camera next to a tent with an American flag hanging at the entrance. I am conjecturing that they are Turkish-American returnees.  New York and New England received many ethnic Turks from the Balkans and Cyprus prior to WW-1.

Photo #40!!!  Wow, that is a genuine old-school kanonisti.  My back hurts just looking at that guy.  Gallipoli probably and I bet that shell has either General Hamilton’s or Admiral de Robeck's name written on it in chalk.

Gallipoli is where Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) made his bones.  His face is undoubtedly in a photo of  one of those groups of  officers.  A young Mulazim (Lieutenant) Tahsin Yazıcı was also at Gallipoli and may be in one of those pics.  35 years later he commanded the Turkish Brigade in Korea as part of the United Nations Command.

I used to associate Turkey during WW1 only with the Aussies at Gallipoli and Faisal’s Arab Revolt.  But wait, not so fast:  In eastern Turkey and the Caucasus the Ottomans fought battles at Ardahan, Sarikamish, Van, Koprukoy, Trabizon, Bitlis & Mus, Erzinca, Baku, Sardarapat, Kara-Killisse, and Bash-Arbaran.  Circassian and Kurdish cavalry, Azeris, Persians, and German advisers fought alongside peasant Anatolian infantry (some Kurds fought for the Russkies too, they were not a monolithic bloc).  The initial Russian advances (along with their Armenian and Assyrian allies) were most likely due to a priority Ottoman defense of Gallipoli.  The Turks fought and won the the Battle of Ctesiphon and the Siege of Kut in Iraq.  They beat Allenby in two of the three Battles of Gaza in Palestine but lost the third and the Battle of Megiddo. They stalemated the Brits in the Yemen.  Turkish Navy ships in addition to contributing to the allied defeat at Gallipoli accompanied battlecruiser SMS Goeben (redesignated TCG Yavuz) on raids to Russian ports in the Black Sea.

Good reads on the subject are by Professor Edward J Erickson, former US Army Field Artillery Officer, and is now a professor of military history.  He has written several books on Turkey and its history.

UPDATE:  I have been scolded, and rightfully so, for not mentioning five other WW1 Fronts in which Ottoman troops served:

Galicia where the 19th and 20th Turkish Divisions were hastily sent after Austro Hungarian Forces melted during the Brusilov Offensive.  The famous 19th Division had previously been commanded by Atataturk at Gallipoli.  They fought alongside the German 55th and 1st (Reserve) Bavarian Divisions. (Note – This area is now mostly the Western Ukraine)

Romania where the 15th and 25th Turkish Divisions fought under von Mackensen against both Romanian and Russian troops.

Macedonia where two more Turkish Divisions (50th and 46th) reinforced the Bulgarians and fought against an Anglo-French Expeditionary Force. (Note – The Turks arrived there to much cheering by Khosovars and Albanians.)

Libya where the Turks armed and advised the Senussi guerrilla war against the Italians and also invaded the British in Egypt.  They were reinforced with a single Turkish Infantry Battalion. (Note – The Senussis were a key anti-Gaddafi faction in the 2011 Libyan Civil War.)

Iraq/Persian border where a small Turkish detachment held off Russian attacks on Khanaqin. (Note - Khanaqin is just a short distance away from Jalawla where heavy fighting is going on today between Kurds and IS.) 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

ISIS Artillery???

Per news reports Navy F-18s took out a single artillery piece in the vicinity of Khazir that was firing at Peshmerga positions in Gwier.   But where are the other 51 M-198s mentioned in the article above: Syria? Mosul? or still at the military bases abandoned by the Iraqi Army?  Does IS even have enough working prime movers to tow those captured M-198s around?  Can IS use them effectively – other than as an inaccurate city bombardment terror weapon? 

Can they even emplace and lay these guns in properly?  Gun safety?  What about the cannoneer's battle cry of:  <i>’Shoot, Move, and Communicate’</i>?  I don’t see them doing that well?  Perhaps Tarkhan Batirashvili</a>, AKA Omar the Chechen, one of the ISIS leaders can live up to that.

He reportedly was in Georgian Army recon during the Russo-Georgian War and relayed Russian tank column coordinates to Georgian artillery.  But that was only a five day war so how much experience did he get calling in fire missions?  And how good is he as a trainer and teacher?


But the bigger question is can they keep them in good working order?  Guderian has been quoted as saying that: <i>"The engine of a Panzer is as much a weapon of war as the main-gun."</i>  That is also true for modern weapons and is a problem for IS.  It will not be a small job for a ragtag bunch of jihadis to keep those captured M198s shooting and maintained in good working order (to say nothing of the captured M-1 tanks).  I doubt if the former Baathists who support IS have enough competent technicians and mechanics to undo any operator foul-ups making the guns inoperative.   There is no way these captured weapons are as maintenance free as the AK-47s and RPGs the militants are used to.

I am no expert on M-198’s or on artillery in general.  I have never been a cannon cocker.  My only association was years ago as an intel weenie with a USMC arty regiment that used the old M-114 155mm howitzers.  Even those, unsophisticated as they were, required a lot of daily and weekly preventive maintenance.

At a minimum: bore and chamber cleaning, ditto or maybe doubly so for powder fouling in the breech.  The  recoil mechanism, elevating and traversing mechanisms, hydraulic surge brakes also as I recall.   Fire control (?) - the M-198s have much more sophisticated fire control optics and electronics than the M-114 ever did.  How well will they stand up to the Caliphates sand dunes?  How critical is periodic borescoping?

Any insights from 13X’s, 08’s or other cannoneers?