Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial day.../sigh...again...and yet...

I went to church yesterday and sat in the pew with my wife.
Church is a moment where I escape from the world...well, as much as my fellow parishioners and pastor will conspire enough to allow me a moment to think in silence about something other than the world and how badly we're trying to bury it in ashes.
And so yesterday, conveniently in my own cocoon, safe within my intellectual walls of a congregation a betrayal occurred that one could say was quite like the Roman Senate and Julius Caesar.
Yes, the traditional Memorial Day Paen to all things military.
Fuck me.
I had forgotten.
Yes...those were my church...and I'm sure G-d and I are going to have a long talk about my impatience with my fellow brothers and sisters...but seriously...of all church?
"who do you remember on this day?" And of course, the Pastor whose brother served in Vietnam as a Buff pilot led the discourse on memories many lanes. So a video was played that tugged at the corner of ones eyes about a daughter whose daddy was dead in the ground all her life, but hey, writing letters to a dead person is emotional currency...especially for a video.
Well, everyones but mine because I'm thinking.
fuck me, fuck me, fuck me.
Sorry for the language, but this is what I was thinking in I said, G-d and I are in for a long Q&A...I'm sure I'll he'll be tossing my Q's right back into my face so I can get my A's that I want...but right now...fuck me!
"freedom isn't cheap, and my daddy said there are somethings worth dieing our freedoms."
What the fuck?
When were our freedoms ever jeopardized from an outside source?
The last existential threat to our freedom came from Britain in 1812, and let's be honest about that really wasn't an existential threat to us as it was to rid the continent of an obnoxious pest who was making "claims" of ownership...the rest of the time after that we have been fighting for everyone else's freedom, or for our businesses to have the freedom to screw over another part of the world...but my freedoms, and yours?
No, sorry, the only existential threat to my and your freedoms, sunshine's, is the lot of you willing to use your freedom as currency for a mythical security you will never ever get!

So I'm sitting there fuming...and everyone is clapping for freedom to worship that was protected by a guy who has been long dead being written letters from a growing daughter who hasn't learned to let go, let the dead sleep in peace, and move on with her life?

I'm sorry, but this memorial day, for the first time, will not be punctuated by my traditional "thank you" to the vets because I'm replacing it with this thank you.

Thank you to all you vets who went into the den of the beast, saw it for what it truly, fucking is, and said, "fuck this!" and brought the message home to the rest of us that war has an appetite for stupid people.

Perhaps that will awaken our fellow citizens that the greatest threat to the freedoms they enjoy doesn't come from across the sea, but from their own brazen fear of loosing freedoms that they never really cherished to begin with.

And if Sunday, yesterday, taught me anything it is that Christians are leading the nation in the direction of being gutless cowards...willing to cashier anything and everything for some mythical security that we, of all people, should know doesn't come from man.

G-d, we can be so pathetically sad.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Were you born in a barn?

Janus was the god of doors.

Janus also had a temple at Rome with double doors called the gates of war. The temple doors were open in time of war, but closed in peace.

Supposedly the doors were closed five times from the late Republic to the middle 5th Century AD.

The United States has never been a particularly peaceful nation, either. We have sent our people out to kill and die for us in foreign lands since we tried to invade Canada during the Revolution. As we are now. And with our wars just as with our dead, we do little introspection, or rumination, about the whys, the hows, the what-now, and the what-comes-after.

We're perfectly happy to pass by the open doors of the Temple of Janus.

Every year on Memorial Day I post this. But this year I'm tired of repeating what most of us here know and what most of those around us neither know nor care. Instead I humbly suggest that we let the dead bury their dead. And think of the living, and the decisions we make for them and to them.

For through those open doors will walk the dead men we'll "honor" on the next last Monday in May, and left outside those doors will be the living bereft, to whom they will never return, and as jim reminds me, those who DID return in body but can never truly return to who they were. In that sense, the dead have perhaps the least painful fate of all...Whenever I used to walk past the open door my father would bark at me "Close the damn door! Were you born in a barn?"

My father would know what to do about the Temple of Janus.

(Full post at GFT)

Dumping on the intel...

I know I promised to back off but I saw this over at Greenwald's today and had to vent or chance losing the top of my head to a catastrophic loss-of-coolant accident.

So here's Scott Horton on the Gitmo task force report.

I note this because an old associate of ours is mentioned:
"The Obama Administration came to Washington promising to clean up the Bush-era detentions policy and make it conform to the clear requirements of law. Then it seems to have decided that the law wasn’t so convenient and that simply providing for unbridled executive authority à la Bush-Cheney wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In terms of Washington power politics, that decision seems to have taken the form of letting Robert Gates make the call on all these issues. The two figures in the Administration who took the most credible stance for implementing the Obama campaign-era promises on detentions policy -- Greg Craig and Phil Carter -- resigned within a few weeks of one another, offering no believable reasons for departing. Then press reports began to appear about secret prisons, operated by JSOC and DIA and applying rules different from those applied in the "normal" DOD prisons, including plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual"
I am hardly sentimental about most of the people we have swept up in these illegal rattissages. They are unlikely to have loved us before they were imprisoned and, probably, tortured, and they are even less likely to let us alone now. Playing catch-and-release with them is unlikely to result in flowers, rainbows and sparkle ponies in geopolitical terms.But this isn't about them. This is about us, and who we are, and who we want to be. We started by warring on nations that did not attack us. We proceeded from there to violate the spirit of our national charter, which explicitly forbids bills of attainder, imprisonment without cause, and torture. We have now arrived at a place where the Chief Bobo - the mere "executive" who is supposed to do nothing more than enforce the will of the People in Congress has issued orders to murder U.S. citizens.

And the nation's response? Either approval or unconcern.

We had this discussion so many times over at the old Intel Dump. Five, six, seven years have passed, and...what? The people who worried more about our national character, about the rule of law, about the fact that whilst our enemies have no capability to destroy us we can do just that without so much as a pistol shot fired are gone, and those who see no issue with donning the morals and methods of the secret prison and the legalized assassination are still in charge.

At the old Dump even those of us who felt that there WAS a good fight to fight in central Asia pretty much agreed that the whole "why do they hate us"? question was a no-brainer. They hate us when we lie about our means and methods, they hate us when we callously violate the principles we vaunt, they hate us when we murder and kidnap and imprison without evidence or trial. All the intel we have from the places we're fighting in confirm these things. They don't hate us for our "freedoms". They don't hate us for who we are. They hate us for what we do, and this is one of the most hateful.So have good intel but we prefer to dump all over it like incontinent poodles. We know better and yet we do it anyway. We have better ways and we choose to do the worse. We have the means and methods to be smarter and yet we deliberately choose to be fools. It's worse than a crime; it's a mistake, a huge, inescapable political and foreign policy mistake, and in it we are digging our own political graves, and the People seem to see nothing but a bed of flowers.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Auldearn 1645

"Decisive battle" (I use quotes because it's kind if a textbook example of Sun Tzu's maxim about winning 100 battles and still losing...) for May up at GFT.

Cavaliers, Roundheads, severed limbs, breasts (OK, one breast)'s like Jerry Springer with matchlocks.

Feel free to dissect and dissent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Charles Gittings

Just received this from old friend Charly Gittings:

"I've been slowly working on an update regarding the status of my collapsed lung amid all the trivial distractions of being in the hospital, but all of a sudden events have over-taken me....

* The leak in my lung finally closed up a few days ago. Today I saw Dr. Korver.

* I'm scheduled to have the tubes in my chest removed tomorrow (Wednesday) between 7 and 8 am.

* Barring any contrary developments, I will be discharged from the hospital Friday morning (May 28th).

"Thank you for all your prayers, and please keep them coming.... :)



As we all know, Charly's a very determined guy when it comes to his cause. To the point where he's sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Remember him and MSR Roadkill? But I will say this: he's been proven right in much of what he's said over the years. Even though I've often jousted with Charly, I've always respected him for what he's trying to do; I've also admired him for his dogged pursuit of his goal. The world needs more people like him. Now he's having a tough time and, although there is little I can do for him, I am pulling for him as hard as I can.

For anybody who might wish to drop him a line, Charly's email address is:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Flanders Field, Politics and Dishonesty

Due to the strange way in which my mind works, FDChief's Flanders Field post set me to thinking about a recent event in the news. It seems that the voters of Connecticut have finally wised up about Chris Dodd, their long-time Democratic senator, and they've decided that his years-long coziness with the banking industry has gone too far. Dodd's specialized in regulatory matters with regard to the banks for years now, and it seems even his own party believes he's just become too much a housepet for the guys who helped ruin the economy. So Dodd's quitting. Nobody will pass this guy, a poster child for politicians who forget whom they serve, but it's clearly in the interests of the Democrats that they retain his seat in the Senate.

Enter Richard Blumenthal, the long-time and popular Connecticut Democratic Attorney General. He's going for Dodd's seat and he's got everything going for him. Me, I don't know much about the Blumenthal, but I do know that I'd generally rather see the Democrats retain Dodd's seat. I'm down on the Republicans, so even though I don't get a vote in Connecticut, I generally think my best interests would be served by Blumenthal being elected. Only one problem here that I can see.

It turns out that Blumenthal is a liar. He's a Vietnam veteran wannabe and he's allowed the citizens of Connecticut to think he actually went off to war: Yeah, Mr. Blumenthal is a Vietnam combat wannabe. Now, I'm not quite sure why anybody cares that much at this late date, but he clearly feels lacking in some important respects. So lacking in fact, that he's essentially lived a dishonest public life. One also must wonder how he's presented himself to his wife, his kids, his friends, etc. He's clearly let the public record reflect combat service on his part, combat service that never happened; has he done this with his closer associates and family?

The Democratic party establishment is scrambling right now, trying to put the best face possible on this. They blame the NY Times for somehow missing a bunch of nuances in what this guy's said, they blame the Republicans for feeding the Times (the Republicans say, "no," BTW), they blame everyone but the lying dog who caused this entire mess. It's pretty simple, Mr. Blumenthal. You either went. Or you didn't. No amount of parsing your words—yes, he's an attorney—can change that fact.

The NY Times today carries a little more, an analysis by their public editor of what the Times reported, and what Blumenthal has said:
Unsurprisingly, the public editor concluded that the Times didn't do anything wrong. And I agree. The Times simply reported what this guy has said.

Ah, Vietnam. Damn, nobody wanted to go at the time, especially not anyone who had money or was connected, but now there are a whole bunch of guys in their 60s who (1) wished they'd gone; and (2) actually lie about it. I did a little research and it turns out there are web sites devoted to "outing" the incredible number of phonies and liars there are out there. It's gotten to the point where I'm also—not quite—glad I spent a couple of tours there; I get bragging rights among old dudes. Some are even envious of me, if you can believe that. Might even get some babes if I weren't too old to do anything about it. Everybody loves me now and I don't care. Actually, my friend, Jim the Ranger, can tell you what my response is to this all of this horseshit.

Blumenthal. As I say, I can't vote for or against this guy. I also believe it might be best for the nation for that Dodd seat to stay in Democratic hands. But would I advise anyone in Connecticut to vote for him? Nah. He would have been fine if he'd just told the truth. He was a draft dodger and he found a safe haven in the Reserves. That particular story hasn't hurt any politicians we've seen lately. You can even be president as a draft dodger. But that wasn't good enough for Blumenthal. He had to make the story better. So I'd tell any Connecticut voter to ask him or herself if they would feel comfortable with voting for a man who's clearly so uncomfortable in his own skin that he feels compelled to lie about a pretty important thing in the past.

Forty or more years later. The past always comes back to bite you in the ass.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Flanders Fields...

...the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Just a reminder that, while it may well be my most disliked "holiday", the poppies the VFW vets sell do go to help those who, unlike the dead, have not yet seen an end to war.

And that my little girl is the cutest thing ever. Wears her poppy well, don't you think?

(Crossposted from GFT)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From Behind the Bar

I wanted to break in here to solicit some input from some of our more silent servers. Specifically basil, sheerah and Lisa have been very quiet lately. I've talked to jim about this, and he and I have agreed to take our feet off the bar rail for a little bit in hopes that we can get some more conversation from some of our staff who may have felt a little...overwhelmed by the volume that we produce.

Al and Publius, too, have been posting some good stuff, and, as always, more is better when the beer and the conversation is good.

So how about it?

Oh, and before I shut up, let me toot my little Portland horn a bit for my beloved Portland Timbers. We may be small, and we mayn't be able to do better for sister cities than Mutare, Zimbabwe; Ashkelon, Israel; and Khabarovsk, Russia, but how about Boca Juniors and Manchester City? In three months? To play our Boys in Green? We may be small, but in footy terms, we'll roar up yer lobby.We'll be coming, we'll be coming, we'll be coming down the road...when you hear the noise of the Timbers Army boys, we'll be coming down the road!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coffee Shop Thoughts

Fr. Manpurse blog

I think I'm paranoid


I think I'm paranoid

Too complicated

--I Think I'm Paranoid
, Garbage

Did you know that water's

not to blame if you drown?

Can't blame the stone
for being cold

The Wired, Machinae Supremacy

Got to concentrate

don't be distractive

Turn me on tonight

Cause I'm radioactive

, The Firm

Continuing my trip down memory lane (and you're invited to join in) . . .

While sitting in a coffee shop recently, an Army memory was awakened watching two young male customers of military age. One was schlumpy, slouchy and gamboling about and the other was standing strongly and calmly on both legs while waiting behind the first for service.

mise en scene returned Ranger to memories of jump school and general thoughts on having been a paratrooper. While most writing here is about the fallacies of the military and the folly of war, positive life lessons were gained from my military experience.

The start of this process was Jump School in August of '68, and the first lesson was to stand firmly on both legs, and not to cock one's hips like a girly man. As we were expected to carry heavy loads, only that stance would gain the objective. As men we should stand on two legs; what could be simpler and more profound?

From stance emerged memories of the jump commands grilled into every jumper's brain. This is doubly true for those that trained for jumpmaster duties. The jump commands elicit
immediate, ingrained reaction-response from any former trooper. We never forget the jump commands because they kept us alive; they were valuable tools for life.

The verbal jump commands are issued in tandem with visual hand cues from the jumpmaster. It's extremely noisy in a troop carrier when the doors are opened approximately twenty minutes prior to hitting the release point, so the double message insures the command will not be missed.

The aircraft is usually blacked out for security purposes so we learn to use our eyes and ears in a coordinated manner. This synchronization is not always employed in daily life. However, the more input we have, the better decision we can make. Look --> Listen --> Act, that is the formula.

From commands, thoughts went to equipment. Being a soldier implies having a near-religious belief in your fellow troopers, and by extension, one's equipment. Our lives hung from pieces of nylon sewn together and rigged by other men. Jumping out of an aircraft at 180 knots at 700 ft. altitude in pitch black is not an act of blind faith but rather a result of training and trust. If we did not trust we would never exit an aircraft in fl(r)ight.

The jump commands themselves are simple:

  • Get Ready
  • Stand Up
  • Hook Up
  • Check Equipment
  • Sound Off for Equipment Check
  • Stand in the Door
  • GO
Each carries its own lesson. We will break them down now:

Get Ready:

This may seem a superfluous command, but it is accurate and significant.

Hours, days, weeks and years compress into this one command. We are sitting there tighter than a dick's hatband, and do we need to be told to "get ready"? You bet. This command locks-and-cocks us, telling us that everything is going as planned and now it is our turn to enter the fray. Whether it be actual or training in nature, the response is the same.

Get ready means you kick the switch. This initiates last-minute adjustments in preparation for and anticipation of the next command.

Next post:
Stand Up.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Even Zombies Get the Blues

--A Good Taleban, Peray (Thailand)

Well, you know I need a steam shovel

mama to keep away the dead

I need a dump truck

mama to unload my head

--From A Buick 6
, Bob Dylan

This is about key terrain, Counterinsurgency, hearts & minds and all the dithering which we call asymmetrical warfare. Call it an exercise in
everything old is new again.

One day in Vietnam, Camp Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Howard Glock (he of unremitting chart-love infamy), instructed me to periodically sweep our garbage dump, which was outside our perimeter. Our camp had a dedicated dump into which we threw our old batteries, discarded oil, contaminated oil and other sundries.

The locals habitues gleaned goodies from the trash, and this LTC Glock could not countenance.

Keep in mind before we proceed that we were a Special Forces camp with Special Operations Forces -- supposedly the go-to guys for Hearts & Minds. Keep also in mind that neither the U.S. Camp Commander or XO had the Special Forces flash (the equivalent of today's tab.) Both LTC Glock and Major Passalaigue were awarded "paper flashes" by virtue of being assigned to the unit, fairly standard for the period as SF was hard-put for warm bodies.

In a spirit of charity, it is possible that real "flashed" Commanders at other camps shared LTC Glock's and Maj. Passalaigue's Scrooge-like mentality. But as a young man who bought into the H & M creed, Ranger felt he was witnessing an aberration.

For the LTC and Major had no interest in life outside of the camp. They never visited the villages or saw how the people lived. Our efforts in SOG (Studies and Observations Group) covered the U.S. war effort. They had no positive benefits for the citizens of the supposed Republic of Vietnam.

Both Glock and Passalaigue loved their charts, briefings, clean clothes, warm food and water, and surely these two always made meal call when possible. Certainly neither spent a discernible iota of energy pondering the reality of the impoverished denizens plundering our garbage. Their only thought was to stop it, thereby denying the Vietcong access to our valuable toss offs.

Whether the VC
used our garbage is debatable, but it seems incontrovertible that the people desperately needed the scraps mined from the castoffs of our bevy. This affluence was wondrous, especially considering we were a unit at war; our lives were fat city, indeed, and the surrounding Vietnamese saw this without too much effort.

But for Ranger, it seemed that here we were fighting Communism and pretending to care about the people of the Republic of Vietnam, yet we wouldn't let them root about in our garbage for salvage. It seemed a mission disconnect, then and now.

This dump was key terrain for their lives in an inexplicable war, and my leaders who were supposed to be the best in the Army failed to grasp or even acknowledge the point. As a young officer there was no way to get my point across.

Related to the dump issue was the PIR issue. We received a large shipment of compromised PIR's (Provisional Indigenous Rations) -- precursors to the LRRP rations used by U.S. troops. These PIR's had been chewed through by rats, which had left droppings in the food. A problem, but a soluble one.

Unfortunately, the LTC discovered that the camp had a 2 1/2 ton truck filled with rat-shit infested food before Ranger could handle the problem. His predictable solution was to destroy the food so the indigenous could not retrieve any of it from the dump. Ranger confesses that in direct opposition to instructions, these rations ended up in the 'ville; we traded upholstery work for our Jeeps in return.

The point is, people living in mud-floor huts were happy to eat this food, and this thought often crosses my fat and dumb-ass mind. This is the point we do not get when we disingenuously claim that H & M are our objective.

To keep the people from these rations I would have had to have thrown a Willy Pete grenade on them to incinerate the mess, and to what end? A waste of provisions and materiel.

By the end of my tour, I disliked or hated Glock and Passalaigue as much as they hated me. the only difference was, they wrote my OERs. To this day Ranger still has the taste of rat shit amongst his overflowing memories of chicken-shit duties.

Hearts and minds are never won by rifles hanging at your side. It is more closely related to three hots and a cot.

Since we
were fighting Communism the thought often crossed my mind regarding what
they would have done had the tables been turned. But even that thought is irrelevant since the point is it is what we do as American soldiers that is relevant.

We did not get it in RVN, and we do not get it in Iraq or AFPAK.

An old retired Infantry NCO recently asked me why I hated the Army so bad. I didn't answer him, but this story gives a hint.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quid Pro Quo

But here, cleverly disguised
as a bomb, is a bomb

--The Bullwinkle Show

I like to watch

--Chance the Gardener,

Being There

Eric Holder's announcement of the foiled Times Square would-be bomber's ties to Pakistan was hailed as an intelligence victory, despite the rather large hint that Mr. Faisal Shahzad boarded a plane to that country after his would-be firework show fizzled.

Forgetting for a moment the odd fact that the car was left parked illegally at one of the busiest intersections in the country (as one source close to the investigation noted to AOL news today) -- why are we seeing a small cottage industry we might call, Bombers Manque, Inc.? The source noted:

"The Nissan Pathfinder carrying fireworks, nonexplosive fertilizer, gasoline tanks, propane and alarm clocks was left Saturday in a turn-only lane -- lights and flashers on and motor running -- in one of the busiest intersections in the world, this person noted to AOL News (Times Square Bomb: "It Doesn't Make any Sense.)"

On the same page as the original 5/5 story (
Catching Bomb Suspect was Rare Moment for Holder to Celebrate) was an article stating that a U.S. missile strike killed six in Pakistan (last Sunday, 10 more were killed, and today, 14 --"U.S. Drone Strikes Kill 14.") And the would-be Times Square bomber has ties to Pakistan ... imagine that? As Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. would say, GOL-LY!

This isn't rocket science. The U.S. is killing Pakis and Talibs, and of course, they will respond.
Stimulus - Response, a physical reaction. Does the U.S. imagine they will sit on their thumbs forever in the face of such provocation?

Why does the U.S. not consider ceasing aggressive killings in Pakistan, thereby defusing their need to reactively target the U.S. homeland?

If killing Pakistanis in Pakistan is o.k., then why isn't it o.k. for Pakis to kill Americans in America?

The Finger

Back when I was a mere girlish slip of a private, my section sergeant - one Monty Harder, career Specialist Fifth Class and field-grade alcoholic - took me aside as I was organizing myself for some sort of field problem. He inspected my uniform and equipment, quizzed me on my mission and my medical and tactical knowledge of the operation to come, and then asked me what at the time seemed to me like an odd question;

"What's your go-to-hell plan?"

I asked what he meant by that and he explained that it meant I needed to think about what I could and should do if the mission went purely to hell; how I would get the most guys out alive, how I could spread myself and my medical treatment around as best as possible in a total shitstorm."You'll probably get killed, but you can make choices that'll get more of your guys out alive than if you don't think about it now. You need to keep thinking about that all the time you're in the field; what would I do if the enemy turned up there...where should I be if there's an ambush in that defile...where do I blow open a PZ for wounded if we get hit from over here."

This was pretty heavy tactical thinking for a PFC, and it took a while for me to get used to the idea that I couldn't just amble through the woods looking at the pretty flowers. As I got militarily smarter, it became pretty clear to me that a fair number of my fellow sergeants, and a handful of my officers weren't able to think that way, either. But Monty Harder's advice followed me a long way though my military career; never fall in love with one plan or one scheme of maneuver or one operation. Never assume the best. Always have a backup plan. Assume that the enemy is as smart or smarter than you are.

So it give me a pain in the giggy to read stuff like; "Given Karzai's track record, it's tempting to drop him and find somebody else. The problem is, there isn't anyone else. Karzai is the only president of Afghanistan, and no viable alternative seems to be waiting in the wings."

It's obvious to me that there is no chance that my country is going to stop fiddle-fucking around central Asia anytime soon. But I'd sure feel a lot happier about that if I thought that there was someone in my government who is as smart as my old section sergeant, surly old drunk that he was.Because when you have nobody else to give you a hand, what the hell do you do if he decides to give you the finger, instead?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Uselessly useless.

It's been a long time since I had to care about the minutia of U.S. Army uniform.

But every so often I come across something that pokes me right in my NCO gland.

As a species we tend to be the U.S. Army's official custodians of niggling bullshit and militarily useless fripperies; the details of dress uniforms, drill, and ceremonies being perhaps our most nitpicky symptom of that. So when I see this:...a U.S. infantry company marching in the Russian WW2 V.E. Day parade, my asshole old sergeant reflex kicks in and begins to ask;

1. If you're going to send someone all the way to Moscow to march, Army, why not send someone (like a company from the 3rd U.S. Infantry) instead of a bunch of yayhoos from 2/18th Infantry (and, yes, I know that the 18th landed in Normandy on D-day. Compared to the Soviet war effort, their activities at that little tea party had about as much to do with winning WW2 as the 3rd Infantry did ambling around CONUS). The 3USI specializes in useless pagentry like this, this unit doesn't, and it shows.

2. And if you're going to have them march past in their blues (which I do understand is the Army's official Class A dress uniform now) can't you at least find them their "bus driver" caps instead of that goddamn beret?The damn thing looks silly enough with fatigues (you haven't seen a beret until you've seen it worn by an Army cook or a light wheeled vehicle mechanic - my favorite was the "jeff cap" look, where the stiffened bit with the flash is pulled down flat over the forehead) but it makes the wearer look perfectly ready to ride the short bus when worn with blues.

3. And if you're going to have them march past the Kremlin, Army, you can't march past at shoulder arms instead of sling arms, like a bunch of recruit privates? Were you afraid that the rifles would be every-which-way, like sticks in a barrel? And what does that say about the marching unit's attention to detail in preparing for this ceremony?

4. And if you're going to march past in mass formation, Army, get your D&C head out of your fourth point of contact! (Note: understanding this comment requires watching the BBC video) Either the officers in the front rank of the formation are ALL commanders-of-troops and entitled to render the hand salute for their unit (and if so, why are they together in a single rank?) or they're part of the formation and they should be executing an eyes-right. This is really a trick question - I KNOW they're not the COT because he's where he should be, at the front of the element.

The Brits and Russians look their usual dapper selves on parade, and I'm sure that the French and Poles managed to put together a couple of smart looking march units. Personally, I think that this sort of military preening is a useless throwback to the 18th Century and should be restricted to a tiny handful of ceremonial units like the 3rd Infantry. But if we're going to go to the effort to show up at one of these dog-and-pony shows, why do a half-assed job?

I feel the way about this goofy Army crap the way Lord Burleigh did about keeping a mistress; the pleasure is transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable. But if we're going to do it at all, why not do it to a higher standard?

(Crossposted from GFT, a huge h/t to Jason over at Armchair Generalist, and a sheepish admission of fellow military geek-guydom in finding the pass-in-review of the operational T-34s and SU-85s pretty fucking cool.)

The Campaign in the West, 1940: Fall Gelb

General Erwin Rommel, commander 7th Panzer Division, France May 1940

This is the third in my series of posts commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. I attempt to provide something of a fresh look at each of these campaigns (Poland, Denmark and now France) from a Clausewitzian perspective. Of the three I have attempted this is surely the most ambitious and the most difficult given its complexity. I have used two references: The first is the current standard work on the campaign, Karl-Heinz Frieser's The Blitzkrieg Legend which is the official German historical study of the campaign. The second is a contemporary French work, Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat which the great historian wrote immediately after the defeat. Whereas Frieser's work has the advantage of 60+ years of historical study behind it and succeeds admirably in separating myth from fact, Bloch's work retains the shock of the event along with the beginnings of some of the very myths that Frieser explains away, while at the same time providing insights only a thoughtful witness could have provided, those of a more timeless quality. I recommend both works.

This post is meant as only an introduction to this subject . . .

To start this post is only about the first operation of the campaign, or rather Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) which was the attack through the Ardennes, the smashing of the "hinge" of the French/Allied defense at Sedan and the pursuit to Abbeville and the coast thus encircling the entire Allied northern front. This of course trigger the evacuation from Dunkirk and the expulsion/escape of the BEF from the continent. The follow-on operation, Fall Rot (Case Red) was to push deep into France and turn the Maginot Line, but the fate of France had already been sealed by what happened between May 10-24 - a period of two weeks.

The German victory over France in 1940 is one of the most decisive victories in military history. The Germans were outnumbered in terms of troops, tanks and aircraft. The quality of some of their equipment - such as the Panzer Mark I & II - were not up to Allied standards. Yet in spite of all this, they were able to decisively defeat a numerically stronger force at the loss 49,000 dead and missing for the entire campaign (that is both Case Yellow and Red) inflicting at the same time about four times as many dead on the Allies. That is the German Army was able - in a relatively short time with acceptable losses - to knock out a major power, occupy it and exploit its economy/possessions for their own purposes.

How was this possible?


Innovation (mated with the emphasis on speed), linked with a high level of moral and material cohesion on the side of the attacker and a correspondingly low level of moral and material cohesion on the side of the defender - that is the political relations between the two sides - are the first items to mention.

Also the proper application of new technology in certain specific instances by the Germans (as in outfitting their tanks with radios), and the lack of the same by the British and French come to mind.

Finally, what is perhaps the deciding factor was contingency, in that certain things happened at certain times allowing for this victory to be achieved. That is the momentum the Germans developed could have been stopped at various chokepoints along the line (a French attack in the Fall of 1939 against the West Wall, the bombing of the German supply chaos in the Ardennes), but were not. Simply along the way, had certain actions taken place or not taken place the eventual outcome of the campaign would have been much different. Chance, and good and bad luck all played a major role.

Frieser argues that Germany had no Blitzkrieg doctrine or operational art at the beginning of the campaign:

The thrust through the Ardennes repeatedly has been cited as a classic example of the tactics to be employed in a blitzkrieg. Interestingly enough, however, the German success was not based on any firm system. von Kielmansegg [assigned as a General Staff officer for supply to the 1st Panzer Division at the time] in this connection speaks of the 'ad hoc improvisation'. The unusual aspect of this event, he feels, is that there was no concept, there had been no 'instructions for use' that could have served as guidance. The important thing was not to translate an as yet undeveloped blitzkrieg strategy into operational-level terms. Instead, the task was to accomplish an extraordinary mission. The latter went like this, 'in three days to the Meuse . . .' All the many extraordinary methods that were resorted to here resulted from this requirement due to the situation. The experiences were analyzed in general staff terms only later and were then turned into an abstract system that propaganda journalism referred to as Blitzkrieg.
The Blitzkrieg Legend, page 137

Frieser goes into some detail to explain the evolution of the "sickle cuts" which were the two offensives (Cases Yellow and Red) (pp 61-93). Originally the German General Staff were resigned to reimplementing the Schlieffen Plan of World War I, which had failed in 1914 for obvious reasons.

The overall feeling in the General Staff was that Germany had not been ready for war in 1939 and that Hitler had led the country into disaster. Franz Halder, the Chief of the General Staff even considered shooting Hitler during some of their late 1939 meetings in an attempt to remove the dictator from power (pp 58-9). In the end Halder lost his nerve, and the generals were unable to agree on a course of action, although there remained General Staff officers who were decidedly "anti-Nazi" particularly in Admiral Canaris's Abwehr.

What changed the whole plan was a series of incidents, mostly accidental, which allowed Erich Manstein's plan to gain the attention of not only Guderian, but Hitler and especially Halder as well.

Marc Bloch's contribution is very different from Frieser's. Bloch, the famous historian, had entered the Great War as a lowly infantry sergeant in 1914, and had come out a staff officer captian in 1918. For Bloch, the First World War was always "his war" amazingly not the Second in which he was to die serving France. Strange Defeat is perhaps the one book everyone should read about this episode of history, since it speaks much about the feelings in the country leading up to May 1940. If Frieser provides the timelines, major players, military context, strategic theory perspective, the whole factual, historical side, Bloch provides the voice. Bloch is speaking to us of those times: the stupidity, lethargy, fear, confusion, terror, despair, resignation . . . the whole range of mass feeling that he experienced. Shock as in "disconnect" is probably the last sensation, everyone for themselves. For instance, "confusion" . . .

One fine morning in May, the officer in charge ran into a column of tanks in the main street. They were, he thought, painted a very odd color, but that did not worry him overmuch, because he could not possibly know all the various types in use in the French Army. But what did upset him considerably was the very curious route that they seemed to be taking! They were moving in the direction of Cambrai; in others words, away from the front. But that too, could be explained without much difficulty, since it was only natural that in the winding streets of a little town the guides might go wrong. He was just about to run after the commander of the convoy in order to put him right, when a casual passer-by, better informed that he was, shouted - "Look out! They're Germans!"
Strange Defeat, pp 47-48

Bloch transmits all these emotions. He brings up the causes as well, such as the way that French Army staff officers were trained after 1918, the French focus on having to fight a long war of attrition rather than a short decisive war of movement and the failings of the French political system during the 1930s. Reading his sorrow of how the politics of his country had become hopelessly corrupt, the pursuit of narrow interest paramount while abandoning national interests, and the loss of meaning of the very language they were using to talk about politics all ring strangely familiar to an American reading his words in 2010 (pp 162-8).

One theme comes out again and again, which is that the French Army of 1940 was still thinking in terms of 1919, whereas the German Army (from Bloch's perspective) was thinking in terms of 1940:

I make no claim to be writing a critical history of the war, or even of the campaign of the Nord. I have not had access to any of the documents necessary for such an undertaking, nor do I possess the requisite technical knowledge. But there are certain obvious facts which should be made clear without further delay. What drove our armies to disaster was the cumulative effect of a great number of different mistakes. One glaring characteristic is, however, common to all of them. Our leaders, or those who acted for them, were incapable of thinking in terms of a new war. In other words, the German triumph was, essentially, a triumph of intellect - and it is that which makes it so peculiarly serious . . .
p 36

Frieser points out though that this "triumph of intellect" was not across the board for the Germans, and that many high-ranking Generals failed to understand what was happening. The command and logistics arrangements for the advance to the Meuse indicate that. However, there were certain key German commanders - Guderian and Rommel for example - who understood the situation and were in positions to exploit it to the full, pushing their Panzer formations forward and leaving the German infantry formations far behind.

One last point that Bloch mentions is "synchronization" (p 78) in reference to what the British and French Armies failed to do before May 10, 1940. I think however the concept interesting as well in the interaction between the two opposing sides. Clausewitz's general theory has war going through alternative phases of tension, movement and balance throughout its duration. Should the movement phase lead to victory for one side then the interaction stops, but otherwise continues, essentially becomes a war of attrition after the (failure of the) first operation. Wars for the total overthrow of the enemy or even for more limited objectives can be won in one or two decisive operations (following Svechin here), but rarely do the political relations between the two sides allow for this. That is decisive victories of this sort are relatively rare in military history. A very complex set of circumstances has to be in place. Expanding on Bloch's "synchronization", a defender (or even attacker) who fails "to synchronize" his military means to the political conditions and the situation of the enemy is going to be at a disadvantage to an enemy who can do so.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dead Babies Don't Cry

Dead babies can take care of themselves
Dead babies can't take things off the shelf

--Dead Babies
, Alice Cooper

We've shot an amazing number of people

and killed a number and, to my knowledge,

none has proven to have been

a real threat to the force

--General Stanley McChrystal

My father is no different than any powerful man,

any man with power, like a president or senator

Do you know how naive you sound, Michael?

Presidents and senators don't have men killed.

Oh. Who's being naive?

--The Godfather

The Special Forces that Ranger served in is as gone as last month's rent.
An astute reader called the shift, the devolution of the Special Forces into a kind of Sonderkommando.

The Vietnam era SF fought main force Vietcong, hardcore North Vietnamese Army, and conducted special missions with various programs such as Delta, Omega and Studies and Operations Group (SOG). These programs produced results that were soldierly and based in good faith efforts.

Personally, Ranger was never trained to kick in doors or assassinate. We were not assassins, since that violates the rules of land warfare. There were isolated incidents of killing suspected enemy agents, but this was never officially sanctioned U.S. or SF policy.

The assassinations conducted by the infamous Project Phoenix were not a U.S. military mission, although most of their U.S. shooters were U.S. Special Forces soldiers on detached duty. The killings were done by combat-numb SF assets detached to do a mission not military in nature; the program was undeserving of having utilized good SF personnel for a dirty, nasty business.
Phoenix was the devil's work and will remain a stain upon our national dignity, both civilian and military.

But it's now 2010 and the SF top dog in Afghanistan has dusted off the Phoenix prototype for
Counterinsurgency applications. General McChrystal has done this without asking how the U.S. SF assassins are differentiated from the Nazi SS assassins of WW II. How have McChrystal, our command authorities and the American people enabled the Special Forces to become a criminal organization?

There is no middle ground here:
When SF employs assassins they have become criminals and murderers rather than honorable soldiers.

Do our SF soldiers no longer bother to question the legality of their black ops missions? Further, why do we even allow a concept like Black Ops to exist within our military structure? Assassination is one of the key tactics of terror organizations, whether they be state-sponsored or groups like al-Qaeda.

When U.S. SF assassinate, this is an act of state-sponsored terrorism.
If it is a crime for al-Qaeda to assassinate, then it is a crime for U.S. SF to assassinate.

When an SF team killed pregnant women while on an assigned mission to kill or capture mid- or low-level Taliban members, they mutilated the bodies in their efforts to dig out their bullets
(U.S. Special Forces 'Tried to Cover Up' Botched Khataba Raid"), also a violation of the rules of land warfare and every bit as serious an offense as cutting the ears off dead VC.

My Army became infamous for those actions and as a result for a generation was portrayed as being composed of crazed killers by the entertainment media. Contrast that with today's support for SF assassins because they are "the troops".

These SF assassinations at McChrystal's behest are not military in nature and are a cynical expression of an American military gone wrong. Their morals are gone missing and this is a blight upon all of us.

Even if the mission were to kill every Talib in Afghanistan America still loses, as on a strategic level this removes the regional counterbalance to Iran, concurrently strengthening the warlords of the Northern Alliance.
With every assassination, an SF soldiers is doing Iran's dirty work, making the effort doubly perverse.

Assassinations in theatre do not benefit the safety of America, nor do they contribute to the birth of democracy. They constitute meaningless cynical violence.

What attributes are being rewarded in today's tabbed-up, Christian Army? The contradictions are overwhelming to contemplate.

The SF assassin soldiers will bear a heavy burden. The silence that will surround these men is the absence of a baby's cry in a remote Afghan village, and the silence will condemn their souls. They may never be officially charged for their crimes, but they will always hear that silence, even in their sleep.

[cross-posted at RangerAgainstWar]

Monday, May 3, 2010

Is the AVF Fiscally Sustainable?

I've posted in the past that when Nixon was tossing out his campaign pledge of eliminating the draft, then COL Jack Vessey questioned, during a conversation amongst a group of us, whether we could afford the ultimate payroll costs. His premise was that in order to be "competitive" with civilian sector compensation, the necessary compensation for E-1 through E-4 to stimulate enlistments would drive the whole pay structure through the ceiling, to include the ultimate retirement costs as well. Overall, he predicted cuts in the classic 50% at 20 years service retirement, which was first done in 1980, as well as other benefit cuts.

To stem the bleeding that the pension base caused, annual pay increases, which were adjusted to place all the increase into base pay (from which pensions were calculated) were soon spread across both base pay and non-pension generating allowances. Thus, on retirement day, an E-7 who was receiving about $6,000/month in base pay and allowances, would have his retirement computed only on the $4,100 that represented base pay. Not a complaint, but an observation.

It would appear that Vessey was spot on, as there has been for a while serious concerns over the payroll costs. Rummy resisted end strength increases, less it take away from his hardware desires. Columnist David Wood recently wrote this piece on the subject.

We've discussed the socio-political aspects of the AVF. Now, perhaps, there might be economic discussion as well?