Friday, December 10, 2021

End of an Era

Some eighty years ago the Battleship Era ended in a flurry of bombs and torpedoes that sank the two capital ships of the Royal Navy's Force Z.

Yes, aircraft had been involved in sinking the most capital of capital ships prior to December 10, 1941. But the circumstances allowed battleship fans to temporize. 

An aerial torpedo ensured the doom of Bismarck, but the actual sinking occurred during a surface gun action. Battleships were sunk by aircraft at Taranto and Pearl Harbor, but those were surprise attacks on unsuspecting moored warships.

There was no gray area on December 10. Aircraft found and sank two of the Royal Navy's heavy units, one, Prince of Wales, one of the newest and most powerful British battleships extant.

The "moral" I've always been told that this story taught was that in the 90 minutes it took the air attack to sink both Prince of Wales and Repulse the battleship era ended and any naval organization that pursued heavy gunpower rather than carrier airpower was foolishly incompetent. 

What's kind of intriguing about one "counterfactual" is that Force Z had come within five miles of an IJN task force consisting of "six cruisers" - I've been unable to discover which six these were, but at least one was Chōkai (鳥海), a Takao-class heavy cruiser.

Neither task force was using radar effectively. The Japanese because IJN radar technology was crippled throughout the Second World War, the British because Prince of Wales' radar had gone down earlier in the mission, supposedly through overheating in the tropical heat and humidity.

(Worth noting that in this the PoW lived up to her reputation as a "hard-luck ship"...)

Let's assume that at least three or four of the other "six cruisers" out that night were also heavies. The Japanese heavy cruisers were beasts, especially heavily armed with the big 24-inch torpedoes, and the IJN trained extensively in night gun and torpedo action as the encounters off Guadalcanal the following year proved.

Let's suppose that the two task forces had, instead, bumped into each other in the night.

The British weight of metal would probably have torn the Japanese cruisers apart, but the IJN night fighting and torpedo tactics might well have either sunk or badly damaged the British capital ships to the point where their sinking by aircraft the following morning could be written off the same way that the battleship aficionados wrote off Bismarck, Taranto, and Pearl Harbor.

The "end of the battleship era" might now be attributed to the naval and naval air actions off the Philippines in 1944.

No real point here other than to consider how things we take for received wisdom often turn on small, nearly insignificant events, like the failure of the British radar the night of December 9/10.


Thursday, December 9, 2021

Posse Stupidtatus

 So it turns out that sending U.S. soldiers to be ersatz Border Patrol was a pretty stupid idea.

"Leaders initiated more than 1,200 legal actions, including nonjudicial punishments, property loss investigations, Army Regulation 15-6 investigations and more. That’s nearly one legal action for every three soldiers. At least 16 soldiers from the mission were arrested or confined for charges including drugs, sexual assault and manslaughter. During the same time period, only three soldiers in Kuwait, a comparable deployment locale with more soldiers, were arraigned for court-martial.

Troops at the border had more than three times as many car accidents over the past year — at least 500 incidents totaling roughly $630,000 in damages — than the 147 “illegal substance seizures” they reported assisting.

One cavalry troop from Louisiana was temporarily disbanded due to misconduct and command climate issues — an extremely rare occurrence."

Gee. I wonder? Where did we have the occasion to learn - and recently - that soldiers are usually good at soldiering, usually not so much as domestic - or foreign - policemen.

"Tensions were ignited on April 28, however, when soldiers from the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment opened fire on a group of protesters in front of a school, killing 15 and wounding more than three dozen others. Although the military said the soldiers fired in self-defense under attack from Baathist provocateurs, residents said many of the demonstrators were unarmed.

The shooting set off a cycle of violence that wracked the city for weeks. Exchanges of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks started to occur almost daily."

 Oh, shit, yeah. That.

I swear, we're the fucking 21st Century Bourbons. We learn nothing but we forget nothing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

New York for Kyiv? Boston for Taipei?

Now that the United States doesn't have bodies coming home from the lesser paved parts of the world (the bodies we're generating tend to be locals and remain where we drop them...) the U.S. public can go back to sleep regarding it's foreign policy doin's around the world whilst the foreign policy nabobs can go back to the sort of stuff they enjoy; pondering Great Power rivalries.

And current events have had a way of bringing those rivalries up in the nightly news. 

First back in October we had worries that the People's Republic of China was - at least - thinking about forcibly re-uniting the island of Taiwan with the Motherland.

Now the focus has shifted to eastern Europe, where Russian military moves appear to be directed against Ukraine.

The larger questions that arise from these potential conflicts are the same ones that have been in place since the end of WW2, namely that 1) as the Western hyperpower the United States is, effectively, the Western "big stick" in Great Power confrontation, but 2) there is always the question of the degree to which a United States would be and will be willing to risk escalation with the other big nuclear powers - Russia and China - over threats to the U.S.'s non-nuclear allies.

Some "allies" don't believe the U.S. is willing to do this at all; one of the prime drivers of the Israeli nuclear program was the desire to be independent of U.S. political will. France much the same (with a heaping helping of post-1940-defeat-shame). 

My understanding is that the U.K. was the only Western nuclear power who hung on to the "special relationship", developing their nukes purely as a way to avoid sitting at the geopolitical kid's table.

There's also the issue of diplomatic linkage.

The European nations are militarily bound up with the U.S. in NATO. You nuke Berlin, it's going to cost you. Israel, too, has always had a (in my personal opinion an unhealthily) close relationship with the U.S. 

In theory those polities can depend on U.S. military power to back their integrity if threatened. They can act as if they had a portion of that power, which gives them a certain degree of geopolitical freedom and international influence beyond their inherent military strength.

(At least that was the c.w. until Trump; now the GOP is full-on ethno-nationalist and "America First" and, frankly, if I was Berlin or London I'd be hesitant to make plans based on the notion that Uncle Sammy had my back 24/7/365. President Trump 47 (or Tom Cotton or Marjorie Taylor Greene) may very well be most unwilling to go to the mat for latte-sipping socialist Eurotrash.) 

Smaller states with relations short of full alliance like Ukraine and Taiwan don't have those options. They pretty much have to design their relationships with their larger neighbors based on their assessment of the willingness - or, particularly, potential unwillingness - of the Land of the Big PX to risk a bigger fight rather than give their rivals the win.

And that means that the U.S. itself has to - or, at least, should - think hard about the degree to which it's willing to risk that fight for those polities. 

After twenty years of lies, damned lies, and delusion the current U.S. administration finally admitted that there was nothing in Afghanistan worth the bones of a West Virginia grenadier. 

Will a non-America-First administration be willing to risk that, and more, to ensure that Taipei remains free of PRC occupation? To keep the Donbass as part of the Ukraine?

What frustrates me about this, and the only reason that I'm writing this post, is because of the combination of indifference, stupidity, and hubris that seems to characterize the U.S. public and most political discussion about these topics.

The U.S. press spends about five or six more times the amount of talking nonsense about "critical race theory" than it does these potential collisions. The degree of public literacy about the risk-versus-rewards of an aggressive Taiwan policy in the linked article above is appalling; if damn near 70% of the U.S. public want their government to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation? 

They've been face-down in the edible weed far too long.

There's discussion to be had - and, potentially, arguments to be made - for resisting Chinese and Russian aggression in places like the West Pacific and eastern Europe. 

Those discussions are difficult and complex...and are not going on

Instead the public and, it appears, most media and political talking heads, are trying to reduce the issues to simple us-versus-them jingoism.

Yes. I realize that's how a lot of "geopolitics" gets done here in the Land of the Freedumb.

But, frankly, after the twenty-year-long disaster that has been the Phony War on Terror?

It's really time that We the People grew up and started putting away these childish things.

A collision with China or Russia may, indeed, be inevitable (or, as Andy will remind you in the case of China, is already happening...)

But I'd like to think that if it happens it will happen for sound geopolitical reasons. For U.S. national interests. 

I'd like to think that the systems of supposed self-government - the "free press", the representatives of the People in Congress, the foreign specialists in the Departments of State and Defense - would have conducted a thorough discussion and analysis of the potential gains and risks before it happens.


That would mean thinking geopolitical strategy and, as former friend of the blog Seydlitz would tell you, the United States don't do "strategy".

We do the shit out of "critical race theory", though, so there's that.

Jesus wept.