Saturday, December 31, 2011

Guten Rutsch! Happy New Year! Boas Entradas!



Wish all the best for 2012! Let it be a boring, uneventful year . . . and for a bit of mood music, why not Max Raabe?

--

So far so good, and as Al's mentioned we'll be the recon element for the flow of events . . . being as we are a few hours ahead. Watched the New Years concert from Vienna on TV which has been a family tradition since we lived in Berlin, back in the bad ole days. It always ends with the Radetsky March . . .

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dead Time

There's something about watching a soil sample rebound from consolidation that encourages reflection.

Boredom, perhaps?

This week between Christmas and the New Year has always seemed like an odd sort of interval of no-time to me ever since my Army Days. Back in the Eighties, at any rate, this week was usually a period of massive "ghosting"; we'd fall in for a ridiculously abbreviated morning PT - often distinguished by pure fun-PT like basketball, dodgeball, or the usual exercises but led by the junior privates for the entertainment and mirth of all involved - and then go hang around the aid station for the morning, clean already-clean weapons, dick off doing small PM chores in the motor hole, or find reasons to go "inventory our TA-50" which always seemed to entail fiddling with the field gear in our racks with our boots off while watching He-Man cartoons.

After midday chow even this pretense of military activity ceased, and we would spend the rest of the afternoon just goofing off; hanging out in the chow hall, or at the gym, visit our married pals at their quarters, watch bowl games in the dayroom or just chill in the barracks with our friends.

I remember one particular mid-week afternoon that turned into a "Faces of Death" marathon from noon until well into the following morning.

Remember those videos?

In the pre-cable era I recall that the "Faces of Death" videos were considered shocking evidence of the decline of Western Civilization; amateur (or professional outtake) films of people getting waxed in various either horrible, or comical (or both) ways. Hangings, electrocutions, falls, plus all the usual gawdawful atrocities humans have always managed to figure out how to perpetrate on each other...packaged in a tidy ninety-minute VHS tape perfect for bored-GI entertainment. But the usual finger-waggers and professional morals nannies considered them the nadir of human morality and signs that Western civilization was headed for the depravity of Rome and Babylon.

How innocent were we..?

Anyway, this week was also the time when young troops would get involved in all sorts of insane horseplay; it was this time in 1986 when Private Black pioneered "drainsurfing" during an unexpectedly-intense dry season downpour and ended up in the swamps behind Venado Beach. Given Blackie's penchant for bizarre nonsense I'd have to say that this was fairly subdued for him; nothing was set afire, nobody but him ended up naked, and there were no arrests. This week was for "Jackass"-grade stunts before there was a "Jackass".

Today I'm a sedate middle-aged, middle-class father and husband and the notion of jumping in a raging drainage ditch with a foam sleeping pad wouldn't occur to me any more than running for mayor of Portland. But this week, this dead-week between the two holidays, still retains an odd sort of surreality for me.

It has always seemed to me that the old year really dies with the solstice and the Jesus-come-lately graft of religio-commercial holiday glitter we've pasted to it. The silly alcohol-fueled celebration of the New Year a week later marks the beginning of another year's journey around the sun.

But for now we wait, idly diverting ourselves with desultory work and the bright nonsense of our new toys, through the short, dark week as the earth spins through the no-time that spans the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

And, perhaps, take some time to reflect on where we've been. And wonder where we're going.

Monday, December 26, 2011

All the Troubles in the World

...are listed here - the source of the graphic below:I find it interesting to note that some of what we think as truly appalling human conditions - chattel slavery, for example - last for years, decades, even centuries...and yet take a relatively small toll in human lives compared to, say, World War 2, which many of us still consider a Good War and one of the United States' "great adventures".

Which, I think, points up the caution needed in placing a price on horror in death alone. Slavery has always been considered one of the truly heinous human acts because of the wealth of misery it contains. There are, indeed, "fates worse than death" and few of them are remitted the slave.

What I do find interesting to note is the apparent increase in horror over the past hundred years or so. But then you stop for a moment and think of the centuries of human atrocity that have simply disappeared into the memory hole. Rome alone fought nearly constantly during her Republican and Imperial periods - Plutarch says
"[Janus] also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus it was closed, after he had overthrown Mark Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time..."
I wonder; what will some future Plutarch write about our own country in our own time?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Battles Long Ago: First Stronghold 1873

Over at GFT: the first major engagement of the Modoc War, 1873.The red-hot rampage of War in the Lava Beds - now for your holiday reading pleasure!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Iraq and I Roll - Open Thread

I normally hate these "open threads", but, frankly, I wanted to hear from the other drunks in this joint; so now that the Third Gulf War is "officially" over (it's not, let's not kid ourselves, but the U.S. has declared victory, so let's make a note to file...) what was the takeaway of the group.

I did think that it was...ironic? Intriguing? ...that this week also featured two other events that seem to carom off the entire Iraq circus;

1. The official recognition by the U.S. Congress of what seems to have been the functional reality inside the Beltway for some time; that "We Are At War", and that war - where it is, who is "fighting" it, how it is "fought" - is whatever the U.S. Executive branch defines it to be, and

2. The passing of one of the most vocal, and certainly the most acerbic, of those who loved the Gulf War; Christopher Hitchens.

I sorta wish we had ol' Hitch this side of the dirt for this one; his opinion would be sure to jump-start the conversation.

Anyway, rack 'em up, as Clint Black would say.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Worth the time to read

This is far afield from our regular programming, but there had been a couple of requests for the bride's insights on the Chap 11 of AMR, so here is some very good info.

The bride just received this link
from former colleagues at AMR Corp. She has a lot of respect for Michael Boyd, head of the Boyd Group. In her opinion (first hand experience) Boyd and Bob Crandall, who retired as AMR CEO a few years ago, represent two of the three sharpest minds in contemporary commercial aviation, the third being Herb Kelleher of Southwest (also a first hand opinion). In fact, the wife would love to see a presidential ticket of any combination of the three. But then, people that brilliant, courageous and honest just don't run for president any more.

What is most interesting is Boyd's scathing comments about the pundits. Yes, we not only live in a land of instant experts, but people actually make serious decisions based on these uninformed fools' bleating. One of the reasons WASF.

Read and enjoy. I'm sure it runs counter to anything you have read elsewhere.

Another interesting article about the Chap 11 is this one. It gives a good insight into why AA was the last "legacy airline" to use Chap 11, as Arpey was of the same school of moral thought as his predecessors Don Carty and Bob Crandall.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Infamy

Apropos of this Pearl Harbor Day post at GFT, here's a nice article in Naval History Magazine about how the events leading up to 7 DEC 1941 point up the problem that governments and militaries have, not just in assessing threat capabilities, but in assessing their own.

As Parshall and Wenger (2011) points out;
"In the case of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. Navy had no real inkling of Japanese carrier warfare capabilities and therefore could not accurately assess likely operational targets. Not only that, but Japan’s carrier force—known as Kido Butai—was evolving so quickly on the eve of the Pacific war that almost no naval intelligence organ would have been able to track, internalize, and gauge those capabilities."
Even the Japanese Navy wasn't really able to understand their own strength.The article correctly notes that
"Indeed, the Japanese themselves did not seem to understand clearly the nature of the weapon they had created, or how best to wield it. Within six months of the opening of the war, poor strategy on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s part would end up committing Kido Butai’s component carrier divisions piecemeal, first at the Battle of Coral Sea and then at the Battle of Midway. During the latter, Kido Butai was decisively defeated—with four of its carriers sunk. Japan’s overwhelming early war numerical advantage was thus erased. Shortly thereafter, America’s superiority in production began asserting itself."
My friend seydlitz likes to talk about how the lack of strategic vision in the 2011 U.S. has contributed decisively to our frittering away our blood and treasure pursuing impossibilities in Central Asia. But I think one of the important lessons of Pearl Harbor, as well-discussed in Parshall and Wenger (2011), is how extraordinarily difficult trying to understand even one's own military and geopolitical strengths and weaknesses is.

How much more so trying to integrate all that into an overall assessment of potential threat capabilities, friendly political and military capacity, national interests, and geopolitical variables.Especially in a domestic U.S. political climate of increasing polarization and magical thinking.

Not saying that this shouldn't happen, or can't happen. But just pointing out that all our historical examples show how extraordinarily difficult it is.

Friday, December 9, 2011



"By employing a plethora of tax-dodging techniques, 30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day -- including weekends -- during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections....."


Meanwhile:


During a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Orlando this week, Frank Luntz, one of the most well known political communications strategist in the country, talked to GOPers about how they could do a better job talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”


It ain't gonna be pretty.

The Death of COIN, or the Death of Strategic ("C") Thought?

Recently Col. Gian Gentile USA (h/t to ZP) came out with yet another well-written short article on the dilemma facing the US military today. Which other US officer would one put in the same category as Gian Gentile? Good question . . .

In Coin is Dead: US Army Must Put Strategy Over Tactics, Gentile takes issue with the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) response to the Global War on Terror. He's done this in the past and I posted an analysis of a 2009 article he wrote. In that earlier post I dealt with Gentile's critique of COIN and expanded on that. In this one I rather leave COIN to Gentile but expand into the larger issues I see as at stake.

I organize this post the same way I did the earlier one, providing a list of Gentile's main points, but with fewer this time since this essay is much shorter. I then provide a following list of my own.

The first of Gentile's main points is that "tactical objectives have been used to define victory". This linked with the simple fact that both Afghanistan and Iraq have been "characterized by an all-emcompassing obsession with the methods and tactics of counterinsurgency".

Second, American strategic thought has lost the ability "to link cost-effective operational campaigns to core policy objectives, while taking into consideration American political and popular will".

Third, having learned nothing from the strategic defeats in both wars, "the American military has embraced the idea that better tactics can overcome serious shortcomings in strategy and policy".

The Fourth, following the third, is that the "US military is in dire need for a conversation on strategy, one that looks critically at the past 10 years of war and asks hard questions about the operational methods employed".

Fifth and finally, the future will not necessarily be like the past, unless the national political and military leaderships stumble into another incoherent war and the failure to even attempt to learn from the past will condemn "the US Army and Marines to strategic irrelevance in the years and decades to come".

Gentile is repeating an argument here he as made before, that concentrating on COIN while at the same time ignoring the political dimension in which war operates only condemns the US military to making the same mistakes they made in the past. It could be that the actual threats the country faces in the future are more of a conventional nature and thus requiring quite a different military than one well-versed in COIN, but at the same time having lost the knack for early 21st Century conventional warfare.

While I applaude Gentile's forthrightness in speaking out as a serving US Army field grade officer, I don't think he goes quite far enough in his critique. Mine is very much the opinion of a US civilian strategic theorist rather than a serving US military officer and should be taken as such. I agree with Col. Gentile's views as expressed in the article, but I make no assumption that he would in turn agree with what follows.

So from my own Clausewitzian perspective, let me add my own points which I hope will expand on and in some cases provide some possible political context to Gentile's points.

First, tactics has become the sole focus for the simple fact that the government has been loath to define what the actual political purposes/policy goals of the wars conducted were/are. This was particularly true for Iraq. The military was essentially given a list of propaganda themes (WMDs, overthrow a terrible dictator, inflict punishment for 9/11, ensure our security) and told that they were the political goals, when in reality the actual goals were the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the establishment of a US client state, bases for US force projection throughout the area, domination of Iraq's national resources and economy. That US economic interests/corporate players botched the last two goals should come as no surprise. They were too busy chasing the no-risk war $$$ . . .

So the disconnect between political purpose and military aim was intentional and reflected the rank dishonesty of the US government guided by our political/economic elite. Had the goals been more modest in nature, this might have not been a crippling problem, but given the radical nature of our policy goals (essentially the remaking of the Middle East and of various Muslim political identities) and the massive material and moral resources necessary, these military adventures were doomed to failure from the start. This was/is the fundamental reality of the situation: pre-ordained failure, if for no other reason then simply that these radical goals were not achievable through military means. Essentially instead of simply the confusion of COIN, for us the very concept of strategy (as in military means attaining a military aim to support a coherent political purpose) itself has been lost.

Second and very much related to this was/is the assumption by US policy makers that force and violence were/are the preferred means of attaining their strategic (political) goals, and with the level of force and violence the US was/is able to wield, there was/is no question of failure. I include the present tense here to indicate that this dubious assumption is still very strong in spite of the obvious reality to the contrary. It is in fact driving our current policy in regards to Iran. The assumption among a large swath of the US political elite is that violence is not only a means, but an end. Simply massive destruction is what war is about and when you have destroyed all the enemy target sets you have identified, victory follows. Warfare is simply deploying and manipulating, usually high tech and very expensive, weapons systems to maximum effect. There is no consciousness of war being a social interaction, where the enemy reacts, there is no understanding of a necessary connection between the military aim and the political purpose. "Strategy" is simply causing large explosions in the enemy's backyard while the "warriors" back home watch on TV and feel ever so proud and secure.

Back in 2003 the attitude was, hit the Iraqis hard enough, so the neocon thought went, and the US would be able to achieve anything, even the remaking of the Iraqi political identity. Would anyone argue today that that had any possibility at all of success? Yet we see essentially the same thing in regards to Iran.

There is a decidedly "Marxist" as in exclusively materialist view in all this. Political values stand for nothing in comparison to either unrestrained violence or potential economic prosperity. Make it worth their while, allow the magic of the market do its work, and the conquered peoples would become happy consumers in no time. What could possibly be their reason to resist the corporate bounty offered them? Violence as the unstoppable force, followed by simplistic notions of economics with both displacing politics.

Third, COIN provided an answer to two quite different problems. First, it was the basis of domestic propaganda/information operations whereby the war was repackaged as something quite different then it had been initially. General David Petreaus, "the father of COIN" became the "man with a plan", so the focus shifted from a lack of resources committed to "giving the plan a chance to succeed". Also the Iraqi "surge" provided the basis of the "we won" meme which has been more of less dominate among many Americans since 2007. I would argue that domestic information operations by the US military has become one of the legacies of these wars and will only become more important in the future since it in effect constitutes the military's only success story. This brings up another characteristic of the US as being "too big to fail" notion mentioned above. As long as the public supports the, that is any war, then that war continues, the US only having to worry about "us defeating ourselves as happened in Vietnam". The curious mix of a high level of material/financial resources versus a low level of moral and physical resources necessary to fight these wars particularly stands out; war as endless domestic financial shakedown.

COIN also provided for an unending operational commitment to both wars, since as long as the US was operating in the field, the reality of the strategic failures we had actually suffered could be ignored, actually discounted. COIN allowed for the "can" - and the political decision to withdraw from a couple of lost wars - "to be kicked down the road" indefinitely. In fact President Obama's decision to withdraw from Iraq leaves him open to being tarred with having "lost the war" since he ends military operations there and thus must now deal with the strategic reality (which has been there all along, as in Iran being the prime benefactor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq). This long ignored strategic reality also drives the current lurch to war with Iran, since a new war allows for another throw of the geo-strategic dice: Deep in the hole, is our political elite simply "throwing with their fingers crossed"?

Fourth and finally, while I agree with Gentile in his view of COIN, the actual strategic discussion we should be having involves not how the military should be structured, but rather how the political dysfunctions of our political system should be addressed and radically dealt with. The focus on what's wrong with the military is a symptom of a much larger and serious problem. I fear that all the discussion in regards to COIN or no COIN is a distraction from what we should be dealing with, especially regarding the 2012 election . . .

How to conclude?

Allow me to make three comments:

First, this whole time that we live in could be seen as simply the latest link in a long line of social history, that of attaining "human self-awareness" which I would define as the ability to govern and regulate ourselves without any type of ideology. Long ago our species came to the conclusion that the only way to unite large numbers of people was through a "Weltanschauung" or spiritual worldview, something that made sense of the whole in terms of existence. We've in the West essentially burned through religion, and politics and are now at economic system, which is the threadbare rag that we attempt to hide naked self interest. Consider that we do possess the capacity to negotiate, administer and salvage this planet to the adequate betterment of all. Whether we will or not is another question.

Second, be clear that this is basically a despicable betrayal. This is NOT what was sold to the citizenry as OUR country. The usurpers attempt to blind us with our own values, but they themselves are at heart hopelessly corrupt. Ad hoc structured cynical opportunism built on flimsy stands, essentially broken shards of glass pieced together collapsing before your eyes. Besides fear of not believing, what's left? 2008 came and went with no change. Still the old elite continue, but they are not anything near capable of pulling off what they are now attempting . . .

Finally, language itself has escaped us. We no longer enjoy the rather common place ability of describing our own political relations and conditions. Intricate concepts involving complex social systems/relations are reduced to one simple cause, usually dealt with by means of violence. That this stupid and self-defeating approach to strategy - or even basic existence - that this has led to consistent institutional failure does not matter in the least. Instead, we use language drained of all useful meaning. Clear communication is basic to survival of a group which makes me wonder if what we see today is predominately dead language used by essentially a dying political community blubbering its last shrieking gasps . . . Sad.

More than sad, tragic. Tragedy is something our grandparents would have understood.

On the most personal level, I, my generation and myself, imo, stand disgraced before our grandparents. They are the ones that I, for one, actually answer to, in this very specific case, since they did more to define my values than my parents did, however hard my parents may have tried.

We've lost it big time as a political collectivity somewhere along the line. "C" stands for communal. That's the very simple message of this post. If I were still a Christian, I would tell you all to pray, but since I am now an agnostic, I simply would recommend to hang on tight and hope for the best. That, and perhaps consider immigration.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gary Francis Powers Redux


For those who need some brushing up on history, Powers was the pilot of the notorious and doomed high-flying U2 spy plane whose siblings are still used for not only spying, but also I'm happy to report, for Astronomy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960_U-2_incident

I was out to the movies last night ( "The Immortals" if you want to know, decent enough and surprisingly literate, with the amount of Mythology packed into it ). I bring this bit of info up because the Air Force has been running a series of ads before the flick starts about "this isn't Science Fiction, it's what we do everyday", or some such. I only half listen to them. One in particular shows these huge swivel engine transport planes landing on ruined bridges to save lives, which makes me laugh, because, well, it's silly. Maybe you've seen them and know what I'm on about.

There is buried somewhere in my head a quote from the Original Star Trek series attributed to Nimoy's Mr. Spock, also paraphrased.

"Military secrets are the least secure of all secrets".

So we lose one of our Flying Technological Terrors, as Darth Vader put it in disparaging the Death Star in the face of one of its commanders, to our hated enemy and cause of all trouble in the Middle East, Iran. As Stewart notes above, first comes the lie, then eventually, to our credit, comes the truth.

Our government spends billions to develop these technologies to keep us safe from the Terrors Outside the Walls, spends billions more flying them around the world to spy and gather intelligence and kill where we may, but we cannot rebuild our people's lives, keep them healthy, adequately fund our education system or find a policy that works, rebuild our decaying infrastructure and frayed economy.

We gut our own sacred enshrined and much ballyhooed freedoms, while those brave and long-suffering US citizens and others in our military around the globe fight to preserve them.

There are still vital and healthy signs in the Old Sod left, enough that I'll still go out to plead my case to vote, participate, and to Hope for Some Change. But Lordy, it's a long so very long row to hoe.

bb

Sunday, December 4, 2011

He is Us

Thursday the U.S. Senate made an interesting choice.

It departed from the post-9/11 world, where we were "at war" with the people who planned and performed an act of political violence, and entered the post-post-9/11 world, where we are "at war" with those people who support, in various ways and to various degrees, the people we went "to war" with after 9/11.

Now I'm not going to pursue this further; those of you who have read my previous writing here know how I feel about that. And I don't think that this was a dramatic step beyond - it really just formalized what my country has been doing for most of the past decade or so. It's a tad depressing to realize that the notion that the entire world is now a "battlefield" is so unexceptional that it passes without general comment. But not surprising.

But I'd just like to observe that, to me, the fascinating part of all this is how much it reflects the convergence of our "warriors" and the "warriors" we officially fear, hate, and despise.

Here's Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson on the entire notion of presumption-of-innocence in a nation "at war" - "U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States. Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy."

And here's shoe bomber Richard Reid on why he wanted to blow up a planeload of civilians: "I am at war with your country. I’m at war with them not for personal reasons but because they have murdered more than, so many children and they have oppressed my religion and they have oppressed people for no reason except that they say we believe in Allah."

Got it?

So my question is - how and when does it end?

Does it EVER end?

How CAN it ever end?

If the "enemy" is everyone you hate...and the "war" consists of when, where, and who you want it to be, whether you're an individual with a grudge, or a government official pondering a potential for some present - or even future - "danger"...how can you ever say that the "war" is over?

Because I cannot see any serious political figure or faction on the U.S. scene that disagrees with this broad formulation that "We Are At War!". Democrats, Republicans...everyone I see and hear, everyone who is in a position to actually effect U.S. policy...all appear to agree in one form or another that We Are At War and that our national foreign, military, and economic policy MUST be shaped by that.

And the people we are "at war" with are in large measure fantasists, goofballs that truly believe in bin Ladin's Caliphate opium-dream, or just angry and vengeful because we have killed someone they care about, or are in it for some other sort of personal revenge. That's not a war that's fought for policy that ends with a peace treaty; that's the sort of "war" that only ends with a grave.

So...does this mean that the United States will be "at war" for the rest of my life?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Devil is in the Numbers

Sheer's link to the Atlantic Magazine contained this interesting tidbit:

The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

It reminds me of an old WWII joke:

A General at the Imperial Military Staff HQ in Tokyo would go to a Chinese barber every Wednesday for a shave and a haircut. Once the General was seated in the chair, the Chinese barber would ask, "How goes the war, Honorable General?" The General would respond with statistics from the China Front, for which he was responsible. Something like, "The War goes well. Last week - 15,000 Chinese soldiers killed, 1,000 Japanese killed." or "30,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 700 Japanese killed." The barber would answer, "Very good. Very Good." (OK, back before PC, it was said as "Velly Good".)

This went on week after week. The Japanese General was rather surprised that a Chinese person would find such tilted odds "Very Good". So the next time the General gets his hair cut, he answers, "200,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 200 Japanese killed", to see how the barber would react to his false, but staggering odds. As always, the barber answers, "Very good. Very good."

So the General asks, "Chung How, you are Chinese. Every week I report 15 to 1 or higher losses for the Chinese. Today, I reported 1,000 to 1 losses for the Chinese. Yet, you always answer, 'Very good. Very good.' How can such lopsided odds be very good to a Chinese person?"

The barber smiled and simply said, "Yes, Honorable General, the odds are tilted, but soon there will be no more Japanese soldiers!"


If one American middle class worker is sacrificed by American profit maximizing businesses to raise 4 Chinese and Asian workers out of proverty, pretty soon there will be no more American middle class workers!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November in History: Battle of the Wabash 1791

Over at GFT.Happy Thanksgiving, too, from all of us here; may you have a better day than St. Clair and the boys had on the banks of the Wabash 220 years ago!

The Quiet of Thanksgiving Morning

I've been silent for some time because I felt I haven't had much to say...in fact, what I've been feeling most of late with regards to our society et al is a desire to say, "Fuck this, I'm done. Later bitches!"

However, that isn't very helpful, and so I watch the news feeling the gloom of watching a nation spasm in either it's death throes of a dying Republic, or the squalling of new birth of our Plutocracy. The question of which has long been settled by the Department of Homeland Security actively coordinating the suppression of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. If ever there is evidence of the government actively engaged in activity that goes against the wishes of the public at large, this is it.

The Republic is dead. Long live the Republic.

So, now, here I am, early in the morning, standing guard on two smoking turkeys that I put on the smoker at 6:45am, pondering the "what next?" for us as a nation.

President Obama has clearly chosen sides.

I think we're in for a very long winter, and I suspect, and this suspicion needs more research, that by next summer we're going to be looking at a very different world...and I think, again based on this suspicion, that we're going to be none-to-pleased.

Anyway, back to the turkeys, and my best wishes to all of you on this...:::sigh:::...wet day of Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Pub Mates

Regardless of how world affairs may be screwed up at present, the bride and I have much to be thankful for, primarily our health and that of our offspring and family. Tomorrow, we will have a traditional Thanksgiving with a long time friend from the US to remember that we have been more than generally fortunate in this life.

We wish a grand Thanksgiving to our comrades in arms (and comrades in keyboards). We hope that your fortunes are as good as ours, if not better.

And to those in need, our thoughts are with you for a better tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Valse Triste



It's been a while since I've posted something like this, something away from the woes and tribulations that trouble us daily.

The post below inspired this.

And do go to 62angelo's youtube user page to see more great stuff like this piece.

Anybody else a fan of J. Sibelius?

What music refurbishes your spirit?

bb

Langemarck Day, The Other Event Associated with 11 November

Nonne Boschen, 11 November 1914

Say the 11th of November and you automatically think of Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day. There is another event associated with that particular day and in fact that particular war (the First World War of 1914-1918) which I would like to introduce should you not be aware of it.

Langemarck Day commemorates the "Battle of Langemarck" or the more extensive First Battle of Ypres or the battle of Bixchote, all which took place during October and November of 1914. This was part of the so-called "race to the sea" when both the German and Allied armies attempted to outflank each other after the German defeat at the Marne.

This First World War battle or series of battles developed a mythic quality for both the British and Germans during that war. For the British it was the death of the "old Contemptibles", the end of Britain's post-Boer War Army and the Army of the Haldane reforms.

C.S. Forester is his great war novel, The General, describes the battle in this way:

And as he stooped, he heard all the rifles in the line redouble their fire. Borthwick's two machine-guns began to stammer away on his left. The Germans were renewing their advance; once more there were solid masses of grey-clad figures pouring over the fields towards them. But one man with a rifle can stop two hundred advancing in a crowd - more still if he is helped by machine-guns. Curzon saw the columns reel under the fire, and marveled at their bravery as they strove to struggle on. They bore terrible losses before they fell back again over the crest.
page 41


The British Expeditionary Force landed in France with 85,000 infantry and by the end of the campaign had suffered 86,000 casualties, most of them from the infantry. From who had not fallen in Flanders or Mons, along with the British Army of India, and the mass of volunteers who came forward during 1914-15, Britain built a new army which in turn would be bled white at the Somme and Passendaele.

The German myth, however, was to be much more eventful.

First, let's consider General Erich Falkenhayn's comments written after the war. He wrote in his memoirs:

The enemy's offensive was completely broken. He was thrown back almost everywhere either to, or across, the Yser, and a firm connection was established between the coast at Nieuport and the previous German right wing near Lille, thus forming a front from the Swiss border to the sea. That which had to be attained under any circumstances, if the war was to be carried on with any hopeful prospects, was attained. Several times it seemed as though it only needed perseverance in the offensive to obtain a complete success - how near we actually were to it has since been made sufficiently plain. At the time, however, our movement came to a standstill.

Inundations, skillfully managed by the Belgians, put an end to the attack of the German right wing, which was making good progress and bore the main pressure. The young army corps further south fought with incomparable enthusiasm and unexcelled heroism. The disadvantages of their urgent and hasty formation and training, and the fact that they were led by older and for the most part retired officers, as others were not to be had, naturally made themselves felt. In particular there were deficiencies in the new field artillery formation, a fact that was emphasized all the more strongly by the shortage of ammunition. Nor was the leadership entirely satisfactory. At the beginning of November, GHQ could not conceal from itself that a further thorough going success was no longer to be obtained here, particularly in the inundated area, in the face of an opponent who was continually growing stronger.

General Headquarters 1914-16, pp 33-34


The last German attack was on 11 November and was repulsed by the British and French with heavy losses on both sides.

Perhaps there had been a chance to turn the Allied flank and seize the French ports, the British had no reserves left . . . But the French did, and the Germans were exhausted. Getting the infantry through was not the same as keeping them supplied, and artillery and shells were short. The Germans were far from their railheads and the British and French falling back towards theirs.

However, The German High Command (OHL) issued the following press release on 11 November 1914:

We made good progress yesterday in the Yser sector. West of Langemarck, young regiments charged forward singing "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles" against the front line of enemy positions and took them. Approximately 2000 men of the French infantry and six machine guns were captured.


We now know this report was entirely fictitious. Most of the German troops engaged from mid October on were not student volunteers, there had been no mass singing (running across a sodden field with full equipment circa 1914 did not allow for one to sing), and the attacks in question had been poorly planned and coordinated. There were reports of the German infantry being shelled by their own artillery as they advanced. In all it was not so much a lost battle as a debacle and massacre, but the mental image of those young German students singing to their deaths had great resonance at the time, they came to symbolize all the losses of those first bloody months of war. And as time went on and the losses piled up, the heroes of Langemarck came to symbolize all those who had sacrificed themselves for Germany during the war.

Taping into this sentiment, a member of the Bavarian List regiment wrote:

. . . And then followed a damp, cold night in Flanders. We marched in silence throughout the night and as the morning sun came through the mist an iron greeting suddenly burst above our heads. Shrapnel exploded in our midst and spluttered in the damp ground. But before the smoke of the explosion disappeared a wild ‘Hurrah’ was shouted from two hundred throats, in response to this first greeting of Death. Then began the whistling of bullets and the booming of cannons, the shouting and singing of the combatants. With eyes straining feverishly, we pressed forward, quicker and quicker, until we finally came to close-quarter fighting, there beyond the beet-fields and the meadows. Soon the strains of a song reached us from afar. Nearer and nearer, from company to company, it came. And while Death began to make havoc in our ranks we passed the song on to those beside us: Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, über Alles in der Welt.

After four days in the trenches we came back. Even our step was no longer what it had been. Boys of seventeen looked now like grown men. The rank and file of the List Regiment had not been properly trained in the art of warfare, but they knew how to die like old soldiers.


The author was Adolf Hitler and the book was Mein Kampf. He obviously understood the importance of myth, since this is the closest thing to a description of battle he provides in this chapter, which is mainly about attacking "politicians", "Social Democrats" and "Jews".

The legend of Langemarck brought together various German ideals: youth, nation and sacrifice, but also the notion that the old order had wasted the sacrifice of their own youth, had been even unworthy of it and that the next time this situation presented itself the national leadership would/could not falter, as the Kaiser, Falkenhayn and the OHL had done. Thus the dead lived on in the aspirations of the German nationalists to reverse the verdict of Versailles.

Already on the first anniversary of the OHL press release, November 11, 1915, there were numerous calls in the German press for a "Langemarck Day" to commemorate the students' sacrifice. Although no official recognition of the day was ever granted by the Kaiser, it became something of a nationalist day of patriotic celebration even before 1918. With the end of the war, the collapse of the monarchy and the founding of the first German Republic on 9 November 1918, Langemarck Day took on ever more importance. It became the counter-national holiday to the Republic's 9 November.

As Hitler's quote above indicates, the National Socialist movement was quick to recognize and adopt all the ideals and symbols associated with Langemarck to their own ends, this contrary to the actual fact that the German student volunteers had probably included a significant number of German Jewish volunteers. As with the original OHL press release, the intent was not to remember or honor the dead, but to cynically exploit them and/or cover up unwanted facts.

I remember seeing a high quality film of a speech Hitler gave before coming to power. He was in a suit and in a round room flanked by raised rows of wooden benches, as in university lecture hall. He was almost crying by the end, addressing the women especially, the mothers of those dead children most likely, essentially "here I am, I've returned to lead . . . "

If one looks a bit closer at all the various ideals and propaganda themes associated with what Langemarck had become by 1939, we see the original ideals of youth, nationalism and sacrifice combined with revengeful bloodlust, political/ideological fanaticism (which had never existed under the Kaiser) and a belief in modernity as a technological means to achieve extensive power political goals. It is interesting in this context to recall that the stated Nazi goal for the new Germany was to return to a mostly agrarian community, discarding the urban society which had risen in Germany after the 1870s. The conquest of the Soviet Union was to provide this land for the new generations of German farmers in the east . . .

The German war cemetery at Langemarck has an interesting history of its own. It is interesting to compare it to the near-by British war cemetery in terms of layout and architecture.

What does Langemarck tells us today? I think there are several lasting lessons we can learn from its history.

First, no matter how noble national ideals are they can be subverted and transformed into something unrecognizable by politics especially politics associated with wars and violence.

Second, it is always appealing for a military high command, or even the political leadership to dress up a military disaster in patriotic/heroic garb and try to pass off it off as something else.

Third, Langemarck is an example of thoughtless waste. If a country or political community is faced with a long war, then resources, including especially human resources have to be used to their most efficient purpose. Was it in the best interests of either Germany or Britain to man their volunteer formations with the cream of their youth, instead of using those educated and dedicated young men to serve as officers in the new armies? What happens when most of the next generation of leaders are killed or maimed in war, allowing the Hitlers to rise to the top?

Finally there is a great distinction between sacrifice and waste, and it is the people for whom the sacrifice is offered or the waste suffered to decide based on an unemotional weighing of the facts what indeed has taken place. With the resort to war comes naturally sacrifice, but also responsibility to endeavor that the sacrifices called upon are both necessary for the achievement of the shared rational goal and that any waste is exposed as what it is. Power, responsibility and accountability should all go together.

The victims deserve at least that.

Postscript:

I've enjoyed reading the comments on this thread. I think a reevaluation, beyond the propaganda versions generated during the war, is finally possible. It could do much to make for a better Europe and perhaps, with some luck and a lot of effort, also for a better world.

I'll leave the last word to C. S. Forester, from The General:

(His main character Curzon has just found out that he is in command of the cavalry brigade, the Brigadier having been killed by a direct hit on his HQ. This conversion of thought process takes about "ten seconds" since Curzon is well versed in the characteristics of his institution. This takes place during 1st Ypres.)

"Any report from the Dragoons?" he demanded.
That was the beginning of eleven days of anxiety and danger and responsibility and desperate hard work. Even if Curzon had the necessary literary ability, he could never write an account of the First Battle of Ypres in which he took so prominent a part, for his later recollections of it could never be sorted out from the tangle into which they lapsed. He could never remember which day it was that the commander of the First Corps, beautifully groomed, superbly mounted, came riding up the lane to see for himself what were the chances of the Cavalry Brigade maintaining its precarious hold upon its seemingly untenable position, nor which day it was that he had spent in the trenches of the Surreys, leading the counter-attack which caused the Germans to give back at the moment when here were only a hundred or two exhausted Englishmen to oppose the advance of an army corps. pp 49-50


Douglaus Haig was the commander of 1st Corps in 1914 and the battle mentioned was Nonne Boschen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden...

Occupy Portland is over.An ad-hoc force of police from several places including Portland Bureau today cleared the two downtown parks that Occupy had occupied. The protesters have regathered in several other downtown sites to "discuss" their next move, but in my opinion this is the end for Occupy.

For more than a week the local pols, newspapers, and television outlets have been voicing increasing impatience with Occupy and, truthfully, it seems hard to imagine how the "protests" would have done anything more than they have which beyond generating a sort of unfocused unease amongst the chattering classes has been no more than an irritant under the silken drawers of the rich and powerful.

It's been more than forty years since the mild insurrections of the U.S. Civil Rights era, half a century since the "nonviolent" protests of the Indian National Congress forced Britain's release of her Indian colony, a full century since the end of the violent strikes and near-rebellions that empowered the American labor unions.In the interim we have forgotten that "peaceful" protest is exactly as effective as "peacefully" resisting a savage beating unless you have your "peaceful" beating carefully planned to maximize your PR value - and it helps if your opponents are frigging morons, or politically and financially exhausted.

The civil rights marchers won because the Southern bigots were stupid enough to physically attack well-dressed men and women on national TV and newspapers. The Indian factions won partially because BG Dyer was a fucking bloodyminded idiot and partially because the Empire exhausted itself fighting two world wars. You could argue that the labor unions didn't actually win, but rather reached a sort of armed truce that lasted until the plutocrats shat the bed in 1929 and helped elect a labor-friendly administration.

Occupy had none of these to help it. Instead, it faced a massively corrupted and paid-for military-industrial-congressional-financial complex that is doing quite well under the present system. Any hopes of an FDR moment disappeared early in 2009 when it became obvious at least to me that the current Democratic administration had no interest in even trying cocking a snook at the banksters. The New New Deal this wasn't.

And the Occupiers forgot the other lesson of those earlier protest movements; that the public could give a shit about your politeness. The relative discipline of the Occupiers ended up looking like meekness, and regardless of what the Good Book says the meek won't inherit jack shit without a pair of brass balls, friendly press, and a sackful of bricks and cobblestones hidden away in case all the politeness doesn't work. And Occupy Portland had none of those things.

And ask the Paris Communards how even WITH those things, if the government is willing to ignore you when you're weak - and kill or arrest when you're strong - you will lose.So the banksters have proved that a camel can leap laughingly through the eye of a needle. They have bought all the government they need, they or their lickspittle brownnosers own the media conglomerates, and the U.S. public is about evenly divided into thirds, and while one third is ignorant and indifferent one of the other two-thirds is actively hostile, either hoping to curry favor with the plutocracy or, tragically, mistaking the random helium in their guts for wings; by the time they fart away their good luck they will be plummeting too rapidly to have the time for regrets.

Occupy might have had more hope if the public was more intelligent and their enemies less powerful. In the first couple of days, or weeks...

But no matter. That hope is gone forever.

In March, 1935 the tiny German Army marched into the Rhineland, the first of Hitler's Thirties gambles. And it was more than a gamble; Hitler and his commanders knew how tiny their little force was. As hapless as the French Army of the Thirties was, and it was a fairly ginormous clusterfuck, a whiff of grapeshot in the old Napoleonic style would have seen the Heer packing across the Rhine and, probably, the end of the Hitler Era two years after it began.

But the French were too meek to make that move, and Hitler's success propelled him all the way to the wreck of the European world ten years later.

And here again, the first couple of days - "Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden" is how Hitler phrased it - were key.Once the larger public failed to rise in the first couple of days the Occupiers proved to have no strategy to force the issue or force their enemies to submit and their attempt to tame the bulls and bears is done.

Update 11/14: Upon further review, I had a couple of thoughts.

The antiwar protests of the Sixties have something a answer for in what they've done to the U.S. left. The protests were far less effective at "ending" the war than they seemed at the time (and have been mythologized since) - Nixon's concerns for the economy and the public's indifference to the Vietnamese were more crucial. But the result is that somehow the notion that merely marching around and sitting-in would be enough to effect political change and the record of those actions since then have proved this to be the nonsense it is.

The civil rights protestors, the INC activists, the labor movement radicals all had a collection of things that the post-'72 U.S. protests haven't:

1. An actual strategy that involved an entire range of acts, from pure theatre to violent protest, and some notion of how and where these would be applied. If OWS had anything other than "be there" I haven't seen it (mind you, the combination of vast public indifference and active media ignorance/hostility made it difficult to see how they could have done anything else effectively). And to orchestrate this these groups also had

2. An actual structured leadership - often fractious, even infighting, but the leaders were there actively planning the attacks on their opponents. The OWS seems to suffer from the goofy fuzzy-logic cloud-leadership that is to my mind the very WORST hangover of the Sixties protests. People like Lewis and Nehru and MLK were in many ways very unlikeable, manipulative, cunning sons-of-bitches. The OWS people seem to have absorbed the wrong lesson, which is that to get to a beneficent end you need to be a beneficent person. Couldn't be wronger. Many, perhaps most, of the people who have done "good" things for the mass of humanity have themselves been real bastards. You have to break a lot of eggs sometimes to make a good omlette...

Sorry that I'm such a little ray of sunshine today. But, as Matt Taibbi points out, the things that OWS is pointing fingers at aren't minor issues - they go to the very heart of the corruption of the crony-capitalist scam that has been driving the U.S. (and much of the Euro nations) back towards the Gilded Age. I'd have liked to see the U.S. and other western publics "get" that. But this doesn't seem to have happened, and at this point I have to conclude that it ISN'T going to happen. And for someone like me, who is and whose kids will be, part of the 99%, that looks like a bad thing for the future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby's scheme). I died in hell -
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards; so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For, though low down upon the list, I'm there;
"In proud and glorious memory" ... that's my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he's never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west ...
What greater glory could a man desire?~S. Sassoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Marines!

Proud to have worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and always will be. Been celebrating this day since 1960, and hope to do so many, many times more.

Semper Fi!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

With Their Shields or On Them

I'm sitting in front of the computer whilst the kiddos indulge in some truly reprehensible Saturday morning TV - a ritual as old as MY childhood, at least - and came across this Krugman column that ends with a comment that I thought went right to the heart of the discussions we had over at GFT about what I considered the unfortunate narrowing of the social arc of military service in the U.S. circa 2011:
"If people can’t comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost."
The Krugman essay is in reference to the apparent difference between "conservatives" - who seem willing to shove any sort of public-figure misbehavior down the memory hole so long as the offending politician continues to vote for their regressive policies - and liberals, who immediately defenestrate their own "leaders" if the personal lives of those leaders vary from the public positions.But in the course of his post Krugman brings up someone I had forgotten; Ed Luttwak, who wrote back in 1995 that any hope the U.S. (and other Western societies) had of returning to a widespread national service was doomed by the replacement-level birth rates of their peoples. Luttwak's "post-heroic" societies had developed such an attachment to their children "...(b)ecause most couples have only one or two children, the loss of any in warfare becomes intolerable, and conscription becomes unthinkable..."(and)"...child-centered Americans (and Europeans and Japanese) will be forced to rely in the future on allies, mercenaries, and maybe robots to fight on their behalf."So; here I am, looking at my own precious offspring (one inert on the couch, the other somewhere in the back of the house - I can hear her chatting to herself there, anyway...) and wondering - would I give them up if my country demanded it not for existential defense, but for some abtruse foreign policy objective? Would I be "convincible" that burying my son or daughter for some transient geopolitical advantage in part of my country's imperial corona was worth the end of my own personal immortality?And I honestly don't know the answer.

But it certainly raises some difficult questions for me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!


So, I'll admit it. As a kid this was my favorite holiday. Even better than Christmas since I usually knew what I was going to get anyway. But Halloween? You just never knew how it was going to turn out. What would you experience? How much booty would end up raking in? What would everyone dress up as? Would something really weird happen? What if it rained! What a horrible thought! That would have ruined everything! Still, as a kid I can't remember a single rained-out Halloween, they were all dark, relatively dry and moon-lit, or that is how I remember them.

I also remember the old Halloweens when you'd come back home with a sack bulging with great home-made sweets, before the great scare of the late 1960s after which all parents were instructed to sort through their children's bags and throw away (THROW AWAY!) all the stuff that wasn't individually packaged, that is all the great home-made stuff went in the trash and you got to keep all the not-so-great store-bought stuff. In retrospect can we possibly argue that it was the beginning of the end of community and the ramping up of corporate control . . . ?

I never understood what all the parental fear was about. Halloween was suppose to be scary, right? So why throw out all the best stuff we had amassed trick or treating (which was hard work for a kid btw) . . . ?

By the beginning of the 1970s it had all changed and had some how become common wisdom that sickos (could be anyone) were just waiting for 31 October to roll around so they could poison or seriously injure some unsuspecting kid. If you weren't scared to death you weren't a serious parent, or so people thought. I was above trick or treating age by then (which was 13 in our family) but I was still expected to take my sisters out ("only to people we know well, and check what they get!"). This I usually accomplished by talking one or two friends to go with me on my supervisory duties, which usually included trying to scare the bajesus out of the kids we were responsible for, ya know older brother stuff.

So, still kinda fun, but in a different way and nothing like it had been before. Some purists of course say that you have to go all the way back to the 1950s to get the real "old Halloween", but my experiences in the 1960s in the small town South (and once in the Midwest when visiting my mother's family in Iowa) seem to be essentially the same as what my older friends and family experienced. In all I consider myself lucky.

So what was the whole scare about?

An article from 1987 introduced us all to the sociological concept:

The cause of our exaggerated fears about children are not well understood. Social scientists might explain them by pointing to the radical transformation of the American family that has taken place during the last 15 years.

The two-career family has given rise to "latchkey children", that is children who return home from school to empty houses. As we spend less and less time with our children we have become more and more fearful for their safety.

The easy psychiatric explanation is that we are merely projecting our fears of an uncertain world on to our children. While the actual causes still remain an intriguing social mystery, there can be little doubt that there is a growing sense in America that our children are no longer safe.

One of the surprising things about the myth of the Halloween sadist is how few copycat crimes it has inspired.

The most harmful effect of the myth seems to be the emotional difficulties it has caused both adults and children. The social production of unrealistic fears concerning child safety has approached the point where it now threatens to produce an entire nation of anxiety-ridden parents, and, more importantly, a generation of paranoid kids.


What about our kids? Did seydlitz pass on this very important element of American culture to his children? I tried to, but with the kids growing up in Berlin and later in Portugal it was difficult to get the old feel, but then we also had some advantages. My wife, who had no connection with Halloween was a great help and got into the whole spirit of the thing. Also once in Portugal we joined the local American club and then had a Halloween party for the kids every October 31st. So, yes ours have hopefully happy memories connected with this "holiday".

So, what about you, fellow barkeeps and loyal readers? Would you care to exchange your Halloween experiences with us? I'm very interested to know your memories of the event and what you do today to celebrate this great American tradition . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Strategic Stupidity and Unequal Treaties

Our man seydlitz has a post up asking questions about the U.S. geopolitical strategy in the Middle East and the impact of the continuing drone strikes on that strategy.

While an interesting question, I would opine that as a matter of strategic veterinary dentistry, it's looking at the wrong end of the horse to figure out what's the matter with the teeth.

Instead, I offer this, the supposed final note of the Looney Tune melody we've been playing on the Iraqi barrel organ:
"But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts."
So. I'll be the first one to say - I wouldn't want to be tried in an Iraqi court. I suspect that things are a little less...predictable...shall we say? than ending up in the Multnomah County justice system.

But the bottom line for any Western power in the Third World is that you're always going to be working in the shadow of colonialism.You don't like that? Don't commit your maneuver units to fucking Third World countries.

Despite what 99.7% of the U.S. public - including its leadership, apparently - believes, most of the rest of the world remembers that for about 200 or 300 years being a white guy meant never having to say you were sorry...to a brown, black, or yellow guy. Most of the rest of the world has some ugly memories - still - of being booted around by people who were uniformed and armed like our GIs. The Iraqis were beat up pretty thoroughly in the Twenties by the Brits, who placed great faith in this sort of "unequal treaty", where you got to pimpslap the wogs...but they couldn't do the same to you.

And you don't quickly forget stuff like that.

One of the things that helped make the Bushie Mess-o-potamia such a mess was the reinvention of this sort of horseshit.

I've said for years that we would have saved hundreds of U.S.troops if the FIRST time some GI had shot an Iraqi by accident he'd have had a speedy trial and been handed ten years in the USDB. And the first time some GI shot an Iraqi for fun, or to hide a rape, or some other truly heinous thing, that he would have been handed over to whatever had replaced Saddam's secret police and hanged in Firdos Square. I don't think that would have been just or fair...but it would have been smart. Cunning. We would have gone a long way to distancing ourselves from the Bad Old Days of extraterritoriality, colonial immunity, and the sort of collective anger that a hell of a lot of the world still has for their former imperial masters.

But we didn't.

Instead we made it crystal clear that the Unequal Treaties were still in force and still unequal. Throw a grenade at a U.S. patrol? End up in Abu Ghraib. Shoot a pregnant Iraqi at a checkpoint? Get a downcheck on your "failure to follow proper checkpoint procedures" block in your NCOER.

That's strategic stupidity.

It doesn't take a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of drones, missiles, satellites, and computers.

All it takes is some high level negotiators who don't get that granting your troops "extraterritoriality" (regardless of whether you call it that, or "immunity"...) doesn't fly in the Third World and assumes that because we're just speshul snowflakes the wogs will be happy to give in on this massive collective grudge they carry about that because...well, because we WANT them to soooooo bad.

THAT
's strategic stupidity.

Sheesh.

Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Strategic Stupidity Incarnate?


Reaper Drone (aka Predator B)

On 8 October this month, FB Ali posted a thought provoking essay on the US use of drones and how that constituted "a new kind of war" . . . Please take the time to read FB Ali's essay which sets the initial stage for this discussion.

Coming from a Clausewitzian perspective of course I take a different view and don't see where war has changed at all . . . whereas warfare on the other hand goes through a constant process of change/innovation/reaction, the interplay of technology and technique. If it looks like war is changing, then it is the political glass we are attempting to gaze through that is distorting our vision, making it seem that the process of organized violence as a contest of wills has changed when in fact it is the politics/political relations which is/are simply confusing events, making us focus on the smoke, shadows, noise and flashes which distract us from realizing what is actually going on.

Military means used to achieve a military aim supporting a political purpose. Strategy - both in terms of decisions made and process experienced - can simply be defined as linking the military aim with the political purpose. Once the military aim has been achieved, or as Clausewitz tells us, military victory is the means to achieving the strategic end, we enter into the task of achieving peace, making it in the former enemy's interest to conclude peace through coercion/incentive and other non-military means available. War is the most serious undertaking a political community can take on and achieving the political purpose through the use of the military instrument is perhaps the most difficult undertaking in social relations, that is achieving a lasting peace with the political purpose attained.

I responded to FB Ali's post with this:

FB Ali-

Very much a thought-provoking post.

Just a few questions: First, are we not talking about "warfare" and not "war"? You use the terms interchangeably in your post but are they different concepts? War is the political instrument of organized violence of one political community at odds with another. Warfare is the utilization of the means of war for a particular epoch which is in turn influenced by the political conditions/characteristics of the entities involved.

Naval warfare is "without boundaries" and submarine warfare as practiced first in the First World War, expanded the dimensions possible even further. Could we see a parallel between the submarine of 1914-18 and the drones of today in that the machine/instrument achieves a level of autonomy which could endanger/run counter to the very political interests it is meant to serve?

Submarines at the time were considered "terror weapons", are drones by their very characteristics also "weapons of terror"?

Finally does not the employment of drones attack the legitimacy of the state the US is supposedly wishing to support? The basis of state legitimacy being its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence within its borders? By condoning the use of drones over its territory targeting its own citizens, does not the host state become by definition a "failed state"?


To which FB Ali was kind enough to respond:

Seydlitz89,

I think I used the two terms (war and warfare) discriminatingly. Space constraints prevented me from dealing with each separately.

The development of military robots will, in the future, create a new type of warfare, in which machines do the fighting and killing (and ‘dying’) instead of humans. To that limited extent, the development of this kind of warfare could be welcomed.

What I expressed concern about was the new type of war that these machines would make possible. Hitherto, the achievement of any significant results through military power required the exercise of considerable force across national borders, which also could not be concealed. The availability of highly capable, potent machines would tempt powerful countries to apply significant force against others without overtly violating borders, even secretly. This would invite a response in kind, if not degree, from states and even non-state entities.

If such a type of war were to become prevalent, it would tear up the present international order, and force even powerful countries to become ‘security states’.


To tie this all together allow me to make a series of statements which hopefully will indicate a coherent view:

First, drones are simply the latest and most advanced example of what technology has been able to achieve since around 1840. The development of steamships carrying cannon - the classic gunboat - and operating contrary to the elements and this type of weapon system since has provided political communities, specifically states, with this means of coercion for some time. These weapons systems allow the side with the technology to inflict pain and damage, but not to occupy or hold. There also exists a basic tension between this capacity and the achievement of the political purpose, since these systems can coerce and destroy, but only that. The British gunboat in China, the German Uboat in the mid Atlantic and the Reaper Drone over Yemen all share a basic autonomy which may or may not support the overriding political purpose. Thus there is a tendency for the capability to become the focus, not what this instrument is expected/suppose to achieve in terms of military aim/political purpose.

Second, due to this autonomy there is a tendency for this type of weapon to be seen as an instrument of terror. The simple fact that they apparently operate outside the norm reinforces this tendency. The negative propaganda associated with their presence has to be taken into consideration.

Third, the capability and character of these weapons invite inordinate responses from the side under attack from them.

For these reasons weapons of this type need to be deployed carefully with a clear intent in terms of strategy. There also exists the possibility that their employment actually creates more problems than are dealt with.

These above statements refer to these weapons as a class.

Specifically in regards to the drone wars currently being conducted by the present US administration, I have a series of specific questions:

First, specifically what military aim/political purpose are these weapons expected to achieve? How exactly?

Second, if the goal is simply national security, how does undermining the legitimacy of the host government where they are deployed, making them appear to be unable or unwilling to protect their own people, support US interests?

Third and finally in terms of evaluating effectiveness, it seems impossible to separate wishful thinking/endless claims of precision from operational security/legitimate secrecy, that is the line between foreign and domestic propaganda and/or actual reporting has been compromised. In other words, the spin is universal.

Fourth, drones are different from the other weapons of this type I mentioned above in that the future capacity for actual autonomy exists, that is there would be no human element at all. How exactly is this progress? Or is it rather hubris of a rather dangerous sort reflecting our political dysfunctions more than anything else? Given the possible flaws . . .

There is more I could add, but I'm interested first to know what ya'll think . . .

Postscript:

Seems that some US officials at least are worried about the unintended consequences of this weapon system . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2011

As It Was and Ever Shall Be

Basil's posts on Occupy Wall Street got me thinking "Hmmm...didn't I write something about that..?" and eventually I went rummaging around in the back of the packrat portion of my mind and, sure enough, here it is from August, 2008.

"The Public Be Damned"

Every so often I run across something that reminds me so forcibly, so violently, of the present desuetude of our republic that I lose my wind just for a moment.

Here's Glenn Greenwald describing the scene at the current Democratic National Convention, where the telecom giant AT&T throws an intimate little shindig for the very people - imagine that - who helped them evade lawsuits for their lickspittle subservience to the criminals in the Bush White House and the NSA who believe that the laws of the land are, in the immortal words of Leona Helmsley, "for the little people".

I challenge you to read it and not throw up a little in the back of your mouth. It's sickening. It's the real face of "American politics".

It's not like this is something new in American politics. The rich are always with us, and the only difference between the New Gilded Age and the Old was that back then, a man like Mark Hanna could openly say; "Come on, you've been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything."

Today we have to pretend to "care" about the Great Unwashed, but the reality of America is that unless we're in the top 1% of all American incomes many of us have much of the freedom of a polled Hereford being prodded up the chute towards that dark building where we await our political and economic fate. Are we better off than some Ukrainian peasant or Zimbabwean prole? Sure. Will that mean much when our job is offshored, or we get sick and run through our insurance, or the highway to our parents' falls apart and we have to drive a 40-mile detour to visit?

No.

Here's Andrew Bacevich talking some hard, cold sense that most of us will close our ears to:
"The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon's penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. The next commander in chief will inherit an intractable troop shortage. The United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors. That alone will constrain a president conducting two ongoing conflicts. A looming crisis of debt and dependency will similarly tie the president's hands. Bluntly, the United States has for too long lived beyond its means. With Americans importing more than 60% of the oil they consume, the negative trade balance now about $800 billion annually, the federal deficit at record levels and the national debt approaching $10 trillion, the United States faces an urgent requirement to curb its profligate tendencies. Spending less (and saving more) implies settling for less. Yet among the campaign themes promoted by McCain and Obama alike, calls for national belt-tightening are muted.

Will we listen? Will we act? No.

Because, in the end, short of violent revolution, with the monetary grip on the levers of power, what CAN we do?

And because, in the end, we'd rather pretend that the future holds "freedom" and green pastures and sunny skies and try not to hear the cries of the other steers and the whisper of the killing knife.

Update 10/23: I was listening to the kiddos play LEGOS and eat seaweed for breakfast (the Little Girl, anyway - anyone else have a child that likes dried nori for breakfast?) and blogreading when I came across this, from David Atkins at Hullabaloo, which is so good that I have to quote it at length. To wit:
Simply put, in the 1970s America was hit with an inflation crisis that quickly became a stagflation crisis. There were also oil shocks involved. Simulataneously, the world was becoming increasingly globalized, which made it more difficult for American corporations to compete using American labor. Finally, as Hacker and Pierson have persuasively argued, big business banded together to begin more aggressive and cohesive lobbying efforts. These four trends were devastating politically for the middle class.

American public policy on both sides of the aisle reoriented itself away from a focus on wages and toward a focus on assets. Specifically, the idea was that wage growth was dangerous because it led to core inflation in a way that asset growth did not. American foreign policy became obsessed even more than it had been with maintaining access to oil, both to prevent future oil shocks and to prevent inflationary oil spirals. Wage growth was also dangerous because it would drive increasing numbers of American corporations to employ cheaper overseas labor.

But that left the question of how to sustain a middle class and functional economy while slashing wages. The answer was to make more Americans "true Capitalists" in Reagan's terms. Pensions were converted to 401K plans, thus investing about half of Americans into the stock market and creating a national obsession with the health of market indices. Regular Americans were given credit cards, allowing them to take on the sorts of debt that had previously only been available to businesses. Most crucially, American policymakers did everything possible to incentivize homeownership, from programs designed to help people afford homes to major tax breaks for homeownership and much besides.

Low prices on foreign-made goods were also a policy priority. This had a dual benefit for policymakers: lower prices offset stagnant wages, while keeping core inflation low. Free trade deals were also a major centerpiece of public policy in this context. Few politicians actually believed that these deals would help increase wages and jobs in America. But what they were designed to do is keep low-cost goods coming into America, while increasing the stock value of American companies exporting goods overseas, thus raising asset values.

Low interest rates were also important. Renters and savers suffer in a low-interest rate environment, but borrowers and asset owners do very well. Tax cuts, of course, are also helpful in offsetting the impact of wage stagnation.

Houses and stocks, then, are assets that rise independently of wages. Low-cost overseas goods and the easy availability of loans and credit provide offsets to low wages. Low interest rates and tax cuts help as well keep assets afloat as well. The bipartisan idea from a public policy standpoint was not simply to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The idea was to make the American middle class dependent on assets rather than wages. I was at a conference many years back, the purpose of which was to bring corporate bigwigs together in defense of free trade against what they feared might be a protectionist backlash. One executive told me point blank that if only enough Americans were invested in the stock market, they wouldn't gripe about Halliburton and other similar companies because they would say, "Hey, I own part of that company!" When I objected that that only half of Americans were invested in the market at all, and of that figure far fewer had significant assets invested, he retorted that more Americans were invested in the market than I thought, and that policy needed to be designed to push more Americans to invest.
I've often looked at our public policy and tried to figure out "What sane polity would enact policies seemingly designed to return itself to what may have been the least-stable political conditions (the openly-oligarchic period between about 1870-1930) since before the Civil War?" And here's the answer. And Atkins has a simple and exceptionally sane solution:
"The recklessness and stupidity of this sort of approach to public policy should have been proven by the 2008 financial crisis that saw the rapid destruction of asset values in stocks, bonds, and housing. Predicating economic health on asset growth is a pipe dream: most people will never have enough assets to make it work, and asset growth is far too unstable to serve as the basis for a functional economy.

Whether they can articulate it or not, what has most progressives most incensed about the Obama Administration's domestic policy is that it has ultimately hewed to the same asset-based economic model. When the Administration could be progressive on cutting costs or ensuring equality without negatively impacting assets, it did so. That's what the ACA, the Ledbetter Act, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and numerous other left-leaning Administration moves were designed to do. But the Administration has been very reticent to take any actions that would negatively impact the value of assets.

America will only return to real economic health when the asset-crazed insanity of the last 30 years is brought to heel, and America returns to a public policy that is far more interested in wage growth and economic stability than it is in asset inflation. Until then, we can expect continued political and economic shocks from an angry electorate and an economy that has run off the rails due to 30 years of deeply misguided anti-inflation, pro-asset-growth ideology."
But sane or not, my skepticism remains. The wealthy have their hands around the neck of the government; they will not be pried loose. And they are no more prescient that their counterparts were in St. Petersburg in 1917 or Paris in 1789. They will destroy the village in order to save their privileges. And the extraordinary coalition that pulled our nation away from the totalitarian abyss that awaited it in 1932 - Soviet communism on the one hand, Italian (and, later, German) fascism on the other - shows no signs of being there to ride to the rescue.

In other words?

WASF.