“He’s a plasterer,” we used to joke, “unless he’s plastered.” The subject of our youthful mirth was a guy named “Joe.” I’m not sure I ever knew his other name. Some called him “wino Joe.” He was a fixture in the area around our little town. He had a two-wheeled wagon, a tall thing that we often saw mounded up with bottles. Joe scoured the highways for empty bottles. The two-cent deposits added up, he said, and often enough for his needs, I guess, he was able to buy a bottle of wine with the proceeds.
I think the stuff might have been called “Golden Pheasant.” It came in flat-sided pint bottles, and I recall seeing Joe hold a full one up to the rising sun one morning. “Breakfast,” he said appreciatively.
There were times, however, when the supply of empty pop bottles was simply insufficient. In those times Joe fell back on plastering. My dad said he was an artisan. I never knew exactly what he meant, but one night late Joe came to do a job and he was so drunk my dad had to hold him on the ladder. The house didn’t have sheetrock then, but rather real plaster with thin, hand-hewn strips of lath behind the uneven, discolored plaster. Sometimes when big chunks fell off we were able to extract long strips of yellowed newsprint with dates from the early 1870s.
When Joe finished the job my dad took out a ten-dollar bill and Joe said, “Nope. That is the ten-dollar bill you loaned me last week. I’m payin’ you back.” My dad shrugged and folded the bill into his pocket.
The next morning Joe was back. He had a sheepish look and he said, “I’d kinda like to look at the job I did last night, I might have had a skinful.”
My dad ushered him inside and they checked the work. I stood in the back of the room and watched. Joe finally turned around, He had an embarrassed smile, “Yeh, that don’t look half bad. Yuh know that ten-dollar bill? I wonder if I could borrow that again?”
- Israel struck target in the Lattakia, Syria area yesterday. The objective appears to have been the destruction of Russian materiel destined for the Syrian armed forces. This has been a declared policy of the Israelis who say that they will prevent delivery of anything that can be used against them. Until recently that seemd to be a plausible explanation for Israeli policy toward Syria but by his own statements it is clear now that Bibi is the main actor in creating the US led coalition of the marginally willing that seeks to destroy the Syrian government in the belief that this will severely wound Iran. That projected wound to Iran seems to doubtful to me. The probability that the destruction of the Baath government would result in the creation in Syria of a bastion of Islamist jihadism bordering Israel seems to mean nothing to him.
- In Egypt John Kerry's prattling of democracy and elections has not deterred the generals from destroying all those parts of the MB that they can reach. They know that the MB are the enemies of their blood. Mursi's political campaign aimed at destroying the semi-secular society of modern Egypt confirmed them in their belief that co-existence with the MB is not possible. In the Middle East the lack of any real belief in the ideas of the "loyal opposition" and win-win outcomes makes such results likely in the face of alien tinkering in societies.
-Saudi Arabia is turning away from the United States. This pseudo-alliance was always unstable. There were always far too many conflicting values and interests involved. The necessities of the Cold War held the two countries together for a long time and Saudi money in the right pockets kept the pairing together for far longer than it logically would have lasted. Who will benefit from Saudi largesse in the future? Name your candidates.
- In a similar and similarly predictable situation the disastrous neocon adventure in Iraq is producing yet more death. We overturned the previous order of society and sponsored a government run by Shia who have only one goal and that is to screw the Sunni Arabs. The screwees are fighting back. Now Maliki who also predictably rejected a pact with the US that would have granted us legal immunity for our soldiers is in Washington begging for assistance. We should wash our hands of the country. pl
Our friend and fellow committeeman, Basilisk suffered a heart attack Christmas night and is in hospital. He was catheterized and received a stent in a cardiac artery. He is feeling much better and might go home this afternoon. We all wish him a quick recovery. pl
I have it on good authority that this is the day the world ends, so don't worry about those Christmas credit card bills, and forget the fiscal cliff. On the other hand, we are five or so hours into this day on the East Coast of the United States (did the Maya use Greenwich time?) and I think we're still here.
Just in case it's all over I might as well publish this little story over on the Athenaeum. It does, after all have a perfectly appropriate name. Read A Car for the End of the World
If you wanted to to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off?
Why . . . no, sir!'
Of course not. You'd paddle it. There can be circumstances when it's just as foolish to hit an enemy with an H-Bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an ax. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government's decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him . . . but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing . . . but controlled and purposeful violence.
Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers
Death from Above was the motto of the Starship Troopers. It is said that Heinlein was influenced by the feats of the Fallshirmjaegerkorps in the Invasion of Crete and by the largescale airborne operations in Normandy, Market Garden, and in the Phillipines. By 1959 when he wrote the book it was not such a great stretch. Space travel, yes, still in the future, but Sputnik was in orbit. The "bounce" was still a future capability but the mini-nukes were already in the inventory or at least designed, remember SADM, MADM, Davy Crockett?
Death from above, of course, is not limited to airborne forces. The war in Vietnam spurred the development of air-delivered weapons far beyond the tactical nuclear weapon. As Heinlein implied, somtimes wholesale destruction is not desirable. In April and May 1972 the 8TFW flying out of Ubon, Thailand, essentially destroyed the famous Thanh Hoa bridge in North Vietnam with less than 25 sorties carrying laser-guided bombs.
Predictably, some learned analyst from the RAND Corporation quickly pronounced that the very nature of war was changed forever by the advent of guided weapons. PAVEWAY was not the first guided weapon, nor did the nature of war really change, but we have certainly continued the development of almost incredible capabilities.
We quickly proceeded to "dumb airplanes" with "smart bombs," and we're currently at the stage of "smart airplanes" with "smart bombs." Bombs need targets, so in the intelligence world we proceeded rather quickly from choosing DMPIs (desired mean point of impact) for multi-ship attacks, to "which window do you want me to put it in?"
With the current capabilities of the armed Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, Heinlein's troopers would probably feel outgunned. In Waziristan these days there's no place where it's safe to have a meeting if you are a certain kind of individual. Some people scoff at the capabilities of the tactical UAVs, and it's true they are not very stealhy to radar, but if you don't have a radar they are not all that easy to detect.
If you choose to hide inside a potent, highly integrated air defense environment it's no guarantee of invulnerabiltiy either. There are such things as the Advanced Cruise Missile launched from the redoubtable B-52, the ubquitous Tomahawk Cruise Missile from submarine and surface platforms, and, of course, if push comes to shove, the F-22 is not merely a long range fighter. It is a highly capable immensely stealthy platform capable of supersonic cruise, and capable of carrying the JDAM and the GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb. Both are guided weapons with impresive accuracy.
It is not hard to imagine a single-ship mission deep into the heart of enemy territory to strike a single immensely valuable target. The nature of war has not changed, but the capability for "controlled, purposeful violence" has never been higher.--Basilisk
I seem to remember an argument five years ago or so in which a voice that sounded very much like my own suggested that dealing with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood might not be so bad. At least they know the language of politics, they can "talk the talk," as the saying goes. Certainly Mohammed Mursi (yes, we are now going to have that Mursi/Morsi argument just as we had Usama/Osama) speaking to Christiane Amanpour in English yet, said all the right things. "Democracy is indivisible, whether you are man or woman, Muslim or Christian it's all the same."
Mursi is newly resigned from the Brotherhood and pledged to a unity government. He also occupies a radically downgraded presidency vis-a-vis the Suppreme Council of the Armed Froces. If one puts on the Pollyanna hat perhaps all is well in the world of Egypt, but yet....
Whether one belives that Islam is undemocratic or democracy is un-Islamic, a sporty course lies ahead for the concerns of the West.
Egypt currently is absolutely littered with those big. black bombs so beloved of cartoonists, and all the fuses are lit. There is the economy bomb, and the demographics, bomb, the bomb of the Muslim Brotherhood itself--yes, it is a historically moderate organization, but one needs not read much of Sayid Qutb to realize that there is a deep current of absolute horror at cultural norms that are completely accepted in the West. Those with personal experience in the religions of the West generally have little understanding of the depth of committment to the will of God that imbues the adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is true they are not the hardest of the hardcore Salafists, but they are not a bunch of Cleveland ward-heelers either, and some of the actions we could see in the near term may be shocking. Beyond those obvious bombs there are still more. What of the Coptic Christian population, what of the military? We now contribute the better part of a Billion dollars annualy, I think, mostly to buy Egyptian acquiesence to the goings on in the Gaza Strip. What if that money disappears—certainly there will be a great outcry to cut that funding. What will happen if that should take place?
I am reminded of that famous Chinese curse about "may you live in interesting times."
In French a connoisseur is someone who knows something. When we adopt that term into English we imbue it with some more special qualities. For us a connoisseur is someone who possesses special knowledge and a taste for the subject.
PL is the second kind.
I have flown over this valley in many kinds of airplanes. When I just wanted to go bore holes in the sky the Shenandoah Valley was my destination. I have read many books about the Valley campaigns and the events that took place back and forth across this ground in 1861-65.
Until this trip I never really put it together. Riding as navigator to PL is like being hooked to a knowledge machine. Rude's hill that I always thought was a great unapprochable redoubt is just a swell on the Valley Pike. A good place for guns to command the river crossing below, but you could miss it at 55 miles an hour, and certainly from the air.
I have read the stories of the McDowell, Virginia campaign, but until you have driven Route 240 out of Staunton to breast Shaw's Ridge at almost 3000' above the Valley floor, you just can't appreciate what Jackson's soldiers went through.
In short, it's too bad we can't bottle this stuff.
Strange things took place at the end of the Cold War. It was all the war many of us had ever known. This is a fiction story, but the millieu is real enough.
Some of our leaders were the "rough men" from previous conflicts and they often questioned, just as we did, whether the incessant meetings with former foes were real or fantasy. This is an extract from a novel called "The Goodbye Kiss." Some here have read parts of it before. Perhaps someday you may read it all.
My thanks to our host for sharing many memories of the time and for being a good writing partner.
A Meeting of Devils
For me, it was scutwork.
The end of the Cold War, at least my part of it, came with bewildering rapidity. It shouldn’t have been that way, I admit. Our jobs in West Berlin clearly involved understanding what was going on “Drüben.” It was German for “over there,” and that’s we called the East. Of course in Berlin it wasn’t just east in direction it was all around us.
Since the occupation zones were set up at the end of the war we had been smack in the middle of five Soviet armies. It was the new kind of normal. Politicians on the Potomac wailed and gnashed teeth about the dreaded “Fulda Gap,” and the threat of marauding Soviet Armor, but sitting literally inside the Group Soviet Forces, Germany we didn’t think about it all that much. We carried on spying as normal.
When Gorbachev came we began to hear unthinkable things. “Common European Home,” “Perestroiks,” even Maggie Thatcher opined that Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev was one with whom we could do business. When Ronald Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he ruined our business.
This is worth a look . The title of the Wired.com article is an eye-catcher:
U.S. Military Taught Officers: Use ‘Hiroshima’ Tactics for ‘Total War’ on Islam
I'm happy to say the subject matter is being dealt with by order of CJCS General Dempsey. It is dismaying how much of a cottage industry this demonization of Islam has become in the skewed post-9/11 world.
I don't doubt that some of the purveyors of these screeds actually believe what they are saying, but I am equally sure that there are many who simply see opportunities to find a new universal enemy to replace the late-lamented Soviet Union.
It is sad that there is such a vacuum in our understanding that we could allow such people to have access to important institutions of military pedagogy.
If we are going to teach our staff officers anything, I hope we can teach them to turn a critical eye to such anti-intellectual crap. Declaring war on 1.4 Billion muslims seems to me to violate the principle of conservation of enemies. Basilisk
A Saturday night in January 1991: my colleague sat morosely, looking at the muted TV. Some vaguely international jazz—chewing gum for the ears–played in the background. The fog had rolled in around four p.m. and the temperature was hovering around twenty-five. We were ensconced in a glitzy hotel on the Kärntner Ring in Vienna, but it might have been anywhere in the world. They had CNN International running nonstop.
“You could drop one of those things right through a silo door.” He was watching perhaps the fiftieth repeat of video clip showing the display of laser-guided bomb guiding unerringly into the top of a multistory building in downtown Baghdad.
“That’s not what they’re for,” I said.
“Sure, but we trade everything away, and you still have those.”
It was the second or third night of the air offensive for DESERT STORM. The fireworks were impressive. My colleague was a Soviet diplomat attached to the Arms Control delegation negotiating the treaty we called Conventional Forces in Europe.
“Those are tactical aircraft,” I said, “they would have to penetrate a thousand miles of air defenses to get to your ICBM’s. It would be impossible.”
“The Iraqis have our air defenses and they don’t seem to be stopping anything there.” His face was glum as he watched the sequence run again.
It was in the time of Gorbachev; for those of us who labored in the vineyards of what was laughingly called “intelligence” in West Berlin, it was a time of utter confusion.
The new Soviet leader had come, as far as we were concerned, out of nowhere. He had already said things never heard from any other Soviet leader, and worse yet for our business, he had withdrawn tank divisions from the five Soviet armies that surrounded us and another tank division each from Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
We had heard it before—thin out one army in order to bring more tank regiments into the adjoining army, or empty a garrison to allow the introduction of some new missile, radar, or gimcrack, but when the divisions began to pack up and actually leave the forward area, we were, in the words of our British colleagues, “gob smacked.”
In the NATO intervention in Libya, it is easy for the media to lose sight of what is being done, and what is not.
In the thirty days that ended when the month of April 2011 closed out it is reported that NATO flew a total of 4398 sorties, including 1821 strike sorties.
It is not clear to me what the terminology means. In my time with NATO “strike” had a very specific meaning that is not intended in the current reporting. In any case, the strike sorties carried out by NATO are a combination of attacks against “strategic” targets—runways, fixed missile installations, and command and control targets, and “tactical” targets intended as the UN resolution directed, to protect civilians by destroying Libyan Government armor and indirect fire weapons.
There is a constant temptation to equate sorties to iron on target, but in this case a lot of these 4389 sorties have been excellent opportunities for Spanish F-18’s and Norwegian, Danish, Belgian F-16’s to bore holes in the sky. The number also probably includes “air superiority missions,” similarly tooling around looking for the now combat ineffective Libyan Air Force.
Chalking up a sortie does not mean targets were engaged. So, while 4398 sorties sounds like a substantial number, one should really look at the number in context.
On 16 November 1944 in preparatory air support to the movement of the Fourth Infantry Division into the Hürtgen Forest 1,389 heavy bombers, 107 medium bombers, and 486 fighter bombers from the Eighth Air Force and the RAF in at least 1982 sorties dropped 9,000 tons of bombs in a single day against seven German villages.
Granted, the Circular Error Probable (CEP) of a heavy bomber bombardment box may have been a kilometer compared to the roughly one meter CEP for the popular GBU-12 laser-guided 500 pounder that is the most popular air-delivered weapon in the Libyan support missions, but the raw numbers are instructive.
As the advance into the Hürtgenwald continued, the Ninth Tactical Air Force, weather permitting, provided hundreds of combat sorties per day. It wasn’t enough.
If anyone still harbors thought of the victorious rebels marching into Tripoli behind a steamroller of airpower, the numbers game should disabuse them of this vision.
Modern tactical airpower is precise, surgical, and deadly, but the support of the type being provided—numerically small and tailored to limit collateral damage—is not going to provide an offensive advantage for the under-trained and under armed Libyan rebels. They may still win, because if the support missions continue, they are a kind of safety net, but it may take a very long time. The alternative is that an attack against a legitimate command and control target may provide a de facto decapitation, and a swift end.
That would be luck. Otherwise we surely must be thinking about someone’s boots on the ground if we continue to expect a military solution to the situation. Basilisk