Category Archives: Military

Yo, T-Rav: There’s a REASON Stonewall Jackson never wrote a ‘little note’ like that, but it’s not the one you think

T-Rav, military historian

T-Rav, military historian

At the end of the story relating the appalling news that Thomas Ravenel is seeking to put his name on the fall ballot for U.S. Senate was this gem:

Still, Ravenel is cagey when asked about his strategy for the race, declining to discuss his campaign plans and fundraising goals or disclose the number of registered voters who already have signed his petition to be on the ballot, due to the State Election Commission by noon on July 15.

While he says he is a proponent for peace, Ravenel used a war analogy to explain his campaign secrecy.

“You think Stonewall Jackson wrote a little note over to Gen. Grant and said here’s my battle plan?”

Um… correct me if I’m wrong, Civil War buffs, but isn’t the main reason Jackson never wrote a little note like that the fact that he never faced Ulysses S. Grant in any battle at any time? Grant was out West until nearly a year after Jackson was killed in action.

For the record, Julius Caesar never wrote a little note like that to Napoleon Bonaparte, either.

Obama, the coup de main commander in chief

Something struck me over the weekend about POTUS.

We know he’s not much of one for committing conventional forces. He’s no Rommel or Patton; you’ll never see major armored formations maneuvering in large land battles if he can help it. And trench warfare is about 180 degrees from anything this commander in chief would engage in.

He’s even hesitant about the use of air power in any sustained way. He went along in Libya, but on the condition that we were just what Nick Adams in “No Time for Sergeants” called the whole danged Air Force: the helpers. Leading from behind, and all that.

On the other hand…

He’s more willing than any president in my lifetime to launch one-time, deus ex machina attacks from the sky, with devastating and deadly effect. I refer here to the drones, which he has used more extensively by far than any predecessor.

Also, let’s not forget the killing of Osama bin Laden. Or the snatching from Libyan soil of one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attack, just last week, the success of which the president was happy to tout:

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”…

No, he’s not one for the long-haul slog. But if he can pounce down on you and kill or capture you out of a clear blue sky, leaving behind nothing but a puff of dust in his wake, he will get your a__.

Over the weekend, it finally hit me: He’s the coup de main president. For those not up on military theory, a coup de main is “An offensive operation that capitalizes on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.

It’s like, if this generation of leaders had been in charge of the Normandy invasion, you’d want Colin Powell in charge of the beach landings — he’s all about putting massive, irresistible force on the objective and overwhelming the enemy’s defenses. But you’d put Obama in charge of something like the Pegasus Bridge operation — a swift, sudden attack by glider-borne troops on a small target of strategic importance to the overall operation.

Except he wouldn’t have gone in for that “hold until relieved” part. He would have wanted to go in, kill all the Germans defending the target, then get out. Which wouldn’t have been helpful in that case, since we needed the bridge to advance inland. So, bad example.

But you know what I mean — don’t you?

Pilotless error: 400 drones have crashed since 2001

The Washington Post has put together a rather sobering report that finds that 400 military drones have crashed since 2001:

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck….

That’s kind of ominous, when you think about Jeff Bezos and all those other people who want to fill the skies with them on the home front….

D plus 70 years

sc078

This was the Day of Days, and I am still overwhelmed by the enormity of what was undertaken, and the fact that it succeeded in spite of monumental mistakes and frightful odds:

  • The idea of putting 175,000 men in one day on a beach, every square inch of which was pre-sighted by German machine guns, artillery and mortars.
  • The decision that Eisenhower and Eisenhower alone had to make, giving the “go” signal after a day’s delay, with only the most primitive weather forecasting. A mind-bogglingly complex plan involving more than a million men, thousands of ships and boats, amounts of materiel that make today’s stockpiles look like nothing, all having to come together at the right instants. And he said “go,” knowing it could be a disaster — as it nearly was at Omaha, which would have rendered the whole beachhead untenable, and the invasion a failure.
  • The stupendous foul-ups that nevertheless didn’t keep the invasion from succeeding — the aerial bombardment that fell too far inland to do any good (the pilots were afraid of hitting the boats approaching the beach), the rocket barrage that fell short into the sea, the naval artillery battering that failed to take out any of the German gun emplacements, the complete chaos of the airborne drop, with paratroopers landing as much as 20 miles from their drop zones, all mixed up with troops from other units and unable to find their own.
  • The moment when Omar Bradley was close to declaring Omaha a failure, with a pitiful few wet, bleeding men huddled against the cliff, unable to advance or retreat, and reinforcements unable to land.
  • The individual initiative here and there by sergeants, lieutenants and captains who knew the plan had gone to hell and that they had to improvise, leading small bands of men up the cliff, and (among the paratroopers behind German lines) organizing tiny ad hoc units to attack targets as they presented themselves. As impressive as what the generals had done in planning and preparation, it was these small, improvised actions that saved the day. (And, to give the generals a little of the credit, a result of the American method of training soldiers, which — unlike the doctrines of many countries — emphasized initiative, critical thinking and improvisation.)
  • The incredibly difficult fighting through the hedgerows — something entirely unanticipated by intelligence, providing the Germans with multiple defensible positions to drop back to every few yards — over the coming month.

And so much more.

I’ve never in my life seen a pivot point of history condensed and crammed into one place and one day, and almost certainly never will. It just amazes me something like this, something so huge, so sweeping and momentous, such an effort, such a throw of the dice, occurred just nine years before I was born.

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

At this hour, The Washington Post is touting an “exclusive” in which Afghan villagers give their eyewitness accounts of the day Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his post. They say he appeared, inexplicably, to be deliberately seeking out the Taliban:

To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”…

This comes out as the Taliban releases video footage of the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. special forces. In the video, the sergeant looks highly stressed, even terrified. Of course, there could be many interpretations of that. Even if everything about his “capture” were kosher and he was thrilled to be handed over, he could have been afraid they’d shoot him at the last minute.

But that is secondary to the Post story. The newspaper’s political blog, The Fix, declares that “Bergdahl is the new Benghazi.” Indeed. Only this is one that people other than dog whistle-attuned Republicans can understand.

No wonder, as The Guardian reports, “US military promises ‘complete review’ into Bowe Bergdahl capture.” The whole happy-welcome-home scenario seems increasingly untenable.

Sheheen releases plan for veterans, with footnotes

This just in today from Vincent Sheheen:

Sheheen Releases Plan of Action for SC Veterans

Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to address delays and obstacles for veterans in-state given severe problems with national VA

Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action for veterans in South Carolina to address the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs at the state level while Washington works out its problems. The plan lays out a course of action to be taken at the state level to get veterans the care and benefits that they need and have earned.

Sen. Sheheen’s plan for veterans includes immediate steps that he will begin work on in the legislature, and actions he would take as Governor of South Carolina.

This week, he will work with veteran and State Rep. James Smith to introduce budget provisos in the House to open DHEC clinics to veterans after-hours and on the weekend, provide no-interest loans to wounded warriors who are delayed their pensions due to DC’s backlog, and make specific requests of state agencies to take action at the state level and do right by South Carolina’s veterans.

View Sen. Sheheen’s plan of action for veterans as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” is free and also available online, here.

 

Honest Leadership for South Carolina’s Veterans

 

Our nation’s veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve our country. The very least that the government should do is provide the care and the service those veterans were promised and have more than earned.

The major problems and delays that have been ongoing with the VA for decades, problems that are now amplified with the increase in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought us to a crisis point. The extreme dysfunction in the Department of Veterans Affairs that’s putting veterans at a terrible risk is unacceptable and requires urgent and appropriate action.

Washington has created this crisis, yet the leaders in Washington seem more interested in pointing fingers than taking the urgent action needed to properly address the crisis.  Therefore, South Carolina leaders have no choice but to take immediate and aggressive steps to protect the health and lives of our veterans here in the Palmetto State.

To that end, Senator Vincent Sheheen has proposed an urgent plan of action for South Carolina’s 420,968 veterans, and is working with veteran and State Rep James Smith to get it done.

PROVIDE IN-STATE ALTERANTIVES FOR VETERANS TO ACCESS CARE

There have been six veterans’ deaths at Columbia’s Dorn VA Hospital that may have been caused by on-going delays in appointments.[1]Reports show 10,500 veterans have waited longer than 125 days for an appointment at Dorn.[2] And memos show that the VA knew of the delays here in South Carolina as far back as December 2011.[3] Clearly the problem is systematic, and we must take action to provide veterans with alternate ways to access care at the state level.

Open SC Public Health Facilities to Serve our Veterans

  • Direct all DHEC Public Health Clinics to open after hours during the week and on Saturdays to provide appointments for veterans waiting for care through the VA.
  • Create a Veterans Care Triage System within DHEC, in coordination with Dept. Mental Health, SCHHS and the SC National Guard, to work with VA-qualified veterans in need of healthcare.
  • Expand outreach and resources to SC Department of Mental Health for veterans suffering from PTSD.
  • Appoint a point-person to work with all state agencies, to:

o   Help veterans wade through Federal red-tape and identify possible state solutions or alternatives for care;

o   Hear from veterans being negatively affected by the VA’s national backlog to ensure no more veterans die while on a wait-list;

o   Connect veterans with non-profit and other in-state organizations to ensure they get the medical care they need.

  • Coordinate with rural hospitals, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in rural areas and free medical clinics – as well as any other501 c#3 funded by Medicaid – to find alternate ways of providing access to care for veterans

 

Accept Our Federal Tax Dollars to Expand Medicaid for Veterans in SC

  • Expand Medicaid to provide health care to more than 13,000 veterans in the Palmetto State that earn at or below 138% of the poverty level, according to The Pew Institute.[4]
  • Direct the Inspector General to conduct an audit of existing state programs and identify additional Federal or state-based funding sources currently not being used, that could help provide local veterans with access to care.

 

ENSURE DISABLED VETERANS GET THE PENSIONS THEY ARE DUE

There is currently a backlog of more than 340,000 veterans waiting for the VA to process their disability claims, and South Carolina should provide some level of financial security for these wounded warriors.[5]

Provide No-Interest Loans to Bridge the Gap

  • Immediately provide no interest loans, through the S.C. Office of Veterans’ Affairs, for up to 80% of the claim filed, to disabled veterans waiting for their claims to be processed.
  • Allow South Carolina’s veterans to repay those no-interest loans when the Federal government finally approves their claims.
  • If a claim was denied, allow that veteran repay the loan with no penalty, so long as there was no finding of fraud.

Improve Public-Private Partnerships to Assist SC Veterans

  • Increase funding for existing non-profits and faith-based organizations within South Carolina already helping veterans get access to the care they need.

 

 

[1] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[2] Center for Investigative Reporting: Where is the veterans’ backlog the worst?, 8/29/12

[3] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[4] Pew Charitable Trusts State & Consumer Initiatives: A Quarter-Million Vets will miss out on Medicaid Expansion, 5/27/13

[5] VA Press Release: Disability Claims Backlog reduced by 44 Percent Since Peaking One Year Ago, 4/1/14

Interesting choice of an issue for a gubernatorial candidate…

Bergdahl case more muddled than the initial return of Brody in ‘Homeland’

Nicholas Brody, in Rebekah Brooks mode.

Nicholas Brody, in Rebekah Brooks mode.

No, I’m not saying he’s a terrorist or anything. I’m talking about the very beginning of the TV series — the initial, apparent situation of Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Brody, freed after years in the hands of terrorists.

Initially, to the public at least, the situation seemed entirely straightforward — an American hero had been returned to his country and the bosom of his family (never mind the situation with his wife, which that phrase brings to mind). Delta Force had gone and gotten him — no negotiating with terrorists — and brought him right home. The country had a celebration, and everyone acted as though he would of course (being a Marine) have completely uncomplicated feelings toward his country. Politicians of the flag-waving sort couldn’t wait for him to run for office.

That he turned out to have been brainwashed into becoming a terrorist, in a case of Stockholm Syndrome taken to the nth degree, was a surprise to everyone except the viewer.

By contrast, we have the curious case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, which has degenerated over the weekend from being a topic of celebration to a point at which, if you type “Bergdahl” into Google, the first guess you get is “Bergdahl deserter:”

Google Bergdahl

From the beginning, there was something… off… about this case. Something I kept trying to shove aside because I wanted to be happy for this soldier and his family.

The first hint was a mention, in the first news story I read, that Bergdahl had fallen into Taliban hands after “walking away” from this unit. Say what?

Then I saw the parents celebrating with the president. OK, POTUS wouldn’t do a thing like this if there were anything fishy about the case, would he? So it must be what it seems to be — the joyous return of the last American held by enemy forces in either the Iraq or Afghanistan theater. So, hurrah.

I was shoving aside my reaction of, “Wait a minute. We don’t negotiate with terrorists, do we?” I was ignoring my concern that we were putting five hard cases back on the street. So what if the Qatar one-year cooling-off thing didn’t comfort me much? Never mind that if they hadn’t renounced the Taliban in all these years at Gitmo, why would a year in Qatar keep them from rejoining the jihad? I decided to take the president’s “no man left behind” explanation at face value, and move on.

I set the whole thing aside until this morning, when I saw another picture of the Bergdahls on the front of the WSJ. Which made me think again, just how young are these people? The sergeant’s Mom is kind of a babe, and his Dad… well, I’d been suppressing my reaction to the Dad’s appearance. It occurred to me maybe he had sworn not to shave or trim his beard until his son was home — and I’ve seen references to that effect since. But I was still curious about them, and started to search.

That’s when I got the “deserter” reference. I first brushed past it, seeking info about the Bergdahls mère et père, but then came back and pursued it, and quickly found:

  • Statements by his parents saying they understood they couldn’t see their son for awhile, or even speak with him, because he had to “decompress.” Huh. OK. Does this mean the military is making sure it doesn’t have a Nicholas Brody case on its hands? Odd case of life reacting to fiction, if so. Odder still because the president was doing a victory lap on getting this guy back.
  • The claims by some of his comrades that he was a deserter, and that better men were killed hunting for him. A claim that, disturbingly, Chuck Hagel doesn’t refute. This is the most disturbing element of this whole story.
  • Allegations out there that Bergdahl’s father, Robert, tweeted the following before deleting it:

 

bergdahl

… which would be weird on a couple of levels, not least because it made it sound like releasing people from Gitmo was the Dad’s actual motive here — rather than an unfortunate thing that was necessary for his son to be freed. Which would be the kind of thing you’d expect from a Dad invited to celebrate with the president at the White House.

The complaints I read about yesterday from members of Congress, GOP members of Congress, about not being in the loop — that I had ignored. Members of Congress are always seeing themselves as entitled to information that I don’t necessarily think is owed them.

But the point made by John McCain that these were very bad guys we were letting go — that worried me.

And it particularly worried me if what we got in return was a guy who may be facing charges for the circumstances in which he was captured.

This is just a very weird case. And it’s particularly weird that the president would take such political risk — negotiating with the Taliban, releasing their people without consulting Congress — for a soldier whose story is so very muddled.

I find myself wondering if there’s something we’re not being told. Maybe Sgt. Bergdahl was on a mission, say — sent into Taliban hands as an agent provocateur and so to those in the know, there’s nothing suspect in his behavior, or … But then I think, I’ve watched too many movies and TV shows with strange plots.

I don’t know what to think. I know that it’s now hard to greet this soldier’s return with complete, unalloyed joy. Which is a terrible shame. I don’t like having this reaction. I hope what I learn going forward sweeps all doubts away…

The resignation of Gen. Shinseki

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

Well, we certainly knew this was coming this morning, didn’t we?

It was reported that Eric Shinseki had issued an apology for the mess in the V.A., after which he was headed for a meeting at the White House. You just sort of knew he’d be coming out of there without a job.

Which is what happened.

It’s a shame for Gen. Shinseki’s distinguished career to end this way. Or rather, his second career. He had risen to the top of his profession by being good at his job. He was the guy who was right about Iraq when Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush were wrong. He, like Leroy Inabinet, is a man of honor who deserves to be remembered that way.

But today, he felt compelled to do something men of honor have done since ancient times: He dutifully fell on his sword.

For his part, the president implied that he didn’t think the V.A. scandal was Gen. Shinseki’s fault:

Obama paid tribute to Shinseki, telling reporters that he arrived at his decision to accept the VA chief’s resignation because of Shinseki’s “belief that he would be a distraction from the task at hand.”

“He is a very good man,” Obama said. “He’s a good person who’s done exemplary work on our behalf.” He said Shinseki concluded that “he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself.”

“I think he’s deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him,” Obama said. “His priority now is to make sure that happens, and he felt like the new leadership would serve our veterans better, and I agreed with him.”…

It’s interesting to contrast this with the way things played out with Kathleen Sebelius. She presided over a major systemic failure, probably the greatest embarrassment this administration has faced, considering how large health reform loomed in its legend. Yet she was allowed to stay until it was obvious that things had gotten better, and then quit.

The WashPost yesterday demonstrated the difference between the two cases in a graph, showing a statistical difference in terms of calls for each secretary’s resignation. The dam burst on Wednesday. And there was a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference. This time, Democrats were saying he had to go.

Graham: Leave more troops in Afghanistan

Just now seeing this release that moved late yesterday:

Graham, Ayotte, McCain Issue Statement on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), and John McCain (R-Arizona) today made the following statement on Afghanistan.

“We hope a recent press report that the White House is considering a post-2014 force in Afghanistan well below the recommendations of our military commanders is incorrect.

“After 13 years of sacrifice and investment, success in Afghanistan is now within our grasp. The last thing we should do in the coming years is increase the risks to our mission unnecessarily. We believe the recommendations of our military leaders represent sound military advice and would allow for continued U.S. support in the areas still needed by Afghan security forces. Maintaining several thousand additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan could mean the difference between success and failure.

“This is the lesson of Iraq. The administration ignored sound military advice and adopted a high risk strategy of withdrawing all U.S. troops. The result, tragically, is a resurgent Al-Qaeda, rising violence, and growing risk of renewed sectarian conflict. That fatal mistake in Iraq must not be repeated in Afghanistan.

“We stand ready to support a follow-on force that is consistent with the recommendations of our military commanders and that will end the war in Afghanistan with success.”

###

I generally agree. The total pullout from Iraq was a terrible move, and I’d hate to see it repeated. Too many have sacrificed too much to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Daily Beast: ‘The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise’

Free health care.

Free health care.

Often, when talking to people who are horrified, appalled, mortified at the notion of a single-payer health care system — or who show contempt for the very notion that the government can do anything constructive — I speak of the way I grew up as a Navy brat during the Cold War.

I spent relatively little time in the cocoon of the military base — a couple of years in the run-down old Navy base in New Orleans (few amenities; most of the WWII-era buildings were boarded up), a couple more at MacDill Air Force Base, a place I only ever had to leave to ride the bus to my high school (my brother attended an elementary school on-base). The Army and Air Force, with their large garrison communities, always seemed to have the best recreational facilities and other amenities. The Navy’s focus was at sea.

But whether I lived on- or off-base, I had access to certain basics, such as free health care. My Dad gave his service to his country, including going to war, and in return he and his were taken care of. It made sense, and it worked.

Well, I see that Jacob Siegel at The Daily Beast has taken it to another level, with a piece headlined, “The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise.” An excerpt:

It probably comes as a surprise to many, but the army may have more in common with Norway than Sparta.

The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known….

It’s not a terribly original idea, and I think he takes it a bit far. And does pure socialism have, as he notes, a strict, chain-of-command hierarchy? Is it informed by personal honor and devotion to duty? I suppose it could be, but those concepts suggest something other than an economic system to me. And there’s a good bit of Sparta in the life, for the active-duty people.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the proposition with you…

Russia now spends more of GDP on military than we do

In Putin's worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory...

In Putin’s worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory…

That’s attention-grabbing, but it shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that a), the Russian economy is smaller than ours and b), the United States itself spends less of GDP on the military than it did for most of my lifetime.

But still, as things ratchet up in Ukraine, this is worth taking note of…

Oh, and what’s my source for this? Is it some warmongering neocon publication, trying to drum up sentiment for increased U.S. military spending? Nope, it was The Guardian, which is hugging itself with delight today for winning a Pulitzer for aiding and abetting Edward Snowden. So there.

An excerpt:

Russia spent a higher proportion of its wealth on arms than the US last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to figures published on Monday by a leading international research body that highlights Moscow’s resurgent military ambition as it confronts the west over Ukraine.

Western countries, including Britain and the US, reduced defence budgets, but Russia increased arms spending by 4.8% in real terms last year to almost $88bn (£52m), devoting a bigger share of its GDP to the military than the US for the first time since 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri)….

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life imitating…

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz

Hollywood makes a movie, a year or so ago, about the Iran hostage crisis. It tells the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie in Iran in order to sneak a handful of the American hostages out of the country.

The real movie about the fake movie that hoaxed the Iranians wins the Best Picture Oscar, which Iran could not have failed to notice.

So… now we see that Iran is building a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier — or rather, a vessel that looks like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. They do it in plain sight, so we can’t fail to notice. Our intel guys watch it being built ever since last summer, and we finally get to the point that we can’t stand it anymore, and have to say something.

Then, when the United States raises questions as to what in the world Iran is up to, they respond, Uhhh… it’s for a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket… we’re making a movie… ya know, like ‘Argo.’

Which makes us wonder what they’re really up to. What could be the actual purpose for which making a movie is the transparent cover?

Whatever it is, when they spring it on us, I half expect the Iranians to say, “Argo ___ yourself!”

"I'm, uhhh... making a movie! Yeah, that's the ticket..."

“I’m, uhhh… making a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”

They got old Guarnere this time

wbg_landingimage_web

Joe Toye: “You got a smoke?”
Donald Malarkey: “Yeah.”
Toye: “Jesus. What’s a guy gotta do to get killed around here?”
Medic Eugene Roe: “Bill, you’re going first.”
Bill Guarnere: “Whatever you say, Doc. Whatever you say.”
Roe: “Over here! Take this man.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Lip, they got old Guarnere this time.”
Stretcher bearer: “We got you, soldier. Just lie back.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Joe, I told you I’d beat you back to the States.”

– Band of Brothers

That light-hearted scrap of badinage occurred on January 3, 1945, between two soldiers of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere. Just seconds before, each had lost his right leg to German artillery, and they lay bleeding profusely into the snow among the trees of the Ardennes. Toye was hit first, and despite the barrage Guarnere rushed out to try to pull him to safety, and was doing so when his own leg was blown off.

The dialogue, which I’ve taken from the TV series “Band of Brothers,” may seem like typical Hollywood B.S. — guys lying around cracking wise and bumming cigarettes after receiving horrific wounds. But it follows fairly closely the account in Stephen Ambrose’s book, based on interviews with men who were there. Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere were a couple of tough monkeys.

Both had been wounded before. Toye had been knocked about by two hand grenades within minutes of each other that should have killed him on D-Day, but walked away unmarked. That same day, his buddy “Gonorrhea” earned the sobriquet “Wild Bill” for the ferocity with which he attacked the Germans — he had just learned, hours before jumping into Normandy, that his elder brother had been killed at Monte Cassino.

A native of South Philly, Guarnere was sort of the guy in Easy (or one of them) who filled the role of the stereotypical brash, streetwise Italian city boy from war movies.The kind of guy who alleges that his commanding officer who chews him out for killing Germans before being given the word to fire is some kinda Quaker or something, elaborating that without a doubt “He ain’t Catholic… he don’t even drink!”

Bill may have beat Joe back to the States, but Joe was the first to leave on life’s final evacuation, passing away in 1995.

Over the weekend, just a month shy of his 91st birthday, Bill Guarnere followed him.

There are only 18 members of Easy Company left alive.

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Claire Underwood’s proposal fails in real-life Senate

Sen. Gillibrand

Sen. Gillibrand

OK, technically, it wasn’t the fictional Mrs. Underwood’s plan. It was pushed instead by the real-life Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who, as tacky as it may be in the context of talking about sexual crimes (but it’s true), is also a rather striking blonde.

A more relevant coincidence is that her proposal was the very same one that caused the majority whip to stop the Underwood bill on “House of Cards.” To wit, according to The Washington Post:

The Senate rejected a controversial proposal Thursday to remove military commanders from decisions on whether to prosecute major crimes in the ranks as the concerns of Pentagon leaders trumped calls from veterans groups to dramatically overhaul how the Defense Department handles assault and rape cases.

Congress has already voted to revamp the military’s legal system by ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.

But on Thursday senators rejected a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would go further by taking away from military commanders the power to refer serious crimes to courts-martial. The decision would shift instead to professional military trial lawyers operating outside the chain of command.

The proposal fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle and proceed to a final vote. In a reflection of the complexity of the issue, 10 Democrats voted against Gillibrand’s plan, while 11 Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — joined her in voting to proceed….

I think the Senate acted wisely. It moved to toughen the law without undermining the military system of justice. I realize the Underwood/Gillibrand approach has attracted growing support — witness how close it came today. But while I’d like to throw military rapists under the treads of an Abrams tank, I don’t think it’s right to take commanders out of the equation. In other words, I agree with the position taken by the fictional Jackie Sharp, and I really identified with her discomfort when she broke the news to Claire. Although it might have been easier for her, as a woman, to take that position than it would for a man.

I know I, for one, hesitate to voice it. But I thought it would be a copout to mention the issue without doing so….

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The fictional Claire Underwood.

I’d like to have a Kalashnikov lawnmower

AK-47

For me, Mikhail Kalashnikov is one of those “You mean he was still alive?” people. I had not known he was still among us. But he was, until today, when he died at 94.

It’s ironic that he survived so long, since his invention was the cause of the premature deaths of untold thousands around the world.

Mikhail Kalashnikov/www.kremlin.ru

Mikhail Kalashnikov/www.kremlin.ru

His AK-47 (and its variants) was made to supply soldiers of the Red Army with a reliable modern rifle, but it became the weapon of choice of “national armies, terrorists, drug gangs, bank robbers, revolutionaries and jihadists,” as the WashPost put it.

Kalashnikov was a former Red Army sergeant with little technical training, who ended up leading the effort to create a rifle that met the requirements of a weapon that was cheap to produce, easy to maintain and operate, and reliable. He was wildly successful.

He produced an automatic weapon that took next to no maintenance, and would work under the most demanding conditions. There are stories of Kalashnikovs found buried in mud under rice paddies in Vietnam that still fired.

The AK enabled almost anyone to put a tremendous amount of lead (30 rounds to a magazine) on a target in a big hurry. And by anyone, I mean anyone — it’s the ideal weapon for child soldiers in Africa because it takes relatively little upper body strength to use.

And so we have the paradox of Mikhail Kalashnikov — hardly anyone in the past century has produced a product of any kind that performed as well as his rifle, and was so universally sought-after and used.

But hardly anyone has been the cause of more death.

He noted the paradox of tremendous achievement vs. tremendous harm himself:

“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he said on a visit to Germany, adding: “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”…

If he had, I definitely would have wanted one of those lawnmowers. It would have started immediately every time, run on very little gas, and you’d only have to clean the filters once a year. And it would have lasted a lifetime.

Graham, Mulvaney: Nativity scene back up at Shaw AFB

This came in a little while ago from Sen. Graham and Rep. Mulvaney:

Nativity Scene at Shaw AFB Restored

WASHNGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with 5th District Congressman Mick Mulvaney, today made this statement on the Nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina.

“We are pleased the Nativity scene has been restored at Shaw Air Force Base.  From the start, our offices have been in touch with Shaw officials expressing our concerns about this matter.  We appreciate the Air Force for listening to our complaint, keeping the Nativity scene on base, and moving it to the Chapel.”

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In case you had missed this issue, here’s a Fox News report.

An Armistice Day reflection

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

I originally posted the below material as a comment on the “Top Ten War Movies” post from over the weekend. Bryan suggested that today, it should be a separate post. I suppose he’s right.

The context is that I was responding to two previous comments — one by Rose praising the TV series “Band of Brothers,” and the other from Phillip about “anti-war” messages. This lies in the larger context of a long debate of several years’ standing, in which Phillip takes the position that all sane people oppose war, and I take the armchair-warrior position of “not always”…

“Band of Brothers” was the best thing ever made for television.

And it had the kind of anti-war message in it that I appreciate [as opposed to the kind of anti-war message I hate, which I had described earlier as "one that beats you about the head and shoulders with the idea that war is futile and stupid and anyone who decides to involve a nation in war is evil and unjustified, and we should never, ever engage in it"]. It’s very similar to a powerful one in “Saving Private Ryan.”

There’s this great scene in which the actor portraying David Kenyon Webster — the writer, from Harvard — is riding past thousands of surrendering Germans being marched toward the rear (the opposite direction from which he and Easy Company are traveling) and he spots some senior German officers. He starts shouting at them (excuse the language):

Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

To explain what I mean by this… I grew up with shows like “Combat,” which gave a sort of timeless sense of the war. Sgt. Saunders and his men were soldiers, had always been soldiers, and would always be soldiers. And they would always be making their way across France in a picaresque manner, doing what they were born to do.

Well, what Webster is shouting at those Germans is that NO, we were NOT born to do this. This is a huge interruption in the way life is supposed to be.

That lies at the core of Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” His men think HE was born to be a soldier, and can’t imagine him in any other role (as Reuben says, “Cap’n didn’t go to school, they assembled him at OCS outta spare body parts of dead GIs.”) — hence their intense curiosity about what he did before the war. And their stunned silence when they learn the reality:

I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.

There, you learn this this is NOT supposed to be where he is. This was not the way his life was supposed to go.

Now… on the other hand…

Dick Winters was a real-life guy who had no desire to be a warrior. After surviving D-Day (having led his men in an action that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor, but he “only” received a Distinguished Service Cross for it), he took a quiet moment to pray that “I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.”

That’s all he wanted.

And yet, by having been forced to be a soldier, he and everyone around him found that he was superbly suited to it. He was one of those rare men who thought quickly and clearly under fire, and communicated his calm and his self-assuredness to his men. He knew what to do, and how to give orders so that it got done. He had a gift.

And that gift actually was a thing of value — to his society, and to the world. And here’s where we separate. Here’s where we draw a line between being “anti-war” as an absolutist position — that war is always wrong and evil and has no redeeming qualities — and my position, which is that sometimes nations need people like Dick Winters to step forward and exercise those abilities that they have. In other words, the warrior is a valuable member of society like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (actually, nowadays, perhaps more valuable than the candlestick-maker).

Which seems like a good place to stop, a little more than an hour before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.

 

Another primary opponent for Graham: Bill Connor

Bill Connor is still playing it rather coy with his Facebook peeps:

Friends, I have a major announcement to make on Monday, but this weekend I plan to focus on military obligations (spending time with my Citadel teaching team) and spending the other time with my family. I appreciate that many calls and texts, and e-mails and will be in touch with everyone next week. In the meantime, I will make a special request for your prayers for my family. “The Lord is my Shepherd” and I follow Him.

But The State reports that he’s actually already filed:

Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, who lost the 2010 Republican runoff for lieutenant governor to Ken Ard, has filed to run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in next June’s Republican primary, according to federal election documents.

Connor becomes the fourth Republican to oppose Graham in the primary, joining state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Easley businessman Richard Cash and Charleston public-relations executive Nancy Mace…

When I saw him a couple of weeks back, Lindsey Graham indicated that as far as he was concerned, he loved having three opponents.

But four could be one too many. Also, i think he has a little more reason to worry about Bill Connor than about the others who have previously jumped into the ring.

Bill Connor

Bill Connor

He’s a somewhat more traditional conservative than his opponents — more the values-voter, God-and-Country type than the SC-should-print-its-own-money-again sort. Or at least, in the statements I’ve seen so far. He’s paid some dues in the party, currently serving as the 6th-District chairman. He’s got a solid military record, having served in a combat role in Afghanistan. He’s run a statewide primary race before (losing the lieutenant governor nomination to Ken Ard). And he’s just gone out and had new portraits taken of his family. (I still remember how deeply impressed John Courson was when Mark Sanford sent out family portraits as Christmas cards before running for governor: “Fine-looking family — Kennedyesque… Kennedyesque!” You have to imagine it in Courson’s distinctive voice and accent.)

Lt. Col. Connor could be a more likely vote-getter. That doesn’t mean the incumbent’s in trouble. But it does make things a little more interesting.

Bradley Manning escapes, having been replaced in his cell by someone named ‘Chelsea’

Are any of y’all watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? No, wait, that’s an archaic question in the age of binge-watching, and of series being released all at once. It should be more like “Have any of y’all watched all or part of ‘Orange is the New Black’?”

Well, we have been, and we’ve seen it through the third episode, which centers around a transsexual — a former fireman named Burset, now living as a woman, specifically as the inmate hairdresser — in the women’s prison in which the series is set. It’s a sympathetic portrayal in the fullest sense — sympathetic to him as a him (in flashbacks) and her as a her, as well as to Burset’s wife and child and the pain they’ve dealt with through the process. I also found myself feeling a bit for the criminal justice system and prison authorities, because of the questions they have to deal with: Do you put Burset in a women’s prison? If so, is the state obligated to provide continued hormone treatments? If the state withdraws such treatments (which it does, allegedly for medical reasons), should Burset still be kept in a facility for women? If Burset commits suicide because all that personal and family sacrifice was for nothing, is the state liable?

But at least in that case, Burset came to the system having already made the big change, and having paid $80,000 for it. (We are given to gather that the imprisonment has something to do with how that money was acquired.) Everybody knew what they were dealing with.

Now, we have the real-life case of Bradley Manning, a young man who served in the U.S. Army as a man, and was convicted and sentenced as a man, and now wants to become a woman. Or is a woman, as his missive on the subject states.

Wow. This has to be frustrating for the Army. Here they went to all this trouble to try and convict and sentence this guy named Bradley, and now there’s some dame in his cell instead.

That’s one of the slicker escapes I’ve ever heard of.

The afternoon they drove Old Dixie down

Gettysburg

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago…

– William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

Above, you see a picture I took, right about this time of year in 2005, of the high water mark of the Confederacy — the stone wall at the top of the ridge.

I had just looked out over that wall, and was stunned by what I saw. It wasn’t really anything my camera could capture, because what I was looking at was vast, flat, open space — the space across which Pickett’s men walked, suicidally, into a hailstorm of lead. It looked to be two miles across. The high ground was not only well-defended by infantry, but crammed with artillery. It was the worst place in the world to attack, and the world possible ground to attack across.

What could they have been thinking of during that long walk? What ran through their heads?

I’d never seen anything before that made history seem so immediate. I was in awe. How brave they were. How stupid they were. How mad they were. And they just kept coming, until there was only a trickle left to try to fight their way over the wall, and then… it was over. And with it, the South’s hope for having its way — although the South being the South, that wouldn’t be fully acknowledged for almost two years.

And it happened 150 years ago today.