Category Archives: war

Happy Birthday, George Orwell

orwell

Somewhat belatedly.  Born Eric Arthur Blair, in India, on June 25th, 1903.

It is hardly the man’s fault that his seminal work, written as a chilling dystopian warning regarding the destruction of liberty, has become an instruction manual for the far-Left “Liberal” Secular-Progressive Statists who now hold the levers of power in our once-great Republic.

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”

“They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”

If you refuse to agree that 2 + 2 = 5, you are racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-child, and probably watch Fox News.

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Filed under Around the web, Cold War, Defense, girls, helicopters, history, islam, leadership, obama, Personal, Politics, recruiting, terrorism, training, veterans, war, weapons

Slowing down the encroachment of lawfare- It’s Israel’s fault.

No really.

Various norms have evolved over the course of man’s history in regards to the conduct of warfare. Chivalry, for example. With the vastly increased lethality of 20th century weapons, many nations sought to minimize the suffering of both combatants and noncombatants, and codified these through a series of agreements that have come to be known as the Geneva Convention. 

Mind you, the key precepts of the laws of land warfare were written with a view of warfare between nation states and their organized armies.

Today, however, we’ve seen that much of warfare consists of non-state organizations, outside the norms that existed when the bulk of the Geneva Conventions were drafted.  Reciprocity was the main means of encouraging compliance. You don’t use poison gas on us, we won’t use it on you. But international law has struggled to keep pace with the changes. One problem is that while nation states are constrained in their actions by the law, there is actually an incentive for non-state actors to willfully flaunt the norms of warfare.

Still and all, it is generally in a nation state’s own interests to abide by the acceptable laws of warfare. Neither you nor I would truly like to see our services wantonly killing non-combatants simply for the sake of killing or satisfying our bloodlust. On the other hand, we’ve seen rules of engagement that have become ever more complex, restrictive, and burdensome that legitimate targets of war have been spared either through delays in approval or fears of collateral damage.

Arguably no nation has gone so far out of its way to minimize civilian casualties in its military operations as Israel in its recent conflicts in the Gaza Strip.  Routinely, the IDF will phone the homes surrounding a target and plead for the occupants to flee to safety. They’ve developed a tactic called “roof knocking” where a small guided rocket will hit the roof of a target to emphasize that a larger warhead is shortly enroute, to again encourage innocents to flee. 

And now, Israel is being criticized for these humanitarian techniques.

As a result, he expressed his fear that the IDF “is setting an unreasonable precedent for other democratic countries of the world who may also be fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal non-state actors who abuse these laws.”

Sharing his assessment was Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and former Dabla chief.

She said legal advisers from other militaries around the world confront her with “recurring claims” that the IDF “is going too far in its self-imposed restrictions intended to protect civilians, and that this may cause trouble down the line for other democratic nations fighting organized armed groups.”

Michael Schmitt, director of the Stockton Center for the Study for International Law at the US Naval War College, also agreed that the IDF is creating a dangerous state of affairs that may harm the West in its fight against terrorism.

As noted, some people will instantly conclude that any military operation by any nation that doesn’t adhere to this technique will quickly come to be labeled as a war crime. The problem is, Israel’s ability to use these techiques, particularly the phone calls, is due to its unique relationship with Gaza and its in depth intelligence of the organization and structure of its opponents political and military arms.  No other nation faces such a foe that it could in fact pursue these techniques.

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The Last “Thousand Tonner”

USS Allen

Some of the most interesting curiosities in the history of naval warfare surround older warships remaining in service long after similar vessels have been retired.  Sometimes, the story of such ships is one of tragedy, like the three elderly Royal Navy cruisers sunk in the Channel by a German U-Boat in 1914, or the nearly-helpless Spanish wooden-hulled Castilla, quickly sunk at Manila Bay.  Other times, like with Oldendorf’s “Old Ladies” at Surigao Straits or the Iowas in Desert Storm, the veteran ships were found to still be plenty lethal.  One such curiosity is the unlikely tale of USS Allen, DD-66.

The rapid advances in Naval technology that spanned the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th included generational leaps in warship design, hastened further by the outbreak of war in 1914.  Nowhere was this more manifest than in the smallest of the combatant ships of the world’s navies, the destroyer.  Originally the “torpedo boat destroyer” built to protect larger ships of the battle line from the speedy small craft and their ship-killing weapons, powered torpedoes, soon these “torpedo boat destroyers” became the carriers of torpedoes themselves, then called simply, “destroyers”.

US destroyer construction in the early part of the century followed apace with designs elsewhere.  Small, largely coastal craft evolved into the 700-ton “flivvers” and later, the “thousand-tonners” of the O’Brien, Tucker, and Sampson classes.   Despite being almost new, these 26 ships of the latter three classes had proven barely suitable for the requirements of destroyer service in a modern war at sea.  Among the first US ships to attach to the Royal Navy in 1917, by the end of the war they were hopelessly outdated, as the British W and V classes, and the latest German destroyers, were significantly larger, much faster,  far more capable warships.

Following the Armistice, almost all the “thousand tonners” were quickly decommissioned, as they were replaced in service with the “flush-decker” Wickes and Clemson classes, of which an astounding 267 were built (though few were completed in time for war service).   A number of the obsolescent “thousand tonners” were given to the US Coast Guard, where they served into the 1930s.  Most, however, were scrapped or sunk as targets.  Most, but not all.

One unit of the Sampsons, USS Allen, DD-66, was placed back in commission,  to serve as a training ship for US Navy Reserve personnel.  She would serve in this role between 1925 and 1928, after which she returned to the Reserve Fleet in Philadelphia.   Allen was retained even while a number of her younger and far more capable “flush-decker” sisters were scrapped.  As war clouds loomed, Allen was selected to be recommissioned, in the summer of 1940.  She must have been an exceptionally well-maintained vessel.  Even with that, the choice to recommission Allen was a curious one.  She and her sisters were designed before the First World War, and still reflected the “torpedo boat destroyer” mission in her layout and systems.

USSAllenDD66

USS Allen 9

After some time in the Atlantic, Allen was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, which had recently moved to Pearl Harbor.  She was present and fired her only shots of the war during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.  Lacking adequate endurance and weapons, Allen spent the war escorting vessels between the Hawaiian Islands, helping to train submarine crews by acting as a mock sub chaser, and she made the occasional voyage back to the US West Coast.  In the course of the war, Allen had her antiaircraft armament considerably augmented, with six 20mm cannon, and she lost at least one set of torpedo tubes.  She gained depth charge throwers, and even a modest air search radar.   I could find no reference to her being fitted with sonar of any kind, however.  (And if Norman Friedman didn’t say it happened, it didn’t happen!)

USS Allen 10

Immediately following the war, of course, the worn-out and thoroughly obsolete Allen was quickly decommissioned, in the fall of 1945, and just as quickly sold for scrap.   She is shown above, disarmed and awaiting disposal.  At the time of her decommissioning, she was the oldest US destroyer in commission, and the last survivor of her class and type.   Built to specifications which dated to before US entry into the First World War, USS Allen would serve through the Second, a throwback of four generations of destroyer design.  A remarkable record of service indeed.

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Filed under air defense, Coast Guard, Defense, engineering, guns, history, navy, ships, training, veterans, war, weapons, World War II

Your MUST READ of the day is in, of all places, Vanity Fair.

Sebastian Junger writes on the emotionally charged issue of PTSD and veteran suicide. PTSD is both a real issue for many, and a shield for others, and a club for yet more.

This paragraph leapt out at me:

What all these people seem to miss isn’t danger or loss, per se, but the closeness and cooperation that danger and loss often engender. Humans evolved to survive in extremely harsh environments, and our capacity for cooperation and sharing clearly helped us do that. Structurally, a band of hunter-gatherers and a platoon in combat are almost exactly the same: in each case, the group numbers between 30 and 50 individuals, they sleep in a common area, they conduct patrols, they are completely reliant on one another for support, comfort, and defense, and they share a group identity that most would risk their lives for. Personal interest is subsumed into group interest because personal survival is not possible without group survival. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not at all surprising that many soldiers respond to combat in positive ways and miss it when it’s gone.

Simply leaving the military life is somewhat, if not traumatizing, certainly disorienting. I left the Army after my first enlistment to attend college. I had a much harder time coping then than I did when I eventually left the service for good. And I think part of that was because my last tour was as a recruiter, which by definition is far more enmeshed in the civilian community.

CDR Salamander, as always, has a great take on this, and as usual a lively discussion in the comments.

Like Sal, I have some issues with parts of Junger’s piece (and probably the same ones) but it is a great read overall. Spend the 10 minutes.

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Centennial of ANZAC Landings at Gallipoli

Today marks another significant centennial of the Great War.  (Yesterday marked the centenary of beginning of the Armenian Genocide.)  The ANZAC landings at Gallipoli took place on 25 April 1915.  It is a very special ANZAC Day.  From last year:

anzac hat

Today is the 25th of April.  It is ANZAC Day, commemorating the 99th anniversary of the landings of 31,000 men of The Australian Division, and the Australian-New Zealand Division (reinforced with two batteries of mountain guns) on the crescent-shaped portion of beach known as Ari Burnu, forever after known as Anzac Cove.

 gallipolilanding

The ANZAC landing began before dawn on 25 April 1915, and was initially unopposed,  By mid-morning, however, Turkish troops under LtCol Mustapha Kemal had reacted strongly and taken the landing beaches and the precariously shallow Dominion positions under rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  Unable to move forward, and hanging onto hillside rocks and scrapes, ANZAC Commander MajGen Sir William Birdwood asked to have the beach-head evacuated.

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The Royal Navy argued that such an evacuation, particularly under fire, was impractical.   So Birdwood was ordered to stay, with the advice given by General Sir Ian Hamilton to “dig, dig, dig!”.  It is from this message, many conclude, that the ANZACs became known as the “diggers”.    Despite herculean efforts and near-suicidal courage, including the tragically costly landings at Sulva Bay in August of 1915, the stalemate was never broken.  Unable to advance, with no evacuation possible, the ANZACs remained locked in their initial positions, enduring conditions even more horrendous than those on the Western Front, until finally pulled out as a part of the general evacuation of the Gallipoli Operation in December of 1915.

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ANZAC Day has become a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand war dead, but remains especially poignant for the nearly 13,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the foothills of the Bari Sair Mountains, in the eight months of hell on Earth that was Anzac Cove.

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning,

we will remember them.

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Filed under army, Artillery, engineering, guns, history, infantry, leadership, logistics, navy, Russia, ships, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

General Mattis Speaks to Veterans

mattisdeploy-750x400

From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”

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Filed under Defense, guns, history, leadership, SIR!, veterans, war

“Bandini!”

Those who know, know.  Part III.

Oh, and it’s NEVER Black Flag out there.  When I say never, I mean ALWAYS.  ‘Cept when it’s freezing-ass cold.

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