December 16, 2001

Since someone asked, that's the

Since someone asked, that's the Delhi jantar mantar, top right. (Part of an ancient astrological observatory).

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 PM



May your end-of-fast feast be a blessed one. While it's no doubt petty to spoil the festivities with media criticism, I couldn't help noticing the oh-so-correct Toronto Star could not be bothered to mention the biggest Muslim feast day of the year in the paper today. For these guys, that's like forgetting Easter. A stunning omission. I mean, come on, even the tabloid Toronto Sun had an Eid piece. Only the white-bread lefties at the Star would be so busy documenting the various sins the West has delivered unto Islam that they forgot their most important holiday completely. Okay, back to eating...

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM



On or about Dec. 8 is St. Barbara's Day. Gunners across Canada celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of artillery with drinking and eating to excess, and generally also singing part or all of "Screw Guns," the Rudyard Kipling poem dedicated to the Indian mountain artillery, and sung to the tune of the "Eton Boating Song."

At the two St. Barb's festivities I was lucky enough to attend this year, people around me couldn't help but comment on the aptness of the final stanza. Of course, if you know anything about the Mountain gunners, you know they spent an awful lot of time on the North-West frontier -- there's another line about "giving the Afreedeeman fits" (the Afridi were a Pushtun tribe on the now-Pakistani side of the Afghan border the Indian army often had to fight), so this shouldn't surprise, of course. But here's that stanza, commemorating that earlier, now mostly-forgotten attempt to bring superior Western technology to bear in the Afghan mountains:

For you all love the screw-guns -- the screw-guns they all love you!
So when we take tea with a few guns,
o' course you will know what to do -- hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender --
it's worse if you fights or you runs:
You may hide in the caves, they'll be only your graves,
but you can't get away from the guns!

The first Screw Guns, properly the 2.5 in Rifled Muzzle-Loading pack gun, were mule-carried artillery, so-called because the barrel could be unscrewed into two 200 lb packages, with each mule carrying one, and two others carrying the wheels and carriage. They were first used in the most successful British invasion of Afghanistan (successful because the British left immediately after crushing their enemies, and this time didn't stick around for the worm to turn again) in 1879-80. As Kipling documented, the screw guns, considered at the time the best superlight artillery piece ever invented, were famous for being the first cannons that could go anywhere in the mountains the infantry they were supporting could go, giving a huge firepower advantage to the mountain-fighters that had them. Smoking the Afghan ghazis (what they called the mujahideen at the time) out of caves, a la Bin Laden, was no doubt a big part of their job.

Why is this important? Leaving aside what it may say about the role of towed artillery on the modern battlefield for another day, it is yet another remarkable example of how the West has been here before. The American army thinktank in Leavenworth has been boning up on their 19th century history obviously... for the pattern for this Afghan war -- with large numbers of local troops backed by only a few Western soldiers possessing huge technological advantages -- wasn't invented by Gen. Franks. Britain's Lord Roberts (who relieved Kandahar in 1880) would be entirely familiar with the template, it being the way almost all Britain's successful colonial wars were fought. A few British gunners with screw guns have been replaced by a few Green Berets with JDAMS: are there any other differences that are due to more than just the passage of time? More on this another day...

Posted by BruceR at 12:07 AM