July 31, 2002



I'd love to get angry about the handing over to indefinite U.S. detention, without trial or charge, of Canadian and alleged Al-Qaeda member Mohamed Mansour Jabarah. (The MS-NBC story gets it wrong, of course... Jabarah was repatriated from Oman by Canada's spy agency, CSIS, then immediately handed over to the Americans.) I would have thought there'd be charges we could have held the guy on in this country, if any evidence did come out of his months of rotting in an Omani jail first. But Bill Sampson is still sitting in a Saudi jail facing death for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit, so if the Canadian government wanted to start helping its citizens abroad for a change there's at least one higher up in the queue. Given the relative conditions of Saudi jails (now with more beheadings!) and American, I think I know which one can afford to cool their heels a little while longer.

Posted by BruceR at 09:44 AM

July 30, 2002



In the Globe today. As I said previously, I believe from my one meeting with him that this one is a stand-up guy... the only problem is he's likely too talented for the portfolio. (link)

Posted by BruceR at 11:36 AM



From the Guardian:

American bombers, supported by RAF aircraft, on Sunday attacked a communications site in southern Iraq, the US central command revealed yesterday. It was the sixth such strike this month in response to what the US said were hostile actions by Iraq.

Love to hear more details on this, btw. A communications site? Heretofore the air strikes in Iraq have been confined to anti-aircraft missile batteries and radars that could threaten the NATO overflights.

Of course the Brits are a little cagey. The last time they invaded Iraq an army of 8,000 was ushered into a cruel captivity at the Siege of Kut. Those things tend to focus the mind wonderfully.

Posted by BruceR at 11:02 AM



While I certainly respect Den Beste's extremely long reflections on open source, I really don't think he gives John Carmack and Id Software ENOUGH credit, if that is possible. Indeed the element of his thesis related to the high-end computer gaming market is flawed... it's an environment that is ever-increasingly, and ever-successfully reliant on the post-release user modification (or "mod"), alterations to how the game works and plays by volunteer enthusiasts and released for free, to extend the shelf-life of those high-end games, and bring new talent into the industry.

Carmack's brilliance has been not just to master the product cycle by anticipating Moore's Law well, as Den Beste lauds him for, but also for using a savvy combination of licensing and encouraging the modders to increase sales and keep his Quake game engine the top of the line choice for first-person view rendering in detailed virtual spaces for the last six years now. The classic example, of course is Quake 2 (1997), a massive best-seller, which Carmack then licensed to Valve Software for their game Half-Life (1998), the massive best-seller for that year, which was then modded for free by a kid from Vancouver named Minh "Gooseman" Le into Counter-Strike, the most popular online game OF ALL in 1999, 2000, and 2001... one still requiring a copy of Half-Life to play, and Id making money no doubt off of every purchase, and assuring their market dominance all the while over the competing Unreal and Lithtech game engines.

Now some of this was windfall... Carmack couldn't have counted that a Gooseman would show up. But when I talked to Gooseman, he credited Carmack's release of the Quake SDK in 1996 for starting his modding obsession... one that eventually paid off in significant returns for Valve and Id. (Le, it should be noted, was hired by the industry, and has a great future ahead of him.) So, even though that decision to encourage the modders (who could just as easily be called "open source" game designers), as Den Beste says, may not have been well thought-out by Carmack at the time, looking back it's easy to see open-source had a role to play in that market, too... not in producing great initial software releases, which I agree it's hard to imagine open source ever doing, but in stretching out the product life of games for those companies that embrace it, sometimes for years longer than their anti-modder competition.

Posted by BruceR at 12:59 AM

July 29, 2002



Okay, I'll say right off no one's looking good here.

That said, here's a couple things you won't read elsewhere, maybe:

1) It wasn't "hacking." All the evidence is the Princeton admissions office took legitimately gathered information about students who'd applied to both colleges and put it into a login form in the internet. No l33t computer skillz required.

2) It's entirely believable that someone in the Princeton admissions office was interested in the issue of how Yale was keeping good security without assigning recently admitted or prospective students admissions numbers. I have spent more than a few days in meetings at U of T discussing exactly this similar issue. (Most universities are exploring how to get information out to incoming students faster... the problem is the security burden, which Yale got around apparently by ignoring it).

3) It's entirely unbelievable, on the other hand, that there was any intent to use the data gathered to give Princeton an edge in any admissions offers to choice students, or to get an edge on the competition. It just doesn't wash: none of the information garnered in this way would be so particularly valuable that subterfuge was necessary. What I do believe happened is once someone had first accessed the Princeton site, they then showed off Yale's foolishness to others in the office, as sort of an in-house joke on the Yalies. The alternative, that Princeton was obsessed with whether they would land the President's modelling niece, is silly.

4) The Yale admissions office web people are a bunch of tools. First off they put up what by all reports was a flagrantly insecure system, a massive disservice to all future and incoming students... that should be a crime in itself. But then, when Princeton gets around to informally notifying them about the obvious, massive, drive-a-truck-through-it problem with their web service, they called in the FBI on Princeton? If anything, the university that is being the most mindlessly competitive here is Yale, not Princeton, deflecting a story abou their cavalier attitude towards student privacy by blaming Princeton for "hacking". Yes, if Princeton was playing good corporate citizen, they should have tested the security flaw once, smiled to themselves, then promptly reported it to Yale (that's surely what I'd have done... right? right?). But this hardly warrants the assignment of national investigative resources.

Posted by BruceR at 12:08 PM

July 26, 2002



I would have written something about how all this "Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields" crap is complete nonsense, but Steven Chapman pretty much has it covered.

No, wait a minute. Let's put it this way. As Chapman says, Hamas are guerrillas fighting a war. Like every urban guerilla movement in history, they move among the people and with the people. All the evidence is that at least a dozen of the fatalities in the recent Israeli attack did not know who their neighbour was, or the danger they were in. If their deaths are justified by the fact guerrillas are among them, then by extension there's hardly a civilian death in the history of war that isn't justified. What is the difference between destroying a city block in Gaza in order to save it, and the levelling of Hue, except in scale? Or, Guernica? Or, speaking of art, the Massacres at Chios? Or, talking about the original guerrillas now, Goya's Third of May ? Our society as a whole is only worth saving to the degree to which we are able to rise above these kinds of precivilized brutalities. Levelling a city block to ensure one man blows up real good was something the Assyrians would have done. To say that Hamas would have done it too does not excuse anything... they abandoned their claims to humanity long ago.

Put it another way. Hamas says all civilians in Israel are legitimate military targets because the country has universal military service for its citizens, male and female. Once Israel decides that ALL Palestinians are, as Ralph Peters put it today, "legitimate military targets" so long as any hostilities continue, how then to distinguish the two positions?

The Israelis could have used a 500-lb bomb instead of a 2000-lb bomb. They could have used a Hellfire missile, with impunity. Either would still have certainly killed Shehadeh, the target. Either would certainly have led to fewer collateral casualties. But no, they used the most powerful conventional weapon in their arsenal on this man. Why?

Posted by BruceR at 02:07 PM

July 25, 2002



There's been a little fuss in Canada this week over an offer, later retracted by higher command, by the 101st Airborne to give the Canadian battalion that served in Afghanistan Screaming Eagle patches to wear... to make them, in other words, an honorary sub-unit of the 101st. At least one Canadian newspaper has seen it as yet more evidence of how Canadian soldiers are better respected abroad than at home.

That may well be. But the proposed honour was, however well-intentioned, obviously inappropriate. The 101st is a fine unit, with a great history, but the same spot on the Canadians' uniforms their patch is worn on is currently occupied by the insignia of another fine unit, with its own great history: 1 (Canadian) Brigade, the unit all the soldiers we sent to Afghanistan belonged to. If the offer had ever been approved by the Pentagon, the Canadians would still have been right to refuse it, with thanks.

If the 101st wants to make the Canadians feel more appreciated, a little justice for their dead comrades that came home from Kandahar in pine boxes might be equally fitting, it should go without saying.

Posted by BruceR at 05:47 PM



From Howie Kurtz:

"The publisher of a city tabloid apologized in print Tuesday for a headline on the paper's story about a recent fire at a psychiatric facility.

"The Trentonian's story on a July 9 fire that damaged an administration building at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital appeared under the headline 'Roasted Nuts.' There were no patients in the building and no one was injured.

"In a signed editorial, publisher David B. Bonfield called it a 'crude, thoughtless headline that cruelly made light of mental illness. In the bargain, it was inaccurate.'"

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 PM

July 23, 2002



Sorry, but I cannot condone the levelling of a city block to assassinate one man, however dangerous. It's not enough to say that way evil lies... that way IS evil. In Gaza this week, the IDF went too far. My personal interest in their achieving a victory in this war has receded, proportionately, as a result. Not left altogether; just receded.

Gaza generally has that effect on me, actually. Six thousand Israeli settlers have reserved all the productive land for themselves, while over a million Muslims stand over the settlement wall from them, in abject poverty, without the franchise, without hope, without a future. Stone-throwing Palestinians are regularly shot there, by settlers and soldiers. The majority of recent Israeli "regrettable incidents" (the bomb on the path that killed the schoolchildren, the tank firing into the house that killed other children) seem to occur there, for some reason. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza's residents would have an economic future without Israel, with its port and land access to Egypt... unlike the West Bank, too, its evacuation would make no real difference to Israeli security. if Palestinian self-realization is ever going to begin to occur, it's here. I can understand the dilemma on the West Bank. There is nothing close to that dilemma in Gaza. If what is going on there could be separated from the insoluble remainder of the Palestinian problem, the immorality of Israeli actions in that locality would be as undeniable as apartheid or the occupation of Timor.

Posted by BruceR at 10:27 PM



I wouldn't want to say that it's just dawning on Steven den Beste and others that there are large parts of American society that are operating now above the law, Congressional or judicial oversight, or the Constitution: in particular Hollywood. He's too smart for that. But when I covered the gaming industry as a writer, I was amazed at the chutzpah of studio executives, who even defied or sneered at Congressional subpoenas when it suited them (as opposed to the computer game industry reps, who always show up for the latest Congressional anti-violence witchhunt in nice suits and on time, to get pilloried for their efforts as Columbine instigators). So the fact that Hollywood is now reserving itself the right to hack home computers to shut down Kazaa and other file sharing networks, code digital TV programs so they're unrecordable, etc., etc., doesn't surprise me one bit. What's remarkable is den Beste, who has defended the Bill of Rights as the foundation of a sound domestic and foreign policy so many times, is expecting Hollywood to win this fight, too. And so America's slippage from a Julian Rome to an Augustinian one continues apace...

What's really remarkable about the story den Beste links to is this quote:

[Representatives] Coble and Berman have jointly written a second draft bill that could sharply limit Americans' rights relating to copying music, taping TV shows, or transferring files through the Internet. But they have said they do not necessarily endorse the plan's details.

So here you have two U.S. Congressmen admitting they have basically put their names to bills Hollywood and the recording industry wrote for them. You couldn't possibly be more in the pocket of an interest group than that. They have been bought and paid for... but not only do they not deny it, they happily admit to it by disagreeing with their own bill. Will their job prospects in future U.S. governments be negatively impacted by this? Of course not. As Lisa Simpson said, "The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago... and very little has changed."

NB: I'd say something about the recent proposed changes to the Posse Comitatus Act and the new civilian informant corps, but they're too obvious. That uncomfortable feeling in the world that America has finally completely lost its way as a beacon of democracy and freedom is growing too large to ignore...

Posted by BruceR at 10:10 PM



It's a good week for truth. In addition to the NYT's burying Herold, the Prospect hammers a last spike into the "war for oil" theory, too.

Posted by BruceR at 04:54 PM



Well, this rarely happens, but I agree with Warblogger Watch. They've still to post a coherent argument in refutation of, well, anything, really, but they've got John Podhoretz dead to rights. For those like John still unclear on the concept: an army is not a toy. It is not to be used to gain short-term political benefits for the ruling party, or to make the President look tough. Anyone who thinks it is should be horsewhipped. Wag the dog, indeed.

Posted by BruceR at 04:46 PM



Buried in the recent silly story in the New York Times on a new estimate of civilian fatalities (852, in this new estimate) due to U.S. bombing is a remarkable refutation of the numbers previously touted by New Hampshire women's studies prof Marc Herold (whose numbers, last we saw, were somewhere over 4,000 and climbing, at least three times that of any serious estimate). The 852 figure, as Politburo rightly points out, seems the product of one 24 year-old researcher with no love for the U.S. government and a travel budget. She does, however, appear more methodologically scrupulous than Herold. My point? No matter how you feel about the Afghan war, the numbers are mutually exclusive (and may even be a little high... the Times quoted the Afghan government's estimate of less than 500 fatalities, as well). If you believe this Marla Ruzicka, whose credentials on the left seem impeccable, and who obviously is putting in some legwork in search of the answer, you must conclude Herold was a charlatan and a fraud, and that all those who quoted him during the war (Pilger, Fisk, et al) were duped by a charlatan, and a fraud. I personally don't have any doubt that the number of unwanted fatalities was somewhat higher in real and comparative terms than the air war in Serbia (c. 500), for reasons Carl Conetta outlined some months ago. But by any historical or reasonable standard, the air war was undeniably one of the most humane such actions ever.

Posted by BruceR at 04:28 PM



It doesn't surprise me that an ex- Canadian paratrooper was so aimless he turned to armed robbery. It doesn't really bother me either that no one can explain the photos of severed heads found in his barracks box, and the paratrooper's not talking. What is annoying is that two years after admitting to firing 88 shots at some Brink's guards (should have spent more time on the rifle range, I guess), this embarassment to the Forces is out on parole. Judicial system? What judicial system? (Props to Charles Tupper for seeing this one first.)

Posted by BruceR at 03:02 PM



I've got a lot of time for occasional Flit reader and National Post columnist Mark Steyn, but he takes liberties with the facts in his piece today on the Kandahar bombing.

First off, his cutesy beginning just doesn't wash, apologizing to Americans with the nickname "Psycho" for being pilloried by the Canadian commentariat. I suppose that means me, since to my knowledge no other Canadian writer but me has drawn any conclusions from the American pilot's nickname. I'm happy to be shown the occasional exception to that rule, if one exists. But there certainly wasn't the "wild stampede" rush to judgment he suggests: American readers will have to trust me on that.

Steyn also accepts the American pilot's lawyer's word that they were not briefed on the presence of a weapons range at Kandahar ("the Yanks neglected to tell their pilots"). That point has never been satisfactorily settled... all that is firm is that the pilot does not recall being briefed, which is something different.

Steyn also apparently believes that a request to fire 20mm cannon on the pilot's part was part of Maj. Schmidt trying "to ascertain whether it was friendly." Interesting way to do that, if true.

That said, once you strip off all the overblown rhetoric, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with Steyn's conclusion:

It doesn't have to be just "pilot error" or, alternatively, "command-and-control failure." It could be both.

Me, I could live with that. My trouble is that "systemic failure" seems always to mean "failure where no one's to blame" these days. Convincing people that the system's really to blame in this case, as Steyn is doing, is much more likely to end up exonerating everybody than adding to the bill of indictments, and I find that morally problematic, given what we already know about what happened.

You have to understand Steyn's agenda, as always. He's trying, along with the rest of Canada's oppositionists, to keep this as a sore issue for the Chretien government (at the same time he's taking a peg out of rival conservatives he doesn't like, like Elsie Wayne.) As I've tried to explain below, this is a great issue for making the Canadian government look ineffectual: they've resisted releasing the vast majority of the evidence around this incident for months, because they don't want to do anything to stifle the application of American military law against the pilots, which they see (knowing all the facts) as justified. But the Americans are stonewalling, neither prosecuting nor saying they won't prosecute, and not allowing the Canadians to release the whole story. So every day Steyn and others can keep this kind of pressure on, the government looks like a fish out of water, mouth gaping, but not saying anything. The prime minister is stuck like a butterfly to a board on this one, and Steyn et al have no interest in pulling the pin out any time soon.

NB: Steyn also mentions the one specific allegation thus far of possible Canadian wrongdoing... the impact the Patricias' battlegroup's lack of an integral forward air control unit might have had. Truthfully, it would have had no influence if we confine the question to the night-of... things just happened too fast, and too recklessly. The most a FAC might conceivably have done would have been to notice those eight prior reports about muzzle flashes at the weapons range being deemed suspicious by the air force (by monitoring their communications) and possibly put measures in place to clarify any air force confusion. But there's no guarantees.

Also, it's rare that a battalion-sized unit would have its own FAC assets, as opposed to the brigade or division they're working for downloading them to that unit. If it had been a Canadian brigade with an American battalion attached to it (ha!) then the Canadians would have been responsible for providing the American unit with their air coord staff. Going by the Canadian book at least, it should have been the same when the situation was reversed. Doctrinally, I see no error in what was done. But why the 101st Airborne's FAC team in Kandahar would have had sub-optimal communications with the USAF in-theatre is a question that I haven't seen satisfactorily answered yet.

I'm also extremely skeptical of Steyn's suggestion of the possibility of a mechanical fail-safe within the F-16s, which are supposedly incapable of firing on GPS coordinates deemed to be friendly. Not knowing as much about F-16 computers as I probably should, I can't rule it out authoritatively, but in practice in an actual war theatre it would be extremely unlikely you'd have a non-overrideable system preventing your pilots from engaging ground targets in supposedly friendly areas if they had to. (What if Kandahar was being overrun, for instance?) I really think he's misread what someone's saying there.

Posted by BruceR at 02:53 PM

July 22, 2002

23,000 FT, PART 4 (Am

23,000 FT, PART 4

(Am I harping yet, y'think?) The defence minister has wisely, I believe, declined to reopen the Canadian inquiry into the Kandahar bombing, which released its still mostly classified report some time ago. I have every reason to believe all the information being trumpeted as leaked documents by Maj. Psycho's lawyer, retired USAF colonel Charles Gittins, was considered and given due weight by both the Canadian and American boards of inquiry. Even if it hasn't, there's nothing new here that exonerates Gittins' client, as I've tried to show previously.

It is interesting how this is playing out politically, however. The Canadian public and official stance originally coalesced around a "hang the bastard" position, I believe rather rightly, blaming the one person for his reckless and criminally negligent acts. The American official stance seems more inclined to saying "the system is to blame" and avoiding any individual responsibility whatsoever. Thus Gittins' leak this week will no doubt please many in the Air Force hierarchy: certainly they seem loath, in the absence of any significant domestic public pressure, to charge Maj. Psycho Schmidt with anything. As I've said before, the chances of him ever seeing jail time always had to be seen as extremely remote. In fact, the only way the USAF likely will charge Schmidt now is if that somehow would forestall a larger and spiralling investigation, with the entire Air Force, practically, put on trial, as happened in Canada over the Somalia atrocities.

Isn't Gittins then, playing with fire, by trying to point the blame at Schmidt's superiors? Hardly. There is no advocates for dead Canadian soldiers in the American body politic to push for any kind of broader inquiry: no one's likely to take on the closed ranks of the USAF on behalf of a few foreigners, even if there was better evidence of higher complicity than the lawyer has shown. And by suggesting the American government, or even their own, is really to blame, Gittins has succeeded in sowing doubt among the Canadian populace on the issue of what the Americans should do, eliminating any meager pressure we could exert on American decision-making. It's really quite a masterful little PR move, for a lawyer.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, is just trying to figure out how to make the issue go away quickly. Even if Schmidt were court-martialled, that would be an entirely American decision... there is no pressure Canadians can put directly. So regardless of what happens, every day the story stays in the news is another day the government in Ottawa looks ineffectual at taking care of its citizens. And that, of course, is why the Canadian opposition parties are playing this up, for every last drib of headline they can get out of it. For them, Gittins' story is just "too good to check" at this point... they only lose by NOT saying anything about it.

The one thing that the Canadian government could do now to improve things would be a fuller disclosure of their inquiry's findings, which would at least allow them to start explaining, as I have tried to do, why the cockpit transcript is not exculpatory. But they can't... why? Because the U.S. doesn't want them to. The question now is, how long the American military establishment is willing to let their Canadian counterparts twist in the wind... and exactly what their reasons are for doing so.

Back in the 1960s, a lot of people were convinced JFK was amiably and not particularly forcefully trying to undermine the Canadian Diefenbaker government... not being uncooperative, really, just not doing them any favours, because the Americans wanted a "regime change." (Diefenbaker and JFK clashed on issues like Cuba and continental defence.) I'm wondering now if we're beginning to see a little of that out of the Bush government, or at least some among its military wing... certainly we haven't seen anyone in the States very interested in shoring up the Chretien government's popularity among its people, lately, anyway. Given Canadians' lack of interest in the continental defence issue (again, ironically), one can see why.

The trouble with the Diefenbaker strategy is there's an easy riposte, if your prime minister's got the guts... a neutralist, or vaguely non-aligned stance, frowning on the Americans and their actions. At some point, the Yankees realize the limits of playing the heavy with another democracy, and invite you back to the table, anyway. That's why when Nixon tried JFK's obvious antipathy strategy during the even more uncomfortable Trudeau era, it never really worked. Trudeau just played the Canadian nationalist card, and his polls went up. (That sort of thing plays especially well in Quebec. It didn't hurt, either that in the charisma department the leaders' situations in 1962 and 1972 were almost exactly reversed.)

We may even be seeing a bit of that backlash now, with the Chretien government's recent forceful support for the ICC. Not the issue I would have picked, perhaps, but a legitimate counterthrust from the point of view of a Canadian government (and people) that are ever increasingly seeing the Americans as not the kind of people they want to share a continent (or at least, an Afghan expeditionary force) with right now.

The Americans could still bolster the Chretien government, cut down on the criticism from a previously safe quarter, and help bring the defence establishments closer in line for greater effectiveness and greater domestic protection by taking prompt action on the Kandahar bombing file. The fact they likely won't now, however, shows how low Canada's meagre contributions are esteemed by their larger neighbour, shamefully, but also how little Americans care about even friendly, English-speaking foreigners, even when they die from American bombs while serving in an American army.

Posted by BruceR at 05:58 PM

July 20, 2002

23,000 FT, PART 3 The

23,000 FT, PART 3

The one really problematic piece of new evidence that Maj. Psycho's lawyer, Charles Gittins has come up with in his client's defence, is that there were eight previous close calls over Kandahar, where USAF pilots reported unidentified ground fire from the Kandahar weapons range, and in one case (an AC-130, which flies at altitudes where that might actually be a threat) even took evasive action. Apparently there was no attempt to clarify in the aftermath of those incidents what was going on down there, let alone having a specific no-fire zone set up.

Does that excuse Psycho? Certainly not... even if he had reason to believe that was a real firefight below him, he still had no way of knowing when he dropped his ordnance whether he was dropping on U.S. troops firing on the Taliban, or vice versa. It was still incredibly irresponsible (criminally, to my mind). On the other hand, it does show a lack of interest on the USAF command's part in knowing what the army's situation on the ground was... a breakdown in communications between the 101st Airborne and their purported air cover. Not that that will come as much of a surprise to soldiers in any army. Twas always thus.

Posted by BruceR at 09:34 AM

July 19, 2002



What the transcript released late Thursday DOES show is the complicity of Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt's wingman on the flight and his squadron commander, Maj. William Umbach. After telling Schmidt explicitly to make sure those aren't friendly troops on the ground, Umbach, who was in a position to see what Schmidt was seeing, does nothing else to rein him in, nor does anything himself to "make sure it's not friendlies." If Schmidt really did have a predisposition to engage in reckless bombing that night, which seems clear, Umbach was the only person in a position to do anything about it. But other than some wimpy, "Oh, I don't know, Psycho" weasel words, he had no problem letting Schmidt do whatever he wanted. That's not leadership.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 PM



A partial transcript of the discussion in the air that led to 4 Canadians being bombed last April, from the National Post:

Maj. Schmidt: Boss man [AWACS], this is Coffee 52. I've got tally in the vicinity. Request permission to lay down some 20 mike [cannon].
Maj. Umbach: Let's just make sure it's not friendlies. That's all.
Schmidt: When you've got a chance, put it on the spy.
Umbach: Check my sparkles [infrared target marking]. Check my sparkles. See if it looks good.
Schmidt: I'm copying your sparkles well.
AWACS: Hold fire. I need details on safire [surface-to-air fire].
Schmidt: I've got some men on a road, and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us... I am rolling in in self-defence.
AWACS: Boss man copies.
Schmidt: Shack [bomb has landed]. Can you confirm they were shooting us?
AWACS: You're cleared. Self-defence.

People (actually, Schmidt's lawyer mostly) are saying this is evidence there's a witch hunt out for Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt, the F-16 pilot who killed 4 Canadians. The allegation, repeated in every Canadian paper this morning, is that there was a rush to judgment, that Psycho is being strung up to save... well, we're not sure who, maybe the AWACS controller? But the transcript hardly bears that out. For an AWACS team to back up Schmidt after the bomb landed is not clearance to attack... sounds more like post facto rationalization to me. Once the pilot declares self-defence, someone sitting in an AWACS hundreds of miles away is not going to contradict him. All the AWACS guy is saying at the end there is, "I believe you." And at that instant, given the information Schmidt had provided, there was really no reason for them not to.

More important and revealing are two other things Schmidt said. He asks for confirmation, presumably from his wingman Umbach, that the bad guys were actually shooting at them... only after he has already devastated them with a 500-lb laser guided bomb. In other words, he had no certainty previous to that, when he claimed self-defence... suggesting even he didn't believe his own excuse when he gave it. Second, he claims he saw a "piece of [anti-aircraft] artillery," and that's what he was aiming at. That probably rules out an earlier suggestion of mine, that Schmidt may have mistaken paraflares for a surface-to-air missile. No, Schmidt thought he saw a gun... bringing us back to the story that he believed a 7.62mm MG, .50 cal MG, or a Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon (only the latter has been confirmed so far as being in use at the time of the attack) was a Taliban antiaircraft gun, either 14.5 mm or 23 mm. Remember neither of those weapons could possibly reach Schmidt at his cruising altitude, and that he certainly knew that. Remember also that he first wanted to engage with 20mm cannon fire, which is about the only thing he could do that would bring him within range of such a gun. Remember that Schmidt could see Kandahar's lights, and knew he was dropping ordnance on muzzle flashes only a kilometre outside the American perimeter. And then try to estimate the likelihood the Taliban would have wheeled a trailer-mounted anti-aircraft gun so close to Western troops and then open fire on planes they could neither see (it being quite dark) nor hit. Is the alternative (that Psycho just saw some non-dangerous muzzle flashes over the 'Stan and felt a need to attack whatever was responsible for them) so unbelievable? His lawyer wants you to think it is.

UPDATE: A lot of the articles on this are assuming when Schmidt is asking if someone else can confirm he was being fired at, he's talking to the AWACS plane, not his wingman, and that the AWACS controller is responding in the affirmative to him. How an AWACS plane, whose only information is essentially what Schmidt tells him, that and a radar plot of Schmidt's plane, could determine what's on the ground below, is not made clear. I suggest the transcript above is properly read as a three-way conversation, with Schmidt asking Umbach, "they were firing on us, right?" after the bomb has exploded, and the AWACS controller then chiming in with the equivalent of "don't sweat it, if it was self-defence it was self-defence."

Another interpretation of that sentence I have seen is the AWACS controller is coming back on air to clear Schmidt to go in and attack after the bomb has dropped, meaning he got a post facto okay, and the controller must be complicit. Again, this is not borne out by the transcript... as you can see, the AWACS controller had already acknowledged the self-defence claim before the bomb fell. ("Boss man copies.") Even if he had then gone on to somehow check the ground position against some known map of allied positions while the attack was going in, which is stretching belief, there's no way his response, knowing the bomb already had exploded, would have been, "you're cleared, self-defence." If there was no doubt the troops on the ground weren't friendly, then he just would have said, "you're cleared, no friendlies in area," or words to that effect. What he said instead indicates that the AWACS controller was saying "you were in the best position to judge, I trust you. If you say it was self-defence, I'm sure you're right." It does not indicate complicity with the pilot, or responsibility on the part of the AWACS aircrew in the death of the Canadians. The Canadian papers are falling for a lawyer's spin.

Posted by BruceR at 10:03 AM

July 18, 2002



Poli sci PhD student Nader Hashemi argues in the Globe today that the Palestinian independence movement is struggling while those in East Timor and South Africa succeeded because... Yasser Arafat isn't anti-American enough. (!)

By throwing itself so completely into the hands of the Clinton and Bush administrations, [Arafat] has brought one disaster after another on the Palestinians... A primary lesson to be learned from East Timor and South Africa is that the struggle for self-determination has to be waged in opposition to U.S. foreign policy, not in deference to it.

The fact those other movements cared about not losing their claim to humanity in their struggle for freedom by blowing up innocents, no matter how bad the oppression got, seems to have been lost on him. Seems to me the Timorese and South African events were triumphs of morality... for the current Palestinian leadership to gain any more power than it has could only lead to a greater and deadlier atrocity. But then again, I'm not going to be a professor of political science any day soon. (link)

Posted by BruceR at 04:24 PM

July 16, 2002



Some interesting judicial events, recently, related to the "war on terror":

In Pakistan, Ahmed Saeed Shaikh was sentenced to be hanged for the Daniel Pearl murder. Not that I'm going to lose any sleep over it, but it's important to remember that all sides agree Saeed was just the lure. Saeed expected Pearl would be kidnapped and held as a hostage... harder men around him (who remain unindicted, unconvicted and unnamed) kicked things up a notch by killing Pearl and taping the results. A patsy? Hardly. But don't confuse this result with complete justice.

Meanwhile, in the United States, John Walker (who has, once again, dropped the "Lindh", it seems) was sentenced to 20 years in a plea bargain for his time spent with the Taliban. The charges he pled to, and for which he received 10 years each, are... interesting... 10 years for "supplying help to the Taliban" (sure, whatever) and 10 years for "carrying explosives." The latter is apparently entirely on his confession that while a soldier fighting the Northern Alliance, Walker carried "two hand grenades." Having personally carried considerably more than that at times, I must say I'm glad the American legal system hasn't caught up to me yet... presumably if Walker had only carried one grenade, he'd be out five years earlier...

And in Toronto, people remain confused, as they did in L.A. recently, over the difference between a killing, a "hate killing," and an "act of terrorism." In the recent stabbing of a Orthodox Jewish citizen of this city, it's hard to imagine either of the latter terms applying. The killer, who apparently said, "look, a rabbi" before knifing the man in the back, while appearing notably drugged up all the while is, it's fair to say, not a member in good standing of the Aryan Resistance or the KKK (his black girlfriend may be indicative on this score.) Differentiating between "crimes" and "hate crimes" is always problematic... but regardless of how you stand on that issue, to call the random act of a homicidally-inclined crackhead on a spree a "hate crime" just because through the haze he targeted a Jew is not helpful. I suspect the guy was too hopped up to even know he was in the centre of Toronto's Jewish community at the time, frankly. According to Toronto police, there were 338 "hate crimes" in the city last year (at least a third of which were Sept. 11 related), the vast majority graffiti slurs or other non-violent incidents... adding this crime to that list neither improves that list's credibility nor does good service to the community. (Likewise the LAX shooting... a "hate crime" if ever there was one, but in the absence of forthcoming evidence to the contrary, hardly an "act of terrorism," else the term loses all meaning as one is forced to include the Unabomber, the teenager with the mailbox bombs and the Columbine kids as "terrorists," too, by extension. Being a lone crazy and a terrorist, it seems, should remain mutually exclusive.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 AM



The army's leaving Afghanistan, but lest we forget, the Canadian navy's still out there in the Arabian Sea, and recently distinguished themselves by capturing the first two waterborne Al Qaeda members. Score one for HMCS Algonquin. (Unlike the Soldier of Fortune sniper piece, btw, where you'll remember the Forces were blamed for ghoulish self-aggrandizement, this piece was obviously pushed out there by Canadian Forces PR, partly to counteract the army standing down in Kandahar, partly right-place right-time PR target of opportunity. And rightly so, I would add.)

Posted by BruceR at 09:10 AM



Also by sheer coincidence, I have a passing familiarity with Canada's new defence minister John McCallum, who I served as an escort officer during his first official ministerial visit, to Toronto. (I'd known McCallum as a scholar and academic before that by reputation as well, of course.) Graham Fraser argued in the Star on the weekend that he was the last best hope for the military. I wouldn't go that far... while the new Minister certainly struck me as an eager, dedicated, intelligent public servant who will act as the military's civilian overseer no doubt to the absolute best of his ability, there's one problem. He's TOO talented. Even that day I was escorting him, all the talk was about when (not if, WHEN) he would become Canada's finance minister... an estimably more important job. Given the current national leadership turmoils, and assuming he can keep himself from alienating the eventual Prime Ministerial successor at the end of it all, I suspect McCallum's not long with us soldiers. More's the pity.

Posted by BruceR at 09:06 AM

July 15, 2002



Canadian Bill Sampson has now spent over 18 months in Saudi custody, without trial, on evidently-trumped up charges for terrorism in connection with a bomb attack that killed an American and a Briton in November of 2000. The Saudi government wants people to believe he was part of a gang of Western bootleggers in a turf war over the abstinent nation... conveniently eliminating any possibility that it was Saudis or other Islamists out to kill Westerners. Even the British Guardian didn't believe this story, and spent some considerable time disproving it. Sampson has also been tortured, apparently. When information about that came out, a Saudi prince cancelled a visit to Canada (!) in protest.

I don't know Sampson from Adam. But it turns out by a twist of fate, I do know his dog, Inca. (Through the person who Sampson entrusted with Inca's care.) Inca's a wonderful animal and a great companion to the surrogate owner. I accordingly have exactly zero faith in Saudi allegations that Bill Sampson is a very, very bad man, on the theory that bad men don't have nice dogs. When is the Canadian government going to do something about this atrocity?

Posted by BruceR at 09:30 AM



The Canadian army's battlegroup in Afghanistan officially ceased operations and began redeployment home on Saturday. Get home safe, guys.

Posted by BruceR at 09:16 AM

July 14, 2002



You know, I'd feel a lot more confidence in Steven Den Beste's assertions that the U.S. government opposes the ICC because it's unconstitutional (as opposed to, say, out of concern for Henry Kissinger's sorry ass, which would be the explanation I would have suggested) if the government hadn't first also broken, to date and by my count, four of the rights in the Bill of Rights in its secret arrest, indefinite detention without prospect of charge, denial of legal assistance and lack of any actual criminal act in the first place in the case of one Jose Padilla, U.S. citizen. Having suspended the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments themselves in Padilla's case makes the Bushies' putting said parts of the Bill of Rights ahead of the laudable goal of prosecuting international monsters of state somewhat... questionable, I'd say.

Posted by BruceR at 01:44 PM

July 11, 2002

GREAT DEBATE? Slate's old saw


Slate's old saw of the battling emailers has had some bores, and some real dogs over the years, but every now and again you still get an exchange that makes you go "Hmm." Like this one this week between Blogger favourites Robert Wright and Francis Fukayama.

Posted by BruceR at 12:40 PM



The public's reaction to the piece on Canadian snipers in Afghanistan linked to earlier is in, and it's not encouraging. From the Globe:

I'm incredulous that records are even kept on such things. Is this an attempt by the military to create a fan following for war?

I realize it is very hard to capture the attention of North Americans without resorting to statistics to provide a comparative guide of a soldier's worth. A human being was killed. Regardless of the nature of this alleged terrorist, a person's death should never be celebrated or used as the answer to a trivia question.

--Jonathan Dick, Richmond, B.C. (link)

From the Star:

This was a cold, unfeeling article that involved the loss of a man's life. By the way, in light of all that accidental killing of civilians, are you sure this man was a terrorist? He, according to the article, was only carrying a bag. What was in it, his lunch? I suggest that articles like these are left to magazines like Soldier of Fortune, where those who delight in this sort of thing can go read them.

--Dwight Rankine, Toronto

Recognizing that these things do go on in a war, there is still no reason to treat this tragedy in such a cavalier manner. Our soldiers have a proud record of peacekeeping that is tarnished by such sensational reporting. When all is said and done, these men have to live it. Let us hope the Armed Forces leadership will see fit to ensure they receive the appropriate counselling before they return home.

Of greater concern is that the Army's quest for publicity and approval would result in using specialized troops as pawns to attain its misguided objectives. The Army has not learned from the Vietnam experience, where we saw the action on the evening news; a situation that became the blackest moment in U. S. history.

--Garry Oman, Toronto

Meanwhile, the National Post has its own take on the same story, with some more interesting detail. By the way, I know for a fact this wasn't a story the army had anything to do with promoting or encouraging, other than allowing access to the soldiers involved to journalists including, apparently, a writer for Soldier of Fortune magazine. So much for the "quest for publicity" allegation.

Posted by BruceR at 10:19 AM

July 10, 2002



I think this actually might have been the funniest Bill Cosby has been in decades.

Posted by BruceR at 10:02 AM



Ayman Zuwahiri, the alleged mastermind behind Al Qaeda and Bin Laden's right hand, was in California? Twice? Since 1995? Now THAT would be a story. But to believe it without comment just shows Andy Sullivan's gullibility.

On the other hand, he did come up with the interesting factoid today that anti-Semitic British professor Mona Baker is actually an Egyptian emigre. Didn't know THAT before...

Posted by BruceR at 09:59 AM



The Star's American "expert" Stephen Handelman writes about the ICC dispute, and tries to be so even-handed he's incoherent. He's spinning around on the issue so fast, it's a wonder he didn't drill his little bald head into the ground:

There's no argument with those who say the Bush administration's attempt this month to sabotage the court before it even gets off the ground is simply wrongheaded, if not dangerous.


It's bad enough when Washington fails to use its power for good aims, such as stopping the Rwandan genocide. How much worse might it be if Washington considers itself paralyzed by threat of prosecution?

but on the other hand...

Perhaps Washington does need to be curbed by moral, judicial and political opinion outside its borders -- in its anticipated war with Iraq, for instance -- but any hint the ICC will be used for that purpose is a deal-breaker. It would also make the world a less safe place.

Translation: the Americans are bad people. The international court could make them better people, or maybe worse people. But they're still bad people to oppose it. In conclusion...

In an imperfect world, neither Washington nor its critics have much choice [but to work with the ICC].

Washington has no choice? Why? Will the space aliens come down and force them to accept the ICC? Seems Washington has all the choice in the world on this issue.

PS: Why put quote marks around the "world" in "world court"? It reminded me of Dr. Evil putting air-quotes around "laser" and "time machine" in The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Posted by BruceR at 09:49 AM



First, supporting legislation to close off 90 per cent of Israeli land to Arab ownership on Monday was... look, I don't want to say it but there's really no other word for it... Naziesque (link). Now we hear from the Times (via Marshall) that his government has evicted the leading Palestinian moderate from Jerusalem for... what, exactly? Not advocating complete capitulation? I'm afraid it all only confirms my belief that the current Israeli leader and his followers are just as much an obstacle to any kind of progress as the Palestinian ones.

Posted by BruceR at 09:31 AM



In a separate incident, Bill and James found themselves looking up at a large dark object screaming out of the sky directly above them.

It was a 220-kilogram American bomb.

"We hit the deck and covered our heads with our hands," said James.

The bomb landed 30 metres away, nose in, and never went off.

Bill and James looked at each other in disbelief.

"By the grace of God, it was a dud," said Bill. "It landed 15 metres from the B company (U.S. 101st Airborne Division) trenches. A guy got up, walked out of the trench and kicked the thing."

From the Globe and Mail (link)

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 AM



Slate's Jack Shafer was praised by Eric Alterman today for stating that there was still no forensic evidence that Palestinian terror bombers had put rat poison in their bombs (Alterman, in perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase for an article whose subject recalls shredded human flesh, says Shafer "makes mincemeat" of the idea):

We so want to believe that the Palestinians are stinking up their bombs with rat poison that we won't even ask for evidence.

Earlier in the article, however, Shafer does write:

AP reported that Hamas had taken credit for planting poisonous bombs, including the rat poison bomb.

Okay, so either Hamas is using rat poison, or wishes they world thinks they did. Exactly how are we defaming the terrorists, again? By believing them?

Posted by BruceR at 12:26 AM

I WISH I love Matt


I love Matt Welch AND his hat, but he's dead wrong here:

It remains to be seen how Bush's once-reassuring tagline as America's "first MBA president" will sound after more and more of his CEO pals are dragged off in shackles for the mammoth accounting cover-ups that have been battering the stock market almost every day.

In shackles? Name one. None of the obvious suspects, from Jane Garvey and Louis Freeh on down lost a day's pay for their errors leading up to Sept. 11... what possible reason does anyone have to believe any CEO's going to do time on a stock swindle? In America? Not a chance. No, add this to my list of Nostradamite predictions:

1) Yasir Arafat will die in bed;
2) The Americans will never invade Iraq; and now
3) Not a single senior executive from Enron, WorldCom, or Arthur Andersen will ever see a day in jail.

In a perfect world, the likes of Matt Welch would be running things in the States. But he's not, and odds are no one with his integrity ever will.

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 AM

July 08, 2002



If you get a chance, pick up the current Atlantic Monthly. It's superb:

*Jon Rauch's reminder of the Tokyo firebombings... perhaps the greatest loss of innocent civilian life in the history of warfare, committed by nighttime B-29s, and almost entirely unremembered;

*David Brooks on the real truth about Yasir Arafat;

*P.J. O'Rourke, in his usual form;

*Michael Benson's unbelievably good piece on NASA's webcam, space, exploration and religion;

*Jon Cohen on the moral dilemma of scientists whose work could lead to a killer bioterrorist's greatest day;

*and best of all, part one of William Langewiesche's superb telling of the clearing of the World Trade Center site. Unbelievably riveting. This issue should be mandatory for coffee tables and doctors' offices everywhere. You won't put it down for hours.

PS: Also of note, recently, was Edward Said's devastating critique of Bernard Lewis' latest book (You may not agree with what he says, but Said was always a cutting critic, and he's in fine form here) in Harper's. The Stanley Fish piece in the same issue is a must read, if only to figure out what Andrew Sullivan's so persnickety about this month.

It's interesting how post Sept. 11 (or post Lewis Lapham's arrival, hard to tell) we're seeing ever more clearly the juxtaposition of these two fine historic monthlies, with entirely different approaches to the current crisis. There was a time only a couple years back when you could imagine their articles as more or less interchangeable... no longer, though. While Lapham and Harper's poke holes in, downplay, or generally ignore Sept. 11 and the aftershocks, the Atlantic's editors and writers are like a bunch of big, superbly written long-form warbloggers.

Posted by BruceR at 05:29 PM



Remarkable. While I can see the ruthless logic in Den Beste and others' leave-them-alone-it's-too-late philosophy, the coming crisis in the Horn of Africa threatens to do something we haven't seen since the Conquest of America, or at least the Communist starvation of the Ukraine... actually depopulate part of a continent. With average life expectancies falling below 30 in some cases, the effects will last the rest of my lifetime and probably the next generation's, too. People pleading for more aid now aren't trying to save the vast majority... everyone knows that's impossible now. Like a nuclear bomb shelter program, or an asteroid impact scenario as seen in the movie Deep Impact, they're just trying to save enough adults that rebuilding of the culture and society will even be possible in the later half of this century. Who picks who lives? Who would have picked for us, if the nukes (or meteors) had started dropping?

Posted by BruceR at 05:15 PM

July 05, 2002

AWW, COME ON A boomerang?


A boomerang? (From Tim Blair)

Posted by BruceR at 11:28 AM

July 04, 2002



Nice story, this. Certainly the fighters at the Medak (who, the article doesn't stress, were mostly reservists) deserve this. In addition to the unit honour, soldiers who were in the Medak pocket or in the initial relief of Sarajevo will wear the never-before-issued Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation insignia centred on the left breast pockets of their uniforms. (I talked about the relative paucity of medals given in the Canadian Forces here and here.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:07 PM

July 03, 2002

ILIAD, THE MOVIE? Damian Penny


Damian Penny points to a denial by writer Fred Barnes of an anecdote in Michael Moore's book about Barnes' confessing he didn't know what the Iliad was about. In attempting to prove Moore a liar, Barnes says:

One, I've never talked to Michael Moore. Two, I have read the Iliad and the Odyssey. I didn't read them until I got to college, but I did read them. So I know exactly what they're about. Besides that, I've seen movie versions of them.

One Small Problem: there's never been an English language movie made of Homer's Iliad. (I actually can't recall any movie at all based on it.). The truthfulness advantage goes to Moore on this one.

UPDATE: Damian wonders if Helen of Troy (1956) (Robert Wise, dir) doesn't count. Good movie, right mythological cycle. Not the Iliad, though (as one might guess from the title, Helen, a minor character in Homer's epic, is the protagonist, rather than Achilles.) The Italian Fury of Achilles (1961, Marino Girolami, dir) is the closest we have to the actual text: I'd forgotten it before.

Posted by BruceR at 02:44 PM



Seen at DailyPundit, re the wedding guests unwittingly killed by an AC-130 the other night:

Perhaps the new Afghani government should start a public education campaign noting that firing small arms at nearby gunships is not a survival-enhancing habit, however culturally accepted.

You really don't want to be firing guns in the air with an AC-130 orbiting the scene. It's not on the list of really bright things to be doing, tradition or no.

Show me where in the Koran where it says to fire guns in the air and I'll give up thinking that these savages were morons to the core.

I am surprised and disturbed by the outcry among blog fans regarding the recent unintentional killings of Afghan civilians by U.S. air power. While the acts do not appear at first blush to be as outrageous a violation of the rules of military conduct as the earlier bombing of Canadians was, their self-righteous anger at the very idea America is being criticized for its soldiers' actions does the reputation of pro-war bloggers and their fans no good service. It appears we have forgotten already Churchill's words in defending the sensure of General Dyer after his massacre of civilians in Amritsar in 1919:

"...As we contemplate the great physical forces and the power at the disposal of the British Government in their relations with the native population of India, we ought to remember the words of Macaulay "and then was seen what we believed to be the most frightful of all spectacles, the strength of civilisation without its mercy" Our reign in India or anywhere else has never stood on the basis of physical force alone, and it would be fatal to the British Empire if we were to try to base ourselves only upon it. The British way of doing things, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, who feels intensely upon this subject, has pointed out, has always meant and implied close and effectual co-operation with the people of the country. In every part of the British Empire that has been our aim, and in no part have we arrived at such success as in India, whose princes spent their treasure in our cause, whose brave soldiers fought side by side with our own men, whose intelligent and gifted people are co-operating at the present moment with us in every sphere of government and of industry."

Posted by BruceR at 01:24 PM

July 02, 2002



Every word of the Globe's shameful story on the Canadian army's funding crisis today is true. The Canadian army is now at the point where it has recruited people (many inspired by post Sept. 11 patriotic feelings) that it can't afford to train. (link)

On the other hand, the Canadians' final mission in Afghanistan is underway.

Posted by BruceR at 01:40 PM

July 01, 2002



People may wonder about my own choice of monicker for Maj. Harry Schmidt, who killed 4 Canadian soldiers back in April. As frequent readers will know, his air force handle was, of course, "Psycho." Pilot nicknames are more than just affectations... they are, for many purposes, the effective full name of pilots. And one can bet that had Harry Schmidt made the news for something not ignominious, the fact all his colleagues called him "Psycho" would be seized upon no doubt as an item of air force colour.

I would suggest people don't get called "Psycho" for no reason. It may even be evidence of a career-long pattern of reckless behaviour. They didn't call the guy "Maverick" or "Gooseman;" he was Psycho Schmidt. No, it's not evidence good enough for a courtroom, of course not. But it reminds me of another flying ace people should probably know about: "Screwball" Beurling.

Sqn. Ldr. George Frederick Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM and Bar, was of course, Canada's greatest World War Two ace (and the eighth-best among the Western Allies), with 32 aerial victories to his credit. On the tarmac, he was known as "Screwball" (in the lingo, pretty much equivalent to "Psycho" at that time); in the history books and popular accounts of the time, that nickname was modified, however, as he is generally referred to by posterity as "Buzz." Seems the powers that be didn't like the idea of the leading ace position being held by person with a madman's nickname.

Trouble is, Beurling was, by any peacetime standard, as mad as a hatter. He spent his spare time obsessively killing flies; he shot his squadron's pet duck; he buzzed the airfield in any airplane his commanders let him fly. He claimed to have shot German aircrew in parachutes and in dinghies. Both flagrantly anti-social and anti-authoritarian (but disturbingly good looking), one (favourable!) historian wrote of him:

He craved attention and fame, caring only for his standing as an ace, not for promotions or leadership. He couldn't stand taking responsibility for others. His love for attention was shallow, he couldn't form stable relationships with men or women.

Here's the other side of the problem. 28 of those aerial kills were during one sixteen-week period during the defence of Malta, when Beurling was a 20 year-old pilot officer in the RAF. Beurling, you see, was also a born killer: completely fearless, and possessed of inhuman instinct and reflexes. In Malta in 1942, when the Axis pressure on the island was incessant, his commanders just let him fly solo, in order to do maximum damage to the enemy (No one was suicidal enough to act as his wingman: Beurling himself crashed four times.) After the desert campaign wound down, they tried several times to fit Beurling into a regular Spitfire squadron in England. It never worked... he was inevitably facing arrest within days for something, and sent on.

If you had to look for an Axis counterpart, it would be Japan's leading ace, Hiroyoshi "The Devil" Nishizawa (87 confirmed kills), who also was shunned by other pilots as a walking flight risk and all-round annoyance on the ground... like Beurling pretty much a psychopath in regular life, but unbeatable in the air. In World War Two, commanders who ran across such wild talents as these two had to wrestle with the choices of reining them in and losing their contribution, or letting them go and losing what little control they had over them. It was always a tough choice.

Okay, so what's your point, Brucer? It's this. In Flitters the other day, someone argued that Maj. Psycho Schmidt's actions over Afghanistan were a side effect of a profession (fighter piloting) that rewards and requires aggression... that he wasn't one of those "pussywhipped ritalin zombies." My rejoinder would be people like Screwball Beurling and "Devil" Nishizawa cannot be said to have been lacking in aggressive tendencies... they were so aggressive they couldn't interact normally with other humans. But you know... even when their commanders just gave up and said 'do whatever the hell you want,' those guys never got so out of control in their aerial killing sprees that people on their own side of the war DIED as a result. The better part of valor isn't discretion, it's judgment... even when they had no other redeeming qualities out of the cockpit, the great psychopath aces of World War Two still had that to their credit. Maj. Psycho, on the other hand, evidently did not. That's why Screwball and the Devil were heroes, and Maj. Psycho is a menace, and also why there really should be no difficulty telling the difference.

UPDATE: Beurling's 28 kills in 16 weeks (or 7 kills a month) may not sound like much, but it was a torrid pace compared to almost any other pilot on his side. Some historians have joked the RAF should have just given him one of the latest model P-51s and let him fly solo over Europe until he died or the war ended. If they had, or Beurling had found a way to fit in, his kill numbers could easily have exceeded every other Western Allied pilot's. Just for a refresher, the top Allies, with number of months in which their kills were accrued, were:

Richard Bong (US) 40 (months in action -- 24)
James Johnson (UK) 38 (27)
Thomas McGuire Jr. (US) 38 (17)
Marmaduke Pattle (SAF) 34 (9: KIA)*
David McCampbell (USN) 34 (6)
Adolph Malan (SAF) 32 (13)
Brendan Finucane (Irish) 32 (23: KIA)
George Beurling (CDN) 31.5 (4)

*Confirmable kills only. Records of how many planes Pattle shot down in the Greek campaign in 1941 before his death in the air were lost in the defeat. Some say he was the highest-scoring pilot among the Western Allies.

Posted by BruceR at 11:44 PM



The WashPost is focussing on the Canadian inquiry into the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan, particularly its reference in passing that the American pilot who killed four Canadians may not have been told that the Kandahar base had a rifle range just outside the perimeter. As reported here previously, this is likely to be the cornerstone of Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt's defense in any upcoming disciplinary proceedings.

As I said in Flitters earlier tonight, I suspect the passing reference, in a heavily censored executive summary for a report that's still confidential, is less than the Post makes of it. It may really refer to the Canadians being unable to conclude whether Maj. Psycho heard and understood a briefing on ground dispositions in Afghanistan (ie, his bosses said they told him, he said he doesn't recall, etc.) Being denied the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses' statements, the Canadians likely concluded they cannot determine which side is lying on this narrow point (and to them, a moot one).

What they're definitely NOT saying is that "[either] the Army did not tell the Air Force or ... the Air Force failed to pass the word to the pilots' unit," as the Post surmises... for that would be entirely contradictory to the Canadian inquiry's main conclusion, that the ONE person, Maj. Psycho, bears full responsibility.

Anyway, it's not much of a defense for Psycho, if it ever goes that far. Essentially the argument would be that he felt justified in dropping a bomb on any muzzle flash he saw anywhere in Afghanistan last April, since he wasn't specifically told which of them were the American coalition ones... surely it's fair to say, though, that at least 50 per cent of any given night's muzzle flashes in the 'Stan in April were going to be something other than Taliban and Al Qaeda soldiers... so even best case Schmidt had at least a 50 per cent chance of going against U.S. interests by his actions, either by hitting American soldiers, their allies, or pro-American Afghans, if he didn't bother to check first. (And given that the location in question was within binocular and weapons range of the American base in Kandahar, the odds of those being Al Qaeda weapons that night HAD to be a lot less than 50 per cent, you betcha... given the same actions on a different night that week, Psycho might have killed an Airborne clearing patrol, some Afghan allies at a wedding celebration, or a bunch of Special Forces raiders, instead. One has to hope the US Army can't leave such behaviour uncensured and still feel confident about their air cover.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 AM