February 27, 2004
HAITI: KNEW THIS WAS COMING
"If Ottawa can deploy troops to secure our embassy and rescue citizens, it can join other international nations in deploying troops or police to help restore calm, save lives and plan new elections."
The Toronto Star, today. I really don't know what bothers me more... that as a nation we may not have the ability any more to do even a minor military intervention such as this one on short notice, or that the country's opinion makers, against all evidence, continue to believe that we do.
WORTHY OF PASSION
I'm in no rush to see The Bible According to Mel Gibson, thanks. However, I may well take this opportunity to rent Denys Arcand's Jesus of Montreal again. (Read Ebert's review.) It's remarkable the number of times I've read something in a "Passion" review that the reviewer objected to and thought, "Arcand doesn't do that."
February 26, 2004
CAN'T ARGUE WITH THAT
Fellow Turtleite Patrick C. has his first blog entry worth linking to (:-P) today, with an entirely intelligent new vision for Canadian military education. Despite the fact that one of my fonder memories was being the artillery firing troop officer for a graduation there once, I agree that RMC is not sustainable as an undergraduate institution given the Canadian military budget, and, more importantly, is clearly having a negative effect on the involvement of Canadian academia with military studies.
Pat talks about the influence on the undergraduate level; I think there's also a larger systemic effect in that Canadian academics seem to collectively feel that military topics are not something that need be practiced outside the Kingston, Ontario city limits. I'm not just talking history here... the military logistician and the civilian industrial engineer both have a keen interest in supply chain management. There seems, however, to be absolutely no way in this country to get the insights of both of them into the same room at the same time. In the humanities likewise: hence you get interesting organizations like U of T's own department of peace and conflict studies, which as far as I can tell has no ex-military members on its staff at all, making you think the emphasis may be more on the former than the latter.
(I'm not saying an RMC diaspora would lead to thriving military studies in universities across Canada... the profs would likely congregate at a couple military-friendly campuses like the University of Calgary, if they were kicked out of Kingston... but because those would be universities regarded as peer institutions, unlike RMC is now, they'd be that much harder as a group to ignore in those locations.)
The RMC model, like the academy models down south, worked well when it only had roughly half the country's young officers enrolled in it, with the rest coming DEO (Direct Entry Officer) from civilian undergraduate programs elsewhere in the country. That way you got a mixing, within the armed services, of a full gamut of academic experience. Now that almost all regular force officers go through Kingston, its influence is only to further hive off both the military professional and educator from any more than the minimum necessary contact with the Canadian civilian population that pays for them. Which just keeps the funding death spiral going.
OH, LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE
This proposed Conservative party TV advertisement sounds no more offensive to me than your average cruise ship ad:
"The man welcomes listeners to Barbados, "a carefree land of sun, sand and 2-per-cent corporate income tax" and refers to Paul Martin as "your Prime Minister, Mr. Paul."
The ad refers to the fact that some of the the prime minister's commercial interests are Barbados-registered. Of course, people are flipping out:
"The tone of voice I thought was sort of mocking," said Basil Blackman, a past president of the National Council of Barbadian Associations of Canada. "I think if the Conservative Party has a problem, they should solve the problem within Canada rather than trying to bring in a third country that basically has nothing to do with the politics of Canada."
Yes, and I think the prime minister of the country should pay income tax in his own country, rather than a country that basically has nothing to do with the politics of Canada. How exactly do I solve that problem without mentioning Barbados, again?
"These guys really need sensitivity training," said Scott Brison, a former Tory MP who left for the Liberals after the PCs and the Canadian Alliance merged. "It's unacceptable for political parties to reinforce racial stereotypes."
To say that many Caribbean islands are tax shelters or are frequently sunny is now apparently reinforcing a racial stereotype. The fact that that conveniently helps keep the powers that be in this country from any real scrutiny is apparently only an unfortunate side-effect.
This country is in the process of shutting down all forms of political discourse entirely, if anyone in power (Quebecers, Liberals, businessmen, etc.) is inconvenienced by it, and using the efforts of those hopelessly earnest (and hopelessly humourless) "racially sensitive" people among us to do so.
February 25, 2004
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, REALLY
My old colleague Clive Thompson asks, in a column on Japanese fans of a new Pearl Harbour sim:
How would U.S. citizens react to a game where you played as the 9/11 terrorists, flying planes into the World Trade Center? Will our grandchildren find that fun in 60 years?
Of course they will. Frankly, I think it'll be closer to six than 60, though. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Rockstar Games already had an alpha build.
February 24, 2004
Question for Wilbur and the other aerial bloggers. Other than friends and Bush partisans, can anyone find anything that suggested the F-102A Delta Dagger was a "widowmaker," ie a particularly dangerous aircraft to fly? (For instance, a commenter here calls it "a flying coffin held together by bailing wire and spit.") Cause I can't find a single non-partisan source that claims that, myself. Just curious.
UPDATE: The ever-valuable Cecil T. comes up with stats for the answer. Turns out in the 1960s, of the four fighter aircraft in major use by the US Air Force (ie, over 100,000 flying hours per year... the F-102, F-100 Super Sabre, F-105 Thunderchief and F-101 Voodoo), the F-102 was the safest overall, with fewer serious accidents than any of the other types in 7 of those 10 years. That comparison could be skewed, but probably not in the F-102's favour, as it excludes several dangerous planes that weren't in nearly as widespread use as the others, such as the F-104 Starfighter:
Category A accidents per 100,000 flying hours per year, 1961-70:
Part of this no doubt had to do with the greater use of F-105s (the most dangerous plane, with nearly twice as many accidents as the F-102) in South East Asia... most F-102s stayed stateside. And as Cecil points out in Flitters, compared to today's even safer fighter jets, it's fair to say even the F-102 was not exactly a Naderesque example of increased safety consciousness through design. That said, compared to all its fighter squadron peers, the F-102 was not only not the "widowmaker" but in fact a very safe aircraft for its time.
UPDATE #2: In Flitters, Cecil takes issue with the metric above. It's only meant to show the relative danger levels of flying the major types of USAF fighter in the 1960s, not lifetime comparisons, which might be misleading in their own way, given the general improvement in all aspects of flight technology from the 1950s to the present.
Cecil also says that leaving out the larger USAF aircraft (the C-130 and B-52) is misleading. But while it's true larger multiengine planes crashed catastrophically less often, surely it's also true that those crashes have to be regarded as individually more catastrophic as well, as more aircrew would have died in each one. Fortunately, his stats allow us to try another way to factor that in: pilot and passenger fatalities per 100,000 hours.
Taking the four year period 1968-71 to represent the Bush flying years, we come up with this:
per 100K hrs
As you can see, in absolute terms, Bush's F-102 killed by far the fewest pilots/aircrew/passengers in this period... only six fatalities in the four year period he would have been keenly interested in that particular stat. That's to be expected, though: its fleet size was smaller than some of the others, and as a single seater jet, only the pilot would generally have been at risk.
On the other hand, if you factor out the number of hours flown, the F-102 becomes quite astonishingly safer than the others, with 1.15 fatalities per 100,000 hours, as opposed to around 5 per 100,000 for all the other fighters, the B-52, AND the C-130.
Even when you only count pilot fatalities, per hour flown the F-102 was far safer than any of the other major USAF combat aircraft in this period, and comparable to the C-130, a four-engined transport plane.
Yes, flying a fighter plane is never safe. And Lt. Bush would have had no choice over which plane his squadron flew. But compared to what he could have flown instead, in the time period he would have been flying or planning to fly it, his plane was not an unsafe one by any means. Quite the opposite.
*NB: Cecil points out the C130 and B52 numbers might be better halved to get an accurate comparison with the fighters, because the planes would have had both a pilot and copilot. If the number is used as a standin for the risk per plane per hour of flight, perhaps so; if the question is which plane type was creating more pilot widows at the time, perhaps not.
The generally solid military correspondent Chris Wattie misses the big upshot in his piece in the Post today, describing Canadian air force plans to shut four or five airbases (the navy and army are actually worse off, he admits, but he hasn't been leaked the details on their fiscal disaster plans yet).
The air force proposal, if the story's accurate (and I have no info other than Wattie's article on that), appears to involve shutting down all the fighter wing bases except Cold Lake, in Alberta, including Bagotville in Quebec. That would essentially leave the air force without the ability to interdict aircraft anywhere on a "scramble" basis (ie, without air-to-air refuelling) except Alberta. Which of course, would seem to leave all of eastern Canada's population (and neighboring American areas) vulnerable to all the various commandeered civilian air-type threats we all have nightmares about these days.
Whether shooting down a hijacked airliner (or a drug smuggling plane, or a mysterious crop duster) could ever really be an option is a debatable question. But the air force seems to have no choice by this point but to surrender its capability to do so, regardless.
This of course comes close on the navy's admission to a Senate committee that it no longer patrols Canada's coasts in any real way, due to the need to keep up its foreign commitments (mostly supporting US carrier groups). The army has yet to be officially heard from, but it's generally assumed at this point that the Afghan and/or Bosnian missions will have to be all-but abandoned by the end of this year.
Also alarming in today's report is the floater of closing down Trenton -- Canada's chief air transport base -- because there won't be any transport aircraft left in 10 years. That would seem to also end any remaining airborne capability, as well as any ability for rapid airlift, either abroad, or to any of Canada's distant corners. Already reliant on commercial shipping to move troops by sea, we would become reliant on commercial lift to move by air, as well.
Welcome home, chickens. Roost's over to your left.
THINGS THAT PLEASE ME, FEBRUARY EDITION
1. Google. Only in this day and age could I have a vague recollection of a book I loved as a four year-old, type a couple keyword searches into a computer, and have it recalled for me that it was, in fact, Dear Garbage Man, by Gene Zion. Now I just need to find a copy...
2. .38 Special. As a 14 year-old, this was my favourite group. Still love "Caught Up In You" with a passion...
"It took so long to change my mind
I thought that love was a game
I played around enough to find
No two are ever the same
You made me realize the love I'd missed
So hot, love I couldn't quite resist
When its right, the light just comes shinin thru..."
Sounds as true to me now as it did back then, when love was something older kids did. Sigh.
3. The Canadian Naval Reserve. Spent the last weekend as their guest. Again, as always in my limited experience with them, a totally switched-on outfit: reservist service done right, in every way that counts. Every time I near despair at the limited contributions citizen-soldiers can make to a modern military, I see what these guys do for Canada and it reminds me of the goals as a leader I'm supposed to aspire to for the land-force units I work in. If I had a friend or relative joining the reserves today, and there was a choice between them joining me on the army side, or going to the Senior Service instead, I'd push them the other way, I swear.
I also had the pleasure, btw, of meeting Prof. Sunil Ram, probably the most contrarian of the current Canadian military analysts, and long a guilty reading pleasure of mine. Here's a sample castigation of the recent Afghan missions.
February 19, 2004
SPEAKING OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS
A little bit of rewriting of history in the Globe's story on compensation for soldiers who volunteered for chem weapons testing:
"The tests, which were conducted from 1940 to 1970, used illegal stocks of mustard gas, liquefied chlorine gas and phosgene."
In point of fact, the possession of chemical weapons was only criminalized in this country, and in international practice, with the 1995 Chemical Weapons Convention. Prior to that, only the use of these chemicals in warfare was "outlawed" by Geneva; NOT possession for testing purposes (which is, as horrible as it might sound to some, exactly what this was).
Question: all agree that using the results of hypothermia tests on Jewish prisoners by the Nazis (along with other prison camp medical tests by Germans and Japanese) cannot be tolerated by science. Canada has a reputation for having some of the better military personal NBC equipment available in the world today, due in part to the dedicated research establishment that was inextricably involved with these tests. Since human suffering was involved, if only a little bit, in their creation, should we throw out our current NBC suit and gas mask stocks? If not, why not?
February 17, 2004
GOOD FOR HIM
John Bryden, MP, perhaps the best historian working in two very secretive areas -- the Canadian military intelligence and NBC establishments -- has quit the Liberal Party over the current sponsorship scandal, and may sit as either a Tory or Independent.
I'm a big fan of Bryden... his first book, "Deadly Allies," which uncovered Canada's plans at the end of WW2 to invest in a botulinum toxin national deterrent rather than a nuclear force, among other revelations, is a must-read classic.
You may also have heard of Bryden as a legislator, for his strong insistence that terrorist groups in Canada not have funds funnelled to them through the country's registered charity apparatus. He's always both walked the walk and talked the talk, and it's good to see him do so again here.
PHIL CARTER ON BUSH
American army reservist, law student and journalist Phil Carter gets the Bush National Guard story just about right.
February 16, 2004
GOOD POST, THIS
Laughing Wolf's "In Defense of Duelling."
I'm reminded of the story of Isaac Brock's one and only challenger, who complained when Brock and his second insisted their proposed pistol duel be fought over the width of an outstretched handkerchief (muzzle to chest, in other words). The challenger withdrew.
Since I'm on the topic, Brock is one of those characters in history for whom the word "recklessness" seems too kind (the story above is thus entirely believable). He had this odd combination of total contempt for any opponent, and an absolute refusal to contemplate his own death, that made his eventual demise in battle less a question of if, but when. He wasn't a stupid man, but saying he was suicidal in his bravery isn't too far from the truth. (He's different from, say, Wolfe, who was also brave when he had to be, but whose death while standing behind his troops was more a case of the usual battlefield bad luck.)
I was rereading Turner's bio recently, and it struck me that that estimable author missed the mark, too, in comparing him to Gordon Drummond. (Drummond, the first Canadian-born general officer, was a meat-grinder, a Grant-at-Cold Harbor character; he took tremendous risks, but mostly with other people's lives.) But at least Turner was trying: it's fair to say no Canadian historian has ever "got" Brock, in the sense that they truly understood his mind, or his appeal to his peers. A revisionist biography of the fellow is sorely needed. I suspect the writer, if he could look at the man with fresh eyes, would find the closest contemporary parallel to "The Savior of Upper Canada" would probably not be a Wellesley or even a Beresford, but Marshal Ney, whose survival to face the firing squad after all Napoleon's battles is still something of a historical miracle.
TRIUMPH OF ABSURDITY
Note to Americans. You may have heard from various sources that Canadians are outraged over some sort of hand puppet sketch that appeared on late night television.
Just for the record, there are 30 million of us. Those who have been identified as outraged, as far as I can tell, so far consist of:
1) Alexa McDonough, NDP member of parliament (yes, well, okay, she is humorless, I'll give you that one);
2) The surprisingly humorless Federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper;
3) A professional separatist named Dorion, whose clear political interest here is stirring up any outrage he can;
4) The editorial board of the Toronto Star.
Erm, that's it. The rest of us, French and English, really couldn't give a damn. This has not stopped bloggers and other commentators with some anti-Quebec axe of their own to grind to bringing the "outrage" to a world audience, and claiming it's "destroying Canada." Give me a break. Imagine how much mileage they'd have gotten if anyone but the usual suspects above had said anything at all?
(The simple fact is the O'Brien show wanted to try out some new anti-French jokes for their jingoist American audience back home, and couldn't afford the plane fare to Paris for their little sock puppet. Thank god the Canadian government was willing to pay for their bus tickets up here, eh?)
February 13, 2004
THIS IS WHAT THE BUSH DEFENDERS HAVE SUNK TO
"Moreover, if we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.
"Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix."
From the Atlanta Constitution:
"While disembarking from a transport helicopter [on April 8 near Khe Sanh], Capt. Cleland reached for a grenade he believed had become dislodged from his web gear. Later it was discovered that the grenade belonged to a young soldier new to the theater. That soldier had improperly prepared the grenade pin for easy detonation and had dropped it while coming off the helicopter. The grenade exploded and severely injured Capt. Cleland."
Here's a first-hand account:
"On April 4*, 1968, Price was with the Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.
"Charlie Company was opening up Route 9 going into Khe Sanh, near the demilitarized zone between the then-separate North and South Vietnams, and had secured a mountaintop.
"Cleland, a captain in the Army Signal Corps, and his team flew by helicopter to the hill that Price and Charlie Company held to set up a radio relay tower.
"When the helicopter landed, Cleland and his soldiers jumped off and the helicopter immediately ascended.
"Then there was an explosion.
"Price, who was digging a foxhole, thought the blast might have been an enemy mortar round. It was common for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese to shoot at landing helicopters, Price said.
"This time, a soldier was severely wounded. It was Cleland and he had lost an arm and a leg. His other leg was badly mangled."
Also, for the record, Cleland's Silver Star citation, from 4 days before the grenade accident:
"Awarded: Silver Star; Date Action: 4 April 1968; Theater: Republic of Vietnam
"Action: For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. Captain Cleland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 4 April 1968, while serving as communications officer of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry during an enemy attack near Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam.
"When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
"Authority: By direction of the President, under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 9 July 1968."
*I believe this is meant to be April 8.
February 12, 2004
UNIFIED KERRY THEORIES
I personally think Sen. Kerry will be a disaster for the Democrats, but I do feel compelled to defend him against the recent charge from the right wing of BlogWorld that if he opposed the Vietnam War, he shouldn't have served.
That's a wonderful way, of course, to keep yourself morally pure, sans the contamination of others' precious ethical fluids. It is, from a civics perspective, total shite. If you believe that a military endeavour is crap, if you believe that your amoral countrymen are leading your country astray, getting involved in their adventurism, to this mind, then ascends from the status of a desirability to a commandment. In Kerry's case, the choice was becoming an officer and being put in a position to potentially stop atrocities and shape events to America's benefit in whatever little corner of the war he ended up with, or sitting at home and whining about the babykillers. If you could ever find the Vietnamese that weren't killed, because someone attempting to be a man of conscience was the platoon commander instead of another, when the Americans passed by, which do you think they would prefer? We all understand that it is noble to sacrifice one's life when the country is in physical peril... is it not just as right to sacrifice one's purity to help lift the country from a moral quagmire?
I don't have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Kerry. But I get what he was trying to do back then, and I respect it.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Thirty years from now, a couple middle-aged Americans are going to be running for President, having been in their early 20s during the Iraq war and occupation. Question: what is the minimum they should be doing now, to deserve the respect due a veteran from their peers (who may, who knows, also be looking for a "wartime president") in three decades hence? Just asking.
I know my standard: Gore and Kerry both make it. So did Clark. So does Bush, although that's a closer call. And that said, I still wouldn't vote personally for any of them.
THE STAR STRIKES BACK
Damian Penny's in trouble with the Toronto Star for copyright infringement, over excerpting columnist Tom Walkom's "Bush=Hitler" column.
Damian says he doesn't want a suit, but I'm thinking maybe it's time we had it out in the open. Is Fisking legal in this country or not?
NOTE: My thoughts on the same Walkom column are here.
NINE-TENTHS OF GUARD SERVICE IS SHOWING UP TOO, APPARENTLY
The story so far: some people feel George Bush didn't do good service when he was in the Texas ANG. This is seen as relevant to a judgment of his character. Pay and attendance records have been released, again. Here's what we can say with authority:
From May 1968 to April 1972, Lt. George Bush was a serving fighter pilot with the TANG. Some questions about his queue-jumping to get in aside, there seems to be no question about his service record in this period.
For a six month period from May to October 1972, according to the pay records released by the White House, Lt. Bush did no work at all with the ANG. In the Canadian reserves, this could be considered a period of NES (non-effective strength) and could well be grounds for an administrative reprimand. It would NOT be AWL (Absence Without Leave). And because Bush had already served a sufficient number of days in the months leading up to April 1972, this had no effect on his meeting the Guard's minimum annual service requirement, either.
From October 1972 to April 1973, Lt. Bush is recorded doing desultory service with someone, somewhere. Where, exactly, is not clear. He had gone to Alabama in the summer of 1972, then moved back at the end of the year, but no one in either state's National Guard has been able to recall seeing him through this period. Much of the work seems to be on workdays, instead of weekends, which is unusual for a reservist. Still, the records do show he attended somewhere in this period, and got paid for doing... something.
FOOTNOTE: For the truly curious, the 14 days in this period Bush paraded are: 28-29 Oct (a weekend), 11-14 Nov (Saturday-Tuesday), 4-6 and 8-10 Jan (a Thurs-Wed, excluding Sunday), and 7-8 Apr (another weekend). In CF reserve service, these days at least, the Jan-Apr gap could possibly have led, in the case of an officer who had already been reprimanded for a prolonged absence once, to what's called Counselling & Probation (C&P), or in other words an automatic release the next time a similar absence occurred; it still wouldn't be AWL though.
In May-July of 1973, Lt Bush got serious again, doing two near-constant bursts of service, working nearly full-time for several weeks, with the TANG (an "active duty" stint he was specifically ordered to do). The first, May burst was enough, along with the other days he accrued previously, to push him over the minimum for the 72-73 year, getting him his credit for a fifth year of service.
In September of 1973, Lt. Bush goes to Harvard and gets the last year of his six-year ANG contract waived. As many have pointed out, this was common at the time, as the Air Force was in a post-war downsizing anyway.
So... what? Well the AWOL charge is ruled out. Also, the terms of his release seem to be in order. For most, that surely should be enough.
The only remaining question seems to be whether that small number of paid days Oct. 72 to May 73 were somehow also a product of some kind of favoritism. There's still a real mystery over what President Bush was actually DOING for that pay that he has done nothing to clear up. (When asked point blank on this point in 2000, his response was "I can't remember what I did.") Presumably somewhere, there's an authorization that Bush should be paid for those days, signed by someone in a superior position of authority. And presumably that person decided that whatever Bush did on those days was worth a day's pay (on Jan. 6, for instance, it appears he was paid for going to the air force dentist). But barring more evidence than has so far appeared, it's still impossible to call "shenanigans." Junior officer paid duties, in the Canadian army at least, are often paltry and meaningless... I recall getting a half-day's pay for polishing silverware once, for instance.
Shorter form of the above: George Bush did four good years in the Air National Guard. Then he blew off a summer in 1972, did the minimum necessary work for a while after that, and then got out entirely to go to school. As the magazine George first pronounced a long time ago, not a hero, but not disgraceful either. (We're all f*ck-ups when we're young... knowing what I know now, I wouldn't trust 20 year-old me with a house key.) Still, if I were a serving Guardsman in Iraq, with that DoD stop-loss order keeping me fixed like a bug to a board, I might still find it grating.
PS: Please don't tell me how moving to Alabama in 1972 changes anything, either. At one time in my reserve service, shortly after a move of my own, I had to drive seven hours both ways, to keep from going NES while my unit-to-unit transfer was pending. I'm no hero for it, it's just part of the whole duty/responsibility thing. So I think I have a measure of the young Lt. Bush, and his interest in things military, at that time of his life, based on the facts already in evidence.
ONE MORE THING: Kevin Drum wonders why there's a recalcitrance to release more documents. It seems kind of simple really. The key item that hasn't been released yet is Bush's actual release item ("honorable" covers all kinds of things, including some release items that preclude future military service) and any accompanying evidence of career administrative action (a reprimand for that missing six months, and so on). Some have noted that DoD and the White House aren't moving in lockstep on this issue. I suspect that's largely because their interests are divergent.
For DoD, it's a discipline issue... they look bad if they let the Bush kid off for some fairly obvious derelictions without any kind of reprimand, or at least a reference in the final release. For the White House, any such paperwork would obviously be of tremendous value to the Democrats. If the reprimand in the file is apparent, the White House is on the hook and the Pentagon's off; if the reprimand isn't there, or was never given, then vice versa. Both agencies have to agree, if the information is to be released. That agreement is impossible. Hence, they are going to give out as little information as they can get away with.
February 10, 2004
BROOKS CLAIMS AUGUSTUS MANTLE FOR BUSH
"They say there is a cultural divide between the military and society. There is, and suddenly I am on the other side."
--Bush defender David Brooks, saying the words he wished President Bush had said on Meet the Press. God help us all, if a President of the United States and ruler of the Free World ever truly believed this.
February 09, 2004
IN DETAIL WORTH A LOOK
The CASR In Detail series of online web papers on Canadian Forces procurement issues is definitely worth your time. The papers on the CF-18 and maritime helicopter project were excellent "story so far" synopses. This week, Matthew Fisher comes up with an interesting new approach to the urban combat vehicle problem.
CAN'T ARGUE WITH THAT
It must be really nice to have a kinder, gentler military you can work things out with. Wish all militaries could be like that.
(NB: If anyone's really still denigrating Bush for joining the National Guard to defer the draft, obviously I'm not there with that. But there is absolutely nothing wrong, to my mind, with criticizing the sitting president for evidence, garnered through military records, of being a silver-spooned son of privilege who always took the easy way out. That is the valid charge here, and it speaks to character.)
HE HAD ME AT "DARK CLARK"
IMHO, the current leading candidate for best blog entry of 2004.
I'M SO PRETTY, OH SO PRETTY...
Pace this entry on our new sister blog (link down; see "Found on the Web," Feb. 7), I suspect I'm partly responsible for the origins of this particular little Googlebomb. Which just helps make my life that much more complete.
February 05, 2004
NO, IT MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT
I love the Globe and Mail website. Its bizarre mistakes in judgment are always more interesting than its articles.
For instance, the current story (no doubt soon to be fixed) on the apparent suicide-bombing by a Canadian Al Qaeda member that killed a Canadian soldier, which in a no-doubt bleary-eyed copydesk mistake, left the editor's note in the patient:
After the father was arrested in Pakistan in 1995 on suspicion of financing a bombing that killed 16 people, the Khadrs repeatedly landed in trouble and looked to Canadian consular officials to bail them out.
This is trimmable background Ahmed Said Khadr was the Egyptian-born father and ostensible charity worker who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s before becoming radicalized in the Afghan conflict.
He brought his family to Pakistan, and after being arrested in that county, he publicly asked former prime minister Jean Chrétien to intervene for him during a 1996 Team Canada trade mission.
Mr. Chrétien met with his Pakistani counterpart and asked that due process be observed. Mr. Khadr was released. He returned to Afghanistan and enrolled two of his eldest boys — including Abdullah — in training camps financed by Osama bin Laden, a personal friend.
I love the idea that our former Prime Minister's personal culpability in releasing the Khadr family, that may have led indirectly to the death of a young Newfoundlander is "trimmable background." Thanks for keeping the bodies buried, Globe.
UPDATE: 2:15 p.m.... 12 hours after its posting, the story still has, a little further down from the section quoted above the words, "this ends trimmable background."
Two new arrivals in the growing snappingturtle.net media franchise to note. First, a belated welcome to the latest junior partner of the Lutas blogging consortium... All the best to you and yours, TM.
Second, our erstwhile site owner and real-life Canadian megacorporation-owned journalist, Pat C., has finally taken the plunge and started his own blogspace, at Gigantic Hound... it's not half as bad as he probably thinks it is... we'll add him to the blogroll as soon as he stands us a pint. Hey, I've got to collect something for all this...
February 03, 2004
MORE SLOPPY HISTORY
A truly awful piece in Slate today, about poor intelligence leading into previous American wars. The worst error (that the Zimmermann telegram was a fake) has now been corrected, but it's still first rate hackery.
The premise is that problems with intelligence have frequently "led America into war." That thesis is not significantly proven by writer Matthew Wall, who doesn't seem particularly familiar with his own subject matter.
Wall starts with Grenada, saying the whole reason Reagan invaded in 1983 was mistaken intelligence gathered from fearful med school students. It should go without saying that that was not the real reason for Reagan's involvement, only the purported reason (as with Iraq).
Then Wall goes to the Mayaguez in 1975, a case where faulty intelligence led to American forces attacking the wrong location, not that it somehow "led them into war." The crew of the Mayaguez WAS being held hostage after all.
Back to the Tonkin Gulf we go, which Wall gets totally wrong: he's clearly confusing the First Tonkin Attack (where the USS Maddox fought off a torpedo attack) and the Second Attack the next night (which the Vietnamese claim never happened.) No serious historian has ever suggested the First Attack didn't happen, to my knowledge; there are photos.
Pearl Harbour is another intelligence failure, says Wall: but surely it's pointless to lump in failures where you underestimate an enemy's intentions with those where you've overestimated them. Not knowing what the Japanese were up to didn't "lead" the U.S. into war. It was the Japanese blowing up Americans that did that.
Likewise the Maine, Wall's final example. Where is the intelligence failure there? Like Grenada, there were other reasons the U.S. chose to go to war with Spain. The Maine was just a handy pretext. If that's an "intelligence failure" too, then so are the beginnings of the Mexican War, the Civil War, and indeed all other wars ever fought, which also began in states of imperfect knowledge.
Several military theorists have said this in fact, that in a state of perfect knowledge on both sides war will not occur, because the potential loser will know it will be defeated. If Wall is attempting to establish this truism, then bully for him, I suppose. But that insight has nothing to do with people's legitimate concerns over how Iraq intelligence was or was not manipulated. In not a single one of his examples does an American overestimation of the threat facing it "lead to" a war. So his thesis falls apart of its own weight.
ZEYAD LOSES IT
Zeyad, the Iraqi blogger who Jeff Jarvis and Instapundit promoted as the best thing to ever happen to to journalism, has about had it with his pro-American commenters, it seems, because, despite mounting evidence, they refuse to accept his series of articles suggests that something seems to have gone a little awry at Samarra.
Interestingly, neither Jarvis nor Insta has yet made reference to either the Slate story that backed Zeyad up, or any of his more recent postings on the finding of his cousin's body, etc. They must not have had time to read him lately. Yeah, that's probably what it is.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out by a couple people that Glenn Reynolds did, in fact, link to the Slate piece. My error, entirely.
February 02, 2004
FAR BE IT FROM ME TO CRITICIZE A GENERAL NAMED RAMSBOTHAM, BUT...
Gary Farber is taken with a review of a new 95th Rifles history in the Guardian. While Gen. Ramsbotham is a vivid reviewer, he seems to have either repeated mistakes in the work reviewed, or slipped in his own: for instance, crediting Napoleon's victories on the extensive use of rifles in the French army, which is simply mistaken. French voltigeurs (light infantry) almost exclusively used a regular musket.
The history of the Moore reforms (which led both to the Light Infantry tradition and the first Rifles units) is rather oversimplified by Ramsbotham in his review as well. Too bad, because it's a fascinating melange of influences. While it's technically true the 95th Regiment was the first British regiment to use rifles and dress in green, that's only part of the story.
Here's the short version. The 60th Royal American Regiment, formed to fight the French and Indians in the Seven Years War, had always been a little unorthodox (they still wore redcoats, but their first commander, the Swiss mercenary captain Bouquet, trained them in independent skirmishing, rather than close-order drill). They were well-trained in the emerging "ranger" doctrines, pioneered by innovators such as Robert Rogers, Frederick Haldimand (another Swiss mercenary), and Bouquet, among others, as the only sound response they could see to the problems of fighting Indians in the Americas.
It was Rogers who would train the cadres for the first ever "light infantry" companies, which were added to all British regiments in North America to help fight the Indian problem. This innovation was judged successful enough that in 1770, this was extended to all British regiments, but it affected only one company in each regiment out of ever 10. Bouquet's Royal Americans, on the other hand, was the first "all-light" infantry regiment, and their training was to a higher standard generally.
In 1798, yet another Swiss soldier in British service*, Francis de Rottenburg, took the remnants of a couple battered German mercenary jager corps (the European light infantry/rifle tradition) and formed them into the 5th battalion of the 60th Regiment. They were the first British regular unit to wear green uniforms, and carry rifles. Technically a unit in the British regular army, the men were by birth mostly German. De Rottenburg would also write his "Treatise on Light Infantry" around this time, outlining the principles of this kind of light infantry work. In 1800, the 95th Rifles were formed, from volunteers of other British units, as a sort of homegrown equivalent to his unit.
Light infantry practice only became imbedded in the regular British army, however, with Sir John Moore, at one time himself a major in the 60th Royal Americans, who in 1803 was given command of the forces at Shornecliffe Camp. This included the new 95th, but also the redcoated, normally armed 43rd and 52nd regiments, which were renamed the "Light Infantry." Together these units formed the Light Division. Both redcoats and greenjackets were trained in the same drills, emphasizing the self-motivation, independence and initiative found in the jagers and the Indian fighters of the old 60th: to Moore the training of a soldier was far more important then his equipment.
Moore died horribly in 1809 in Spain. Wellington, who replaced him, would continue to expand and develop both red and green versions of light infantry. In Spain he would use the 5/60th, 95th and his growing number of other light infantry battalions interchangeably, alongside German mercenary jager units from the King's German Legion, as well, to beat the French light infantry opposite them in the preliminary stages of his battles.
The point here is that, Bernard Cornwell and his Sharpe novels notwithstanding, the important innovation of the Light Infantry was not the use of rifles or the discarding of the red coats per se, as much as it was the new emphasis on better trained soldiers in general that had been refined in North American service, collected in de Rottenberg's writing, and spread to the British army as a whole under first Moore and then Wellington. (De Rottenburg would bring the story back to its place of origin in 1813, in a way, when he took over command of the British forces, light and regular, in what is now Ontario during the War of 1812.)
*UPDATE: I should add a caution here, because absolutely nothing is firmly known of the Baron De Rottenburg before he is recorded joining Louis XVI's army as a hussar officer when still a young man. We know he later went east to fight for the Poles, and after their defeat turned to British service. The place of his birth is actually still open to some speculation... it's known he was fluent in French, English and German. Berton and Stanley both concluded, on scanty evidence, that he was Swiss. Turner and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, on the other hand, argued he was actually born in Gdansk, possibly the son of a local Polish merchant. The barony of Rottenburg itself would have been near Stuttgart, Germany, in what then would have been known as Wurttemburg... while he was certainly treated as a nobleman by other class-conscious British officers, like George Prevost, how he got the title of baron is also unclear. It's remarkable that so little is known about one of the most influential military thinkers of the early 1800s.
ARIEL READS FLIT, APPARENTLY
Ariel Sharon, the old mountebank, announces he plans to evacuate Gaza. This, along with the wall's near completion, has convinced me that Sharon has been following the Flit plan for Palestinian peace recently. Good job, guy! Come back any time!
Since I'm patting myself on the back anyway, I'd also like to take this opportunity to point out that I concluded Iraq's "WMD's" were "largely illusory" six months before the last war. This, of course, makes me better than the entire Office of Special Plans and the British PM's office combined. I continue to look forward to the summons of various international commissions curious how a guy with a PC who knows where Google is can enjoy a better track record for his predictions than David Kay, 007, and all the other secret-mountain-lair inhabitants put together. This, combined with the fact I recently got my tie caught in a self-serve sushi bar, means suggestions that I am some kind of cyber-Johnny English are, I now feel, entirely deserved.
Stay tuned next week, when I explain how we can make this whole "tastes great-less filling" schism among light beer drinkers finally come to an amicable end. Hint: UN peacekeepers.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex