Daytona

Happened to catch the end of the Daytona 500 – super dramatic!  That is Austin Dillon’s dad.  Dawned on me that a reason men love sports is the emotions are so intense inhibitions break down and they can express love and tenderness for each other.  (War too?)

source: Al Chang for the US Army, 1950.

(Talking cis-straight men here, friends and fathers and sons and comrades and teammates, gay male affection a different topic)


McPeak vs Earthman

Have we entered a new way of war in which air power isn’t as important? That this is America’s asymmetric challenge and air power isn’t as wanted?

If so, how do we overcome that? How do we get past that, the fact that our adversaries have figured out how we fight?

Merrill McPeak: Well, it’s not so much that the adversaries figured out how we fight.

That’s dead easy. Everybody can see it. I mean, we don’t make any mystery of it.

What we’ve done is taken the risk out of the kind of operations that we do now with officers.

I mean, we’ve got stealth airplanes. So I’m sitting in a stealth airplane and I’m on super-cruise. In the F-22, you’re cruising at 1.7 to 1.8 (mach) in a stealthy machine.

Who’s going to touch you?

I mean, I never felt vulnerable when I was flying an airplane. Period. Not against any kind of earthman.

Got a lot out of this looooong interview with former Air Force chief of staff and Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s Vietnam War star Merrill McPeak in the San Diego Union Tribune, (ht Tom Ricks of course).

McPeak on Boyd, whom we have discussed:

So they got the argument a little bit wrong. But then along comes Boyd with the OODA Loop and some philosophy kind of concepts and people said, ‘Wow, a fighter pilot with a brain!’

They tended to listen to him when in many respects he was a failed officer and even a failed human being in some ways.

Carl Prine: There’s an entire cottage industry built around him now.

Merrill McPeak: I was at Nellis the night he jumped out of an F-100. I was a student there and he was an instructor in the Weapons School. He had a bet that he could get anybody from his 6 o’clock to his 12 o’clock in 40 seconds, or whatever it was.

He tried his special little trick and the airplane quit on him. It overstretched the hydraulic system, the plumbing, the flight controls, and the airplane went crazy and he had to jump out.

Here he is coming back to Nellis and they went out to pick him up in a chopper. And he’s dragging his parachute back to Nellis. He didn’t look so good that night.

The general likes Mozart:

Carl Prine: I had this image of you, as a general, appreciating the grand, comprehensive, overwhelming symphony and yet you prefer the smaller pieces? The elegant and tiny works?

Merrill McPeak: Well, you know the big G minor symphony? Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. That’s the famous one, the 40. It’s in there with Jupiter and the later symphonies.

But Symphony 25 has that crystal clear quality to it. If it were a stream, you could look clear through it to the bottom.

There’s something magical about it.


The scum of the earth

(c) English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.

Christopher Plummer played Wellington in the 1970 movie Waterloo, an expensive flop:

Final costs were over £12 million (GBP) (equivalent to about U.S. $38.3 million in 1970), making Waterloo one of the most expensive movies ever made, for its time. Had the movie been filmed in the West, costs might have been as much as three times this. Mosfilm contributed more than £4 million of the costs, nearly 17,000 soldiers of the Soviet Army, including a full brigade of Soviet cavalry, and a host of engineers and labourers to prepare the battlefield in the rolling farmland outside Uzhhorod, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union).

To recreate the battlefield authentically, the Soviets bulldozed away two hills, laid five miles of roads, transplanted 5,000 trees, sowed fields of rye, barley and wildflowers and reconstructed four historic buildings. To create the mud, more than six miles of underground irrigation piping was specially laid. Most of the battle scenes were filmed using five Panavision cameras simultaneously – from ground level, from 100-foot towers, from a helicopter, and from an overhead railway built right across the location.

Happened to tape the film onto a VHS off Boston’s TV 38 in my boyhood and thought it was pretty good.

 

is a very compelling book on the topic.  Another great one by Howarth.

Wellington said a bunch of cool quotes:

As quoted in A History of Warfare (1968) by Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: “Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: “If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?” The old Duke replied: “Yes, I should have given more praise.”

The phrase “scum of the earth” turns up in some translations of 1 Corinthians 4:13.

On this Veterans’ Day I like to remember unlikely veterans like Larry David:

He wrote a funny essay about his experience in the Army Reserve here.  And:

He was drafted into the United States Army in 1970. He trained as a medic and was stationed in West Germany. After being honorably discharged he used the benefits of the G.I. Bill to enroll in the California Institute of the Arts, and received a BAdegree in drama from The Evergreen State College in 1975.

Thomas Ricks of course has a Veteran’s Day guest post worth reading.


Ken Burns Vietnam

This fall, Ken Burns new documentary about the Vietnam War will be on PBS.

Any one of these clips from it will make you still for a minute.

The intensity of what happened with the US in Vietnam is insane.  The magnitude of the scar is unspeakable.  Literally: we can’t talk about it.

When Ken Burns made The Civil War, about something 150 years ago, it made people cry.  What is it going to be like to watch The Vietnam War, a thing every person in my parent’s generation had to reckon with in some serious way?

I saw that one of the talkers is Karl Marlantes.  His book What It Is Like To Go To War is astounding.

I’m not sure enough people heard about it.  At one time I had the same publisher as Karl Marlantes, which I was very proud of, they sent me his books for free.

Marlantes tells this story about running into Joseph Campbell, by chance:

Absolution.

Imagine having whiskey with Joseph Campbell.

The best discipline:

 

The other day on Reddit “Today I Learned” I saw this.

I went to check the source, the Lodi News Sentinel, 1971:

Preserved at this blog:

There the author gives a question and answer about his own time in Vietnam and after that I would describe as harrowing and illuminating and powerful.

Ken Burns made some darn good movies.


The War Between Mochi and Sake


A field hospital after a battle


US Air Force Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members monitor patients during a C-17 aero-medical evacuation mission from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott Reed

Something about the health care debate got me pondering Pope Francis’ quote in a 2013 interview that the Church should be like a field hospital after a battle.

“I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”

“Savage Station VA field hospital after the battle of June 27” in the Library of Congress, photographer James Gibson

There’s a lot of good writing about field hospitals after battles.  Walt Whitman and Hemingway both saw some firsthand.  Or how about

I never really watched MASH tbh and got kinda sad when it would come on instead of something more fun.


The Generals by Thomas Ricks

img_9197

This book is so full of compelling anecdotes, character studies, and surprising, valuable lessons of leadership that I kind of can’t believe I got to it before Malcolm Gladwell or David Brooks or somebody scavenged it for good stories.

Generaling

Consider how hard it would be to get fifteen of your friends to leave for a road trip at the same time.  How much coordination and communication it would take, how likely it was to get fucked up.

Now imagine trying to move 156,000 people across the English Channel, and you have to keep it a surprise, and on the other side there are 50,350 people waiting to try and kill you.

The Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment's bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War. Dominic D'Andrea, commissioned by the National Guard Heritage Foundation

The Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment’s bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War. Dominic D’Andrea, commissioned by the National Guard Heritage Foundation

Even at a lower scale, say a brigade, a brigadier general might oversee say 4,500 people and hundreds of vehicles.  Those people must be clothed, fed, housed, their medical problems attended to.  Then they have to be armed, trained, given ammo.  You have to find the enemy, kill them, evacuate the wounded, stay in communication, and keep a calm head as many people are trying to kill you and the situation is changing rapidly and constantly.

32nd Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hansen, on floor in front of podium, accepts reports from battalion command sergeants major as the brigade forms at the start of the Feb. 17 send-off ceremony at the Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Madison, Wis. Family members and public officials bade farewell to some 3,200 members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and augmenting units, Wisconsin Army National Guard, in the ceremony. The unit is bound for pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, followed by a deployment of approximately 10 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs photo by Larry Sommers.

32nd Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hansen, on floor in front of podium, accepts reports from battalion command sergeants major as the brigade forms at the start of the Feb. 17 send-off ceremony at the Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Madison, Wis. Family members and public officials bade farewell to some 3,200 members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and augmenting units, Wisconsin Army National Guard, in the ceremony. The unit is bound for pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, followed by a deployment of approximately 10 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs photo by Larry Sommers.

Being a general is a challenging job, I guess is my point.

mattis-and-dempsey

U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, talk on board a C-17 while flying to Baghdad, Dec. 15, 2011.  Source.

I saw this post about Gen. Mattis, possible future Secretary of Defense, on Tom Ricks blog:

A SecDef nominee at war?: What I wrote about General Mattis in ‘The Generals’

The story was so compelling that I immediately ordered Mr. Ricks’ book:

img_8948

A fantastic read.  Eye-opening, shocking, opinionated, compelling.

The way that Marc Norman’s book on screenwriting works as a history of Hollywood:

whn

The Generals works as a kind of history of the US since World War II.   I’d list it with 1491: New Revelations On The Americas Before Columbus as a book I think every citizen should read.

The observation that drives The Generals is this: commanding troops in combat is insanely difficult.  Many generals will fail.  Officers who performed well at lower ranks might completely collapse.

During World War II, generals who failed to perform were swiftly relieved of command.  (Often, they were given second chances, and many stepped up).

Since World War II, swift relief of underperforming generals has not been the case.  The results for American military effectiveness have been devastating.  Much of this book describes catastrophe and disaster, as I guess war is even under the best of circumstances and the finest leadership.

Ricks is such a good writer, so engaging and compelling.  He knows to include stuff like this:

eisenhower

Ricks describes the catastrophes that result from bad military leadership.  How about this, in Korea?:

korea

What kind of effect did this leadership have, in Vietnam?:

fulton

He discusses the relationship of presidents and their generals:

deckers-advice

shitheads

Here is LBJ, years later, describing his nightmares:

lbj

Ricks can be blunt:

westmoreland

Hard lessons the Marines had learned:

advice

marines

Symbolically, There’s a Warning Signal Against Them as Marines Move Down the Main Line to Seoul From RG: 127 General Photograph File of the U.S. Marine Corps National Archives Identifier: 5891316 Local Identifier: 127-N-A3206

A hero in the book is O. P. Smith

smith

who led the Marines’ reverse advance at the Chosin Resevoir, when it was so cold men’s toes were falling off from frostbite inside their boots:

marine-corps-hymn

The story of what they accomplished is incredible, worth a book itself.  Here’s Ricks talking about the book and Smith.

A continued challenge for generals is to understand the strategic circumstances they are operating under, and the political limitations that constrain them.

 

031206-F-2828D-373 Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld walks with Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez after arriving at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on Dec. 6, 2003. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to meet with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, senior military leaders and the troops deployed there. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

031206-F-2828D-373
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld walks with Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez after arriving at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on Dec. 6, 2003. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to meet with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, senior military leaders and the troops deployed there. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, U.S. Air Force. (Released) source

iraq

Recommend this book.  One of the best works of military history I’ve ever read, and a sobering reflection on leadership, strategy, and the United States.