Friday, September 12, 2014

Song of David

--Salome with Head of John the Baptist, 

 Well, they'll stone you when you walk all alone
They'll stone you when you are walkin' home
They'll stone you and then say they all are brave
They'll stone you when you're set down in your grave 
--Rainy Day Woman, Bod Dylan

The Greek's Trojan horse is often considered to be the first example of special operations warfare, but the biblical story of David and Goliath predates the Trojan experience by several thousand years.

David was a simple shepherd who qualified annually with his sling. His projectile was a stone, and though he had no training equipment or experience at soldiering, he received a personal pre-ops briefing by Saul, his kingly lord and master. This was the beginning fo the Special Operations Forces concept that the man on the ground, regardless of rank, makes the tactical calls.

Fast-forwarding to current events unfolding in the newly forming Islamic State (IS) caliphate one can see the similarity to events played out since time immemorial. David's first act after killing Goliath was to cut off his head and triumphantly display his achievement to all comers. To witness was to verify and perhaps validate the killing.

IS is doing what men have been doing since honing cutting edges on tools. The head is a vulnerable wobbly basketball-sized thing on a thin stalk. "Off with her head!" is the ultimate action of a despot in power. Broadswords took some heaving, and the Guillotine was heralded as a humane form of killing, but the head has long been recognized as the thing to separate from the body to guarantee death.

--A woman without mercy:
Judith offing Holoferes head

Salome requested the head of John the Baptist, and act resulting in a Feast Day, and Judith beheaded Holofernes, showing the Israelites were fond of the practice, too. So to say IS is behaving medievally is incorrect; in fact, they are behaving Biblically.

We can say human behavior has changed somewhat since David's time. Now the Israelites must show restraint when dealing with attacks from Gaza. But if the situation were left up to Joshua of Jericho, Hamas, their followers and all bystanders, with the possible exceptions of breeding-age females, would be put to the sword. Literally.

Why the feigned horror today at behavior which is solidly within the monotheistic tradition? Beheading is a human behavior. Ugly, shocking, but nonetheless, human behavior.

The IS locals routinely behead their fellows; this is not unusual. Why not consider the possibility that the two recently decapitated American journalists were Central Intelligence Agency assets, and it was in fact this affiliation which led to their deaths. This is not to justify murder, but IS-type groups routinely view journalists as covers for participation in spying activities. Watching (spying) is what journalists do, even in their unaffiliated form.

What if David had been a nebbish and missed his target, or picked a more frangible projectile? Would we be worshiping a different God? Would our reactions be any more or less hypocritical?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Menage a Trois

--Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
ISIS leader
 Everything becomes and recurs eternally - escape is impossible!
Supposing we could judge value, what follows?
The idea of recurrence as a selective principle,
in the service of strength (and barbarism!!)
--F. Nietzche

(T)he power to cause pain is the only power that matters,
the power to kill and destroy,
because if you can't kill then you are always subject
to those who can, and nothing and no one
will ever save you 
--Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card 

Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw?
Well, what tongue does the wind talk?
 What nationality is a storm?
What country do rains come from?
What color is lightning?
Where does thunder go when it dies?” 

 *   *   * 

You can't act if you don't know.
Acting without knowing takes you right off the cliff.
 --Something Wicked This Way Comes, 
Ray Bradbury 

President Barack Obama is expected to ask Congress tonight to authorize $500 billion to bolster the moderate militants fighting the Syrian government. These supposed moderates will then be used to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). At least that's the plan. 

But how does one gauge "moderation" in a civil war? Beyond the difficulty of deciding who to support, for the first time in United State's history, the nation is proposing a strategy based upon opposing both sides in a war.

For some reason, the U.S. is dedicated to the destruction of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, while also opposing his major opponent, ISIS. This strategy ignores what happened the last three times the U.S. deposed dictators. The supposed unholy trinity of Libya, Iraq and Egypt are examples of this folly. Realpolitik would suggest the U.S. is better dealing with the devils it knows rather than those it does not. 

Why is the U.S. opposed to Syria, anyway? What threat originates there that would endanger the U.S. homeland? While ISIS is a dangerous organization, what proof exists beyond emotion and hyperbole that this group is a danger to the U.S.? 

The proposed new strategy lacks a clear objective (beyond smashing people and things from the sky), violating the Principles of War in a big way. The destruction of a government or a group is not a strategy, but at best, Phase #1 of a strategy. 

The key point is: what is the purpose and objective to destroying Syria and ISIS? The U.S. strategy lacks a definable end game.

Meanwhile, a half gallon of milk has risen 20% in one week here in Florida. People are now audibly questioning the steep jack in their grocery bill. Most often heard: "Maybe they don't want us to eat."
But they will manage to find money for flyboys to kill more Arabs; hopefully, they will kill the right ones. But there is the rub -- WHO are the right ones, and by whose metric?

Ranger is more consumed with food prices in his hometown than with the mistaken notion of stopping violence and hatred on the far side of the moon.  

Somewhere, General David Petraeus is asking with a wry smile, "So tell me: How doesthis end?"

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Pretty Dead Things

--ISIS and Iraq, 
Arend Van Dam

The image is re-presentation,
which is to say ultimately resurrection, and, as we know,
the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to lived experience
*   *   *

 The type of consciousness the photograph involves
is indeed truly unprecedented,
since it establishes not a consciousness
of the being-there of the thing…
but an awareness of its having-been-there.
What we have is a new space-time category:
spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority,
the photograph being an illogical conjunction
between the here-now and the there-then. 
--Rhetoric of the Image, Roland Barthes

  Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just 
--King Lear, Shakespeare  

Wars and elections are both too big and too small
to matter in the long run.
The daily work - that goes on, it adds up
 --Animal Dreams, 
Barbara Kingsolver

ISIS is looking like a one-trick pony, with its latest journo beheading. But sometimes, one good move is all you need. The Afghan national game is Buzkashi, after all, in which a beheaded and be-hooved goat is dragged roughly around the field of play, so it seems playing with dead things can be fun.

The West continues its fascinated horror at these actions, committed even -- especially -- in the face of pathetic begging on behalf of the murdered and their families. Why pretend to care? When the rubber meets the road, the question for most is, "What of me and mine?" and IS is not threatening Kansas, after all.

This is reasonable, as we are neither giants nor martyrs. A martyr would leave his actual family in a lurch, in the name of pursuing the salvation of the universal Family -- the prerogative of very few.

In his book, War, Sebastian Junger mentions the chimpanzees who do not seek to aid their fellows in the face of a threat, but invariably run away from danger in order to save themselves. This self-preservation behavior comports with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' theory of the "Selfish Gene", that lives on to fight another day.

For those peoples not burdened by a martyrish savior, the concept of being one's brother's keeper may not have much relevance in the race for survival. But what about those people who do understand the concept of service and martyrdom?

In China recently, members of a forbidden proto-Christian sect bludgeoned a 38-year-old woman to death in a McDonald's restaurant for refusing to give them her contact information. The more remarkable thing, however, is that the murder occurred before the watching eyes of others in the establishment, who were too busy documenting the event on their smartphones to intervene. For those who uploaded their photos to the cloud, it must have been a stellar "capture".

Similarly, the murderous members of the Islamic State (IS) members are mastering the art of social networking, being sure to publicize their gory work on the various platforms, disseminating their handiwork in real time.

A recent NYT piece ("Losing Our Touch") asks if we have entered an age of “excarnation,” where we focus on the body in increasingly disembodied ways "For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it." And what if, through reliance on the intermediary of the transmitted image, we do lose our sense of touch? Does that equate with losing our compassion?

What is the effect of instantaneous documentation on our tolerance reaction? Will witnessing and documenting preempt the impulse to act?

Chimpanzees, smartphones and brutality ... do you see any nexus here?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monsters, Inc.

--ISIS, Adam Zyglis

There's nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child.
A single touch could kill you.
Leave a door open, and one can walk right into this factory;
 right into the monster world.
 I won't go into a kid's room. You can't make me.
 --Monsters, Inc. (2001)

What had I done?
[w]e were all quite likely going to be killed,
or beheaded, and for a news story
that wasn't going to change the world.
We thought it was important.
We had the best intentions 
--War Journal, Richard Engel

A seven-year-old's understanding:

A neighbor's young son -- a rabid Star Wars fan -- once asked me to choose my favorite toy from amongst his vast collection of miniatures. I chose what appeared to be a fuzzy benign creature from among the field of oddities.
"I'm just gonna warn you that he's a monster," said Theo, in a cautionary statement.
"That's o.k. -- I think he's cute," said I.
"He eats people," said Theo.
"Well then -- I don't like him anymore," said I.
"He's a monster, and he does what monsters do. You chose him; you can't not like him for being what he is."

Lesson: Know the people you choose to partner with; if their behavior does not comport with yours, you will not change them. (Corollary: they will possibly change you, and not necessarily for the better.) It is Aesop's fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. This one idea is the distillation of half of the advice books on how to achieve a successful relationship.  

Ignore this advice, and the ability to say you forged a partnership will provide you cold comfort. Review the past 12+ years of United State's foreign policy and come to your own conclusions.

From the mouths of babes. Word.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Faster Than the Speed of Thought

--Extremism, Manny Francisco

 Surprise, surprise, surprise! 
--Gomer Pyle, USMC

 Life ... is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing 
--Macbeth (V, v) 

Oh foolish people, and without understanding;
which have eyes, and see not;
which have ears, and hear not 
--Jermiah 5:21

RAW is on holiday now, but the news which rustles other feathers has entered our awareness. The responses we witness seem absurd.

[1] On beheadings by members of the Islamic State (IS):

Expected, totally. Go rambling about in their desert, and you can expect to be on IS's YouTube snuff favorites list sometime soon ... plan on it.

This is asymmetrical warfare at its finest. Didn't we just learn this in our most excellent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq? Isn't this what Israel is experiencing vis-a-vis Hamas? It matters not the names of the players: the U.S. is confronting people who do not share her values-- in their backyard.

The photographer who lost his head was exploiting the situation, and the locals knew it. Professional newsmen or photographers are always looking for the scoop; it is their business. The word is, they want to "document history," but we have already seen enough beheadings and do not need to see more. This is an ugly historicity of our making.

We are exploiting them, and they, us; where is the surprise? Is this placing of ourselves in their grid square -- and the expected resultant sacrificial lambs -- an effort to re-ramp up a United State's military presence abroad?

This is not the first time religious fanatics have shed blood in the name of their cause. Why are we shocked?

Why this need to be horrified, and to jump through the predictable hoops of memorializing those beheaded? While it is a brutal death, to be sure, it is not without sense to those doing the killing. It is merely a method of gaining free propaganda.

If we do not support this lifestyle and their adjudication process, why are we present, creating it, and then documenting it?

IS behavior is not going extinct anytime soon, unlike the language of Wukchumni, which will become so when the last known speaker, Marie Wilcox, dies. So: what precisely is the purpose for the United State's presence in Afghanistan, Iraq or any of the areas of IS control?

The press and we have a field day with every new outrage from the Muslim world, but to what end? For example, what of Boku Haram, the Muslim group that abducted the Nigerian school girls? Off the radar, in favor of the latest cause du jour.  New and more grotesque stories are demanded by the commentariat, all to no end.

Lesson: Do not be a part of stirring the pot in Islamic jihadist nations. 

[2] African disease Ebola cured by act of god:

A doctor, one of two U.S. missionaries who contracted the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia and recently cured at Emory medical center, claimed God saved his life in a miraculous direct reply to thousands of prayers. In fact, the miracle was being born white and Christian. If you wish to call this fortunate confluence which afforded Dr. Brantly access to the latest super drug that cured him, then yes, Brantly is the recipient of a miracle.

But if you believe that, you also believe that the prayers of the African victims and their families are somehow inferior, as infected Africans do not usually recover from the virus. Such belief of a favored religion is medievalism at its finest, so to return to point #1 -- why the shock at the power of conviction?

Dr. Brantly further asks his fellow believers to pray for the Africans that their prayers might be heard ... by an obviously Christian-favoring God.

Lesson: Do not go mucking about in Liberia when Ebola is ravaging the nation, and do not claim God favors you over them.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Murder, Inc.

Well I'm hot blooded, check it and see
I got a fever of a hundred and three

Come on baby, do you do more than dance?

I'm hot blooded, I'm hot blooded

--Hot Blooded
, Foreigner

--Why'd you do it? Why did you kill him?

--He had bad breath

--Murder, Inc. (1960)

When Smith attacked Mr. Clutter

he was under a mental eclipse,

deep inside a schizophrenic darkness

--In Cold Blood, Truman Capote


["Murder, Inc." is a re-post of a 9 April 2011 entry.]

February 1, 1968, B. G. Loan, Chief of the Vietnamese National Police, executed what was a guerrilla, Vietcong soldier or terrorist (take your pick, as this designation is irrelevant to this discussion.) Whichever, the recipient of General Loan's attention was shot dead on a Saigon street corner.

This was called field adjudication at the time, and in a perverse way this shooting was understandable and strangely appropriate. The killing was done in hot blood during a period of extensive combat.

However, this photo was a galvanizing moment which enabled the U.S. to pivot against the war.
From 1 Feb 68, there was not a chance for the U.S. to win the war in Vietnam. Even though the execution was explained as a consequence of guerrilla activity and war crimes and due to a pervading wartime mentality -- despite any possibly legitimization of the act -- the pure violence was a turn-off to the American public.

The stark reality of the brutality was the final straw which broke the American voter's backs. That one death symbolized the futility of the shooting match in a black-and-white manner, in a way that no amount of debate could achieve. Gen. Loan's photographed action was the beginning of the end.

That was 43 years ago, and now
we allow a U.S. president to issue a death warrant without anyone blinking an eye. In 1968 the U.S. public recoiled from the sight of a naked street-corner execution; in 2011, we exult at a presidentially-ordered murder of a thug in cold blood, no better or worse than a VC member on some Saigon street corner.

Why the recoil then, the approval now? The only difference is that Loan had the stones to pull the trigger himself in broad daylight. Why do we glorify a once and future president when both are akin to cold-blooded killers, something we once found so repugnant in the not-so-distant past?

Are we so disconnected from our national policies that we accept this violence in passing as business-as-usual? What does it mean to be an American today vis-a-vis war and assassination?

The lesson from Loan's/Obama's assassination is that any government with a tenuous hold on a situation will resort to desperate acts. Though the South Vietnamese restored short-term order via brutal tactics, NOTE: Saigon no longer exists.

When regimes execute people on street corners the end in nigh. Gang-style executions are symptomatic of bankrupt policies. If the U.S. was being successful, it would not have to resort to such activities.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not Ready for Prime Time


Can we film the operation
Is the head dead yet
You know the boys in the newsroom
Got a running bet 
--Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

 So, why should I waste my beautiful mind
on something like that?
--Barbara Bush

Per The Photo today of the 7-year-old son of the Islamic State member gleefully holding up the severed head of the Syrian gloatingly posted to his father's Twitter account, there's not much to say.

Who can call this "Photo of the Year"? Why do we give this insanity any press? "Warning -- Graphic Photo!" as we salaciously anticipate our own voyeuristic John the Baptist moment. Yet, the press did not gift us with the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl ... why is that? After all, his murderers kindly provided footage, too.

In the past, the press made decisions based upon more than desperation for readership. Eddie Adams' photo, "General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon" showed the human tragedy that is war, but the frame did not rely on showing the soon-bloody head. By freezing the moment of impending doom, one did not have the benefit of release.

Today's photo depicts a vulgar, bestial, monstrous action, and a gleeful boy joining in the celebration. Are we surprised? Do we really not know what the Western world confronts in the name of IS activities?

What is special, newsworthy or shocking about this photo? This is child porn of a most chilling form. We ban such things in our nation, yet consume it with gusto under the rubric ... I do not know what rubric; perhaps you can tell me.

Is there nothing sacred?

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Monday, August 11, 2014

A Life of Assumptions

 But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, 
In proving foresight may be vain:
 The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men 
Gang aft agley,
 --To a Mouse, 
Robert Burns

Our lives are based upon assumptions we call "reality", or, "the Truth".

We assume that if we work hard, we will get ahead. If we marry, we will be happy (or at least, have our needs met, mostly.) If we lead responsible lives, we will gain and retain our personal property. And so it goes.

The military and civilian sectors also make assumptions before constructing plans and policy but these ideas are often horribly off-base, and when a clunky organism like a military-industrial complex becomes committed to a plan, it can be very hard to change tack.

Some grand failures of the modern era:

1) The Domino Theory: If the Republic of Vietnam fell to the Communists, so too would the rest of Southeast Asia

2) Commie Killing: Killing the Communists in SE Asia would create a democracy in Vietnam

3) The U.S. military can protect the U.S. Homeland from Islamic Terrorists

4) Killing Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan will make the U.S. immune from terrorism

5) The "Reverse Domino Theory": If Iraq stands up and becomes democratic, so too will the rest of the region

6) Defeating the Taliban military forces will result in a democratic Afghanistan

7) Requiring health care insurance will translate into affordable health care for all U.S. citizens

8) Globalization will benefit the American people

Of course, killing Communists in RVN did not prevent the North Vietnamese from uniting the country under Communism. The dominoes did not fall, either.

Defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan did not destroy al Qaeda. The deadly whack-a-mole game merely caused them to move to other locations, and become more virulent, much like the result when whacking a ball of mercury.

Requiring health care insurance does not translate to more affordable or accessible health care. Just as did the Communists and the terrorists, The health care behemoth will create new tactics to insure their profit margins.

Assumptions must be based upon reality, and not vice versa. Reality does not emerge into being from assumptions. When our assumptions are false, the plans made upon them and their results will not be effective.

Depending upon which side of the fence you sit, you have assumptions about Russia, Ukraine, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. Those who engaged the U.S. military participation in so many foreign wars also made assumptions. Do you think your assumptions are any more reality-based than theirs?

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Relative Worth, Revisited

[Re-post: In his 16 December 2011 piece, The Medal of Honor and Messenger, Ranger suggested his associate MSG Benny Adkins receive the Medal of Honor (MOH) for his action in 1966; subsequently Adkins was belatedly awarded the MOH in October 2013.

In his 20 December 2010 piece, Relative Worth, Ranger wrote that Stephen Sanford should also receive the MOH, especially in light of the recent upgrades to medals received by veterans of the Vietnam War. We hope Mr. Sanford does not have to wait that long.

  Cpl. Stephen Sanford received DSC (2007)

And I believe we need heroes,

I believe we need certain people

who we can measure our own shortcomings by

--Richard Attenborough

The ultimate measure of a man is not

where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,

but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one

--Baltasar Gracian


In continued consideration of the Medal of Honor, let's compare Staff Sgt Salvatore Guinta's recent MOH (the first living MOH recipient since the Vietnam War) to the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) awarded to Private First Class Stephen C. Sanford.

[See SSG Guinta's MOH citation HERE; PFC Sanford's DSC HERE. Note, 7, AUG 2014: Two additional MOH's have been awarded, both to 2/503/173 members.] 

The short and sweet question is, why did Guinta receive a MOH when Sanford received only a DSC? What differentiates their actions? Even patriotic site BLACKFIVE posed the following question regarding the dearth of coverage on the actions of PFC Sanford: "Read this and ask why this story hasn't been all over the media. It was released more than 8 weeks ago...only the Army has information on it. I found no media services have picked this up at all..."

Sanford was wounded in the initial burst of fire, yet he elected to continue the assault. He repeatedly assaulted into the face of the enemy though wounded, receiving two "potentially fatal" gunshot wounds in the service of saving and protecting other soldiers. He administered combat life-saving while under direct fire, sustaining two additional solid hit wounds while so doing.

Objectively reading the citations, it is clear that Sanford exceeded the requirements for the MOH, and in fact, his actions exceeded the valorous acts of SSG Guinta.

Of the eight MOH's awarded in the Phony War on Terror (
PWOT ©), three have gone to Special Operations Forces - Special Operations Command assets and five to the rest of the entire military. That is a heavily weighted fact. Is the SOCOM more valorous than regular line soldiers?

Some painful questions arise from this comparison. Would Stephen Sanford have received the MOH if he were to have been killed? Would Sanford have received it if he were an SOF asset?
If so, why?

This is not a criticism of SSG Guinta, who is a fine soldier and an MOH-worthy recipient. The sole purpose is to question the apparent bias in the conference of this prestigious award. If Guinta deserves the MOH, then so, too, does Pvt. Sanford. That is as clear as a front sight on an M4 carbine.

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Gee Whiz, Again

Let no guilty man escape
--U.S. Grant
on the Whiskey Ring scandal of 1875,
in which he used the pardon to do just that

To conclude,

they are lying knaves
--Much Ado About Nothing


[This is re-post of "Gee Whiz", orig. published 2 APR 2009. "Everything old is new again ..."]

The commonly-held assumption is that this war is at a final stage -- "Six years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the end of America's costly mission is in sight" (Iraq Improved but Problems Remain). But the Vietnam war had another phase after the U.S. bowed out of the fight.

The same will be true in Iraq, so we oughtn't to pull a "gee whiz, who'd a thunk it" when it happens.

In the final stage of the war, America's challenge will be to prevent ethnic and sectarian competition from exploding into violence on the scale that plunged the nation to the brink of all-out civil war two years ago.

If the U.S. really wanted to prevent ethnic and sectarian violence, we would not have invaded six years ago.
Saddam had that problem under control. Oh U.S., you are so disingenuous.

The concept that the U.S. will honor the existing non-congressionally approved Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) -- "U.S. combat troops are due to leave by September 2010, with all American soldiers gone by the end of the following year" -- is a dream at best; a lie, at worst.

The U.S. has no intention of disengaging. If we did our troops would be assing up and returning to their peacetime permanent stations. The troops remain on station because the Joint Chiefs want them to remain on station.

As Ranger's momma used to say:
Mark my words!

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Unbridled Enthusiasm

Oh, I'm not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean 
d-do ya?
--What I Am,
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians 

Have you ever seen the film Being There,
in which Peter Sellers plays a vacuous imbecile
 who through a series of misunderstandings
ends up poised to become president? 
--Watch Out, World, The Sunday Times

[Of course, Ron Liddle was comparing Mitt Romney to the hapless character Chauncey Gardener, but the comparison works just as well for George W. Bush. Come to think of it, it applies to an endless number of candidates, hence the brilliance of the construction.]

Last month, former Vice President Dick Cheney wrote in a WSJ op-ed,:

"Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many," -- not referring to President G. W. Bush, but President Obama (The Collapsing Obama Doctrine).

How is this level of shamelessness possible in a man who has held a position of respect in our government? Could Cheney be deluded? Perhaps just terribly confused, or bombastic? Does he care that his legacy be one of an inveterate liar -- a  criminal creep? Perhaps he is simply a flat-out criminal, engaging in some Projection 101.

Ranger recently came across a photo in General (RET.) Hugh Shelton's book, Without Hesitation, of the General standing with President George W. Bush on 28 September 2001, a mere two weeks after the World Trade Center attacks:

The President looks positively glowing -- nary a sign of furrowed brow for him.

Remember the "high striker" game at local fairs and carnivals? If you struck with the mallet hard enough, you could max out at the top of the scale. Now, if you were charged with choosing the penultimate word or phrase for describing chutzpah of VP Cheney, and then for Mr. Bush, what term would you choose?

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sergeant Kyle J. White's Medal of Honor

--Congressional Medal of Honor

 Don't ever march home the same way.
Take a different route so you won't be ambushed 
--Roger's Standing Orders 

 Then I'm going to Hell,
and I'm taking the renaissance with me 
--Hit of the Search Party,
 Every Time I Die

Lies written in ink can never disguise
facts written in blood
--Lu Xun

Today, Ranger will discuss the 2007 action for which Sgt. Kyle J. White was recently presented the Medal of Honor (MOH) on 13 May 2014:

On 9 November 2007, an element of the United States Army descended into what was known as "Ambush Alley" outside of the Afghan village of Aranas, meeting their own ambush; five soldiers and a Marine were killed in their turn of the screw. What is truly tragic is that the unit traversed a known danger area without a proper support plan.

An old combat axiom warns against following roads or trails, or crossing danger areas without proper application of what should be unit standard operating procedure (SOP). The failure of Sgt. Kyle's unit originated in higher headquarters, far from that fated day in Ambush Alley. Battalion (Bn) level is where the Operations Orders originate for sqauds, platoons and companies of the Bn. (in this case, the 2/503rd/173rd Airborne.)

It would be instructive to see the Regimental Operation's Order, but of course these are classified for OPSEC purposes, never-minding that the OPSEC was seven years ago. So Ranger's analysis will be based upon the official record, and his experience as an Infantry small unit leader.

In danger areas (like Ambush Alley), several steps can be taken to minimize the risk of traversing the ground prior to engagement:

  • Traveling overwatch
  • Having friendly units covering the far ends of the danger area while bounding through the area
  • Having far and flank security (in this fight, flank security was not an option)
  • Having pre-planned artillery concentrations along the route of march ready to fire on-call. (Alternately, launch harassing and interdicting fire (H & I) along the route while the troops move through)
  • Use a nighttime movement through the danger area (an undesirable solution)
  • Have an alternate route
  • Have a helo lift to move the troops on the patrol. Gunships should be on-station

These are preplanning considerations that should have been considered before issuing an OPORD or patrol order for an action. According to the Army's History Channel-esque fabuloso website transcript of Sgt. White's action, none of these precautions were employed. (note: it does, however, appear that the enemy had an overwatch element.)

It is unrealistic to criticize anyone on the patrol for the oversights. The patrol leader was only a 1st Lieutenant, and they lack the knowledge to ask these questions or make these plans. That is the role of senior commanders and staff planners.

The official report online indicates only some overwatch elements, but this was clearly ineffective. An old Army adage says, "You must give medals or Courts Martial for dereliction of duty"; medals are preferred as the most expedient course of action.

Clearly, it is not Sgt. White who was derelict. As mentioned previously, the fault lies in higher HQ. Sgt. White's actions were reactive rather than proactive, and therein lies his valor. The enemy held the initiative, to include when to break contact. The enemy's planning and execution trumped ours.

Because Sgt. White's leaders failed to provide proper preplanning and support, Sgt. White's element was out-soldiered on that day. He lacked the tools that are in the inventory, and should have been immediately on-call.

Where was the Regiment or Bn. intelligence officer in this fight? Was the patrol provided fresh satellite photos of the battle space? Did agents indicate any hostiles in the area of operation (AO)? Were drones available to cover the unit's movement? 

The breakdown at Ambush Alley was at the Bn level command and staff functions. Sgt. White's MOH citation states that he "provided information and updates to friendly forces, allowing precision airstrikes to stifle the enemy's attack ..." At this point there were five U.S. KIA on the field and it is doubtful that the enemy would wait for supporting fires of any sort to arrive before the ambush element had left the kill zone. Enemy units know the sweet spot in which they can operate before being subjected to U.S. firepower.

The men who fought and died that day are very special soldiers and men. Sgt. White was honorable and valorous, and deserved his MOH. But our soldiers are not sacrificial lambs. They deserved better leadership than they received.

Further thoughts: why did it take almost seven years for Sergeant White to receive his award? In addition, why are there only nine living recipients of the MOH from the wars formerly known as the War on Terror? Why is there a cluster of MOH's coming out of the 503rd Infantry-- do they have a corner on the MOH market?

There is nothing to celebrate from the actions on 9 November 2007 in Nuristan Province.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bunker Buster

The flash from a distant camera
Reconnecting thoughts and actions
Fragments of our missing dream 
--Distant Camera, Neil Young

Today's entry is an analysis of a bunker of the 1/502/25, a slice of life in today's United States Army. [The bunker was caught incidentally in a photo of the recently returned U.S. Army soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, rt. of photo.]

As background, think of all the wonderful photos of World War II, German, Japanese and U.S. fighting positions: there are always grenades laid out for final defenses. There are no grenades in this photo.

Why is the Light Machine Gun (LMG) not protected from the elements (or at least, the $1,500 sight)?

As for the gun, it is too high of a silhouette, forcing the gunner to expose his body to enemy suppressive fire. The gun needs to be dug into a lower firing platform. The ammunition is open to trash, dirt and the elements, and the gun does not have the belt in the feed tray. This means the gun is not ready to fire.

A military axiom says that Machine Guns are employed in pairs, to provide interlocking fires through coordinated defense. The lay of the land in the photo would seem to make this impossible. Does this fighting position have room for an assistant gunner/loader to service the gun? Does the position have a rear egress and entrance? Must the soldiers enter the bunker from the enemy side?

Now see the roof of the structure: it is weak, unsupported and would not provide any appreciable protection from either direct or indirect fire. An enemy assault could chop this bunker into smithereens with direct rifle fire. An RPG would spell disaster. The bunker's supports are 2 x 4 white pine, like you'd buy at a a home supply store. (Ranger hopes the Army got the military discount.)

Ignoring the troops' casual and non-technical demeanor, we will not ignore the mortar to the left rear seen between the three troops (with hands in their pockets.) The gun is clearly not dug in, meaning that it could not be serviced if this position were attacked. (We have noted this deficiency in several past Afghan battle analysis here at RAW.)

Further: why would a mortar be placed directly on a firing line of a defensive position? This is just wrong, and violates the logical placement of the weapon, which should be protected from direct fire.

If the situation were dire, move the gun forward (in what would be a tactical leadership call), but dig it in and have connective trenches so that friendly movement could ensue, crawling if need be under enemy fire.

Last comment: what were these troops defending, anyway?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rainy Day People

--Not your typical day at the beach,
soldiers playing volleyball at Camp Long Thanh

 Rainy day people always seem to know
when it's time to call
Rainy day people don't talk,
they just listen till they've heard it all 
--Rainy Day People, Gordon Lightfoot   

Stand aside, everyone. I take large steps 
--Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

But when the thermometer goes way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
Mister God, for his squad
A marine for a queen 
A G.I. for his cutie pie, is not 
--It's Too Darn Hot, Cole Porter

Only mad dogs and U.S. soldiers would play volleyball in a monsoon. Englishmen, we're not. Sorting through photos recently, Ranger found a picture of him and his fellows not enjoying tea and crumpets.

In the left background just before the defensive berm are two tall telephone poles -- our shake-out area for cleaning and rigging our parachutes. They were placed off the flight line to keep helos from crashing into them. When gun ships were on-call they would park near the poles; when combat-loaded, they could barely clear those berms.

In the far left, back row in black T-shirt is my only photo of Captain Norm Dupuis (he of "the OER in the eye" fame.) The man with the volleyball is Master Sergeant Benny Dunakowski -- a World War II combat  Marine and hard as nails. (After retirement he worked as Service Officer for a fraternal organization. He died several years ago.)

We played volleyball and basketball daily as exercise; the Vietnam soldiers loved the sport, too. But lest you think it was all fun and games, this was not Gidget or Beach Blanket Bingo. This was rough sport. 

Sadly, the Olympics have never adopted Combat Volleyball or Combat Basketball -- a sport much-beloved by U.S. veterans of monsoon zones.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Xin Loi

--Iraq, Arend Van Dam

  Where's my $50? I for one am checking out
of this motel right now!
I'm not going to be two-timed by you
-- you parlor sheik! 
--Everybody's Crazy (1933) 

Those who don't know history
are doomed to repeat it
--Edmund Burke 

Is he still on about Vietnam?
--a local history student trying to board
the latest bandwagon

The United State's military is loathe to admit failure, therefore it never dissects them. Therefore, it repeats them.

Let's walk a few steps back, in order that we might move forward.

Our previous failed Counterinsurgency (COIN) war was fought in Vietnam, a classic war of anti-Colonial proportions fought by a superpower backing up the residuals of the colonialist heyday, under the flimsy and faulty aegis of the Domino Theory. It was really the Second IndoChina war (following the First fought with the French. Just as with Algeria later, the French learned that they were unwilling and unable to pay the cost of maintaining their colonial outpost in Vietnam. We would learn their lesson later.)

It was a conventional military battle between the North Vietnamese and the surrogate South Vietnamese forces propped up by the U.S. But it was also a counterinsurgency of the National Liberation Front. Both were fought in the battlespace of the Republic of Vietnam (with safe havens in Laos and Cambodia.) This divided project violated one of the main Principles of War: Unity of Command.

Both conventional and NLF forces enjoyed the advantage of facing a riven adversary; ultimately, they won. This should have taught us a lesson, but it somehow went missing, namely: the U.S. can fight and win a conventional war in places like RVN, Afghanistan and Iraq, but it can't win the counterinsurgency, too.

No Army can win at both concurrently, as evidenced by the Axis efforts in World War II. The Japanese and Germans could fight conventionally or unconventionally with probabilities of success, but they could not do both. COIN has never been a U.S. battle, but rather a battle between the host nation proxies. We cannot win because they are not fighting us; they are fighting for something beyond our control.

The weak, corrupt and venal governments which are the U.S. proxies can never defeat a popular insurgent force because the former lack legitimacy. When the tanks rolled down Tu Do Street past the whorehouses and bars, past the opium and heroin dealers, achieving their objective of the National Assembly and the National palace, this was a moment of truth.

Were those dens of iniquity the deciding factor of Vietnam's fate, or was it whatever animated those soldiers in the North Vietnamese tanks?

Next: A conclusion, of sorts.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

VA Healthcare Shame

You see my problem is this
I'm dreaming away
Wishing that heroes, they truly exist 
--Oops! ... I Did it Again, 
Britney Spears

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 
I am the grass; I cover all
 --The Grass,
 Carl Sandburg 

Now you will not swell the rout 
Of lads that wore their honors out,
 Runners whom renown outran 
And the name died before the man 
--To An Athlete Dying Young, 
 A. E. Housman

The gross failures recently revealed within the Veterans Administration Health Administration are nothing new, and they reflect the true priority which the United States places upon its veterans.

Are we producing more disabled veterans than the system can support? The question of deciding whether to enter a conflict should not center primarily on the ability of the nation to muster the men and materiels to lodge the war. The primary consideration should be the ability of the nation to fulfill its obligations to those who are charged with executing that war after they return home.

The United States has failed abysmally on this account. It has reneged on its most important promise -- that of caring for its wounded fighting men, those who have borne the scars of the battle on their bodies and minds.

The VA healthcare system has long been held up as an exemplar of functional medicine: efficiency via in-house treatment and drug dispensation, and managed care on the vanguard of electronic record keeping. Redundancy was reduced, as were unnecessary tests, and procedures often enlisted teams from civilian medical systems, when necessary.

There has long been a backlog of care in the system, but with the casualties from within the system becoming younger and from more obvious malpractice or non-treatment, abdications in the chain of command were a necessary palliative. Now money will be thrown at civilian doctors to meet the need -- but why? If this has been such an exemplary system, why has it not kept its staff at the correct levels in-house to meet the need? 

The promises of medicine today are boundless: bionic men, artificial limbs actuated by thought and growing organs in the lab, but if the promise outstrips the ability to implement the new developments, what is there to celebrate? The Army's "No Soldier Left Behind" rings hollow. The myth does not back up any reality.

When the U.S. sends soldiers to be killed and seriously wounded in discretionary foreign wars, then pours money into chimerical projects of rebuilding these nations -- without the slightest hope of success -- while U.S. wounded soldiers are left to languish on the roles of the labyrinthine VA medical system, we have left these soldiers behind.

It is a cold truth: we soldiers are not left behind because we were never with it to start with. Out of the gate, we are tools and pawns, destined for irrelevance. Soldiers are expendable, and we know this.

The only thing we expect is that our lives not be wasted, and that if fractured, our lives will be as meaningful as possible. All the dead and wounded in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) have been in vain. The double shame of the nation which proudly hails the heroics of its soldiers and assumes the treatment of those damaged, is that has not only used them frivolously, but it did not fulfill its promise to the survivors.

The shame of the VA system is that it has shuttled off its charges, consigning to Kafkaesque hallways of confusion those least able to navigate them.

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