Quotulatiousness

June 24, 2015

Ceremonial Guard 2015 Season

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Jun 2015

The Ceremonial Guard is one of Canada’s most recognizable military units. For over 50 years, the Changing of the Guard has been a top Ottawa attraction, having thrilled thousands of visitors on Parliament Hill, at Rideau Hall and at the National War Memorial. The Changing the Guard Ceremony will take place daily at 10 a.m. on Parliament Hill from June 28 to August 22, 2015.

June 19, 2015

Camouflage – the changing of the spots

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Strategy Page, a quick look at the US Army’s latest change in camouflage clothing and equipment:

The U.S. Army has begun issuing its new combat uniforms featuring a new and improved camouflage pattern. This is yet another effort to deal with troop complaints about the shortcomings of earlier camouflage patterns. Back in 2012 the army has decided to scrap its current digital pattern camouflage combat uniforms and replace them with the more effective (according to the troops), but more expensive, MultiCam. Actually, MultiCam itself was not used but a pattern selected for the new uniforms, but one based on MultiCam. This variant is called Scorpion W2 and the army gave it another, official, name; Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). So if you hear someone talking about the new uniform being Scorpion W2 or MultiCam they are not entirely wrong. But the final, official term is OCP.

Since 2001 both the army and marines adopted new, digital camouflage pattern field uniforms. But in Afghanistan U.S. soldiers noted that the marine digital uniforms (called MARPAT, for Marine Pattern) were superior to the army UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern). Both UCP and MARPAT were introduced at the same time (2002). From the beginning there was growing dissatisfaction with UCP, and it became a major issue because all the infantry have access to the Internet, where the constant clamor for something better than UCP eventually forced the army to do something.

This is ironic because UCP itself was another variant of MARPAT but a poor one, at least according to soldiers in UCP who encountered marines wearing MARPAT. Even more ironic is that MARPAT is based on research originally done by the army. Thus some of the resistance to copying MARPAT is admitting the marines took the same research on digital camouflage and produced a superior pattern for combat uniforms.

June 3, 2015

China’s PLA conducts military exercise on Burmese border

Filed under: Asia,China,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page posted this informative article the other day:

China announced that it will hold military exercises tomorrow along the Burmese border, including firing artillery shells into jungle areas next to Burma. These exercises are a response to fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic Chinese (Kokang) rebels within a few hundred meters of the Chinese border. This has frequently led to bullets and shells landing in China. Since this fighting began in February this stray fire has killed five Chinese civilians and wounded many more. Burma blames some of it on the Kokang rebels firing into China to cause problems between China and Burma. In any event Burma insists that this fighting is finally over and that the Kokang rebels have, for now at least, been defeated.

The fighting against the Kokang in the tribal north (Shan state) apparently has died down since the middle of May. As usual the rebels lost because the army had more, and bigger, guns (artillery) and aircraft. The rebels were gradually pushed back and the soldiers took over twenty rebel camps or fighting positions (like fortified hilltops overlooking key roads). The action was spread out and gradual. Since February the rebels lost over 500 dead while the army lost over 140 soldiers in about 300 separate violent encounters (ambushes, artillery or air attacks or battles for small bits of territory). Some of the army forces were pro-government tribal militias who suffered fewer losses than the army. Nearly 100,000 tribal civilians fled (most into China) the fighting and for the last few weeks more of these refugees have been returning home. Some of the refugees are fleeing rebels who are more aggressively recruiting new fighters. In some cases the tribal militia recruiters are “conscripting” (kidnapping) young men and when word of that gets around many potential victims flee, often with their young wives and children.

The fighting isn’t over, this is just a pause. A permanent peace deal does not exist yet although negotiations continue on yet another agreement that will finally bring peace to the north. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) are accused of starting it all when they ambushed an army patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting which then escalated. The rebels claim it was more army abuse (rape and robbery) against tribal people that set off the latest round of violence. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.

Re-examining the history of “the Raj”

Filed under: Britain,History,India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Diplomat, Nigel Collett reviews a new book by Ferdinand Mount called The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905:

It was the discovery of a book by his aunt, Ursula Low, published in 1936 and entitled Fifty Years with John Company, which opened Mount’s eyes to his family’s history and led to the writing of The Tears of the Rajas.

His aunt’s book, a work long ignored and derided as an eccentricity by her family, was a biography of her grandfather, General Sir John Low. What staggered Mount about his aunt’s account was her matter-of-fact recording of the massacres, mutinies and mayhem in which her grandfather and many of her relatives had been involved during their colonial careers. For General Sir John Low had, during a career in India that lasted from 1804 to 1858, seen the brutal suppression of the mutiny of his own regiment at Vellore a year after his arrival in India, the “White Mutiny” of European soldiers in the East India Company’s Forces in 1808 (which resulted in the massacre not of the European mutineers but of the Indian soldiers they led) and finally, in 1857, of the Indian Mutiny itself, which erupted at a time when Low was the Military Member of the Governor General’s Council.

More than this, Low, in a largely political career up until the outbreak of the Mutiny, had been intimately involved in policies which led directly to it, including the removal from power of three Indian potentates to whom he was attached as Resident (the Peshwa of Poona, the Raja of Nagpur and the King of Oudh) and the annexation of their lands. He was at one point, in yet another posting as Resident, personally involved in detaching a large chunk of Hyderabad from the lands of the Nizam.

During his service, Low had watched, and other members of his family had been involved in, the British annexations of Sind and the Punjab, the conquest of Gwalior and the disastrous attempt to depose Dost Mohammed, the Shah of Afghanistan, which led to the catastrophe of the 1st Afghan War. Mount’s title is well chosen: Low literally reduced several of his Rajas to tears.

[…]

Perhaps more stomach-turning than this, especially to a British reader, are Mount’s revelations of the dishonest policies followed by almost every Governor General of India towards India’s native princes, policies driven by pure greed, conducted with cold ruthlessness in utter disregard of treaties, promises or any code of honor, and hidden beneath layers of hypocritical cant. Much of this has not been made generally known. Few, for instance, in the Far East, will know that as the First Opium War in China ended in 1842, another began in India, for the British conquest of Gwalior was aimed at the control of the opium it grew independently of the East India Company.

The removal of misgovernment was all too frequently the fraudulent public excuse for the imposition of direct rule and the canard of the protection of the peasantry from their own rulers was little more than a front for taxing them more efficiently. Add to this noxious behavior insulting racial pride, ignorance of culture and tradition, and a religious evangelism that persuaded army officers that it made sense to tell their Hindu and Muslim soldiers that they would go to Hell if the wars into which they were leading them resulted in their unconverted deaths, and there seems little need for further explanation of why it all ended in disaster in 1857.

While I can’t claim to have read deeply in Indian history during this period, I still think the best introduction to the at-best-ambivalent legacy of British rule is the fictional exploits of Sir Harry Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (especially the original Flashman, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and Flashman in the Great Game). How many other novels have extensive footnotes about all the historical characters and situations the fictional hero encounters? Oh, right … for the younger set: trigger warning in all the Flashman novels for racism, sexism, imperialism, militarism, violence, and pretty much anything that would offend the ears of a young Victorian lady modern university student.

May 27, 2015

Sir Arthur Wellesley, before the fame and fortune

Filed under: Britain,History,India,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Diplomat, Francis P. Sempa looks at the early commands of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) as formative experiences:

Before Waterloo, Wellington had brilliantly commanded armies on the Iberian Peninsula, where they wore down and drained French forces, causing Napoleon to refer to it as “the Spanish ulcer.” But Wellington learned how to command, supply, and lead soldiers to victory not in Europe, where he is most remembered, but in India. Wellington in India, wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford, was “a great commander in embryo.”

Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wesley (the last name was later changed to Wellesley) of the 33rd regiment, arrived in Calcutta at the age of 28 in February 1797, after a journey of more than three months. His most recent biographer, Rory Muir, described Colonel Wesley as “an unusually ambitious, intelligent and well-read officer who looked far beyond the horizons of his regiment … and who was already comfortable assembling his thoughts into coherent arguments …” In all, he spent eight years in India, where for much of the time his brother was Governor-General. Wellington’s time in India, writes Muir, “were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor.” It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain first dealt with questions of war and peace and civil government.

On March 26, 1799, troops under Wellington’s command came under attack by forces of Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. As the French-trained enemy forces approached, wrote Elizabeth Longford, Wellington’s men held their fire “with the utmost steadiness until the enemy were sixty yards away.” British infantry then decimated the columns of enemy attackers, spreading confusion, while cavalry forces scattered the remnants of the attacking force. Then, during April and May 1799, Wellington participated in the siege of Seringapatam in Mysore, and led an attack on the entrenchments of the fortress there. After Seringapatam was taken, Wellington was made civil governor and remained there until 1802.

During his time in Seringapatam, Wellington was ordered to suppress a rebellion in north Mysore led by Dhoondiah Waugh. For the first time, Wellington exercised independent command in battle. During this operation, Rory Muir explains, Wellington “displayed all the characteristics of his subsequent campaigns, …” which included attention to logistics and “unremitting aggression.” He fought a battle at Conaghul and won a complete victory. Muir writes that Wellington exhibited a remarkable flexibility on the field of battle. A British officer commented on Wellington’s “alacrity and determination” during battle.

May 25, 2015

Women in combat roles

Filed under: Military,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At War on the Rocks, Anna Simons looks at the ongoing controversy in the United States over allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles:

Earlier this year, I spoke with a roomful of field grade officers about the debate and controversy over women in combat. The officers knew my position. What was next to impossible for me to discern, however, was where most of them are when it comes to this topic — which is the challenge with trying to have an open debate about it. The topic is just too politically charged for opponents to feel they can speak openly or honestly.

Officers who balk at the idea of women serving in ground infantry units or on Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODAs) won’t publicly say so, let alone publicly explain why. They worry about retaliation that could hurt their careers. In contrast, those who have no reservations — usually because they won’t be the ones who have to deal with the fallout from integration at the small unit level — slough off the challenge as just another minor problem or “ankle biter.”

There is more to this dichotomy than just officers’ career concerns, however. As one member of the audience put it, even if special operations forces and Marine Corps brass are prepared to go to Capitol Hill armed with irrefutable logic and unimpeachable facts against integrating women into ground combat units, they will still come across as chauvinists. For any male who opposes full integration, the chauvinist charge is impossible to escape.

I am sure there is something to this; and if I were a male, the chauvinism charge might mortally wound me as well. Maybe knowing in advance that this is how I would be branded would cause me to fight only on grounds of proponents’ choosing. For example, I could use standards and measurable data — as if there is some scientific way to determine what the right ratios and formulae are to prevent anything untoward happening when young men and women are put together in the field for indeterminate lengths of time.

May 22, 2015

The trains of war – the military application of steam power

Filed under: Military,Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

James Simpson on the revolution in military affairs triggered by the development of the steam engine and the railways:

Navvies working on the Grand Crimean Central Railway, 1854. Walker, Charles (1969) Thomas Brassey, Railway Builder (via Wikipedia)

Navvies working on the Grand Crimean Central Railway, 1854. Charles Walker: Thomas Brassey, Railway Builder, 1969. (via Wikipedia)

Trains were cutting-edge weapons of war in the 19th century — and all the major powers were figuring out how to deploy them. The Europeans learned how to move troops by train. The Americans — how to fight on rail cars. The British, meanwhile, found they could dominate an empire from the tracks.

In today’s world of tanks, bombers and submarines, it’s perhaps hard to believe that the train was once an amazingly mobile weapons platform. They might be locked to their rails, but for over a century trains were the fastest means of hauling troops and artillery to front lines across the world.

The invention of the railway shaped warfare for a century. Rails allowed force projection across immense distances — and at speeds which were impossible on foot or by horse.

[…]

The first demonstration of the military efficacy of the railroads was the 1846 Polish Uprising. Prussia rushed 12,000 troops of the Sixth Army Corps, with guns and horses, to the Free City of Krakow to help put down the Polish rebellion. In this period of nationalist uprisings, Russia and Austria also used their railroads against similar uprisings from 1848 to 1850.

A lack of infrastructure and experience stifled the success of these early endeavors. Due to a lack of rolling stock, suitable platforms and double-track stretches, the trains sometimes operated far slower than a man could march on foot.

Austria was first to get it right. In 1851, the Austrian Empire shuttled 145,000 men, nearly 2,000 horses, 48 artillery pieces and 464 vehicles over 187 miles.

May 21, 2015

John Monash – Australia’s greatest general

Filed under: History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page reviews a new biography of Australia’s General John Monash:

The centennial of the First World War has brought forth renewed public interest and additional scholarly study of that still controversial conflict, variously the last 19th century imperial war and the first modern war. When its great generals are enumerated, one named by relatively few outside the Antipodes is Australian Army Corps commander John Monash (1865-1931), this despite Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery’s declaration half a century after the Armistice that Monash was “the best general on the Western Front in Europe,” and historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s even stronger accolade as “the greatest general of World War I by far.” Yet in the three-volume Cambridge History of the First World War, there is not one mention of him.

Monash, it must be said, has not been entirely overlooked. He was knighted in the field by George V (as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath) and subsequently given the title Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and in his homeland his name graces a university (indeed, the publisher of the book under review), a scholarship, a town and even a freeway. Nevertheless, in Maestro John Monash, former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer argues that Sir John has been wronged by history and not given his due. In a breezy hagiography (Fischer vehemently denies that characterization, protesting that his biography is “warts and all,” however, he downplays or dismisses most of the “warts” cited, e.g., other generals also had mistresses, and while he made mistakes at Gallipoli, he learned from them) and advocacy piece, he makes a justifiable case for Monash’s posthumous promotion to field marshal (backdated to 1930). Had he been promptly promoted postwar, rather than in 1929, to general (that is, full or four-star general), Fischer points out logically, he likely would have been promoted by the king one step up in rank to field marshal.

In his account of Monash’s life and military career, Fischer details the many obstacles faced and surmounted by “the most innovative general” of the war. His sobriquet for Monash, “maestro,” comes from Sir John’s comparison of a “perfected modern battle plan” to a “score for an orchestral composition.” Indeed, while some British and French generals were still thinking in terms of cavalry charges, sabers and bayonets, drawing on his engineering background, Monash made concerted use of infantry, artillery, tanks, aircraft and radio in (to quote him) “comprehensive holistic battle plan[s].” His strategy’s success became evident in thwarting Germany’s final westward push and smashing through the Hindenburg Line, in the 93-minute Battle of Hamel and the second Battle of Amiens, which German General Ludendorff later called “the black day of the German Army in the war,” victories achieved while Monash was still a lieutenant general (three stars). “Never has a general who did so much to help win a world war … been so unacknowledged,” affirms Fischer, returning to his theme.

May 20, 2015

Ask what “Red Team” can do for you

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, a look at the “Red Team revolution”:

Red Teams came out of wargaming. There, the “Red” team represented the enemy, while the “Blue” team played the good guys. Beginning in the late 1970s the U.S. Army adopted a form of wargaming based on historical models but where commanders are presented with very realistic situations for future battles. This was applying to wargames the old phrase, “train as you fight, and fight as you train.” But in addition to providing more realistic games for training, this style of wargames also made it possible to analyze war plans as never before. In the past, your war plans didn’t really get a workout until you were in combat against a real, live Red Team (the enemy). The new wrinkle was that it was now easier to have your own people provide an effective, if not perfect, Red Team experience because of all those officers with wargame experience.

So now the senior commanders of the U.S. Army have been sending Red Teams around to the major commands, to play devil’s advocate to whatever war plans senior commanders and their staffs have come up with. It’s not new, really. The concept of “devil’s advocate” has been around for a long time. But now the army has institutionalized it and used more powerful techniques (wargaming) to implement it.

This all began back in the 1980s, when realistic wargaming was catching on, especially among the students at the Command and General Staff School (C&GSS) and the Army War College AWC). The younger officers at the C&GSS were particularly enthusiastic, and they came to be known as the “Jedi Knights,” mainly because the analytic skills obtained from playing lots of wargames, gave them a seemingly magical ability to find flaws in war plans. That’s what the Red Teams are all about, Jedi Knights on steroids. Since then the Staff School at Leavenworth has established courses for training Red Team members, some of the courses are 18 weeks long.

And what would the poor Red Team officers do when, as in Japanese wargaming before the Battle of Midway, the Blue force commanders “re-floated” most of the losses, thereby winning the game (but losing the war)? You don’t subordinate the Red Team to the local commander:

The Red Teams all report to the head of the army, which insures that none of the commanders they are working with try to pull rank. The Red Teams give the Chief of Staff of the army regular reports on how effective the many war plans developed in the army combat units are holding up to scrutiny, which is a unique capability in the military world.

May 19, 2015

The Tin Foil Hat Brigade and Jade Helm 15

Filed under: Military,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tom Kratman on the overtly paranoid reactions to the upcoming Jade Helm exercise:

In about two months, exercise Jade Helm 15 is scheduled to kick off. This is a two-month long special operations exercise, spread out across the southwest of the country, from Texas to California. It has the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, Right Wing Regiment1, demonstrating all the calm and relaxed demeanor (I am, of course, kidding), as well as the typical paranoid delusions (not kidding at all), for which it and its members are justifiably famous.2

Never having actually enlisted with the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, my initial reaction to exercise Jade Helm 15 was a resounding, “ho hum,” and my reaction to the TFHB reaction was, “As Christ probably would have said if He’d thought about it, ‘The loons ye shall have with ye always.’”

To be fair to the TFHB, though, whenever the New York Times3 and Washington Post4 agree that something like this is clearly harmless, it’s possibly time to inventory our stocks of ammunition and break out the banana oil to make sure our protective masks are in good working order. In other words, their enthusiastic and unquestioned agreement constitutes a rebuttable presumption that FEMA is about to open concentration camps.

However, rebuttable presumptions are there to be rebutted. This week and next I’m going to limit my rebuttal to the notion that the exercise is inherently suspicious because it is so militarily useless and unnecessary as to be indefensible. To do that we need to get into a little history, a bit of doctrine, and a touch of dogma.

[…]

1 Which in general demeanor much resembles the TFHB, Left Wing Regiment.
2 Just Google it; there are too many examples for me to illustrate without appearing to be playing favorites.
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/us/conspiracy-theories-over-jade-helm-get-some-traction-in-texas.html?_r=0
4 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/29/jade-helm-15-a-military-simulation-draws-scrutiny-and-wild-speculation-in-texas/

May 15, 2015

Women in front-line combat trades

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Strategy Page, a look at the political desire to fully integrate women into the combat arms:

In 2014, after years of trying to justify allowing women into the infantry, artillery and armor and special operations forces, the U.S. government decided to just order the military to make it happen and do so without degrading the capabilities of these units. While the army was inclined the just say yes, find out what quotas the politicians wanted and go through the motions, others refused to play along. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and the marines pointed out that the research does not support the political demands and that actually implementing the quotas could get people killed while degrading the effectiveness of the units involved. This is yet another reason why many politicians do not like the marines and are uneasy about SOCOM.

But action had to be taken and orders were orders. The various services opened up some infantry training programs to women and have discovered two things. First (over 90 percent) of women did not want to serve in any combat unit, especially the infantry. Those women (almost all of them officers) who tried out discovered what female athletes and epidemiologists (doctors who study medical statistics) have long known; women are ten times more likely (than men) to suffer bone injuries and nearly as likely to suffer muscular injuries while engaged in stressful sports (like basketball) or infantry operations. Mental stress is another issue and most women who volunteered to try infantry training dropped out within days because of the combination of mental and physical stress. Proponents of women in combat (none of them combat veterans) dismiss these issues as minor and easily fixed, but offer no tangible or proven solutions.

Back in 2012 the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were ordered to come up with procedures to select women capable of handling infantry and special operations assignments and then recruit some women for these jobs. This had become an obsession with many politicians. None of these proponents of women in the infantry have ever served in the infantry, but they understood that if they proceeded without proof that women could handle the job, that decision could mean getting a lot of American soldiers and marines killed. The politicians also knew that if it came to that, the military could be blamed for not implementing the new policy correctly.

So far the tests, overseen by monitors reporting back to civilian officials in Congress and the White House, have failed to find the needed proof that women can handle infantry combat. The main problem the military has is their inability to make these politicians understand how combat operations actually work and what role sheer muscle plays in success, or simply survival. But many politicians have become obsessed with the idea that women should serve in the infantry and are ignoring the evidence.

May 1, 2015

QotD: Military decorations and military men

Filed under: Humour,Military,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Anno 1865. I look out of my window and observe an officer of the United States Army passing down the street. Anno 1922. Like General Grant, he is without a sword. Like General Grant, he wears a sort of soldier’s blouse for a coat. Like General Grant, he employs shoulder straps to indicate to the army who he is. But there is something more. On the left breast of this officer, apparently a major, there blazes so brilliant a mass of color that, as the sun strikes it and the flash bangs my eyes, I wink, catch my breath and sneeze. There are two long strips, each starting at the sternum and disappearing into the shadows of the axillia — every hue in the rainbow, the spectroscope, the kaleidoscope — imperial purples, sforzando reds, wild Irish greens, romantic blues, loud yellows and oranges, rich maroons, sentimental pinks, all the half-tones from ultra-violet to infra-red, all the vibrations from the impalpable to the unendurable. A gallant Soldat, indeed! How he would shame a circus ticketwagon if he wore all the medals and badges, the stars and crosses, the pendants and lavallieres, that go with those ribbons! … I glance at his sleeves. A simple golden stripe on the one — six months beyond the raging main. None on the other — the Kaiser’s cannon missed him.

Just what all these ribbons signify I am sure I don’t know; probably they belong to campaign medals and tell the tale of butcheries in foreign and domestic parts — mountains of dead Filipinos, Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans, West Virginia miners, perhaps even Prussians. But in addition to campaign medals and the Distinguished Service Medal there are now certainly enough foreign orders in the United States to give a distinct brilliance to the national scene, viewed, say, from Mars. The Frederician tradition, borrowed by the ragged Continentals and embodied in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, lasted until 1918, and then suddenly blew up; to mention it to-day is a sort of indecorum, and to-morrow, no doubt, will be a species of treason. Down with Frederick; up with John Philip Sousa! Imagine what General Pershing would look like at a state banquet of his favorite American order, the Benevolent and Protective one of Elks, in all the Byzantine splendor of his casket of ribbons, badges, stars, garters, sunbursts and cockades — the lordly Bath of the grateful motherland, with its somewhat disconcerting “Ich dien“; the gorgeous tricolor baldrics, sashes and festoons of the Legion d’Honneur; the grand cross of SS. Maurizio e Lazzaro of Italy; the sinister Danilo of Montenegro, with its cabalistic monogram of Danilo I and its sinister hieroglyphics; the breastplate of the Paulownia of Japan, with its rising sun of thirty-two white rays, its blood-red heart, its background of green leaves and its white ribbon edged with red; the mystical St. Saviour of Greece, with its Greek motto and its brilliantly enameled figure of Christ; above all, the Croix de Guerre of Czecho-Slovakia, a new one and hence not listed in the books, but surely no shrinking violet! Alas, Pershing was on the wrong side — that is, for one with a fancy for gauds of that sort. The most blinding of all known orders is the Medijie of Turkey, which not only entitles the holder to four wives, but also absolutely requires him to wear a red fez and a frozen star covering his whole facade. I was offered this order by Turkish spies during the war, and it wabbled me a good deal. The Alexander of Bulgaria is almost as seductive. The badge consists of an eight-pointed white cross, with crossed swords between the arms and a red Bulgarian lion over the swords. The motto is “Za Chrabrost!” Then there are the Prussian orders — the Red and Black Eagles, the Pour le Merite, the Prussian Crown, the Hohenzollern and the rest. And the Golden Fleece of Austria — the noblest of them all. Think of the Golden Fleece on a man born in Linn County, Missouri! … I begin to doubt that the General would have got it, even supposing him to have taken the other side. The Japs, I note, gave him only the grand cordon of the Paulownia, and the Belgians and Montenegrins were similarly cautious. There are higher classes. The highest of the Paulownia is only for princes, which is to say, only for non-Missourians.

H.L. Mencken, “Star-spangled Men”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

April 25, 2015

They called it “hardtack” for a good reason

Filed under: History,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An army may march on its stomach, as Napoleon is reputed to have said, but what filled that collective stomach might well turn our modern ones:

The origin of Hardtack’s name itself is a source of some disagreement. Many argue that it stems from the texture of the item combined with British sailor slang for food, or “tack.” Others say the term originated during the American Civil War. Some maintain that the name derives from the biscuit being “hard as tacks” – somewhat uninspired.

In a time before refrigeration, pasteurization, canning, or preservation through chemical additives there were only so many ways a food could be kept without spoilage. Salting and dehydrating foods was a relatively easy way to make them last. Baking cereal grains into a dense biscuit made for easy transport and a reduced risk of spoilage (although, as we will learn, vermin were a different story). Most importantly (especially for operational planning), it was cheap. A form of hardtack was given as rations to Roman armies under the name bucellatum and during the 16th Century, British sailors could expect a daily ration of 1 gallon of beer and 1 lb. of hardtack.

While hardtack was issued right up until World War I, the most recent and descriptive accounts of the food come from the American Civil War. Soldiers often referred to the biscuits as “worm castles” because all too often they would become home to maggots and weevils. One soldier recalled the sorry state of hardtack that he and his comrades were to consume:

    A brigade officer of the day called out sharply to some of our men as he passed along the line: “Throw that hard tack out of the trenches. Don’t you know, men, you’ve been told not to throw your rations in the trenches” Prompt to obey, the men threw out the hard tack, saying as they did, “We’ve thrown it out several times, sir, but it will crawl back.”

    When the hardtack wasn’t infested with insects, soldiers needed to soften the biscuits for consumption in a variety of ways, including whacking them with the butt of their rifles, soaking them in coffee, or softening them in water to then be fried in pork fat. Delicious.

April 9, 2015

Former US Army colonel would be “disgusted” if US doesn’t have plan to invade Canada

Filed under: Cancon,China,Military,USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Retired US officer-turned-SF writer Tom Kratman thinks heads should roll in the Pentagon if they do not have up-to-date plans to invade Canada … among other current allies … because creating and maintaining plans is what the general staff is supposed to do:

Since at least the time of world class fool, blunderer, jackass, and complete and utter failure, Woodrow Wilson, there’s been a lot of confusion about what military planning is and means. For these purposes, it falls into two categories: planning to actually do something you intend to do, and planning to react to something you do not really want to happen but must be prepared for.

In terms of the latter, I would be not just surprised but disgusted if somewhere in the bowels of the five-sided puzzle palace there are no plans, kept more or less up to date, for invading Canada. I would be at least as surprised and disgusted if Canada doesn’t have some plans to resist that invasion, too. Sure, ours might be hidden as a response to a humanitarian crisis, or couched in terms of responding to a request from Canada’s government for help/intervention, while theirs – for all I know – may reference “Fenians,” or the like. Still, if the plans don’t exist – quite despite that none of us want to invade Canada – then a large number of multi-starred idiots need to be relieved. Why? Because you never really know. Because the future defies prediction in any detail.

That is different in kind from things like Hitler’s invasions of Poland and the USSR which fell not into the category of things that the planner would rather not happen (but had to be prepared to react to) but of things the planner absolutely intended to do.

So is China planning for a war as some claim? Sure they are; it’s their general staff’s job to do that planning. Do they want that war or wars? Puhleeze; as discussed previously, a real war is about the last thing they want. They’re much, much more likely engaged in the first, contingency, class of planning than the second, aggressive, class.

April 6, 2015

QotD: Conscription

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Military,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Poul Anderson pointed out to me that he rather doubted if this country could survive through purely voluntary military service.

Perhaps he is right. I care not. If there are not sufficient Simon-pure, utterly uncoerced volunteers to defend a country and save it … [sic] then let it go down the drain! And that applies just as much to my own beloved country as it does to the Roman Empire … The thought of a draftee being required to die that I may live is as morally offensive to me as that of galley slaves, chained to their sweeps, and drowning in battle not of their choosing.

If the United States goes under (as I am inclined to think she will), I will be inclined to blame it on moral decay rather than on the superiority of our enemies … [sic] and, to me, the gravest aspect of that moral decay lies in the fact that we have elected to depend on human slaves as cannon fodder.

But I suppose that my opposition to a democratically accepted and publicly approved social institution such as the National Selective Service Act — having the gall to label this flag-bedecked and chaplain-blessed custom “human slavery” — is still another of “Heinlein’s dangerous ideologies” as seditious as my unspeakable notion that the franchise is not a “natural right” to be handed out as freely as favours at a children’s party, but to be earned by toil and danger at great personal sacrifice.

Well, if my teachings are now to be indicted as “dangerous”, tending to “corrupt the youth of the land”, I will be in most noble and distinguished company. Pass the hemlock, please —

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

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