Quotulatiousness

October 31, 2017

The adage “When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it” also applies to the military

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

John Stossel talks to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater:

The military uses contractors to provide security, deliver mail, rescue soldiers and more. Private contractors often do jobs well, for much less than the government would spend.

”We did a helicopter resupply mission,” Prince told me. “We showed up with two helicopters and eight people — the Navy was doing it with 35 people.”

I asked, “Why would the Navy use 35 people?”

Prince answered, “The admiral that says, ‘I need 35 people to do that mission,’ didn’t pay for them. When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it.”

Prince also claims the military is slow to adjust. In Afghanistan, it’s “using equipment designed to fight the Soviet Union, (not ideal) for finding enemies living in caves or operating from a pickup truck.”

I suggested that the government eventually adjusts.

”No, they do not,” answered Prince. “In 16 years of warfare, the army never adjusted how they do deployments — never made them smaller and more nimble. You could actually do all the counter-insurgency missions over Afghanistan with propeller-driven aircraft.”

So far, Trump has ignored Prince’s advice. I assume he, like many people, is skeptical of military contractors. The word “mercenary” has a bad reputation.

He moved on after selling Blackwater, and dabbled in fighting piracy:

In 2010, Prince sold his security firm and moved on to other projects.

He persuaded the United Arab Emirates to fund a private anti-pirate force in Somalia. The U.N. called that a “brazen violation” of its arms embargo, but Prince went ahead anyway.

His mercenaries attacked pirates whenever they came near shore. His private army, plus merchant ships finally arming themselves, largely ended piracy in that part of the world. In 2010, Somali pirates took more than a thousand hostages. In 2014, they captured none.

Did you even hear about that success? I hadn’t before doing research on Prince. The media don’t like to report good things about for-profit soldiers. Commentator Keith Olbermann called Blackwater “a full-fledged criminal enterprise.” One TV anchor called Prince “horrible … the poster child for everything wrong with the military-industrial complex.”

When I showed that to Prince, he replied, “the hardcore anti-war left went after the troops in Vietnam … (I)n Iraq and Afghanistan they went after contractors … contractors providing a good service to support the U.S. military — vilified, demonized, because they were for-profit companies.”

If we don’t use private contractors, he added, we will fail in Afghanistan, where we’ve “spent close to a trillion dollars and are still losing.”

H/T to Stephen Green for the link.

September 17, 2017

Mercenaries – War of the Pacific – Russian WW1 Remembrance I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Americas, Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 16 Sep 2017

It’s time for another episodes from the chair of wisdom, this week we talk about mercenaries in the war, the influence of the War of the Pacific and Russian WW1 war graves.

May 26, 2017

A noteworthy historical “Oh, shit!” moment

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Catallaxy Files, a guest post on a most butt-puckering “Oh, shit!” from long ago:

My favourite Oh Shit moment of all time occurred a while ago. On the 4th of September 401 BC to be exact. At dawn.

Cyrus the brother of the Persian Emperor wanted to knock him off and take the throne. He had plenty of local soldiers, but to add some oomph he hired about 13,000 Greek mercenaries. Many of these were Athenians down on their luck after their city lost the Peloponnesian Wars. The Greek hoplites were the Abrams tanks of the day. Unstoppable.

The Battle of Cunaxa saw Cyrus and his brother face off. It was going reasonably well for Cyrus’s guys – the Greeks routed their Persian opponents. But then Cyrus spotted the Emperor and his guard. According to Xenophon he then took his bodyguard of 600 heavy cavalry off and attacked the Emperor’s 6,000. Cyrus went all in – he personally attacked his brother and wounded him. But in doing so he received a javelin just under one eye and expired.

Which brings us to dawn next morning. The Greeks had no idea that their paymaster had suffered a quite unsuccessful death or glory moment, until the news arrived just then.

The Persians, having sorted out their differences, were now united into a huge army under Artaxerxes the Emperor. Which left the small matter of the Greek mercenary force deep inside the Persian Empire and surrounded by a vast horde of very unhappy Persians.

Oh shit.

The story of their escape back to Greece is awe inspiring and amazing. Well worth reading. Xenophon’s Anabasis is available free from Project Gutenberg at the link.

August 11, 2016

Urbino – The Light of Italy: Federico da Montefeltro – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 16 Jul 2016

Federico da Montefeltro shone brightly as the “Light of Italy,” one of many torches that helped light the flame of Renaissance. He made his name as a wily yet honest mercenary captain, but he also ruled as prince of the small, remote town of Urbino. There, he and his wife built an illustrious court that celebrated creativity, knowledge, and justice.
____________

Born an illegitimate son, Federico da Montefeltro became the heir of Urbino when his family got the Pope to legitimize him. As a child, he was sent to Venice to serve as a hostage for his family’s part in the wars of Lombardy, and by 15 he had turned his fate around to become knighted by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. At 16, he became a condotierre, a mercenary. Although he was technically prince of Urbino, his land was isolated and poor, so mercenary service allowed him to make money. He excelled at it: he never lost and never broke a contract. Cities began paying him NOT to fight against them, and he channeled their riches into his hometown. He looked after his soldiers families in Urbino, walked the markets every day, and held court in his garden where all citizens were treated equally under the law. Since he loved history and philosophy, he built one of the greatest libraries in all of Italy, hiring scribes to find and copy classical works that might have been lost if not for him. He also built a palace where he fostered art of all kinds, and young people from noble houses across the continent flocked to his court. His wife, especially his second wife Battista Sforza, built Urbino alongside him. She’d received the same liberal education he had and often counseled him on politics When he was away, she held court in his stead. Sadly, she died of complications while bearing Federico’s only son, whom he named Guidobaldo. Guidobaldo was intelligent and well read, but he was sickly and could never be his father’s equal in war. After Federico died, the Borgia came and seized Urbino from Guidobaldo, but although his family lost its holdings, his legacy lived on as the ideas and attitudes he’d nurtured in his court survived and spread far enough to help spur the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy.

July 25, 2015

Gurkhas in the SAS

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

Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:

It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.

There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.

When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.

December 28, 2010

The French Foreign Legion in film and in history

Filed under: Books, Europe, Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Peter Shawn Taylor explains how what was once the second most popular “adventure movie” themes has become all but invisible today:

The French Foreign Legion, steeped as it is in romance and adventure, had an entirely prosaic birth. It was a supply-side army.

In 1830, France’s reputation for continual political upheaval made it a magnet for Europe’s wandering class. Political agitators, disenfranchised liberals, left-wing revolutionaries and outright criminals from every country flocked to Paris. Such an agglomeration of potential trouble-makers proved unsettling for the newly reinstalled French monarchy.

At the same time France had recently conquered Algeria, rather by accident. (It’s a long story involving Napoleon Bonaparte’s unpaid grain debt, a flyswatter to the face of a French diplomat and the Gallic need to avenge even the slightest insult.) Maintaining the colony, however, was proving perilous for regular French troops.

The genius of the French Foreign Legion was that it solved both problems.

Refugees, criminals and agitators were pressed into a special unit of the French military created exclusively for foreigners. To make this urban renewal process as efficient as possible, no questions were asked as to the background of the recruits. And because French law prevented mercenary troops from serving on French soil, these soldiers were immediately shipped off to Algeria. Out of sight, out of mind.

After the “cowboys and indians” movies, Legion movies were the next most common adventure movie in early Hollywood. They faded from Hollywood’s radar even faster than the French empire did in the real world.

I remember reading a book about the Legion in French Indochina in the late 1940s and early 1950s (The Devil’s Guard by George Robert Elford), but I assumed it was largely fictionalized. Checking the Wikipedia entry, I see I wasn’t alone in suspecting it to be less than fully factual:

[. . .] published in 1971, is the story of a former German Waffen-SS officer’s string of near-constant combat that begins on World War II’s eastern front and continues into the book’s focus — the First Indochina War, as an officer in the French Foreign Legion. The book is presented by the author as nonfiction but considered to be untrue by military historians, and usually sold as fiction. In 2006 the online bookstore AbeBooks reported that it was among the 10 novels most frequently sold to American soldiers in Iraq (the only war fiction in the top 10, in fact).

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