Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'm such a freakin slacker

Yeah, it has been a bit since I last blogged. Busy moving from a house on Cap Hill to an apartment, putting things in storage, and trying the save the planet from the forces of evil. And, when I have the chance, playing a few sessions of Civilization IV.

I've always had a thing for strategic wargames. After seeing the movie Midway in 1975(or 76? can't recall..), I went home and made my own wargame up to refight the battle. Little did I know an entire industry already existed that did that sort of thing. I found out a few years later when I was introduced to Tactics II and Third Reich. I was like a junky after that...World In Flames (and the myriad of expansions), even gave the Europa series a shot (a game where it has the 1940 western European regimental level...yeah, it's huge).

Then I discovered computers; first an Apple II then the Commodore 64. For a kid, this was just something freaking else. As my old high school AD&D group was breaking up (that whole, go in the Army, college thingy), computers allowed me to still play RPGs. It was cool to say the least. I was reading the history of computer RPGs the other day, and realized how simple those amazingly graphics were. Ultima II and III (I loved the monsters...I would kill a bunch, and the little treasure chest icons would create a wall...then have them chase me down a long tunnel of chests--I used to call this the "pardon me, but is this the line to die in?" strategy.

I still play when I can. Computer strategy games tend to relax me after a long day.

But I still miss the thrill of pre-VGA graphics, and the fun of sitting around a table on a rainy day trying to survive Tomb of Horrors.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Yeah, it's been a couple of days. Just started a new job for a new company.

I've been pondering lately the whole bruhaha over Iran's nuclear program.

I like to think of it as my "Thankgiving Day Dinner" analogy.

When you were little, you sat at the little table. At the little table, you could throw food, hit your cousin, and basically do whatever you wanted. The grownups at the big table would only occasionally intervene, when the food was hitting the big table, or someone was about to be seriously injured by a drumstick.

Then, one day, perhaps it was when you were in high school, you finally moved to the big table. You felt important; an adult. But the rules were different. Fights, unless it involved a well-placed insult at your loathed uncle, were frowned upon. Manners must be obeyed; no more food fights.

And thus is life.

Iran has been enjoying life at the little table for a long time. Scream "Death to the Great Satan!" and the folks at the big table just roll their eyes. Throw some food at your neighbors, or a few state-sponsored terrorist attacks, and maybe--just maybe--the grownups would say something.

Then one day, a nice pretty mushroom cloud pops up over a desolate part of the country. ON TO THE BIG TABLE!!!

Now, the British, the Americans, the French, the Russians, the Chinese are all looking at you at your end of the big table--next to Israelis, the Indians and the Pakistanis. Say "Death to Israel!" or "Die American Pigs! Allah will eat your souls!" and you know, the people around the table take it seriously.

Deadly seriously.

The old rules no longer apply. At the big table, you have to obey certain rules.

A grownup beating a kid at the little table is bad manners; by golly, that's abuse! Smacking a smart ass teenager who thinks poking grandma with a fork is funny, that is just seen as "keeping the peace."

Welcome to the Big Table, Mr. Ahmadinejad. Pass the rolls, would you?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Maintain a Navy and Raise an Army

The title says it all. So many people forget that is what the Constitution says.

Yes, techology has changed things since 1789. It takes months to train a rifleman in today's US Army, and years to field a new tank or artillery piece. But it takes decades to design and build an aircraft carrier or SSBN, and the same goes for a new aircraft.

The US is currently involved in a guerrilla war (or terrorist war, or whatever) in Afghanistan and Iraq. And there are people in the US defense and policy establishment who greatly desire that the money and resources being put into a next generation fighter or into modern warships go into counterinsurgency.

I don't think that is the right solution. For a couple of reasons.

First, any money we put into Iraq or Afghanistan is like giving money to your worthless brother-in-law. All they will do is make a bunch of promises "to getta job t-day!", and then they'll show back up two days later smelling of Mad Dog 20/20 and hooker. And promising that "this da lastest time! promize!" before collapsing on what was once your couch. You get to go back to work to keep the slob fed. Same with the US in IZ and AF. We take the hard-earned resources of the US taxpayer and throw it into the empty void in the hopes that "things will work out." Screw that.

Secondly, I have no problem at all with the US defense industry (in full disclosure, I work in it). I'd much, much rather take the cash and put it in a defense plant in Ohio than in a police station in Mosul. At least the guys in Ohio will buy stuff in the local economy, will buy homes in the local area, and in general, put the dough right back into the US economy. That isn't happening in Iraq right now. We put money in, it goes 'poof' and we keep doing it.

Lastly, people forget that the United States is a maritime power. Good God people, there are pirates out there again. Not the cool kind in the movies, either. Nope, these are the kind that earn the title "scum"--murderers, kidnappers and rapists running along the seaways of the world.

Why? Why the rebirth of something everyone had pretty much placed in the dustbin of history? Easy. Ain't no cops in the neighborhood. The US Navy has been cutting back on ships since King Bush I. I am sure that there were plans to build better ships...funny thing is they were never built. So, we are stuck with a Navy, supposedly the best on the planet, that is sailing in old ships. I have no problem with old ships. In fact, there are two that need to be brought back. Today. The USS Iowa and the USS Wisconsin are sitting in mothballs. The two most powerful warships on the planet. Literally unsinkable short of a nuclear weapon--ships that were meant to fight toe-to-toe against the best the Imperial Japanese and Nazi Germans could throw against them. They are intimidating. They are huge. And we are letting them rust. For the cost of a single day in Iraq, we could put them back to sea.

Spending money, for the richest planet on earth, isnt a problem. But we need to spend it wisely.

Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We aren't just wasting the lives of our troops and all the other stuff; we are wasting money. Money that could be better spent on domestic concerns, like infrastucture, health care and education. If you want to spend money on defense, put it into places that will help American workers, revive American shipbuilding, and are truly defensive in nature (when was the last time a warship invaded a country? or a short-range fighter?).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Great Bushwacker War, Or "It is ok to jump over the cliff as long as all your friends are doing it"

In the 1990's, I was lucky enough (or stupid enough, depending on your perspective) to be chosen to teach military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. To do this, the Army sent me for two year to graduate school at Texas A&M (please, hold the Aggie jokes) for an MA in History.

As many of you have had to survive, the thesis process is a bitch. The worse part, for me at least, was finding the "question" to ask--the research process pretty much took care of itself past that.

So, in the summer of 1995, I began to root through the archives and library at TAMU looking for something to write about. I found material on irregular warfare in the Civil War--letters, papers, etc.--and found that outside of a handful of biographies on Mosby, Quantrell and others, and Michael Fellman's wonderful Inside War (about the guerrilla war in Missouri), little existed. So I wrote my Master's thesis on the Confederate guerrilla war in Arkansas, and how it literally destroyed the state for the Confederacy, eased the transition back to the Union, and ensured that Arkansas would remain a poor and ignored state until this very day. That work became the basis of my Ph.D. dissertation and my later book, The UnCivil War.

Now, I tell you that in order to tell you the rest of the story. When I was at West Point, I tried to teach irregular warfare. You know, the idea that a country/region/etc., when invaded by another, more conventionally powerful country, will resort to irregular warfare (e.g. 'terrorist attacks,' or 'guerrilla warfare' or some other sort of thing) to defend itself.

I was, in general, told several things by my fellow faculty members (sans one then Captain (now LTC) Robert Lane Bateman, who was my officemate for two years and was firmly convinced that I was writing a field manual for my Ozark redoubt, and Dr. Fred Kagan, my officemate for my first year at USMA, who was bemused by the idea that anyone would actually study American guerrilla warfare, but I digress) and cadets.

First, "the U.S. will never fight another guerrilla war. Only the Special Forces guys will do that anyway."

Second, "where's the tanks? What, no Germans? What kind of military history is this anyway?"

That is when I learned my first truth about writing about irregular warfare. This truth is quite simple, and I have put it in a list of precepts for all to enjoy:

Colonel Bob's Rules of Irregular Warfare

1. Don't expect anyone to listen to you on guerrilla warfare, unless you can involve Mao, the First Cav in the Ia Drang, armored vehicles, or the British after 1945.

2. Guerrilla warfare is NEW. Never happened before the Chinese Revolution and the Long March. So don't even bother talking about it before, we won't listen.

3. The Civil War is about either slavery or Robert E. Lee. No one wants to hear about the Federals burning towns along the Mississippi for guerrilla attacks, or Confederate guerrillas raping and torturing their way across Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Now, if you can write about Lee's feelings towards slavery, or slaves feelings toward Lee, why boy, you got a winner on yer hands!

4. Guerrilla warfare exists in a vaccum. No one likes talking about the simple fact that no guerrilla war in history has succeeded without external help from a nation-state (or simulation thereof). That might lead people to the idea that "proxy wars" are still "wars."

5. When writing about guerrilla warfare, make sure to include either Chinese, British, or Vietnamese participants. People will consider it "applicable" then. Never include Americans, unless they get to be the heroes. Makes people uncomfortable to think great-great grandpa was raping his neighbors for the sake of the Lost Cause.

6. Guerrilla warfare, from a publication standpoint, is not about (to paraphrase Mao) "the fish in the sea." It is about Communism, armored vehicles, and helicopters. If you can involve Dreadnought-class battleships and supply-side economics, you are on your way to a bestseller.

7. Lastly, when publishing on irregular warfare in the American Civil War, ensure that you title your work appropriately.

At the recommendation of one reader/critic/helpful suggester, my next book will be entitled "Lesbian Bushwhackers of the Applachians." I am in talks now with two adult film stars for the cover shoot.

Oh, and I need a Sherman tank for the front cover as well.

Any self-respecting irregular warfare expert knows that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Where the Hell are all the Smart Guys going?

The U.S. Army is in a jam. Not the good kind that is sticky and fun to smear on toast or significant others.

No, it is suffering from a wound. That wound isn't Iraq. Iraq was the bullet that hit the body. No, it is bleeding intelligence out like a 21st Level Paladin does on his first date with the Prom Queen.

Over the past year, many of the intellectual elite of the U.S. Army have been quietly leaving, finding fresher fields in the DC defense establishment, in government service, and in the Think Tanks. Where money flows freely, where human beings work normal days, and where people only shoot at you if you "give them lip" or are hunting with the VP.

The opening began when Colonel H.R. McMaster, the spearpoint of officership for his generation (men and women who became officers in the mid-years of the Reagan Administration, who served as lieutenants and captains in Panama and Desert Storm, as majors in the Balkans, and as warplanners and battalion commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq), was passed over for Brigadier General.

So what, you say.

McMaster's first, and then second, bypassing for the coveted star of a general was a sign and a warning from the Organization Men who run the military. "Don't color outside the lines." "Don't be too famous, or smart, or original, or too ANYTHING." "It is ok to think outside the box (insert small box here) but not outside the box around the box."

Suddenly, when McMaster, holder of the Silver Star for his decisive leadership at the Battle of 73 Easting in 1991, bestselling historian for his Dereliction of Duty (the best single work on the failure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fulfill their duty by stopping the esculation of the Vietnam War), and one of the most highly respected officers (by his men and his peers) in uniform, was passed over for promotion, a chill spread throughout the intellectual core of the U.S. Army.

If McMaster was shunned, what hope is there for me?

The answer is that there was no hope. The Organization Men had won. Officers who sold the company product, who towed the company barge, who mindlessly repeated the company line, would be rewarded. Those who could do 100 pushups in 2 minutes...those were officers who should be generals! Graduate degrees? Boy, you tryin' to git smart on us? We'uns don't cotton to no brain-ifying in this here Army.

I walked. I walked in at 18, a day before I graduated high school in rural Arkansas. I wanted to "shoot guns and jump out of airplanes." And I walked out at 43. Private to Lieutenant Colonel. The Army was good to me, I had no complaints.

But there was a limit. McMaster found it. Others discovered it as well. As did I.