World War II films aren’t about World War II

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Many World War II films reveal at least as much about the times in which they are made as they do about the conflict itself:

“It’s possible that 20 years from now we’ll look back at ‘Dunkirk’ and say, ‘That movie was so 2017,’ and everyone will know exactly what that means,” said film historian Mark Harris, author of “Five Came Back,” a book about Hollywood and World War II that was also the subject of a recent Netflix documentary.

Around the beginning of the war, films served a practical purpose, rallying American solidarity behind the conflict. In 1940, Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” featured a reporter calling for action with guns and battleships in a scene of a radio broadcast: “It’s as if the lights were out everywhere except in America,” he says. Chaplin, who directed and played the lead speaking role in 1940’s “The Great Dictator” about an Adolf Hitler-like figure, delivers a final speech directly into the camera that includes the line: “Let us fight to free the world.”

During the war, filmmakers churned out movies in close to real time, going from script to screen in as few as six months, said Mr. Harris.

“Films made about World War II during the war are special because we don’t know we’re going to win,” said Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University who wrote “Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II.” “I’m always surprised when I look at World War II movies made during the war just how stern the lessons are. The guy you really like is often killed in the film.”

Soon, the anxieties of the atomic age begin to surface. “In Harm’s Way,” a 1965 film starring John Wayne as a naval officer in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor, ends with a shot of the ocean that morphs into what looks like a mushroom cloud. Mixed feelings around the Vietnam War enter the picture with movies like 1967’s “The Dirty Dozen,” a subversive take on conflict told through the story of death-row convicts on a mission to kill Nazis.

Veterans of World War II and Vietnam and civilian Baby Boomers might have taken different messages from 1970’s “Patton,” at once a portrait of a victorious general and a man driven by ego and ambition. Douglas Cunningham, co-editor of “A Wiley Companion to the War Film” and a teacher of film history at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, recalled a scene where Patton slaps the helmet of a soldier suffering from shellshock. “By 1970, you would have had plenty of folks returning from Vietnam traumatized in ways that would have been familiar to some members of that audience,” he said.

In time the Holocaust became a central part of the screen version of World War II, with movies like 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice,” about an Auschwitz survivor, and Spielberg’s 1993 drama “Schindler’s List.”

Movies have furthered an idea that the Holocaust was known to most American soldiers during the war. A scene hinting at that connection occurs in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” when a Jewish soldier holds up the Star of David on his dog tag and repeats the German word for Jews—“Juden”—to captured enemy soldiers. “This is the way America sees World War II now—that it was all about the Holocaust and the Holocaust was the governing point,” said Robert Burgoyne, professor of film studies at the University of St Andrews and author of two books on U.S. history as told through the movies. “The Holocaust was not known to American culture generally. It is simply a kind of rewriting of World War II according to the contemporary generation’s perspective.”

In 1998, “Saving Private Ryan” presented the war to a new generation, starting with its harrowing opening of Allied troops storming Omaha Beach on D-Day. “In terms of stoking interest in World War II, these are the most important 20 minutes in cinema history,” said Rob Citino, senior historian at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

I may be screwing this person over

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

A recent Freakonomics podcast looks at civic-minded Harvard physician Richard Clarke Cabot’s long-running Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, which matched troubled boys with mentors — versus a matched control group who received no mentoring:

They found a null effect. They found there were no differences between the treatment and control boys on offending.

When computers came on the scene and they could analyze the data in finer detail, they made an interesting discovery:

On all seven measures — we’re talking, how long did you live? Were you a criminal? Were you mentally healthy, physically healthy, alcoholic, satisfied with your job; satisfied with your marriage? On all seven measures, the treatment group did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group.

The lesson:

And that’s one of the important things people who are engaged in social interventions really don’t spend much time thinking, “I may be screwing this person over.” They are self-conscious about, “Maybe this won’t work, but I’ve got to try!”

Korea established a pattern

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Korea established a pattern that has been unfortunately followed in American wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan:

These are wars without declaration and without the political consensus and the resolve to meet specific and changing goals. They are improvisational wars. They are dangerous.

The wars of the last 63 years, ranging from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq (but excepting Operation Desert Storm, which is an outlier from this pattern) have been marked by:

  • Inconsistent or unclear military goals with no congressional declaration of war.
  • Early presumptions on the part of the civilian leadership and some top military officials that this would be an easy operation. An exaggerated view of American military strength, a dismissal of the ability of the opposing forces, and little recognition of the need for innovation.
  • Military action that, except during the first year in Korea, largely lacked geographical objectives of seize and hold.
  • Military action with restricted rules of engagement and political constraints on the use of a full arsenal of firepower.
  • Military action against enemy forces that have sanctuaries which are largely off-limits.
  • Military action that is rhetorically in defense of democracy — ignoring the reality of the undemocratic nature of regimes in Seoul, Saigon, Baghdad, and Kabul.
  • With the exception of some of the South Korean and South Vietnamese military units, these have been wars with in-country allies that were not dependable.
  • Military action that civilian leaders modulate, often clumsily, between domestic political reassurance and international muscle-flexing. Downplaying the scale of deployment and length of commitment for the domestic audience and threatening expansion of these for the international community.
  • Wars fought by increasingly less representative sectors of American society, which further encourages most Americans to pay little attention to the details of these encounters.
  • Military action that is costly in lives and treasure and yet does not enjoy the support that wars require in a democracy.

Some of the restraints and restrictions on the conduct of these wars have been politically and even morally necessary. But it is neither politically nor morally defensible to send the young to war without a public consensus that the goals are understood and essential, and the restraints and the costs are acceptable.

Mattis cited this Atlantic piece in his recent interview with the Mercer Island High School Islander.

Mattis called him back

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

The Mercer Island High School newspaper, the Islander, snagged an interview with James Mattis :

In a photo published alongside this article by The Washington Post on May 11, Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, could be seen carrying a stack of papers with a yellow sticky note stuck on the top. Written on it, in black ink, was the name “Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” and a phone number.

Paul Redmond of Orange County, California, contacted The Post the next day, informing them that they’d accidentally published what seemed to be Mattis’ private number.

The photo was quickly removed, but not before many, including MIHS Islander sophomore staff writer Teddy Fischer, saved it.

Calling the number, he left a message asking if Mattis would be interested in conducting a phone interview with The Islander. A few days later, when Teddy said Mattis had agreed, I didn’t believe him.

But, after receiving three more calls from the defense secretary to set up a date and time for the interview, Teddy and I got to work preparing questions.

[...]

When asked why, out of thousands of calls, Mattis chose to respond to us, he returned to his love of teaching.

“I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes,” he said, “not the same ones we made.”

Mattis is a history buff enshrining himself in history. Through teaching and reaching out to students like Teddy, he’s sharing history, and the wisdom he’s gained in creating it, as it’s being made.

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Some experts say Italy has been able to combat the threat of Isis domestically by mastering legal and policing tools developed through years of experience in mafia investigations, which in turn were born out of the so-called “years of lead” — the period between the late 1960s and early 1980s marked by acts of political terrorism by left- and right-wing militants.

He fought the mafia and won. Now this mayor is taking on Europe over migrants

According to figures released by the Italian interior ministry, counter-terrorism authorities stopped and questioned 160,593 people between March 2016 to March 2017. They stopped and interrogated about 34,000 at airports and arrested about 550 suspected terrorists, and 38 have been sentenced on terrorism charges. More than 500 websites have been shut down and nearly half a million have been monitored.

Giampiero Massolo, who served as the director of Italian intelligence from 2012 to 2016, said there was not a particular “Italian way” to combat terrorism.

“We learned a very harsh lesson during our terrorism years,” he said. “From that we drew the experience of how important it is to maintain a constant dialogue at the operating level between intelligence and law enforcement forces. In fact, prevention is key to try to be effective in counter-terrorism.”

He added: “Another feature is to have a good control of the territory. From this point of view, the absence of [French] banlieues-like spots in Italian major cities, and …[the predominance] of small and medium towns makes it easier to monitor the situation.”

There are also more specific practices. Arturo Varvelli, a senior research fellow and terrorism expert at the thinktank Ispi, said the lack of second- and third-generation Italians who might be susceptible to Isis propaganda meant authorities instead focused on non-citizens, who could be deported at the first signs of concern. Since January, 135 individuals had been expelled, he said.

Italian authorities also rely on intercepted phone calls, which unlike the UK can be used in evidence in court and — in cases related to mafia and terrorism — can be obtained on the basis of suspicious activity and not solid evidence.

Much like the fight against Italian organised crime — the Camorra around Naples, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, and the ’Ndràngheta in the south — infiltrating and disrupting terror networks requires breaking close social and even family relationships.

People suspected of being jihadis are encouraged to break ranks and cooperate with Italian authorities, who use residency permits and other incentives, Galli said. There has been a recognition, too, of the dangers of keeping terror suspects in jail where, much like mafia bosses before them, prison is seen as a prime territory for recruiting and networking.

“I think we have developed experience in how to deal with a criminal network. We have lots of undercover agents who do a great job of intercepting communication,” she said.

While Italians authorities are seen as having broad powers, police do not have special powers to detain terror suspects without charge. Terror suspects may be held for up to four days without charge, just like any other suspect. However, Italy has been criticised by the European court of human rights for holding defendants too long once they have been charged and are awaiting trial.

Galli said there was no groundswell of concern about whether Italy’s tactics violated civil liberties. The broad use of surveillance — including intercepted communication — is seen as sufficiently targeted to terror and mafia suspects, unlike public criticism in Italy of sweeping data collection methods used in the US and UK.

The easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Edward Luttwak explains the easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere:

Perfectly ordinary regular armed forces, with no counterinsurgency doctrine or training whatever, have in the past regularly defeated insurgents, by using a number of well-proven methods. It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or of any other democratic country cannot possibly use them.

The simple starting point is that insurgents are not the only ones who can intimidate or terrorize civilians. For instance, whenever insurgents are believed to be present in a village, small town, or distinct city district — a very common occurrence in Iraq at present, as in other insurgency situations — the local notables can be compelled to surrender them to the authorities, under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions. That is how the Ottoman Empire could control entire provinces with a few feared janissaries and a squadron or two of cavalry. The Turks were simply too few to hunt down hidden rebels, but they did not have to: they went to the village chiefs and town notables instead, to demand their surrender, or else. A massacre once in a while remained an effective warning for decades. So it was mostly by social pressure rather than brute force that the Ottomans preserved their rule: it was the leaders of each ethnic or religious group inclined to rebellion that did their best to keep things quiet, and if they failed, they were quite likely to tell the Turks where to find the rebels before more harm was done.

Long before the Ottoman Empire, the Romans knew how to combine sticks and carrots to obtain obedience and suppress insurgencies. Conquered peoples too proud to accept the benefits of their rule, from public baths and free circus shows to reliable law courts, were “de-bellicized” (a very Roman idea). It was done by killing all who dared to resist in arms — it made good combat practice for the legions — by selling into slavery any who were captured in battle, by leveling towns that held out under siege instead of promptly surrendering, and by readily accepting as peaceful subjects and future citizens all who submitted to Roman rule. In the first two and most successful centuries of imperial Rome, some 300,000 soldiers in all, only half of them highly trained legionary troops, were enough to secure a vast empire that stretched well beyond the Mediterranean basin that formed its core, today the territory of some thirty European, Middle Eastern, and North African states. The Romans could not disperse their soldiers in hundreds of cities, thousands of towns, and countless hamlets to repress riot or rebellion; the troops were needed to guard the frontiers. Instead, they relied on deterrence, which was periodically reinforced by exemplary punishments. Most inhabitants of the empire never rebelled after their initial conquest. A few tribes and nations had to be reconquered after trying and failing to overthrow Roman rule. A few simply refused to become obedient, and so they were killed off: “They make a wasteland and call it peace” was the bitter complaint of a Scottish chieftain (as reported by Tacitus).

Terrible reprisals to deter any form of resistance were standard operating procedure for the German armed forces in the Second World War, and very effective they were in containing resistance with very few troops. As against all the dramatic films and books that describe the heroic achievements of the resistance all over occupied Europe, military historians have documented the tranquility that the German occupiers mostly enjoyed, and the normality of collaboration, not merely by notorious traitors such as the incautious French poet or the failed Norwegian politician but by vast numbers of ordinary people. Polish railwaymen, for example, secured the entire sustenance of the German eastern front. As for the daring resistance attacks that feature in films, they did happen occasionally, but not often, and not because of any lack of bravery in fighting the routinely formidable Germans but because of the terrible punishments they inflicted on the population.

Occupiers can thus be successful without need of any specialized counterinsurgency methods or tactics if they are willing to out-terrorize the insurgents, so that the fear of reprisals outweighs the desire to help the insurgents or their threats. The Germans also established secure and economical forms of occupation by exploiting isolated resistance attacks to achieve much broader demonstration effects. Lone German dispatch riders were easily toppled by tensed wires or otherwise intercepted and killed, but then troops would arrive on the scene to burn or demolish the surrounding buildings or farms or the nearest village, seizing and killing anyone who aroused suspicion or just happened to be there. After word of the terrible deeds spread and was duly exaggerated, German dispatch riders could safely continue on their way, until reaching some other uninstructed part of the world, where the sequence would have to be repeated.

Likewise in the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were skilled in using terror to secure their pervasive territorial control and very ready to use any amount of violence against civilians, from countless individual assassinations to mass executions, as in Hue in 1968. The Communist cause had its enthusiasts, “fellow travelers,” and opportunistic followers, but Vietnamese who were none of the above, and not outright enemies, were compelled to collaborate actively or passively by the threat of the violence so liberally used. That is exactly what the insurgents in Iraq are now doing, and this is no coincidence. All insurgencies follow the same pattern. Locals who are not sympathetic to begin with, who cannot be recruited to the cause, are compelled to collaborate by the fear of violence, readily reinforced by the demonstrative killing of those who insist on refusing to help the resistance. Neutrality is not an option.

By contrast, the capacity of American armed forces to inflict collective punishments does not extend much beyond curfews and other such restrictions, inconvenient to be sure and perhaps sufficient to impose real hardship, but obviously insufficient to out-terrorize insurgents. Needless to say, this is not a political limitation that Americans would ever want their armed forces to overcome, but it does leave the insurgents in control of the population, the real “terrain” of any insurgency. Of course, the ordinary administrative functions of government can also be employed against the insurgents, less compellingly perhaps but without need of violence. Insurgents everywhere seek to prohibit any form of collaboration or contact with the authorities, but they cannot normally prevent civilians from entering government offices to apply for obligatory licenses, permits, travel documents, and such. That provides venues for intelligence officers on site to ask applicants to provide information on the insurgents, in exchange for the approval of their requests and perhaps other rewards. This effective and straightforward method has been widely used, and there is no ethical or legal reason why it should not be used by the armed forces of the United States as well. But it does require the apparatus of military government, complete with administrative services for civilians. During and after the Second World War, after very detailed preparations, the U.S. Army and Navy governed the American zone of Germany, all of Japan, and parts of Italy. Initially, U.S. officers were themselves the administrators, with such assistance from local officials they chose to re-employ. Since then, however, the United States has preferred both in Vietnam long ago and now in Iraq to leave government to the locals.

That decision reflects another kind of politics, manifest in the ambivalence of a United States government that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all the real talent manifest in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.

The Pashtun culture may be the world’s most dysfunctional

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Steve Sailer takes the release of Brad Pitt’s new movie, War Machine, on Netflix as a jumping-off point for discussing Afghanistan, then and now:

Just as Serbia resembles an outpost of Russian culture in southern Europe, Afghanistan is culturally similar to Arabia, if the Arabs were all smoking meth. The Pashtun culture, centered in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, may be the world’s most dysfunctional. Here are some of their proverbs:

The Pukhtun is never at peace, except when he is at war.

One’s own mother and sister are disgusting.

When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet.

The horribleness of indigenous Pashtun culture might explain why the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban are seen by locals not as savages but, due to their strict obedience to the Koran, as moral exemplars. Muhammad might have married a 9-year-old, but at least she was a girl. For example, pederasty, or bacha bazi (“dancing boys), is so common among the Pashtuns that American troops were told they had to ignore sex abuse of minors for the good of the alliance. In contrast, one of the precipitating events of the Taliban’s rise to power in the mid-1990s was a small civil war between two non-Taliban warlords over a boy they both fancied. A Taliban squad under Mullah Omar rescued the boy, which raised their reputation.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Blaise Aguera y Arcas leads Google’s Machine Intelligence group in Seattle, and he has written a remarkably unscientific piece decrying physiognomy’s new clothes:

The practice of using people’s outer appearance to infer inner character is called physiognomy. While today it is understood to be pseudoscience, the folk belief that there are inferior “types” of people, identifiable by their facial features and body measurements, has at various times been codified into country-wide law, providing a basis to acquire land, block immigration, justify slavery, and permit genocide. When put into practice, the pseudoscience of physiognomy becomes the pseudoscience of scientific racism.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled scientific racism to enter a new era, in which machine-learned models embed biases present in the human behavior used for model development. Whether intentional or not, this “laundering” of human prejudice through computer algorithms can make those biases appear to be justified objectively.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character. That would be wrong.

He goes on to cite a Chinese study that sounds (literally) incredible, but the case that machine-learning is being used to “launder” human biases is rather weak.

Wu and Zhang’s criminal images (top) and non-criminal images (bottom)

Canadian sniper makes record-breaking kill shot in Iraq

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

A sniper with Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 shot and killed an Islamic State insurgent in Iraq from a record-breaking distance of 3,540 metres:

The kill was independently verified by video camera and other data, The Globe and Mail has learned.

“Hard data on this. It isn’t an opinion. It isn’t an approximation. There is a second location with eyes on with all the right equipment to capture exactly what the shot was,” another military source said.

A military insider told The Globe: “This is an incredible feat. It is a world record that might never be equalled.”

The world record was previously held by British sniper Craig Harrison, who shot a Taliban gunner with a 338 Lapua Magnum rifle from 2,475 metres away in 2009.

Previously, Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong had set the world record in 2002 at 2,430 metres when he gunned down an Afghan insurgent carrying an RPK machine gun during Operation Anaconda.

Weeks before, Canadian Master Cpl. Arron Perry briefly held the world’s best sniper record after he fatally shot an insurgent at 2,310 metres during the same operation. Both soldiers were members of the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

He was using a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle while firing from a high-rise.

Political violence is a game the Right can’t win

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

If there’s one thing righties believe, it’s that they could beat lefties in a fight, David Hines says, yet political violence is a game the Right can’t win:

The first thing righties have to understand about Lefties is that lefties have a lot more practice building their own institutions, and assuming control of existing institutions, than their counterparts on the right do, and they share their practical experience with each other. Righties who like to build churches will build a church and worship in it. Lefties who like to build churches will build a church, write a book telling people how to build churches, go out and convince people church-building is the thing to do, run workshops on how to finance, build, and register churches, and then they’ll offer to arrange church guest speakers who’ll come preach the Lefty line.

Righties need to do a better job of teaching each other. And not just teaching the right-winger closest to them. The most organized groups on the Right are the pro-life and RKBA activists; everybody else on the Right should be learning from them.

The second thing to understand about Lefties is how they actually function. There’s a lot of independence involved. Righties like hierarchy, so often think of the Lefties as taking marching orders from George Soros or whoever in a very hierarchical fashion. Not so much. A lot of left-wing organization is very decentralized, and they negotiate with other lefty groups as to exactly how they’ll do things and time things to not hurt each others’ work, so the labor movement’s march is not derailed by black-bloc window-smashing (see, for example, DIRECT ACTION, L.A. Kauffman’s excellent history of the Left from the 60s on).

The Lefties call that approach “embracing a diversity of tactics,” which, taken to its logical extent, is a weasel-worded way of saying that the lefty mainstream is comfortable with radical leftist violence. People don’t like to talk about this much. But while it’s impossible to imagine, say, an abortion clinic bomber getting a cushy job at an elite university, that’s exactly what happened to a number of alumni of the 1970s leftist terror group known as the Weather Underground. As fugitives, they were financially and operationally supported by members of the National Lawyers’ Guild; afterward, they were so normalized that the 9/11 issue of The New York Times infamously ran a profile lauding Weatherman alumnus Bill Ayres. By contrast, right-wing terrorist Eric Rudolph’s fugitive days were spent hiding in the wilderness because no one would help him. He was caught literally dumpster-diving for food. Potential right-wing extremists face opportunity costs that their left-wing counterparts do not.

Righties frequently make allegations of paid protestors when Lefties get a bunch of people together. Again, that’s not how it works. Think of Lefty protests as being like a Grateful Dead concert. People absolutely got paid at a Grateful Dead concert: the band got paid, and the roadies got paid. But the Deadheads who followed the band around didn’t get paid. They weren’t roadies, they weren’t the band; they were there because they loved the music.

Lefties are excellent at protests, not because they pay seat-fillers, but because they’ve professionalized organizing them, as you’ll discover if you read any of their books. The protestors aren’t paid. The organizers are paid. The people who train the organizers and protestors are paid. Basically, the way the Lefty protest movement works is sort of like if the Koch brothers subsidized prepping and firearms classes.

Left-wingers have a combination of centralized and decentralized infrastructure, because they have different kinds of groups. Some groups use centralized organization: they’ll go out tabling, recruit people, trying to grow big. Other groups, particularly anarchists, favor a decentralized approach, where actions are performed by the collaborative actions of multiple small cells called affinity groups.

The affinity group structure began in Spain: anarchists there organized themselves into small groups of very close friends who knew each other very well, because such small groups were difficult to infiltrate. Even if they were infiltrated, exposing one group wouldn’t blow the whole organization.

The American Left picked up on affinity groups in the late 1960s. They started as a means for organizing protests and turned into a means of organizing movements. To coordinate, they send members back and forth to spokescouncils. The idea is to create a very collaborative discussion. This is partly due to the influence on the modern hard Left by Quaker organizers — if you remember those lengthy Occupy meetings that just went on and on and on, it’s because that’s how decision-making is done in Quaker meetings, and Quaker organizers taught the technique to Lefties in the ’70s anti-nuclear movement. And it spread, because lefties in different movements talk to each other and work together all the time.

By contrast, righty organizations have historically been slow to organize. When they do, right-wing activists tend to stay in their own lanes and not work together, share notes, or reach out to one another’s followers. Think about the mishmash of signs you typically see at a Lefty protest, and then try to remember the last time you saw, say, an RKBA sign at a pro-life rally. More unfortunately, when righties do become active, they tend to do something like start a blog. Or make a YouTube channel. Or write a magazine article. In short, they become street-corner evangelists. They tend not to do things in meatspace.

Lefties do the work in the real world. Guess who wins?

The recent Battles of Berkeley have shown that right-wing defense groups can acquit themselves admirably in street-fights, but hard experience has taught Lefties that an all-one-tactic mentality is a good way to give your opponents time to figure out how to counter you. If righties going to build things, they need to look at how the lefties are doing it, because they’ve been working on it for forty years. To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in politics, but politics are interested in you — and you can learn a lot from the people who’ve been working them to their advantage.

He has fangs and the capacity for violence

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Josh Eells has written a rather unflattering piece on Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the “Killologist” training America’s cops, for Men’s Journal:

After his talk, Grossman and I went for dinner at a nearby sports bar, where he told me about his life. He lives with his wife, Jeanne — his high school sweetheart — and their two dogs in a small town outside St. Louis, Missouri (as it happens, 45 minutes from Ferguson). He spends almost 300 days a year on the road, usually coming home one night a week for what he jokingly calls “a conjugal visit and clean underwear” before heading out again. His oldest son, Jon, runs a family-owned gunsmithing company; his youngest, Joe, helps manage the speaking business. His middle son, Eric, is an Air Force combat controller with nine combat tours and three Bronze Stars.

[...]

It was at Arkansas State that Grossman published On Killing, in 1995, to much acclaim. The Washington Post called it “an illuminating account of how soldiers learn to kill and how they live with the experience of having killed”; the New York Times called it “powerfully argued” and “full of arresting observations and insights.” The book even made fans in Hollywood: While promoting his World War II movie Fury a few years back, Brad Pitt told an interviewer, “If you want to better understand the accumulative psychic trauma incurred by our soldiers, read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.”

Though Grossman calls himself a behavioral scientist, he is not a researcher in the traditional academic sense. He wrote On Combat, a study on how soldiers and police officers cope with the stress associated with deadly conflict, using what he calls an “interactive feedback loop” — gathering stories from combat veterans, then presenting the information to people he trains. He’s more of a Malcolm Gladwell type, compiling anecdotes and fashioning them into a digestible narrative. As his chief qualifications, Grossman cites the “body of information I’ve crafted over the years” and his ability to “speak from the heart.” “I truly am one of the best people on the planet in a couple of areas,” he told me. “Whether it’s preparation for a life-or-death event or walking the sheepdog path, I really feel like I’m the preeminent authority.”

[...]

In his famous sheepdog essay, Grossman talked about how sheepdogs can sometimes accidentally scare the sheep. The sheepdog “looks a lot like the wolf,” he wrote. “He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.”

Riot police embrace bicycles

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

American protest is changing in the digital age, and in response riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution, the bicycle:

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for “crowd management”, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the city’s mid-size police department – but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

“They had great command and control,” says Dyment. “They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a “push to talk” function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.”

[...]

“It allows you to be mobile as a group,” says Dyment. “Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.”

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, “bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.”

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective – and cheap – tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. “They provide a natural barrier,” Dyment says. “The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources.” (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including “the crossbow” and “the barrier technique”.

In the first, “the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up,” Goetz wrote. “On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap.” In the second, officers focus on “lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected”.

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

Seattle Bike Squad

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattle’s bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

Gygax was “eccentric and frightening”

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

C.J. Ciaramella filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the FBI’s files on TSR, the company that published Dungeons & Dragons, and found that Gary Gygax, the game’s co-creator, sounded hardcore:

An FBI source in the report alleges that Gygax was “eccentric and frightening,” carried a weapon, proudly responded to every letter he received from an inmate, and had a Liberian holding company. It concludes: “He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.”

Gary Gygax FBI File from 1995

The FBI describes wargamers accurately enough:

…advised that war gamers are generally extremely intelligent individuals. Often they will live frugally to support the cost of the war gaming hobby. [Redacted] further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance.

The main weapon against rudeness

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Muscovites don’t always follow traffic and parking laws, but a polite request from the BodyMania guys can be very convincing:

Erik Prince recommends the MacArthur model for Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America, argues Erik Prince. He recommends the MacArthur model:

The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action. For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries. It’s time for President Trump to fix our approach to Afghanistan in five ways.

First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts — including command, budget, policy, promotion and contracting — and report directly to the president. As it is, there are too many cooks in the kitchen — and the cooks change shift annually. The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.

A better approach would resemble Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s leadership of postwar Japan. Given clear multiyear authority, MacArthur made bold moves like repealing restrictive speech laws and granting property rights. Those directives moved Japan ahead by centuries. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.

Second, Mr. Trump should authorize his viceroy to set rules of engagement in collaboration with the elected Afghan government to make better decisions, faster. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war — and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population. Give the leadership on the ground the authority and responsibility to finish the job.

Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach.

It has led to fatal and intractable flaws, including weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy. Further, barely 40% of Afghanistan’s U.S.-provided fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are functional, leaving security forces without close air support, unable to resupply, medevac casualties, or move troops in a timely manner.

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

Fourth, Mr. Trump needs to abandon the flawed population-centric theory of warfare in Afghanistan. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.

The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources — including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium — and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.