Friday, May 6th, 2016

Gun violence is usually measured in deaths and injuries, but the ShotSpotter system measures shots fired:

Last year, there were 165,531 separate gunshots recorded in 62 different urban municipalities nationwide, including places such as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., St. Louis and Canton, according to ShotSpotter, the company behind a technology that listens for gunfire’s acoustic signature and reports it to authorities.

Even that eye-popping number captures only a fraction of the bullets fired each year. It does not include data from rural areas or the nation’s two largest cities — Los Angeles does not use ShotSpotter and New York City was excluded from the 2015 tally because it did not start until mid-year.

The ShotSpotter system also covers just a sliver of each city that it is in, usually higher-crime neighborhoods. ShotSpotter’s total coverage was 173 square miles last year. And the devices tend to not hear gunshots fired indoors.

Still, the data begins to provide a fuller picture of the nation’s rampant gunfire.

Last year, those 165,531 gunshots were divided among 54,699 different incidents — an average of 150 gunfire incidents every day.

The busiest month for gunfire was May.

The busiest day was Dec. 25, Christmas.

And if you want to avoid getting shot, it’s best to lie low from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. That was the busiest hour of the week for gunfire. The slowest hour was 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Mondays.


Doleac, at the University of Virginia, and Purdue professor Jillian Carr used ShotSpotter data for Washington to determine how the city’s juvenile curfew affected gun violence.

The ShotSpotter devices were rolled out first in Anacostia in 2006, then Southeast and Northeast neighborhoods and finally north of downtown. The researchers examined gunshots detected from 2006 to 2013.

What they found was surprising: The city’s curfew actually increased the number of gunfire incidents by 150% in the hour immediately after it went into effect.

The researchers focused on the one-hour period when the city’s curfew changed each year, going from midnight every night in July and August to 11 p.m. on weeknights the rest of the year.

During that hour switch-over, they found, gunfire spiked. The researchers theorized that this was because law-abiding juveniles were most likely to follow the curfew. They got off the streets. That resulted in fewer innocent witnesses or bystanders in public, potentially leading to more lawlessness and gunfire.

In another study, Doleac and Carr found that ShotSpotter data showed evidence of “severe underreporting” of gun violence when compared to the traditional metrics of homicides or 911 calls.

In Washington, just 1 in 8 gunfire incidents led to a 911 call for “shots fired” in the covered areas.

“It’s clear most people don’t bother to call 911,” Doleac said.

In Washington, there was one reported homicide for every 181 gunfire incidents.

In Oakland, Calif., the other city that researchers studied, it was one homicide for every 62 gunshot incidents.

They noted with interest that it appears Oakland’s gunfire was at least twice as deadly as Washington’s gunfire. Although the researchers couldn’t come up with the reasons behind this difference (Were Washington’s gunmen poor shots? Did victims in Oakland get to the hospital more slowly?), the difference points to how measuring gun violence with homicides is problematic.

Engineers of Jihad

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees? Sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog looked into The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education, and Tyler Cowen found their core message pretty simple:

Our findings about disciplines, personality traits, and political preferences are remarkably consistent. The outstanding result we obtained is that the distribution of traits across disciplines mirrors almost exactly the distribution of disciplines across militant groups…engineers are present in groups in which social scientists, humanities graduates, and women are absent, and engineers possess traits — proneness to disgust, need for closure, in-group bias, and (at least tentatively) simplism…

Three Tribes Under One Roof

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

CIA houses several very different cultures under one roof:

The three main tribes are the analysts, the spies and the techies. For outsiders, the analysts are in-house academics and experts who brief and write papers for the President and policymakers. The spies are those officers of the Clandestine Service (now called the Directorate of Operations, or DO) who live overseas and manage human spy networks. They tend to be the cocky jet pilots of the CIA. The techies spend the money and manage huge, sophisticated, cutting edge programs. They are engineers, scientists and visionaries. Housing these three tribes under one roof has always been both CIA’s strength and weakness.

The man who was easily the most damaging individual to American intelligence was one of those techies who became Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner:

Turner was a techie, in Sipher’s trichotomy of CIA cultures; he had headed NSA and, when Jimmy Carter appointed him DCI, he concluded that he could get all the intel a nation needs from technical means (listening posts, satellites) and liaison with friendly services, and so he fired 800 case officers (causing lost contact with their foreign agents) — almost 1/4 of the clandestine service — literally overnight. Turner put out one eye and left the US nearly blind in places like Africa and the Levant. In Iran, the only eye left was through liaisons with the Shah’s intelligence agency SAVAK, which evaporated when the Shah fell and left the CIA completely blind and unable to operate in Iran at all.It was in this environment that the hostage rescue’s clandestine side wound up run by a US Army Special Forces element. Likewise, the US was blindsided by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in part because of the Turner bloodletting.

Understanding and Training the Female Shooter

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Greg Ellifritz shares some things he learned from Lou Ann Hamblin’s Understanding and Training the Female Shooter class:

When measured on a dynamometer, most men have similar grip strength between their dominant and non-dominant hands (as tested in class, my hands differed by only 2 lbs. of force between right and left). Most women have a HUGE disparity…differences of up to 40% are common. Would that knowledge affect how you teach off-handed shooting for a female student? It should.

Female vision is different than male vision. Women have less depth perception, but better peripheral vision than men. It affects how women see the sights on their guns and how far they have to move their head to do an after-action scan.

Shorter-waisted women have difficulty drawing from many traditional holsters. Their body styles change which gear works best for them.

Women are known to be better multi-taskers than men. This can be problematic in firearms training as some women will try to do too much, taking your suggestions very literally. If you give most women a list of 10 things they are doing “wrong”, they will try to work on them all simultaneously and won’t make as much improvement as if you gave them just one or two things to improve at a time.

Because of differing motivational strategies, competition in training will often yield different results between men and women. Most men really enjoy competition and find it valuable. Because most women are motivated more by social connection than by ego gratification, competition may not give the same benefits. Lou Ann suggested using team competitions (where students are partnered up to achieve a goal) when training women. She believes that women will be better motivated to perform if they are trying to help their partner than if they were trying to win some type of individual award.

“Women need details…but only when they are ready for them. Don’t over-explain things in the beginning, but be ready to explain things in much more detail that you ever imagined necessary when she asks for it. But, she won’t ask for the details if she thinks you are a dick.”

The Elbonian Zombie Virus

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

The Elbonian Zombie Virus is a thought experiment of Scott Adams’:

Imagine that the tiny nation of Elbonia suffers a Zombie Virus outbreak. Luckily, the virus does not spread easily, but prolonged personal contact with an infected zombie increases the odds of transmission. Once infected, the Elbonian becomes a zombie killer. As it turns out, most people are immune to the virus. Over 99% of the public have no risk of catching it. But 1% is far too many zombie killers.

Imagine we have no way to detect this Elbonian Zombie Virus infection before symptoms occur. And let’s say that the problem started in Elbonia and so far has not gone beyond its borders. There is no cure for the Elbonian Zombie Virus. So what would world health organizations do?

For starters, they would quarantine the entire nation of Elbonia to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all uninfected Elbonians but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.

Now here’s the interesting part. What is the functional difference between the Elbonian Zombie Virus and radical islamic terrorism?

Weapon Laws in Germany

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Jörg Sprave of The Slingshot Channel is famous for his crazy improvised weapons, but he also collects real weapons, which isn’t nearly as illegal in Germany as an American might imagine:

Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey

Monday, April 25th, 2016

James Lacey designed the perfect course on the Peloponnesian War for his students at the Marine Corps War College — only to realize that no one learned or remembered much of anything. Then he completely redesigned the course to use wargaming in the classroom, and the results were amazing:

I selected Fran Diaz’s Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, because, unlike many games, it has a heavy economic and diplomatic element. After dividing the seminars into teams, I was able to run five simultaneous games.

The results were amazing.

As every team plotted their strategic “ends,” students soon realized that neither side had the resources — “means” — to do everything they wanted. Strategic decisions quickly became a matter of tradeoffs, as the competitors struggled to find the “ways” to secure sufficient “means” to achieve their objectives (“ends”). For the first time, students were able to examine the strategic options of the Peloponnesian War within the strictures that limited the actual participants in that struggle.

Remarkably, four of the five Athenian teams actually attacked Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast! As they were all aware that such a course had led to an Athenian disaster 2,500 years before, I queried them about their decision. Their replies were the same: Each had noted that the Persians were stirring, which meant there was a growing threat to Athens’ supply of wheat from the Black Sea. As there was an abundance of wheat near Syracuse, each Athenian team decided to secure it as a second food source (and simultaneously deny it to Sparta and its allies) in the event the wheat from the Black Sea was lost to them. Along the way, two of the teams secured Pylos so as to raise helot revolts that would damage the Spartan breadbasket. Two of the teams also ended revolts in Corcyra, which secured that island’s fleet for Athenian purposes, and had the practical effect of blockading Corinth. So, it turns out there were a number of good strategic reasons for Athens to attack Syracuse. Who knew? Certainly not any War College graduate over the past few decades.

All of these courses of action were thoroughly discussed by each team, as were Spartan counter moves. For the first time in my six years at the Marine Corps War College, I was convinced that the students actually understood the range of strategies and options Thucydides wrote about. In the following days, I was stopped dozens of times by students who wanted discuss other options they might have employed, and, even better, to compare their decisions to what actually happened. A number of students told me they were still thinking about various options and decisions weeks later. I assure you that no one even spent even a car ride home thinking about my Thucydides lectures.


For six or more hours at a sitting, classes remain focused on the strategic choices before them, as they try to best an enemy as quick-thinking and adaptive as they are. Every turn presents strategic options and dilemmas that have to be rapidly discussed and decided on. As there are never enough resources, time and again hard choices have to be made. Every war college administrator can wax eloquently about their school’s mission to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. But they then subject those same students to a year of mind-numbing classroom seminars that rarely, if ever, allow them to practice those skills that each college claims as its raison d’etre. Well, wargaming, in addition to helping students comprehend the subject material, also allows them an unparalleled opportunity to repeatedly practice decisive critical thinking. Moreover, it does so in a way where the effects of both good and bad decisions are almost immediately apparent.

At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury.

Harvey’s Casino

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

In the early morning hours of August 26, 1980, a team of men wearing white jumpsuits rolled an IBM copy machine into Harvey’s Resort Hotel and Casino in Stateline, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe — only it wasn’t a copy machine:

So began one of the most unusual cases in [FBI] history.

A note left with the bomb—titled STERN WARNING TO THE MANAGEMENT AND BOMB SQUAD—began ominously: “Do not move or tilt this bomb, because the mechanism controlling the detonators in it will set it off at a movement of less than .01 of the open end Ricter scale.”

“Do not try to take it apart,” the note went on. “The flathead screws are also attached to triggers and as much as ¼ to ¾ of a turn will cause an explosion. …This bomb is so sensitive that the slightest movement either inside or outside will cause it to explode. This bomb can never be dismantled or disarmed without causing an explosion. Not even by the creator.”

An investigator examines the Harvey’s bomb, which contained nearly 1,000 pounds of dynamite and a variety of triggering mechanisms that made it virtually undefeatable.

The “creator,” we later discovered, was 59-year-old John Birges, Sr.—who wanted $3 million in cash in return for supplying directions to disconnect two of the bomb’s three automatic timers so it could be moved to a remote area before exploding.

The device—two steel boxes stacked one atop the other—contained nearly 1,000 pounds of dynamite. Inside the resort, Birges made sure the bomb was exactly level, then armed it using at least eight triggering mechanisms.

Harvey’s Bomb

“We had never seen anything quite like it,” said retired Special Agent Chris Ronay, an explosives examiner who was called to the scene along with other experts.

After being discovered, the bomb was photographed, dusted for fingerprints, X-rayed, and studied. Finally, more than 30 hours later, a plan was agreed upon: if the two boxes could be severed using a shaped charge of C4 explosive, it might disconnect the detonator wiring from the dynamite.

Harvey’s and other nearby casinos in Lake Tahoe were evacuated, and on the afternoon of August 27, the shaped charge was remotely detonated.

The plan was the best one available at the time, but it didn’t work. The bomb exploded, creating a five-story crater in the hotel. “Looking up from ground level,” Ronay said, “you could see TV sets swinging on electric cords and toilets hanging on by pipes. Debris was everywhere.” Fortunately, because of the evacuation, no one was killed or injured.

Harvey’s Bomb Blast

John Birges, Sr. (1922–1996), was a Hungarian immigrant from Clovis, California. He flew for the German Luftwaffe during World War II. He was captured and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in a Russian gulag. Eight years into his sentence in the gulag, he escaped by blowing it up. He emigrated to the U.S. and built a successful landscaping business, but his addiction to gambling led to his losing a large amount of money and prompted the bomb plot. His gambling debt and experience with explosives were primary pieces of evidence linking him to the Lake Tahoe bombing.

Birges was eventually arrested based on a tip. One of his sons had revealed to his then-girlfriend that his father had placed a bomb in Harvey’s. After the two broke up, she was on a date with another man when they heard about a reward for information, and she informed her new boyfriend about Birges. This man then called the FBI.

(Hat tip to Mangan, who cited Wikipedia.)

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

The U.S. Navy went into World War 2 with a three-phase plan for handling the Japanese, War Plan Orange:

  1. Pull US Navy ships back to their home ports, and sacrifice outposts near Japan — the Philippines and Guam.
  2. With superior force, advance toward Japan, seizing Japanese-occupied islands to establish supply routes and overseas bases. The US, with its superior production power, should be able to reclaim the Philippines within two or three years.
  3. Choke Japanese trade and bombard the Japanese home islands without invading them.

Submarines were seen as auxiliaries or picket ships that would scout ahead of the fleet and extend its range of observation, but that role ended up being filled by aircraft.

War Plan Orange wargames rarely dealt with submarines substantially; the focus was on battleships versus carriers.

But the U.S. Navy wasn’t able to follow through on War Plan Orange and instead started by ordering unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan’s sea lines of communications:

American Navy planners had not totally overlooked unrestricted submarine warfare in 1940 and 1941, but had given little thought to exactly HOW these operations would be carried out. The Navy had not thought out the necessary components for such a campaign, because it went against Mahanian principles which stressed decisive surface battles. The post-war assessment from inside the submarine community was telling: “Neither by training nor indoctrination was the U.S. Submarine Force readied for unrestricted warfare.” Campaign pressures and operational realities would force the Navy to adapt its plans and way of fighting.

Clay Blair observed that because of its lack of doctrine and working weapons, the U.S. submarine offensive did not truly begin until 1944. Up until then it “had been a learning period, a time of testing, of weeding out, of fixing defects in weapons, strategy, and tactics, of waiting for sufficient numbers of submarines and workable torpedoes.” More boats, more aggressive commanders, reliable torpedoes, and better radar/sonar all made their contribution. By the end autumn of 1944, the period of learning and adaptation was over. The American sea wolves were numerous, trained, and well-armed.

As the war drew to a close, the role of the submarine as an offensive weapon was evident. The boats had served as the principal source of attrition for the Japanese economy by targeting Japan’s commerce, especially its oil tanker fleet. Once the Americans had taken positions in the Philippines, Guam, Midway, Saipan and Okinawa, U.S. forces had cut off the Empire’s energy supply. Strategically, the war was essentially over. Japanese economic productivity was grinding to a halt. Japanese tankers were delivering only one tenth of the oil needed for 1944-45.

After the war, there was agreement among Navy leaders that submarines had played a major role in countering Japan. Nimitz, after some distance and reflection in retirement, said: “During the dark, early months of World War II, it was only the tiny American submarine force that held off the Japanese Empire and enabled our fleet to replace their losses and repair their wounds.” More objectively, speaking well after the war, Admiral “Bull” Halsey observed, “If I had to give credit to the instruments and machines that won us the war in the Pacific, I would rank them in this order; submarines, first, radar second, planes third, and bulldozers fourth.”

The judgment of Navy leaders was validated by post-war government assessments. As noted in the US Strategic Bombing Survey, the impact of the submarine attrition warfare was strategic in effect:

Instead of the 28,500,000 barrels of oil its leaders expected to import from the Southern Zone in 1944, it imported only 4,975,000 barrels. In 1945 its imports were confined to the few thousand barrels brought in during January and February by single tankers that succeeded in running the blockade….After the battles of early 1945, when Japan lost the Philippines and Okinawa, United States forces sat astride its vital oil life line. Strategically the war was won.

This history makes one wonder what the U.S. Navy might have achieved if it had invested the same intellectual capital into developing Fleet submarines and working torpedoes that it had in the carrier. Could the United States have choked off Japan’s trade by the summer of 1943?

The Importance of the Battle of Midway

Monday, April 18th, 2016

The importance of the Battle of Midway goes beyond shifting the balance of power and the initiative from the Imperial Japanese Navy to the U.S. Navy. The victory at Midway aided allied strategy worldwide:

That last point needs some explaining. To understand it, begin by putting yourself in the shoes of President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the beginning of May 1942. The military outlook across the world appears very bad for the Allies. The German army is smashing a Soviet offensive to regain Kharkov, and soon will begin a drive to grab the Soviet Union’s oil supplies in the Caucasus. A German and Italian force in North Africa is threatening the Suez Canal. The Japanese have seriously crippled the Pacific Fleet, driven Britain’s Royal Navy out of the Indian Ocean, and threaten to link up with the Germans in the Middle East.

If the Japanese and the Germans do link up, they will cut the British and American supply line through Iran to the Soviet Union, and they may pull the British and French colonies in the Middle East into the Axis orbit. If that happens, Britain may lose control of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Soviet Union may negotiate an armistice with Germany. Even worse, the Chinese, cut off from aid from the United States, may also negotiate a cease-fire with the Japanese. For Churchill, there is the added and dreaded prospect that the Japanese may spark a revolt that will take India from Britain. Something has to be done to stop the Japanese and force them to focus their naval and air forces in the Pacific—away from the Indian Ocean and (possibly) the Arabian Sea.

Midway saves the decision by the Americans and British to focus their major effort against Germany, and the American and British military staffs are free to plan their invasion of North Africa. The U.S. Navy and Marines also begin planning for an operation on Guadalcanal against the Japanese. As Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance—one of the Navy’s carrier task force commanders at Midway—put it after the battle, “We had not been defeated by these superior Japanese forces. Midway to us at the time meant that here is where we start from, here is where we really jump off in a hard, bitter war against the Japanese.” Note his words: “… here is where we start from…” Midway, then, was a turning point, but by no means were the leaders of Japan and Germany ready to throw in the towel.

Revitalizing Wargaming

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

We must revitalize wargaming to prepare for future wars, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Gen. Paul Selva argue:

Few historical periods match the dynamic technological disruption of the inter-war years of the 1920s and 1930s. During these decades, militaries the world over struggled to adapt to new inventions such as radar and sonar, as well as rapid improvements in wireless communications, mechanization, aviation, aircraft carriers, submarines, and a host of other militarily relevant technologies. Military planners and theorists intuitively understood that all these new technologies, systems, and advances would drive new ways of fighting, but they were forced to envision what future battlefields would look like with few clues to go by.

To help navigate through this period of disruptive change, the United States military made extensive use of analytical wargaming. Wargames were an inexpensive tool during a period of suppressed defense spending to help planners cope with the high degree of contemporary technological and operational uncertainty. They were used to explore a range of possible warfighting futures, generate innovative ideas, and consider how to integrate new technologies into doctrine, operations, and force structure. For example, faculty and students at the Naval War College integrated wargaming into their entire course of study, analyzing the then-novel concept of carrier task force operations, the role of submarines in scouting and raiding, and how to provide logistics support to fleet operations spread over the vast Pacific Ocean. Wargames in classrooms at Quantico helped the Marine Corps develop new concepts for amphibious warfare and conceive of new techniques for capturing advanced naval bases. Wargamers at the Army War College explored how to employ tanks and artillery on infantry-dominated battlefields and examined the logistical challenges of fighting a war far from American shores.

As valuable as they were, wargames were not in and of themselves sufficient to prompt organizational and operational change. As such, all of the services worked hard to test wargame results in fleet and field exercises. Exercises were used to verify game insights using systems at hand or with surrogates that represented desired advanced capabilities identified during game play. The observations and lessons learned in exercises were in turn fed back into new wargames, thus creating a cycle of creative ideas and innovation that generated requirements for new systems, suggested new operation concepts, and influenced force design.

Once the Second World War began, those warfighting communities that had pursued wargaming and exercises with vigor proved far better prepared for modern combat than those that did not. For example, of the three major warfighting communities in the Navy — naval aviation, surface warfare, and submarine — the naval aviation community carried out the most innovative pre-war experimentation and exercises. Although aircraft carriers were originally envisioned as operating in support of the fleet battle line, carrier aviators explored a wide range of futures, including independent carrier operations. As a result, the U.S. carrier force was ready on day one of the Pacific war, and within six months had inflicted a major, lasting defeat on the superior Japanese carrier force at the Battle of Midway. By contrast, pre-war wargames and exercises in the submarine community had emphasized rote doctrine using the submarine fleet as a scouting force for the main battle line, and policy strictures dampened any exploration of independent submarine operations. Unsurprisingly, then, the submarine community proved unprepared for the tactics, techniques, and procedures needed to execute unrestricted warfare on Japanese merchant shipping. Similarly, surface warfare wargames failed to anticipate long-range torpedoes or account for the Japanese emphasis on night surface action. As a consequence, they suffered badly in early clashes against a highly trained Japanese cruiser and destroyer force that excelled at night fighting and was armed with the deadly, long-range Long Lance torpedo.

Today, we are living in a time of rapid technological change and constrained defense spending, not unlike that of the inter-war years.

The story of how the Navy learned to learn to fight is fascinating, by the way.

One of History’s Most Successful Aggressor Nations

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

The United States is one of history’s most successful aggressor nations:

We conquered almost the entirety of continental United States through a series of small but undeniably aggressive wars against the Indians who were in possession. We also made a serious but unsuccessful effort to conquered Canada in 1812. Much of the Southwest was originally taken from the Mexicans who were in occupation by two wars, one by the Texans and then, when we annexed Texas, by us. There were still many Indian tribes who did not recognize Mexican sovereignty or our sovereignty when we replaced them. The wars with Geronimo in that area were among our most difficult aggressive wars. We of course bought Florida from Spain, but only after making it clear we would compel an exit by force if they decided not to take our money.

Let us consider first the Indians. It should be said that in many cases there were European powers who claimed parts of the future United States, and they were either were forced to “cede” those parts by war, or sold them to us, but in most cases north of Mexico the area was actually controlled by Indian tribes and the European sovereignty was more or less theoretical. Until our armies had driven out the Indians it is very hard to argue that these areas were actually in our possession.

Let me begin at the very beginning with the settlement of the English colonies. Beginning with the settlements in Virginia and those in New England, colonists had gradually build up a thin layer of essentially European civilization along the Atlantic Coast of what would eventually become the United States. This colonization had proceeded by simply seizing land, sometimes compensating the Indians already there and sometimes fighting wars with them. In general apparently no one ever really considered their rights in the matter. In these areas colonial powers issued charters to their colonists that rather assumed that they had a right to do this. Locke, for example, drew up a charter for the Carolinas in which people’s ownership of land came from their farming it. He paid no attention whatsoever to the natives already there.

But it should be said that the native tribes were not absolutely peaceful. Indeed small groups of Indians tended to raid outlying white settlements. This would continue to be true almost up to the 20th century. Indeed there was one raid in which Indians attacked a federal court in the late 1980s. In what the Europeans call the seven years war and we called the French and Indian war the two major powers in the North American continent, France and England, attempted to involve the Indian tribes in their war. There were raids from some tribes on the English colonies and English entered into treaties with some of these tribes under which they would protect our colonies in return for a guarantee of their keeping’s existing tribal lands. It was this guarantee that prevented or impeded the westward push on the colonists and they objected to it.


It should be said that the Indians in general lived by hunting and gathering and required a great deal of land to support individual families and tribes. Efforts were made, particularly in the Louisiana Purchase to get them to farm the land but this was in general unsuccessful. Thus land that might support 20,000 settlers was occupied by perhaps only 500 Indians. Purchase of the land was difficult because the Indians had no clear-cut tribal or family ownership. The individual tribes were in almost continuous minor wars with each other and hence purchase of land from one would not extinguish the claim of another. Nevertheless, with rare exceptions, we and the other “European” claimants simply ignored Indian rights and issued charters to settlers or in Mexico, conquistadors.

It is interesting that with the occupation of the entire United States by Americans we stopped engaging in wars of conquest.

What Happened after the Vietnam War

Friday, April 15th, 2016

What happened after the Vietnam War, although covered by the newspaper, has been largely forgotten:

I suspect that the invasion of a large number of intellectuals, who regarded their antagonism to the war and their demonstrations to that effect as a high point in their lives, means that they must forget or suppress the mass murderers that followed the Communist victory.

The first of these mass murderers occurred in Cambodia. As soon as we withdrew our forces from Vietnam, it was possible for the Communist to take over Cambodia without any interference from us. They carried off what was the most intense campaign of mass murder anywhere in the world. They only killed 2 million people but as percentage of the rather limited population of Cambodia this was a record breaker. There was a brief attempt to blame it on United States, but that faded out very quickly. Now I think you can say that the whole thing has gone into the memory hole.

There were also the boat people. Apparently the Communist government in Vietnam was anti-Chinese and a large number of people, exact number is not known, were put into leaky boats and shoved out to sea. Estimates of the death rate run between three-quarters of million and million and a half. It may be that this was one of the reasons for China attacking North Vietnam. The boat people got a lot of newspaper publicity at the time and a number of people who been strongly supporting the North in the war signed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times in which they in essence apologized. The matter has, however, been largely forgotten since then.

Manly Courage in the Face of Physical Danger

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff describes some of Jocko Willink’s (@jockowillink) appeal as a business consultant:

America seemed to be full of businessmen like [Ed Cole, the president of Chevrolet] who exercised considerable power and were strong leaders but who had never exercised power and leadership in its primal form: manly courage in the face of physical danger. When they met someone who had it, they wanted to establish a relationship with that righteous stuff.

Selecting Bomb Targets

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

It was reported at the time that President Johnson took an active role selecting bomb targets in Vietnam:

If the newspapers are to be believed he made the selection calls sitting on the toilet seat in the White House. Since almost all bombs were dropped over empty forest it’s hard to see why anybody would be concerned about which particular trees were killed.

There were of course suitable bomb targets in the North. Hanoi almost escaped bombing until the fall of ’72. It was not a major industrial city but nevertheless in World War II We blew up many harmless cities in Germany and Japan. I occasionally visit Wurzeburg, a pretty little city without industry. It was leveled late in the war for no known reason. Certainly Hanoi made at least an equally worthwhile bomb target.

There were two other a rather good bomb targets. The northern boundary of Vietnam is mountainous although not a major mountain range. There were two railroads connecting with China running through this mountain range. Breaking them up by use of fighter-bombers and then keeping them non-operational permanently was militarily obvious and probably worthwhile. Certainly far more worth while than Wurzeburg.

The North of Vietnam is very largely the lower reaches of the Delta of the Red River. This being on the outskirts of the traditional rice growing area of Asia it had been thoroughly converted into a long series of irrigated and drained rice paddies. Breaking up the dikes would have been an easy thing for the air force to do and it might have starved the North Vietnamese government out. We announced that we were not going to do that at the very beginning of the war.


But let us now turn to various other things that were not done although the fact that they were not done was the open secret. The first of these is blockade of the North. There was no blockade until after the ‘72 election when Nixon imposed a blockade and ordered a bombing of Hanoi. This speedily changed the northern negotiating tactics in the attempt to make peace. Thus the open war ended at this time to be renewed later, of course. I never saw any explanation as to why the blockade had not been put on earlier.


The North of Vietnam sent most supplies to the south by way of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which ran through Laos. This ran parallel to the Laotian South Vietnamese border and not terribly far from that border. We did not however make any serious effort to block it. It was bombed from time to time, but it was in the forest and only a trail anyway so this did not do very much in the way of blocking it. On one occasion the South Vietnamese army mounted a light raid on it but quickly withdrew. The only explanation I never heard for failing to make any serious effort to block the trail was a statement by a employee of the Department of State in Washington in which he said that if we moved into Laos the Vietnamese would simply move their trail westward into Thailand, thus bringing the Thais into the war. Why that was thought to be undesirable, was not explained. Surely if they were trying to defend their own territory against the North Vietnamese, their intervention in the war would’ve been to our advantage.