Welcome to Our Reality

Friday, October 17th, 2014

How do the Swedes recruit soldiers? Like this:

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Scott Alexander reviews Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche Indians:

When Mexico took over from Spain and tried to colonize Texas, the Comanches beat them so soundly that they decided to get some “help” by inviting Anglo-Americans to come in and colonize, leading to the Texas revolt, the Mexican War, and so on. Through the first thirty years or so of American Texas, American control only extended through the eastern half of the state, with the western half being totally Comanche and almost totally unexplored. The border was so feared that places like Fort Worth, Texas were originally a line of actual forts intended to protect the Texans from Comanche raids.

These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. Sometimes people were scalped alive. The women would usually be gang-raped dozens of times, and then enslaved, carried off to Comanche territory, and gang-raped some more. Children were forced to watch as their parents were raped and tortured and killed, or vice versa.

Their favorite pastime was to find a remote farm somewhere, ride in dressed in full war gear, communicate some version of “Oh, hi, I know what this looks like but actually we’re just stopping by, mind giving us a bite to eat?”, enjoying a lavish feast put on by extremely nervous settlers, and then saying “Very good, in exchange for this feast we give you a five minute head start”, then giving them five minutes to run away before riding them down and torture-killing the entire family in the manner described earlier.

On the other hand, the Comanches fit the classic pattern of hunter-gatherer civilizations of simultaneously being really mean to people outside the tribe while showing deep and heartfelt kindness to everyone within. We know this because sometimes if there were very young children, and the Comanches were feeling a bit low on headcount, they would capture the children and adopt them as full Comanches (after torture-killing the parents, of course) and some of these children would later grow up to write English-language books about their experience. But this practice definitely led to some awkward situations, and the book centers around one of them: the last great chief of the Comanches, Quanah, was half-white, the son of a Comanche chief and a Texan woman who had been captured when she was nine years old.

So there was a bit of traffic back and forth between America and Comancheria in the 19th century. White people being captured and raised by Comanches. The captives being recaptured years later and taken back into normal white society. Indians being defeated and settled on reservations and taught to adopt white lifestyles. And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:

All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.

There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did; the Comanche men were probably the best archers and horsemen in the history of history, and even women and children had wilderness survival and tracking skills that put even the best white frontiersmen to shame. It sounds like a life of leisure, strong traditions, excellence, and enjoyment of nature, and it doesn’t surprise me that people liked it better than the awful white frontier life of backbreaking farming and endless religious sermons.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

From 2004 to 2011, American troops repeatedly encountered chemical weapons remaining from earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule, C.J. Chivers reports:

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.


Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

The Russians have been spying on foreign powers — shocking, I know — using software that researchers have dubbed Sandworm:

Although iSight only has a small view of the number of victims targeted in the campaign, the victims include among others, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ukrainian and European Union governments, energy and telecommunications firms, defense companies, as well as at least one academic in the US who was singled out for his focus on Ukrainian issues. The attackers also targeted attendees of this year’s GlobSec conference, a high-level national security gathering that attracts foreign ministers and other top leaders from Europe and elsewhere each year.

It appears Sandworm is focused on nabbing documents and emails containing intelligence and diplomatic information about Ukraine, Russia and other topics of importance in the region. But it also attempts to steal SSL keys and code-signing certificates, which iSight says the attackers probably use to further their campaign and breach other systems.

The researchers dubbed the operation “Sandworm” because the attackers make multiple references to the science fiction series Dune in their code. [...] It was encoded references to Dune — which appear in URLs for the attackers’ command-and-control servers — that helped tie some of the attacks together. The URLs include base64 strings that when decoded translate to “arrakis02,” “houseatreides94,” and “epsiloneridani0,” among others.

“Some of the references were very obscure so whoever was writing the malware was a big Dune geek,” says John Hultquist, senior manager for iSight’s Cyber Espionage Threat Intelligence team.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Great Martian War

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The Great Martian War mixes authentic (and inauthentic) World War I footage with SFX War of the Worlds tripods — and a not-at-all-period soundtrack:

The History Channel has a two-hour special planned:

We made the decision from the start not to use WWI archive footage that showed real casualties or troops fighting. Though we strongly believe our show honours the veterans of WWI and seeks to look at the war afresh through a science fiction story we recognised the need to be sensitive to the original archive material and the people in it.

As well as the untreated period archive that illustrates our story we had in some cases to insert realistic computer graphics into that archive. That was a complex process of creating super realistic Alien war machines animating and rendering them then match compositing them into archive that was often hugely distressed and degraded. The modern animated elements then had to be similarly degraded so that they bedded into the period archive. No two pieces of original archive are alike so each shot presented a very complex set of issues for the teams involved.

On top of that we created a number of shots using live action of extras in detailed period costume on a purpose built trench system, (the same one used for the WWI scenes in ‘Downton Abbey’!), and on location. Our Aliens were then composited into this footage and the whole thing retro treated with pops, scratches, grain and distress to sit alongside original war footage, hopefully invisibly.

We also co-opted real archive from the years around the war and re-interpreted it to help illustrate our story. We don’t pretend to bring to our fake documentary the kind of rigour necessary in real documentary. We needed to re-interpret archive to tell our fictional story. So for instance our footage of riots around the Whitehouse is real but took place after WWI… And in a world where Germany, France and Britain fought on the same side against a single Alien invader our uniforms and kit do not always strictly chronologically match the timeline of the real war!

Much of the available ‘real’ archive WWI footage of frontline ‘combat’ was actually reconstructed during and after the war well away from the front line for propaganda and dramatic purpose, but where we had any doubt we avoided that archive and made our own. We did this from scratch, painstakingly constructing our shots with reference to photos and footage from the war and deliberately tried to confine ourselves to angles and camera technology available in 1913- 17. Cameras then were hand cranked at an irregular frame rate locked onto a tripod and rarely mounted in anything moving.

Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector

Friday, September 26th, 2014

The US Marine Corps recently showed off a half-scale prototype of its Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC):

The tracks, which are made of what the Marines call “captured-air foam blocks,” extend like flippers to propel the craft through the water. When it hits the beach, the foam flattens to become like the tracks on a tank or a bulldozer, only much softer, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.

Last week, the UHAC prototype, which is about half the size of envisioned production models, carried an assault vehicle from the Rushmore to the beach. The Marine Corps says a full-size UHAC would be able to carry much more.

“The full-scale model should be able to carry at least three tanks and a HMMVW (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle),” Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Perera, the Warfighting Lab’s Infantry Weapons Project officer, said in a statement. That’s about three times the load that the Corps’ current craft assigned to the task, called a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), can handle.

It also will be able to surmount bigger obstacles. While an LCAC can only get over a 4-foot-high sea wall, a full-size UHAC will be able to get over sea walls as high as 10, 12 or even 16 feet, according to the Corps.

The UHAC prototype type is not armored or armed, but Perera said production models would have armor plating and a .50-caliber machine guns for protection.
They also would be much faster. The prototype could only go 5 mph on the water, but a full-size UHAC should do 25 mph, Gen. Kevin Killea, commander of the Corps’ Warfighting Lab, told Stars and Stripes.

The UHAC prototype used last week is the third in the program, built upon a concept originally proposed by the Hawaii-based shipbuilding and research firm Navatek, Ltd.

“There has been a one-fifth scale model, then a one-quarter scale model and this is a half-scale model, so we have been progressing,” Frank Leban, program officer at the Office of Naval Research, said in a statement. “Every vehicle has incorporated more features and technology to help get us to the full scale.”

Pig Carcass Wound Ballistics Lab

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Two (humanely killed) pig carcasses were shot with various weapons in order to take a look at the accompanying tissue damage:

Blunt injury to the base of the skull and chest with a pipe left insignificant visible damage. Although the skulls were not dissected, no obvious fractures or depression of the skulls were noted on external exam. Blunt impact to the chest wall did not result in any broken ribs. This may be a testament to the elasticity of the ribs in these relatively young animals. Conclusions: blunt trauma may indeed be an effective strategy through pain compliance (and may potentially be deadly force) but a large amount of force is required to cause significant tissue damage.

A single slash wound to the lateral chest wall with a small (~2.5 in) blade easily cut through the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and muscle. A single stab wound to the abdomen with the same blade penetrated through skin, muscle, peritoneum, and nicked the large bowel. A Special Circumstances, Inc. custom push dagger effortlessly punched through skin, muscle and rib into the chest cavity. Conclusion: a small, fixed-blade edged weapon provides an ideal balance between concealable and effective.

There was essentially no discernible difference between the Federal HST .40 and 9mm wound channel. Both rounds penetrated through chest and pelvic cavities leaving small but ragged wound channels. Both penetrated through interceding bone leaving comminuted fractures (to include sturdy structures such as scapula and pelvis.) Neither round exited the opposite side of the carcass. The 9mm round that had gone through the chest cavity was found under the skin of the opposite shoulder and retrieved. The round appeared intact and had fully mushroomed. Conclusion: “9 is fine.” Users of a high quality 9mm round should not feel outgunned.

The Hornady TAP 5.56 rifle round penetrated deeply into the chest and pelvic cavities. There was a large permanent wound cavity of macerated tissue. Both ribs and pelvic bones were fractured. Tiny fragments of metal jacket were recovered from the wounds, but the rounds otherwise appeared to have completely fragmented prior to stopping. Neither round penetrated through the opposite side of the carcass, although tissue deficits on the opposite side could be palpated through the intact skin. Conclusion: rifle rounds create devastating wounds due to significantly higher velocities than handgun rounds. The TAP round performed as advertised, creating a large permanent wound channel with massive tissue damage, dumping all energy into the target without exiting the opposite side. Again of note: there were no interceding barriers such as clothing, glass, or drywall.

Shotgun wounds were delivered to the lower extremities at what I believe would be the equivalent of the human equivalent of the lower leg near the ankle. Both bird- and buckshot left large diameter soft tissue wounds, and penetrated to and fractured the underlying bone. However, the birdshot penetrated no further than the bone. All buckshot pellets penetrated through the bone, out the opposite side of the limb, and into the contralateral limb, again fracturing bone. Several of the pellets penetrated completely through the contralateral limb, with one moderately deformed buckshot pellet being recovered deep in the tissue. Conclusion: for defensive purposes, buckshot is the way to go. Indeed, birdshot at close range left a devastating wound channel and fractured the underlying bone, but that was all. A shot to center mass with birdshot, even at close range, could stop short prior to contact with any vital structures and fail to stop.

Cannon Fodder

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The great European armies relied on cannon fodder, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) explains:

Often the best cannon fodder came from ethnic groups that were systematically crushed by the empire, then groomed as cannon fodder, where their desperation made them easy marks for flattery for “bravery” in the service of the empire that had destroyed their people. The Prussian Army recruited heavily among the Poles, Belarussians, Lithuanians and other Slavic groups. Slavs were excluded from Prussian institutions, which worked out very nicely, guaranteeing recruiters a steady supply of men of military age with no other option. And if they didn’t speak German, they could be taught by the rod.

That’s the horrible logic of recruiting the lowest of the low: The worse their lives become, the easier it is to sign them up as cannon fodder. If you look into the history of the most famous, illustrious military units, you find their origin in a minority ethnic group that’s been brutalized, walled off from the civilian economy, and then offered a chance to take the king’s shilling. Since European armies loved elaborate uniforms, these units would be “honored” with headgear or some other ethnic marker. And sure enough, whip-sawed by desperation and flattery, these units performed heroically, generating more flattery and a tradition of joining up, making the recruiter’s job even easier.

Which is why certain highly-decorated British regiments wear kilts. The Highland Scots, now extinct, scared the life out of Britain in 1745 by wading through better-equipped regular-army units staffed by English soldiers at Prestonpans. The Highlanders weren’t cute, quaint, or beloved in the minds of the London elite, when they heard how the Scots had charged out of the fog, swinging huge broadswords and screaming in Gaelic. The Highlanders were alien monsters — and Papists to boot, the worst crime of all in 18th-c. Britain.

After the inevitable defeat of the small, disorganized, half-armed Scottish invaders, the Empire pursued a classic two-phase plan. First, the extinction of the Highland Scots’ culture. The Earl of Cumberland, in charge of this phase, issued a classic “No prisoners!” order covering all Gaelic-speaking men of military age, armed or not. Anything associated with the rebel ethnic group was banned. Wearing tartan and playing the bagpipes were capital offenses in Scotland in 1746.

So how did it happen that this brutalized ethnic minority ended up marching in the Empire’s parades, decked out in tartan, with the pipes blaring, all through Victoria’s long century? That was phase two, and it worked very well, as it usually does. Once the insurgent ethnic group has been destroyed, it can be made quaint. Its markers — tartan, the pipes — can be used to flatter young Highland men into taking the king’s shilling. And best of all, the utter devastation of their homeland gives them no other options. And that’s always been the bottom line for getting good-quality cannon fodder: Make sure they have no other options.

You’ll find that grim sequence behind every military unit recruited from a crushed ethnic group.

Americans, fixated on skin color as a “racial” marker, tend to understand what the empires did (and do) to non-European groups like the Sikhs but miss how the technique — crush’em, then recruit’em and flatter’em — worked on other “white” European minorities just as well.

FORTIS Exoskeleton

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Military work is physically demanding — even the non-combat work — and Lockheed Martin’s FORTIS Exoskeleton is designed to help:

Called the FORTIS, the exoskeleton is able to support tools of up to 36 pounds and transfer that load from a worker’s hands and arms to the ground. The goal is to lighten workers’ loads, ultimately making them more productive and skilled at their jobs.

FORTIS Exoskeleton

he anodized aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton weighs 30 pounds, and follows along the outside of a human’s body. It has joints in the parts of the body that would regularly have joints (ankle, knee, hip) and flexes from side to side at the waist. Miller says the skeleton was designed for complex environments — whoever is wearing it can climb stairs or a ladder, squat and generally move business as usual in the exoskeleton. Tools mount to the front of the FORTIS and that weight is directed through the joints in the hip and down to the floor, relieving stress on the entire body, including the feet and ankles.

Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The U-2 and SR-71 were fast, high-flying reconnaissance aircraft, but the slow, low-flying YO-3A Quiet Star handled reconnaissance in its own way:

Acoustically undetectable from the ground when flying around 1,200 feet, the YO-3A silently observed troop movement in Vietnam. Some pilots have also said that they went unnoticed by the enemy just 200 feet below them.

Lockheed YO-3A in Flight

Nearly silent, this reconnaissance aircraft would patrol in the dead of night with absolutely no lights on. Using a downward facing night vision aerial periscope, the two man crew would fly above the enemy, taking notes of what they saw as well as call in support and direct artillery fire if needed.

Lockheed YO-3A Mission Equipment

What made this aircraft so quiet was mainly its slow turning propeller and heavily modified exhaust. The muffler ran the length of the aircraft which enabled sound to be incredibly dampened. Everything about this aircraft was designed to reduce noise. Instead of using gears, a belt system powered the propeller and the low rpm engine kept things quiet while eliminating vortices. The Quiet Star also had radar absorbing paint and it was said that once the pilot switched off their transponder, the tower couldn’t pick them up on radar.

The YO-3A’s were successful in their missions and thanks to being nearly completely silent, never took a round or were shot down during their time in Vietnam. In fact, they would have been used more if they weren’t deployed so late in America’s involvement of the war.

Creating a Nation of Readers

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Publishers gave away over 100 million books during World War IIgood books, in a disposable format:

Serious books were hard to find before the war. An industry study in 1931 highlighted the book trade’s limited audience. Nineteen out of every 20 books sold by the major publishing houses cost more than two dollars, a luxury even before the Depression. Those who could afford them often struggled to find them. Two out of three counties in America lacked any bookstore, or even so much as a department store, drugstore, or other retailer selling enough books to have an account with a publishing house. In rural areas, small towns, and even mid-sized cities, dedicated customers bought their books the way they bought other household goods, picking the titles out of mail-order catalogs. Most did not bother.

There was another, less-reputable class of books, though, that enjoyed broader distribution. Cheap mysteries, westerns, and comics could be snapped up at newsstands in paperbound editions that cost far less to produce than hardcover books. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, publishers tried to take advantage of this format to publish a wider range of books. Most efforts failed. Then, in 1939, two new entrants changed the equation. Pocket Books and Penguin Books each offered a mix of new titles and reprints of hardcover books, including some of a literary bent. More importantly, they sold these paperback books on magazine racks.

Americans could put down a quarter and pick up a book all over town, from train stations and drugstores. Within a year, Americans bought 6 million paperback books. By 1943, Pocket Books alone printed 38 million copies. “It’s unbelievable,” said the head of Random House. “It’s frightening.”

Old-line publishers had good reason to be scared. They were in the business of selling a premium product to an affluent audience. The sudden flood of paperbacks threatened to swamp their refined trade and erode its prestige. The cheap, disposable format seemed best suited to works of little lasting value. That Penguin and Pocket Books included some distinguished titles on their lists threatened the stability of these categories, even as their sales still tilted heavily toward the lower end of the spectrum. Paperbacks were expanding the market for books, but that market remained divided.

Then, war intervened. The key actors in the book trade organized themselves into the Council on Books in Wartime, hoping to use books to advance the war effort. In February of 1943, they circulated an audacious proposal. They proposed to print and sell millions of books to the army, for just six cents a volume.

Hardcover books could not possibly be produced so cheaply. But magazines could. So the Council decided to use magazine presses, printing two copies on each page, and then slicing the book in half perpendicular to the binding. The result was a book wider than it was tall, featuring two columns of text for easier reading in low light. The real innovation, though, was less technological than ideological. The publishers proposed to take books available only in hardcover form, and produce them in this disposable format.

The plan, breathtaking in its ambition, was sure to engender skepticism among publishers asked to donate the rights to some of their most valuable property. So the chair of the committee, W.W. Norton, took care to appeal not just to the patriotism of his fellow publishers, but also to their pursuit of profits. “The net result to the industry and to the future of book reading can only be helpful,” he explained. “The very fact that millions of men will have the opportunity to learn what a book is and what it can mean is likely now and in postwar years to exert a tremendous influence on the postwar course of the industry.”

The program turned The Great Gatsby into a success. Apparently A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was hugely popular with the troops.

(Hat tip to Steve Sailer.)

Too Defensive

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

There are people who feel that the doctrine of the Army is too defensive, Gen. DePuy notes — in 1979, while facing a potential Soviet invasion of Europe:

They feel that success in battle only comes to the attacker. And, they are disturbed about the amount of time, effort, and concentration that we now have on the defense. I agree with all of that. I think it is too bad. I don’t think it is a formula for winning the war. At best, it is a formula for a stalemate or for deterrence. Unfortunately, however, the facts of life in NATO, and the correlation of forces as the Soviets call it, are such that we do not have a general offensive capability in Europe. If you ask the Germans why they defended for two and one half years in France during World War I they would tell you because the forces were almost equal, and they used the rest of their forces to defeat the Russians. If you ask the Germans why they defended in Russia for two and one half years after their initial attack in World War II, they would say because the ratio of forces, the resources and the means of war dictated that. I once discussed this with General Haig. He accosted me with the fact that he thought we were concentrating too much on the defense. I replied that I wasn’t concentrating on the defense, he was. I pointed out to him that in FM 100-5, we had one chapter on the offense and one chapter on the defense, and that he was the one who turned to the chapter on the defense and for very good reasons — because he has to defend. The correlation of forces is such that he must. I said, “If, on the other hand, you prefer to attack, go back to Chapter 1. It tells you how to do that. But, I notice that you are spending all of your time on Chapter 2.”

So, this causes the Army some moral anguish. It hurts the feelings of soldiers to always be talking about the defense; there is a yearning to attack and to counterattack. Incidentally, the counterattack to destroy an enemy force which has been stopped by defensive fires is the essence of the “active” defense. But, the counteroffensive — to do that you need the forces, you need the resources, you need the ammunition, and you need the ability to sustain it. It is my judgment that the man who writes the doctrine doesn’t decide how to fight any particular campaign; rather, the man who decides which part of the doctrine he is going to use is the operational commander and he decides how he is going to fight in whatever theater of war he happens to be in at the time. Presently, it is Haig and Blanchard. At one time it was Pershing, and at another time it was Eisenhower. They all acted in accordance with the relative strength of the forces opposing them and their mission.


Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The New York Times reports on Longpoint, the historical European martial arts (HEMA) tournament:

Unlike re-enactors or role players, who don theatrical costumes and medieval-style armor, Longpoint competitors treat swordfighting as an organized sport. Matches have complex rules and use a scoring system based on ancient dueling regulations. Fighters wear modern if sometimes improvised protective equipment, which looks like a hybrid of fencing gear and body armor. They use steel swords with unsharpened blades and blunt tips to prevent bouts from turning into death matches.

Skill and technique, rather than size and strength, decide the outcomes. Fights are fast and sometimes brutal: key to the art is landing a blow while preventing an opponent’s counterstroke. Nevertheless, even the best swordfighters earn large bruises in the ring, which they display with flinty pride.

Longpoint began in 2011 with 60 participants; now the largest HEMA event in North America, it drew about 200 this year. The open steel longsword division had 55 entrants, eight of them women.

Cameras. Lotsa cameras.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

To restore faith in the police, Chris Hernandez recommends cameras — lotsa cameras:

Many cops don’t like having cameras in their car or on their body. I understand why. Even in cases where we do everything right, police work can still be ugly. There is no nice, gentle, eye-pleasing way to take down a violent suspect. And the language of the street ain’t too pretty either. Cops are human, and there are cases (lots of cases) where we use bad language during a high-stress incident. Some police actions just look bad on video, no matter how right we might be. And it’s a bit unreasonable for someone to watch a video of a violent struggle between a cop and criminal and say, “Just because that PCP addict attacked an officer with a tire iron, there’s no reason for the officer to curse. The officer should have called him ‘sir’.”

Video doesn’t always tell the whole story, either. An officer in the middle of a critical incident may miss something that’s readily apparent on video. There are good reasons for this: an officer may have been stunned by a blow, or had a brief visual obstruction, or may be suffering from physiological responses to stress such as tunnel vision. People watching video of an event might say, “Why didn’t the officer see that? It’s totally obvious!” And maybe it is obvious – to the camera. To the guy fighting for his life, it may not have been.

I hate comparing any real-life activity to sports, but consider how often players, refs and fans see something in an instant replay that they missed during the actual play. If someone never played sports and only watched instant replays, “what should have been done” might seem real obvious. It’s not so obvious to the guy playing the game. Video doesn’t capture everything, and even when it does it may not show what the officer saw.

Here’s an interesting example. A dash cam captured part of a fight between an officer and suspect, but didn’t capture the suspect hitting the officer. If the officer hadn’t been wearing a body camera, he would have been stuck trying to convince the public that he was assaulted.

Without question, video has its limitations. But even if it doesn’t tell the whole story, it still provides the public with critical information.

Consider this shooting, which superficially compares to the Ferguson shooting. An unarmed black male was killed by a white police officer. The officer claimed he was attacked and had no choice but to shoot. Without video, and absent any significant injuries, that officer would be hard-pressed to explain why a grown man with a Taser and maybe baton and pepper spray couldn’t defend himself against one unarmed guy.

The video shows just how big and aggressive that suspect was. It clearly shows the officer did not provoke the fight. It shows his Taser fail. It shows the first punch that floored him. In short, it removes the “he said/she said” atmosphere swirling around the Ferguson shooting.

Here’s another one. Officers kill a suspect trying to stab his girlfriend.

Two major points from this incident: officers accidentally shot the girlfriend in the arm when they killed her boyfriend, and the girlfriend says repeatedly “Y’all didn’t have to do that.” In many domestic violence cases, the victim will claim she wasn’t in any danger and the officers didn’t have to take the action they did. This woman insisted the officers didn’t have to shoot; however, in the video (at around 00:57) we see the suspect trying so hard to stab her that the knife blade actually bends from the downward pressure.

The officers were obviously justified. The video proves it. But imagine how it would have been reported without that video.

“White officers shoot black woman while allegedly trying to save her from her black boyfriend. ‘They didn’t even have to shoot him,’ woman says. ‘He wasn’t really trying to hurt me.’”

Cameras may not be perfect, but they give us a better option than expecting everyone to believe us just because we’re cops. The public doesn’t give us that much benefit of the doubt anymore. But if we all have car and body cameras, and the public hears us testify to facts that are backed up by video, we’ll start getting that benefit of the doubt when there is no video. We cops should start demanding that our departments provide cameras. They’ll save a lot of officers who might otherwise be going through the same thing Darren Wilson is.

Lessons from the Arab-Israeli War

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The Arab-Israeli War provided a marvelous springboard for reviewing and updating our own doctrine, Gen. DePuy notes:

Some of the evidence coming out of that war was awesome. For example, the losses of equipment that occurred in a short period of time, and the fact that the Israelis ran more tanks through their maintenance system than the total number of tanks they possessed at the beginning of the very short war. The lethality and range of weapons and the tremendous importance of well-trained crews and tactical commanders, as evidenced by the performance in certain areas of small numbers of Israelis against large numbers of say, Syrians. It also fed into our training philosophy which I discussed earlier — the training of a platoon leader, a tank commander, a gunner, and a battalion commander. It helped us argue for more training within the Army establishment.

Now, as far as “how to fight” goes, the big lessons applied to the lower echelons: the crew drills of the Israeli armored force; the mine-clearing techniques; and the assault of fortified positions. There wasn’t anything that happened in the Arab-Israeli War that is in conflict with the doctrine which now has been published; but, it would be incorrect to say that the Arab-Israeli War was the sole foundation upon which that doctrine was built. In fact, there are aspects of the current US Army doctrine which the Israelis do not consider directly applicable to their tactical situation, one being elasticity or the active defense. They believe that they are perfectly able to defend on their frontiers and although they had trouble doing so in the Sinai, they essentially pulled it off in the Golan region. So, there are differences.

FM 100-5, therefore, partakes of the lessons of the Arab-Israeli War primarily in terms of the importance of weapons and weapons operators’ proficiency and performance. As for the overall tactics, they are drawn much more from the very unique environment of NATO, which involves a two-to-one or three-to-one enemy superiority, the requirement for forward defense because of the political dynamics involved, particularly in West Germany — the fact of the matter is, there isn’t much depth of terrain to fight on and there isn’t much terrain to give away — and lastly, as I have described more than once, the fact that the reserves in the Soviet Union are a lot closer than the reserves in the United States, and the Soviet Union’s reserves are much larger. So, from the moment the battle starts, we are at a disadvantage, and as the war goes on it gets worse, not better, as far as force ratios. So, FM 100-5 tries to express a unifying concept behind all of the new doctrine. It starts out and discusses at great length, weapons characteristics. Next, it talks at some length about the tactics of the Russians.

When FM 100-5 was written it was just before the current emphasis on a broad front attack, or a single echelon attack, or a daring thrust, whatever you want to call it. In those days most people were thinking about the classic breakthrough operation. It has since become very clear that there are other options and that the Russians may well use a broad front attack and what now are called Operational Maneuver Groups (OMGs). It really doesn’t change what you have to do, but it does make it more difficult. FM 100-5 says that the first thing you have to do is understand the enemy. You have to understand his weapons and you have to understand his tactics. Also, you have to understand your own weapons, and how to use them to their absolute maximum, and to try to minimize your vulnerability to his weapons. It says that you have to have superior intelligence or information on the enemy if you are outnumbered. You have to have intelligence good enough and soon enough so that you have at least a slight jump on your enemy, something that is very difficult to accomplish. As he concentrates, whether in five big concentrations, or 30 little concentrations, or even 120 little concentrations, you know through your sensors and reconnaissance, and your target acquisition systems, at least the general location of his mass and the direction of his movement. Then, using your own mobility, you can begin to concentrate to defeat each of your enemy’s concentrations. To do that you need all of your ground mobility, all of your air mobility, all of the TAC AIR, and all the flexibility of your artillery, missiles and rockets. That is all concentration. And, the manual describes, and I think correctly and clearly, that concentration is primarily the business of division and corps commanders. The business of getting the Army on the right part of the battlefield and acquiring the intelligence which is needed in order to do that is the job of the generals at division and corps and above. Now, if you have been able to concentrate an adequate force quickly, then perhaps you can stop him and then counterattack to destroy him, and you can accomplish this mission well forward, which, of course, is what the Germans hope will happen.

If, on the other hand, there has been some glitch in the intelligence, some hesitation in the concentration, some deception on the enemy’s part, or just a mistake on our part, and he hits our small force with a very hard blow, from a very large force, then the doctrine says that we have to trade a little bit of space for time and casualties. It describes how we can, in fact, fight a very stubborn action in a very small area, against a very large force, if we are very good at it, very well-trained, have good control, understand weapons, and use those weapons at their optimum engagement ranges, and then, move so that we are always fighting battles where they are most advantageous to us and least advantageous to the other side. There are many other things that need to be done including the synchronization of maneuver, air defense, fire support, electronic warfare, and all of the combat service support, through good command and control.