A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility

Friday, October 11th, 2019

American defense experts who come to the island all agree that the Taiwanese military needs cheap, expendable, mass-produced weapons systems to deter a Chinese invasion force, but that’s not what Taiwanese leaders buy:

On June 6, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced a $2.25 billion arms purchase from the United States. package was broken down into two parts: $250 million for a consignment of Stinger missiles, and $2 billion for 108 main battle tanks. The first part of the package fits well enough within a distributed “anti-access” defense posture. The second purchase does not.

Taiwan is a piebald of jungle-covered mountains, muddy rice paddies, and densely populated urban cores—terrain that frustrates tank maneuver. The most likely use for tanks like these would be in formation near beaches for counter-landing operations, where they would be extremely vulnerable to attack from the air. As Chinese commanders would never land an invasion force unless they first secure air superiority, these tanks will never amount to anything more than 108 very expensive sitting ducks.

The purchase fits a longstanding Taiwanese pattern: prioritizing high-prestige platforms over people. The Ministry of National Defense has cut military pensions and failed to pay volunteer soldiers a competitive wage or provide them with necessary benefits, and it doesn’t have enough bullets on hand for conscripts to practice riflery more than a few times in their entire course of duty.

Yet in addition to buying the tanks, President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has promised to find $8 billion—equivalent to 70 percent of Taiwan’s 2019 military budget—to purchase 66 new F-16 fighter jets (even though in the event of a conflict with China most of these would be destroyed by PLA missiles while still on their runways). The Taiwanese navy also regularly promotes plans for an indigenously constructed helicopter carrier and Aegis-style destroyer. Billions have been poured into developing indigenous jet engines and fighters. Most disastrous of all, around one-tenth of the defense budget has been earmarked for the development of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program. According to the wildly optimistic government projections, the very first of these submarines will be seaworthy in 2025. Only a few more could be built before the decade’s close, at an estimated $1 billion per ship.

Taiwanese leaders’ defense priorities make a perverse sort of sense, T. Greer argues:

Taiwanese leaders have a powerful political incentive to raise Taiwan’s stature on the international stage and publicly resist Chinese attempts to cut it away from its allies. Similarly, they are incentivized to show that under their leadership, the Taiwanese military remains a world-class fighting force. Purchasing fancy military equipment makes little strategic sense, but it accomplishes both of these objectives.

In an anonymous interview, one DPP official told me why he believed the purchase of the tanks was so important: “The purchase is a signal that the DPP can lead on defense. It will give the people more confidence that we are not being outclassed by the Chinese. And most important, that Tsai’s good relationship with the Americans is the reason for that.” A senior official interviewed by a Center for Security Policy Studies research team justified Taiwanese requests for F-35 fighter jets, rather than less expensive drones, with similar logic: “You can’t create a hero pilot of a UAV.” The CSPS team concluded that for most of the Taiwanese officials they interviewed, “buying advanced aircraft from the United States was at least as much about assuring the public as it was about improving war-fighting capability.”

This is especially important given Taiwan’s lack of a formal alliance with the United States. For Taiwanese leaders, weapons sales are one of the few metrics available to judge the U.S. commitment to their cause. Taiwanese leaders can trumpet their purchase of American-made weapons systems as something their party has done to raise Taiwan’s international stature. A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility but its symbolic value.


  1. Bruce says:

    Symbolic value, way to bribe important people in the US military-industrial complex to keep supporting Taiwan, tomayto tomahto. I hope Taiwan keeps bribing our crooks- I like an independent Taiwan, and the way Carter screwed West Germany and tried to dump South Korea was about our speed.

  2. Aretae says:

    Isn’t this about the same as the US Navy buying big ships and losing naval wargames to fleets of minis?

  3. Kirk says:

    If Taiwan is really serious about independence from mainland China, they’ll embrace next-generation war and start weaponizing things like UAV “toys”.

    I’m actually rather surprised that Hong Kong hasn’t done that, TBH. It’s probably that they don’t have access to ready military-grade or improvised explosives, and they’re unwilling to take it to the hot stages of such a conflict.

    But, for the sake of Gedankenspiel, imagine that you take a thousand quadcopter drones, and then put actual explosive packages on them. Have a half-dozen decoys for each, and then take to the air around the invading forces. Even with a significant attrition rate, what you’ve basically got there is a mobile minefield that you can use to interdict and divert organized forces with. During the 1950s, it was pie-plates on the street that looked like landmines–Imagine the reaction of the troops if they had to adapt to an environment where little toy drones shot out of concealment at random, and fastened themselves on your armored vehicles or anything carrying an antenna, followed by a detonation of a small shaped charge.

    Sure, there are anti-drone systems coming on-line, but for the moment…? Most forces are vulnerable, especially in built-up areas with a lot of clutter. It would be like trying to make war in Australia during magpie season… After a certain point, enthusiasm would wane, and survival instincts take over.

    TBH, we’re not that far off from someone like Singapore or Hong Kong doing just this to an invader. Your “Big Army” techniques and equipment will avail you naught, once the next revolution in military affairs takes hold.

    Recommended reading would be “New Model Army” by Adam Roberts, and “Second Variety” by Phillip K. Dick. Both stories have definite pointers towards the future, particularly the inchoate nature of military force made possible by modern technology that Roberts posits. I imagine that there are bootleg apps on phones in Hong Kong that serve the same rudimentary purpose that the AI in Robert’s novel serves. We’re a a beta-test level, but I’m pretty sure that version 1.0 is lurking out there.

  4. Christopher says:

    Appearances, versus the substance of Taiwan’s defence (i.e. U.S.-China geopolitical stability). Mirrors China’s facade that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic. It may even be detrimental for Taiwan’s relations to develop a credible deterrent to China’s local military superiority.

  5. Christopher says:

    Aretae: U.S. Navy big ships (carrier groups) useful for their primary U.S. foreign policy behavior: launching air strikes, invasions, interdiction and control of waterways (as well as making America appear powerful). Existential threats of big war repelled by nuclear weapons, or is U.S. unprepared for the next big war? Always fighting the last war, as the saying goes?

  6. Wang Wei Lin says:

    The only way for Taiwan to stay in a long term conflict with Biejing is 4GW asymetric tactics.

  7. Sam J. says:

    They need a shit load of fiber optic guided missiles.

    “…the Europeans have already developed the Polyphem fiber optic missile, with an incredible range of 60km by using a turbojet engine…:



    Combined with a high quality air defense and lots of machine guns there would be no way they could land anywhere. A lot of truck mounted remotely fired 20mm or 30mm exploding round ammo Gatling guns with massive amounts of ammunition.

    For air defense you could combine radar to track, fiber to launch and point the right direction and heat for the actual aircraft final hit. I’ve been told I’m a fool and there’s no way to defend Taiwan but if you read through Carlton Myers site there’s lots and lots of already built solutions to defend the country off the shelf.

    The only way to take Taiwan would be to kill everyone and/or supermassive destruction but that would bring severe publicity problems. These could super sensitize every single country around them and bring about a complete loss of trade. I don’t think they would do it. The key is Taiwan has have to have enough to blast the shit out of the Chinese at the beginning to where the Chinese see it won’t be easy.

    By the way what the people in Hong Kong should do is the whole damn country defect to to Taiwan.

    Here’s Carlton Meyers’s book on war. It’s very good and mostly based on practical already built solutions where no magic tech is needed.


  8. TRX says:

    Even the USA has wasted far too much on “prestige” weapons systems.

    If fighters get any more expensive, we’ll eventually wind down to ten fighters at $100 billion each, far too expensive to throw away in combat, even if they weren’t all hangar queens anyway…

  9. TRX says:

    “what they need”

    What they need is weapons and preparation that take advantage of their mountainous terrain. Caches of small arms and supplies all over the place, expanded militia training favoring guerrilla warfare, cruise missiles, drones, land mines and IED components. Plus plans and equipment for destroying bridges, reservoirs, fuel storage, etc. to deny them to the enemy. Print millions of copies of manuals on how to perform sabotage and guerilla warfare. And the money that’s left over, they can use for bribing foreign politicians to sign treaties linking their affairs to Taiwan’s. And “soft” propaganda; bribing foreign news services, movie studios, etc. just to mention Taiwan in a favorable light, as often as possible.

    They can’t stop the mainlanders from landing on the islands. But they can make taking them ruinously expensive. Mainland China can’t afford a long, drawn-out battle against an insurgent population.

  10. Graham says:

    On one hand, if Taiwan tried to fight a traditional guerrilla war, they’ve lost.

    As a mostly unrecognized state, their chief asset is their existence, their cities and their economic networks, which include now heavy investment on the mainland. If the PRC takes those cities and severs Taiwan’s connections to global finance and technology, including by just occupying the main cities and if necessary just ending those relationships rather than profiting themselves, Taiwan is done. They’ve lost even if guerrilla resistance continues in the hills for 30 years. Taiwan’s already mostly unrecognized, and now it’s also unimportant. Nobody’s coming to the rescue.

    On the other hand, the sort of 4GW enhanced approach to both anti-invasion warfare and post-invasion resistance described variously above including by Greer, is the best strategy available, and it radically increases the costs to the PRC. Especially if it can incease the cost of the initial landing and occupation, and enhance the ability of subsequent resisting forces to do real damage outside of hill zone ambushes, it could be effective.

    The larger question is, do the Taiwanese at any level from leadership of either side down to Joe Chiang in the street, actually want to prepare for and if necessary fight that war?

    The deeper logic of what the Taiwanese actually do might even be that they know they don’t want to do that. In that case, de facto Taiwanese independence may just be a bubble that pops the moment the PRC finally makes a military move.

  11. Sam J. says:

    “…They can’t stop the mainlanders from landing on the islands…”

    I honestly believe they can. With fiber optic guided missiles, possibly drones for siting and targeting , mobile artillery or guided rockets, combine with a massive amount of machine guns and a thick anti-aircraft defense and it would be a complete blood bath. They have to have boats to invade and boats are big targets.

    Air landings could be taken out by trained special forces.

    Make a road system that goes all the way around the island with many ways to bypass if sections are knocked out and quick repair material and equipment stashed all over. Make a lot of the before mentioned defense weapons. I don’t think they could get on the beach and if they did they would be slaughtered.

    Normandy just barely worked and owed a lot to the division of forces due to the Russians.

    Think of the massive improvement in target sighting and automated fire control. With lots of almost invisible drones you could get a few pictures and target data for any ship on the Ocean around them. Then fire rockets in the general direction with heat seeking missiles or even better neural net trained seekers with the pictures of the targets entered in and their track. You would have to massively armor the boats, (vastly raising cost and utility), and that’s something that could be seen and counted on to beef up the defense even further.

    I think this could be done without any whizzbang stuff that hasn’t been done before. I’ve been told many times that,”I just don’t understand” why this wouldn’t work but I never got any feedback on exactly why it wouldn’t work.

    My whole idea is one that’s been a winning plan all throughout history. Get there the firstest with the mostest. Fire massive amounts of ordnance at the boats. Hell some have got to hit and with lots of hand held anti-aircraft missiles there’s no way the Chinese can come all the way from China and keep up close air support for all these massive amounts of boats and Men needed to take the whole territory if everyone is firing at them.

  12. CVLR says:

    You don’t really even need rockets to be rockets, frankly. You just make some V-2 shaped devices with plastic and foam, shrunken to the approximate size of a large bird, put batteries in the body, and an electric fan on the rear. Amateur electric planes can go a hundred or two miles per hour: slow by military standards, but with less wing and a definitely finite lifespan, you can go faster. All consumer electronics, mass produced, etc. It’s a NSI and there will be logistics problems in conflict, so you stockpile the batteries and circuitry and so on, and establish underground facilities capable of churning out the things en masse. Total parts cost to a motivated state-level actor will be no more than $50-100 per deployed unit, making it possible to deploy swarms of tens of thousands for the cost of one SAM. It will be practical to mobilize enough material to blot out the sky.

  13. Alistair says:


    Respectfully; none of your ideas are even remotely original in the Concepts and Force Development Community. People have thought about this stuff, on a level of detail which I won’t go into here. Some of it is already part of force structures. Some of it is being developed. A lot of it doesn’t work, or doesn’t work as well as you think it should.

    Regardless, it has all been extensively war-gamed, analysed or modelled already. Seriously, lighten up a little; you really haven’t hit upon a brilliant set of CONOPS and tactics which has been inexplicably and completely overlooked by the entire western military establishment. The “simple solutions” you espouse just ain’t all that.

  14. Alistair says:


    If I said “DOTMLPF” to you, would it mean anything? Don’t google it – if the answer is “no” then I gently suggest you probably don’t know enough to be confidently pontificating about force development.

  15. Kirk says:

    Alistair, please don’t tell me that the brain-rot represented by that acronym hasn’t spread across the pond. I don’t think I could bear it. It’s bad enough that the Germans are now copying MG doctrine off of us, but to think that the UK was now adopting our bafflegab…? More than I can bear…

  16. Kirk says:

    Has, I meant to type… See what that does to me?

  17. Alistair says:


    We use TEPIDOIL instead. I know, it’s horrible, but it’s a quick way to gauge general awareness of this area….

  18. Kirk says:

    The next major war we all lose, I’m gonna know exactly where it started, and who to blame for it.

    The staff.

    Anyone who could take a thing like the Five-Paragraph Order, and manage to turn it into the bloated abortion that it is in most military organizations…? Yeah; them.

    MDMP–Military Decision-Making Process. Sure seems simple, effective, and sensible. Only thing is, the practitioners have mostly turned it into an ossified, overly-bureaucratized mess that someone who is a true practitioner of the military art would look at and hoot derisively like some kind of deranged howler monkey and then stroke out.

    Somebody once told me that if you couldn’t fit the graphics and concept of operations onto a torn-out ration carton, you were making things way too complex–”There is the enemy, here is what we anticipate them doing, here is what we want to do, and how we’re going to coordinate it all…”. Can’t fit your concept of operations into a simple conceptual sketch that can be grasped by a sub-par PFC, you’re probably not going to succeed at whatever you’re doing, whether it’s the annual spring cleanup or invading Western Europe by sea and air.

  19. Sam J. says:


    Respectfully; none of your ideas are even remotely original…”

    Duh. Like I said so????? I linked to weapon systems “others” thought up for the purpose.

    Alistair,”…The “simple solutions” you espouse just ain’t all that…”

    Alistair,”…you probably don’t know enough to be confidently pontificating about force development….”

    Let’s go back to the beginning. It was said that the Taiwanese COULD NOT prevent the Chinese from taking their country. I beg to differ and then started listing weapons systems, already existing, that could make it damn near impossible WITHOUT CAUSING SUCH SEVERE CASUALTIES THAT IT WOULD CAUSE THE Chinese severe diplomatic problems. They don’t need to win just to cause a lot of grief for the Chinese and NOT let them take any territory on the Island and hold it. I hold to this now and unless you come up with something logical forever. I don’t think you can win this argument. So far you’ve shown a poor ability to argue anything at all except how brilliant and great you are.

    I on the other hand have only used simple logic and common sense related to past wars and present equipment already developed. This is not a deficit. Your thinking so shows you in a poor light.

    You argue like a little girl. Like a whiny assed bitch. I argue actual material things that go boom…you say…(in essence, “you’re ideas are not all that”. Just like a little girl is how you argue.

    Never, ever, ever do you give any reason that using weapons already designed can NOT be effective to hold off a invasion by sea. You just pronounce “this is so”. I’m not impressed with you flinging acronyms at me. Explain how you stop fiber optically guided missiles? Explain how you stop artillery hidden in revetments. Low cost drones for intelligence and targeting. How do you stop massive machine gun attacks on the beach? Just how do you invade an island with boats blasted full of holes??? How do you invade without boats?? Where’s the magic Chinese invasion protection beans you profess to know so much about but are too proud to cast upon the swine not fit to hear your pronouncements from on high?

    Am I or am I not correct in saying that the computerization of weapons systems has made it much, much harder to invade?? Has it not increased the “defensive power” of small groups? You know good and damn well this is true. You can not say otherwise or you’d be seen as a fool and a buffoon.

    On this is the basis my ideas rest. Computational power has vastly raised the power of smaller groups hence Defense is in a stronger position than Offense than was the case was many years ago.

    If you’re the same bunch that thought up the attacks on the Serbs…well how did that work out for you? Not well at all. The Serbs gamed our air power right and left. Even shot down planes that supposedly couldn’t be seen at all on radar.

    You keep saying I should lighten up. This is nonsense and nothing but a cheap stunt rhetorical tactic( More little girl bitching and whining). It is you that should lighten up. You’ve offered zero evidence of anything of any intellectual merit. If you’re so smart put your ideas out there. Just saying,”we’re so smart and you’re ideas are dumb and would never work” is a serious asshole way of commenting on things. You don’t have anything logical to offer in rebuttal then shut the fuck up. Maybe you are right 100% but so far have offered nothing except your vaulted superiority. Your pronouncements on the internet that your huge brainiac self knows everything and we should just take what you say as gospel is serious nonsense. Your pronouncements and a couple bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

    In many wars the US has been in they’ve always said that their air power would smash all resistance but…it never does. It not on me to explain this to you it’s on you, the supposed experts, to explain to us why you are always wrong.

  20. Graham says:

    Long ago I read an article by a Canadian military historian and former staff officer reflecting on the staff officer mentality. He claimed to have been present in Montreal watching Canadian troops deploy to back up the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970. He noted, with both professional pride and some self-deprecation, that while others noted the sheer shock of seeing troops on the streets, he thought it was very efficiently done and that, “Someone must have written one hell of an operations order.”

  21. Graham says:

    With that in mind, some historical education, and having worked with our military, I have learned to respect the staff mindset and process.

    And I work in an organization that has plenty of acronyms, symbols, and designators in its own right, and we all spend time every week translating for colleagues in other departments.

    So I can sympathize. Acronyms are aids to memory and categorization or sequencing of steps/ideas are essential to action and something I find congenial.

    Still, I know from memory what C3I is, but have to think a fraction of a second for C4I, and as a non-practitioner I would always stumble on some part of C4ISTAR. And that one is probably even out of date. I reflect often that this aspect of military planning might be out of control, with the US DoD as the Mordor of the problem.

    I had to look up DOTMLPF, which inevitably has a wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOTMLPF

    “DOTMLPF is defined in The Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, or JCIDS Process. The JCIDS process provides a solution space that considers solutions (stated in terms of diplomatic or military organization) involving a simulation of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) required to accomplish a mission.”

    I’m going to speculate that the term “solution space” is in the source documents. I will begin using it in my own work as much as possible. I’m trying to come up with a mission statement for my office door.

    Also, that page does note that NATO adds another term to DOTMLPF — I for Interoperability. And that the UK uses TEPIDOIL.

    I would note by way of conclusion that the British seem always to either come up with mnemonics that are more fun, more like actual words, and easier to remember. Even when using the same acronyms, they will have a more amusing/memorable mnemonic, even if one that requires one to be English-educated. Case in point, stellar types in astronomy. ROYGBIV was common on both sides of the Atlantic, but for Americans just some dude’s name, Roy G. Biv. For the British, “Richard of York gave battle in vain”.

    I can see the pros and cons of that approach. Nowadays, probably most students would not know who Richard of York was, would use that as a way to condemn the mnemonic tool at length even though it doesn’t really matter, would not understand the use of the verb ‘to give’ in the phrase ‘gave battle’, and might not even understand the term ‘in vain’.

    But they will know the acronym LGBTQMOUSE to the 142nd place.

  22. Kirk says:

    There’s a fine line between “occupation-specific terminology” and “what the US Army does routinely with jargon”. It’s a line so far off in the distance for the Army that I fear we might need to deploy whatever we replace the Hubble Space Telescope with to even see it again, and we may have to wait years for the light to get to us…

    When you’ve got to read a manual with it in one hand, and a military dictionary that outlines all the acronyms in the other…? You might have slipped over the edge from sanity and right into sheer unadulterated bafflegab and bullshit. The less clarity I find in something, the more I suspect that the author or authoring agency has no damn idea at all what they’re talking about.

  23. Graham says:

    That quote from wikipedia/its source doc didn’t even go far enough-

    “DOTMLPF is defined in The Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, or JCIDS Process.”

    should actually read

    “DOTMLPF is defined in The Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, or JCIDS Process (JCIDS-P)”.

    Without a clear JCIDS-P the JCIDS is unworkable and you’ll never get your DOTMLPF sequenced. We’ve struck a committee to impose a 6-Sigma solution. It will eventually decide that process is so integral to the system that JCIDS-P should be written JCIDSP.

    There will be a 400 page manual explaining all this.

  24. Sam J. says:

    OMG! OMG! OMG!

    I was reading anonymous conservative and this link came up.


    Maybe Alistair is really Ilhan Omar!

    Certainly explains the bitchiness and girly complaints.

    Oh and by the way anyone who believes that only people who know certain insider acronyms are qualified to think about ANY subject, no matter what, are complete fools and maybe that’s why we have ridiculous prices for aircraft, aircraft carriers that the launch systems don’t work on and on. Wars that go on forever.

    Maybe I’m the dumbest person on planet earth but even I’m not so stupid as to ascribe intelligence to acronym identification.

  25. Graham says:

    I remember when the US was first trying to “socialize” [heh] its allies to the concept of Network Centric Warfare (NCW).

    Our military called it Network Enabled Operations (NEO). I suspect but will likely never be able to confirm that this was only because “operations” sounds less warlike than “warfare”. Or maybe it was a Matrix joke, since that move was then relatively recent.

    If it was done to tone down the language, I can’t decide if that was the CAF doing that for its own sake, or to make it sellable to the Canadian civilian audience. Could be the latter, since CAF for a time really embraced the “Warrior” tone otherwise.

    Either way, and inevitably, we started seeing documents and presentations that aimed to clarify by using the combined NEO/NCW term, or other variants.

    I may have had to resist the temptation to stick up a hand and ask how the neo NCW differed from the paleo NCW.

  26. Sam J. says:

    OK maybe I’m wrong. None of this silly assed auto cannons, overkill machine gun emplacements, fiber-optic guided missiles, artillery guided by cheap drones. No here’s the real “acronymized” super plan video. (You know unless it’s “acronymized” it’s just a spoof and will never work).


  27. CVLR says:

    Thanks Alistair; what a great thread.

    I propose that all staff description of force deployment be conducted in terms of size, speed, mass, cost, strength (explosive), logistics, attrition, and so on. It will be necessary to know what a joule is, how that joule relates to mass, distance, and time, how to calculate a cross product, how to programmatically find the sum of all multiples of 3 or 5 below 1000[1], and so on.

    In other words, I propose that the officer be obliged to speak in the language of the engineer. I know, this is a big ask, probably necessitating years of remedial education. It’s okay, though; in two or four or ten years — as long as it takes! — the military will still be there, when the entire officer corps returns to their posts en masse.

    Godspeed, and don’t forget to make that quarter bounce.

  28. Kirk says:

    One of the problems a lot of people have with understanding the military is the idea that the officers are the key and important players, who make everything happen.

    Reality? They’re really nothing more than a thin veneer of managerial talent overlain on the actuality of things, which is based more on factors going back generations. You very rarely have a case where an army or other military formation is stood up de novo with just the commissioned officers setting up everything and running with it. We tried that route with the Continental Army, and found that we had to graft von Steuben in on top of the cluster-fark that the officers and militia made of things when it came to setting up and running an actual professional army.

    Don’t get me wrong–Officers are important. The point I’m trying to make is that they’re not the only component of a well-run and successful military. There’s an entire other world of things that go into such things, and the annoying thing about much of our literature and culture is that we ignore all that, and just concentrate on the officers. It’s like there’s nothing else, just the commissioned types. Every novel, every movie–Officers as the ultimate protagonist. You never see someone saying “Hey, how about a Sergeant America character?”, it’s always “Captain X” or “Colonel Y”, never the guys actually doing things. And, they always mischaracterize what the jobs actually are–A realistic portrayal of what a commissioned officer does on the daily would likely just be one long shot of some poor schmuck in an office somewhere, endlessly typing or stamping papers, depending on the era.

    It’s a cultural blind spot, and one that I think contributes to the dysfunction of the institutions. When people ideate the military, all that they seem to think important is the officer corps, and that’s eventually reflected in the men who make up that corps, who go on to discount everything but their little world of managerial nuttiness–Which leads to the tail wagging the dog, in terms of things like institutional memory and corporate identity.

    Part of the US Army’s problem is that it was essentially founded to serve as the professional cadre for a mass national army consisting of a bunch of poorly-trained militia. The mentality is that of an elite leading the unwashed masses, which has set up a certain set of cultural foibles leading to things that are entirely inappropriate to today’s reality.

  29. Graham says:

    I liked Heartbreak Ridge, in which Eastwood played a Marine gunnery sergeant.

    Obviously, can’t speak for its realism. But it definitely kept officers at a certain distance except as villain or part time comedy. I suppose it could be viewed as a coming of age story for Lt Ring, but only aas the tertiary story.

    Even when I saw it, I wondered how a Marine Recon platoon could have deteriorated that much under one disinterested platoon sergeant, before Eastwood arrived. I mean, they weren’t exactly a bunch of new draftees.

    Also, the movie that, AFAIK, coined the term “Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah”. As in Mario van Peebles’ character, Stitch Jones. Also Earl of Funk and Duke of Cool.

  30. Isegoria says:

    I’m afraid The Road Warrior applied that epithet to Lord Humungus five years earlier.

  31. Kirk says:

    That’s an exception to the rule I’d forgotten about, TBH.

    The interesting thing about that movie, though–The main character was supposed to be Army, but the Army didn’t like the script, soooo… It went to the Marines, who didn’t like it either, but they were willing to hold their noses and go for it. They kept the Heartbreak Ridge thing because that was an Army battle, and just had the protagonist join the Marines after Korea for some damn reason. He was originally supposed to have been Airborne, I think.

    Here’s what the Wikipedia says about the deal, there:

    “However, the Army read the script and refused to participate, due to Highway being portrayed as a hard drinker, divorced from his wife, and using unapproved motivational methods to his troops, an image the Army did not want. The Army called the character a “stereotype” of World War II and Korean War attitudes that did not exist in the modern army and also did not like the obscene dialogue and lack of reference to women in the army.”

    The commissioned side of the house is a little twee, sometimes…

  32. Graham says:

    The ayatollah honorific was given Lord Humungus? I challenge his claim to be a Shia scholar of note, in a way I would not challenge Jones…

    But seriously, damn, my recall of movies from high school is clearly not what it used to be. A research program will be constructed forthwith on some weekend.

    On a related note, I recall this great Simpsons moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky6o60LcPv8

    It’s even funnier that all the better quality copies of this clip have the Spanish dub.

  33. Graham says:

    I had no idea the 1980s army had been so forward thinking already.

    Yes, in the movie Highway and Chuzu had been in the army in Korea and their change of service is just blown past with a one liner in which Chuzu explains to Jones that he and Highway had joined the Corps later.

    The only reference to women in the USMC is the scene in which the main antagonist the major [I think he's originally identified as the battalion S3 or 2IC rather than a company commander, but recall not 100%] is standing with a female marine officer as various platoons march past. One of Highway’s men gives a memorable cadence that begins with “Model A Ford and a tank full of gas…” The female officer appears to smirk a bit but also look away. Don’t know whether that’s realistic either.

  34. Graham says:

    The movie also has Sgt Webster played by Moses Gunn.

    He had some memorable moments. At one point he says to Highway that “Me and the major are buildin a e-light company of fightin’ men”. I still like to pronounce the word elite that way from time to time.

    Highway responds that the only thing Webster could build is a good case of hemorrhoids.

    You just don’t get this kind of writing anymore.

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