For the first time, many Americans could understand what had happened to Britain at Dunkirk

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War) the American retreat at the start of the Korean War:

But most of the heroic actions had been those of individuals, of single officers or men who fought bravely and well. Because without tight discipline their bravery could not be coordinated into a team effort, many of these men died in vain.

[...]

None of them were equipped, trained, or mentally prepared for combat. For the first time in recent history, American ground units had been committed during the initial days of a war; there had been no allies to hold the line while America prepared. For the first time, many Americans could understand what had happened to Britain at Dunkirk.

[...]

Once aroused, a democracy can match a totalitarian state in every facet of strength — it can be stronger, for totalitarianism has built-in bureaucratic weaknesses. A Hitler can command, and men march — but a Hitler can go mad — and there is no one to say him nay.

But the abiding weakness of free peoples is that their governments can not or will not make them prepare or sacrifice before they are aroused.

[...]

Soldiers fight from discipline and training, citizens from motivation and ideals. Lacking both, it is amazing that the American troops did even as well as they did.

[...]

In actuality, the NKPA held a slight superiority in men on 20 July. By 22 July, U.N. and North Korean forces were on a par, and by the end of July United Nations forces actually outnumbered the Inmun Gun, an advantage they never again lost.

[...]

But men are not ciphers, nor do the battles always go to the big battalions.

[...]

But few correspondents saw that officers, giving crucial commands, could never be sure if their orders would be obeyed. A colonel who sends men to hold a vital hill, and who sees them again and again “take a vote on it with their feet” by marching to the rear, is soon apt to be a straitjacket case.

This is what a kiloton looks like

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

If you haven’t seen the massive explosion in Beirut, it is legitimately terrifying:

That’s thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate going off, with roughly the energy of kilotons of TNT.

There’s not much left.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

Demonization becomes a winning Darwinian strategy

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

We learn by paying attention to what others attend to, which is why, Arnold Kling speculates, in-class learning works better than watching a lecture on line:

When I am in a classroom, others are paying attention to the speaker. This makes my attention to the speaker instinctive. I don’t have to use so much willpower to pay attention. But when it’s just me sitting in front of a computer, I have to will myself to pay attention. It uses up more effort and takes more out of me.

That’s not his main point though:

In the twentieth century, watching television or listening to the radio were often social activities. TV and radio could command our attention the way the speaker in a classroom would, through people paying attention to what others were attending to.

But we use 21st-century media in isolation. That means that the media need other means to command our attention. They cannot rely on our use of social cues. Instead, they have to rely on dopamine hits. Porn. Games. And demonization.

We get a dopamine hit by seeing the demonization of people with whom we disagree. So demonization becomes a winning Darwinian strategy in the age of contemporary media.

The whole point of writing The Three Languages of Politics was to describe demonization rhetoric under the assumption that people would not want to demonize. I thought that if you recognize the rhetoric, you would back away from it.

Instead, the religion that persecutes heretics justifies demonization. To criticize demonization is to be a heretic. In a world where people consume media in isolation, an ideology that justifies demonization has an advantage.

It was much easier to get a message to the rear than it was to get one carried forward

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

Major General Dean found himself trying to hold back the North Koreans at Taejon, but, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), he had almost no communications:

If he wanted to know what was happening to the front-line troops, he had to be on the front lines. He had found, sadly, that it was much easier to get a message to the rear than it was to get one carried forward.

[...]

He had three basic reasons for remaining inside the beleaguered city; one, to keep up the crumbling morale of the 34th Infantry and the other defenders by the sight of their commander moving shoulder to shoulder with them; two, to set an example for the ROK officers and staffs fighting alongside the Americans, who by now had all virtually climbed on the Pusan Express; and three, Bill Dean wanted to see close up just what kind of fighting cat the North Korean was.

[...]

The North Korean assault on Taejon was like all other North Korean attacks — they crashed into the defenders head on pinning them down, forcing them back, while at the same time they flanked or infiltrated to the rear and blocked the defenders’ retreat. At any given moment, it was impossible for Dean or any other commander to know what the situation was to his rear; this was a kind of tactic that the Europe-trained American officers, who liked to keep tidy lines, could not grasp until too late.

As it developed, Dean kept what he wanted of the 34th in the city, and sent other elements of the division, including his own HQ, to the east. As he would say much later, what he did afterward could have been done by any competent sergeant — but in saying this, Dean was thinking of the old Army, not the forces of 1950.

[...]

He decided to go tank hunting. He did not know it, but Colonel Beauchamp, to whom he had just given command of the 34th, was doing the same. Like Colonel Martin, Beauchamp had found everyone deathly sick of the T-34’s, but now things were just a bit better, for a few of the new 3.5-inch bazookas, designed to stop any known armor, had been flown in from the States.

With Beauchamp guiding and directing a team, the 3.5’s knocked out one tank west of Taejon.

[...]

Meanwhile, hundreds of North Korean soldiers, disguised in the white robes of farmers, were infiltrating into the city. Once inside, they threw off the misleading civilian attire and opened fire on American troops. Soon snipers were everywhere.

Using HQ and service personnel, American officers were having very poor success in rooting them out. Most American boys no longer knew how to play cowboys and Indians, particularly with live ammunition.

By afternoon, Dean had located another bazooka man, this time with an ammo bearer.

Dodging sniper fire, shooting a few snipers on the way, his party hunted up another tank. But this target was covered by North Korean infantry, and rifle fire kept them from getting close. Dean and the bazooka men sneaked back through a Korean courtyard, and climbed up to the second story of a house facing the street.

Here, cautiously looking out the street window, Dean saw the muzzle of the tank’s 85mm gun pointed at him, not more than a dozen feet away.

The bazooka man aimed where Dean pointed, and fired. The blowback from the rocket shook the whole room. The shaped charge burned into the tank at the juncture of turret and body

From the tank came a shrill, horrible ululation.

“Hit ’em again!” Dean said.

After the third round, the screaming ended abruptly, and the T-34 began to smoke.

[...]

Because he took the wrong turn, Bill Dean would not rejoin the American Army until September, 1953. Thirty-five days later, after wandering lost in the hills, after making heroic attempts to reach his own lines, Bill Dean was betrayed to the Inmun Gun by Koreans. When they jumped him, he tried to make them kill him, but they put ropes around his wrists and dragged him to a police station. There they threw him in a cage, the sort reserved for the town drunk.

Only much later did the Inmun Gun realize that the old-looking, filthy, 130-pound emaciated soldier they had captured was an American general.

General Dean once said that he wouldn’t award himself a wooden star for what he did as a commander. His country saw more clearly.

It gave him the Medal of Honor.

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years , with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022:

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe.

[...]

Bison kill selected trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This creates a feast of dead wood for insects, which provide food for birds. Tree felling also creates sunny clearings where native plants can thrive. The trust expects nightingales and turtle doves to be among the beneficiaries of the bison’s “ecosystem engineering”.

The steppe bison is thought to have roamed the UK until about 6,000 years ago, when hunting and changes in habitat led to its global extinction. The European bison that will be released in Kent is a descendant of this species and its closest living relative.

The European bison is the continent’s largest land mammal and bulls can weigh as much as a tonne.

They too were paid to die

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

At the start of the Korean War, casualties among officers of high rank in the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.

If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground.

And the troops themselves, who had never developed any respect for N.C.O.’s or junior officers, often would ignore their orders — particularly if the order involved something unpleasant or unpopular.

Understandably, the junior leaders soon became defeatist. A great many of them died, recklessly, but it was not enough.

It was not because the colonels and generals had lost their minds that so many of them began to stand with bazooka teams or to direct rifle fire. There was no other way. So it was that men like Bob Martin were blown apart doing a rifleman’s job, or battalion commanders like Smith of the 3rd, 34th Infantry, collapsed and had to be evacuated, and men like Major Dunn, marching ahead of a rifle company, were lost.

The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war.

Closer threats inspire a more primitive kind of fear

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Your brain handles a perceived threat differently depending on how close it is to you;

“Clinically, people who develop PTSD are more likely to have experienced threats that invaded their personal space, assaults or rapes or witnessing a crime at a close distance. They’re the people that tend to develop this long-lasting threat memory,” said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who is the senior author on a paper appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’ve never been able to study that in the lab because you have a fixed distance to the computer screen,” LaBar said.

But Duke graduate student Leonard Faul and postdoc Daniel Stjepanovic figured out a way to do it, using a 3D television, a mirror and some MRI-safe 3D glasses.

“It’s like an IMAX experience,” LaBar said. “The threatening characters popped out of the screen and would either invade your personal space as you’re navigating this virtual world, or they were farther away.”

The VR simulation put 49 study subjects into a first-person view that had them moving down either a dark alley or a brighter, tree-lined street as they lay in the MRI tube having their brains scanned. Ambient sound and visual backgrounds were altered to provide some context for the threat versus safe memories.

On the first day of testing, subjects received a mild shock when the “threat avatar” appeared, either two feet away or 10 feet away, but not when they saw the safe avatar at the same distances.

The data from the first day showed that near threats were more frightening and they engaged limbic and mid-brain “survival circuitry,” in a way that the farther threats did not.

The following day, subjects encountered the same scenarios again but only a few shocks were given initially to remind them of the threatening context. Once again, the subjects showed a greater behavioral response to near threats than to distant threats.

“On the second day, we got fear reinstatement, both near and far threats, but it was stronger for the near threat,” LaBar said.

Tellingly, the nearby threats that engaged the survival circuits also proved harder to extinguish after they no longer produced shocks. The farther threats that engaged more higher-order thinking in the cortex were easier to extinguish. The near threats engaged the cerebellum, and the persistence of this signal predicted how much fear was reinstated the next day, LaBar said. “It’s the evolutionarily older cortex.”

The more distant threats showed greater connectivity between the amygdala, hippocampus and ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the areas of the cortex related to complex planning and visual processing, areas the researchers said are more related to thinking one’s way out of a situation and coping.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)