How does Thibault cancel out Capoferro?

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

The Princess Bride features some of the earliest — maybe onlyreferences to historical fencing masters in film:

Inigo: “You are using Bonetti’s defence against me, huh?”

MIB: “I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain.”

Inigo: “Naturally, you must expect me to attack with Capoferro!”

MIB: “Naturally. But I find that Thibault cancels out Capoferro.”

Inigo: “Unless your enemy has studied his Agrippa!” [does great big somersault] “Which I have!”

Thus inspiring a legion of potential historical fencers to look up Bonetti, Capoferro, Thibault and Agrippa. Huzzah!

However, the actual choreography turns out on further study to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the fencing methods of the historical masters in question. This should come as no surprise, given that the goals of stage and screen combat are that no-one should die, and everyone should see what is happening: and the goals of real combat are to kill the enemy, which is best accomplished if no-one can see what’s going on. There are skills common to both, of course, such as control of measure and weapons handling, but the core intent could not be more different.

The Princess Bride was a book for 14 years before it was a film:

So, from the 1998 edition (pp 130-135) here are the actual references:

They touched swords, and the man in black immediately began the Agrippa defence, which Inigo felt was sound, considering the rocky terrain, for the Agrippa kept the feet stationary at first, and made the chances of slipping minimal. Naturally, he countered with Capo Ferro, which surprised the man in black, but he defended well, quickly shifting out of Agrippa and taking the attack himself, using the principles of Thibault.

Inigo had to smile. No one had taken the attack against him in so long, and it was thrilling! He let the man in black advance, let him build up courage, retreating gracefully between some trees, letting his Bonetti defence keep him safe from harm.

Quite different, I’m sure you’ll agree. But this was 40 years ago, long before the resurgence of historical swordsmanship in the 90s: where was Goldman getting his information? The next reference is also interesting:

“Inigo…was not entirely familiar with the style of the attack; it was mostly McBone, but there were snatches of Capo Ferro thrown in…”

I assume McBone is McBane (though why the change when the other masters are spelled normally: a little joke, perhaps?); has Goldman read Aylward’s The English Master of Arms?

That’s Guy Windsor, author of The Duellist’s Companion: A training manual for 17th century Italian rapier, who produced a short video on the topic:

We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger

Monday, April 19th, 2021

While John Mueller’s new book certainly has a catchy title, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency. it argues not only for complacency but for appeasement, too:

Mueller goes on to show that Washington has consistently exaggerated foreign threats and overestimated the need for militarized responses to threats that were minimal or non-existent, going all the way back to the earliest days of the Cold War. He persuasively argues the case for what he calls complacency and appeasement: the United States faces few real threats, most of them will diminish or implode before they become a serious problem, and most of the threats that policymakers obsess over are manageable or imaginary. He also challenges one of the central myths about the “liberal international order” by denying that an ambitious U.S. grand strategy was necessary to secure the benefits of postwar democratization and economic growth.


While most advocates for a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy might shy away from the word appeasement, Mueller reclaims the term to restore it to its original meaning. Appeasement has been a curse word hurled against opponents of militaristic policies for the last 75 years because of the unusual events of the late 1930s. It described the efforts of Britain and France at that time to resolve international disputes through diplomatic negotiations to avoid another great war, and because this failed in the face of Hitler’s revanchist aggression, the word has been used to discredit diplomatic compromises ever since.

As Mueller points out, it was appeasement that averted catastrophe in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had the potential to lead to a global conflagration even more murderous than World War II. In general, he says, appeasement succeeds in avoiding stupid wars, and avoiding stupid wars is in the best interests of all concerned.

Hawks continue to conjure up the specter of Munich to justify their preferred policies, but the horrors of WWII already instructed the world in the insanity of wars between the major powers. We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger.

Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Charles Duhigg first became interested in the science of habits — interested enough to go on to write The Power of Habit — as a news reporter in Baghdad:

The U.S. military, it occurred to me as I watched it in action, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history.


I had been in Iraq for about two months when I heard about an officer conducting an impromptu habit modification program in Kufa, a small city ninety miles south of the capital. He was an army major who had analyzed videotapes of recent riots and had identified a pattern: Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle and all hell would break loose.

When the major met with Kufa’s mayor, he made an odd request: Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas? Sure, the mayor said. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Masjid al-Kufa, or Great Mosque of Kufa. Throughout the afternoon, it grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. Iraqi police, sensing trouble, radioed the base and asked U.S. troops to stand by. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8 P.M., everyone was gone.


At boot camp, he had absorbed habits for loading his weapon, falling asleep in a war zone, maintaining focus amid the chaos of battle, and making decisions while exhausted and overwhelmed. He had attended classes that taught him habits for saving money, exercising each day, and communicating with bunkmates. As he moved up the ranks, he learned the importance of organizational habits in ensuring that subordinates could make decisions without constantly asking permission, and how the right routines made it easier to work alongside people he normally couldn’t stand.


“Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” the major told me. “It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you get up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine. I drill my kids on this stuff. My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage. This is all we talk about in command meetings. Not one person in Kufa would have told me that we could influence crowds by taking away the kebab stands, but once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.”

Policemen were also needed

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

From the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States drew troubled conclusions:

American policy had been to contain Communism along the parallel, and in this, American policy succeeded. But no one realized, at the beginning, how exceedingly costly such containment would be. The war reaffirmed in American minds the distaste for land warfare on the continent of Asia the avoidance of which has always been a foundation of United States policy. But the war proved that containment in Asia could not be forged with nuclear bombs and that threats were not enough, unless the United States intended to answer a Communist pinprick with general holocaust.

Yet the American people, Army, and leaders generally proved unwilling to accept wars of policy in lieu of crusades against Communism. Innocence had been lost, but the loss was denied. The government that had ordered troops into Korea knew that the issue was never whether Syngman Rhee was right or wrong but that his loss would adversely affect the status of the United States — which was not arguable.

That government’s inability to communicate, and its repudiation at the polls, firmly convinced many men of the political dangers of committing American ground troops in wars of containment. Yet without the continual employment of limited force around the glove, or even with it, there was to be no order. The World could not be policed with ships, planes, and bombs — policemen were also needed.

Less than a year after fighting ended in Korea, Vietnam was lost to the West, largely because of the complete repugnance of Americans toward committing a quarter of a million ground troops in another apparently indecisive skirmish with Communism. Even more important, the United States, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, simply did not have the troops.

Korea, from Task Force Smith at Osan to the last days at Pork Chop, indicates that the policy of containment cannot be implemented without professional legions. Yet every democratic government is reluctant to face the fact. Reservists and citizen-soldiers stand ready, n every free nation, to stand to the colors and die in holocaust, the big war. Reservists and citizen-soldiers remain utterly reluctant to stand and die in anything less. None want to serve on the far frontiers, or to maintain lonely, dangerous vigils on the periphery of Asia. There has been every indication that mass call-ups for cold war moves may result in mass disaffection.


However repugnant the idea is to liberal societies, the man who will willingly defend the free world in the fringe areas is not the responsible citizen-soldier. The man who will go where his colors go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to democratic America. He is the stuff of which legion are made.

His pride is in his colors and his regiment, his training hard and thorough and coldly realistic, to fit him for what he must face, and his obedience is to his orders. As a legionary, he held the gates of civilization for the classical world; as a bluecoated horseman he swept the Indians from the Plains; he has been called United States Marine. He does the jobs — the utterly necessary jobs — no militia is willing to do. His task is moral or immoral according to the orders that send him forth. It is inevitable, since men compete.

Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other — with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots, and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors.

Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man.

The great dilemma of our time is that, with two great power blocs in the world, each utterly distrustful of the other, and one, at least, eager to compete, we cannot compete with thermonuclear weapons. Competition, after all, is controlled action or controlled violence for an end, and nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to control. And in nuclear war there is apparently no prize, even for first place.

Yet men must compete.

Now the emphasis would be on infiltration, subversion, and insurgency

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

The Communist powers, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), would remember the rapid escalation of Korea from a small, almost civil-type conflict into a large-scale action involving major powers:

After Korea, overt, brutal armed aggression, which had produced so violent — and unexpected — a counteraction from the West, would be avoided. Now the emphasis would be on infiltration, subversion, and insurgency to gain Communist ends in the fringe areas; the trick was never again, as with the South Korean invasion, to give the West a clear moral issue.

Communist planners, studying the lessons of Korea, could not help wondering what the result might have been could they have slipped several North Korean divisions into the South clandestinely, keeping them supplied across a fluid border. They might well wonder if the West would have then sprung to the defense of autocratic old Dr. Syngman Rhee, even though the interests of the West were equally imperiled.


Within a year after Korean fighting ended, they would succeed in Vietnam, this time without overt aggression.

It spelled the doom of Communist massed armies

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

In Nevada, at Frenchman’s Flat, a bright flash and ugly mushroom cloud signified a change in the tactical battlefield, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War) — a change that had not come about at Hiroshima:

In its early years the atomic device had remained a strategic weapon, suitable for delivery against cities and industries, suitable to obliterate civilians, men, women, and children by the millions, but of no practical use on a limited battlefield — until it was fired from a field gun.

Until this time, 1953, the armies of the world, including that of the United States, had hardly taken the advent of fissionable material into account. The 280mm gun, an interim weapon that would remain in use only a few years, changed all that, forever. With an atomic cannon that could deliver tactical fires in the low-kiloton range, with great selectivity, ground warfare stood on the brink of its greatest change since the advent of firepower.


The atomic cannon could blow any existing fortification, even one twenty thousand yards in depth, out of existence neatly and selectively, along with the battalions that manned it. Any concentration of manpower, also, was its meat.

It spelled the doom of Communist massed armies, which opposed superior firepower with numbers, and which had in 1953 no tactical nuclear weapons of their own.

The 280mm gun was shipped to the Far East. Then, in great secrecy, atomic warheads — it could fire either nuclear or conventional rounds — followed, not to Korea, but to storage close by. And with even greater secrecy, word of this shipment was allowed to fall into Communist hands.

At the same time, into Communist hands wafted a pervasive rumor, one they could neither completely verify nor scotch: that the United States would not accept a stalemate beyond the end of summer.

Unlike the old Imperial Japanese Army, the CCF understood the lessons of firepower

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

It was the CCF, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), that changed the most:

By 1953 the clumsy peasant armies, which had pushed masses of men through the valley to the sound of horns and bugles, were no more.

There had been no rotation in the CCF, and the painful lessons of modern ground warfare had been pushed home.


Unlike the old Imperial Japanese Army, the CCF understood the lessons of firepower, and did not repeat their failures.

After 1951, the Chinese soldier again became the phantom he had been in the North Korean hills. His fortifications and fieldworks, built with unstinted labor, almost always surpassed the American. Harassed by ever-present air power, he went completely underground, and he learned to move stealthily, and by night. He became furtive, fast, and skilled at deception.

He could pad noiselessly through the dark and assemble a battalion within U.N. lines before it was seen or heard, and fade away again before daybreak. He became adept at the ambush of American patrols, which could often be heard coming hundreds of yards away, and in the dark, deep valleys, more and more the honors went to him.

He rarely lost prisoners now, a matter of concern to American Intelligence. He proved he could slip small parties into U.N> lines and drag U.S. soldiers screaming from their bunks. While Americans continued to hate the dark, he loved the night as a friend, and made us of it.

He came onto the heavily defended U.N. hills and outposts like a phantom, and often took them within minutes. He could rarely hold them, however, under the quickly massed and superior fires of American artillery, and the grinding attacks launched against him by day, under artillery, air, and armor cover.

They continually bled away their best men through rotation

Monday, March 29th, 2021

The American Army changed the least, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), from 1951 onward:

The men came and went; the faces changed, for the United States divisions had one great disadvantage compared to the other combatants — they continually bled away their best men through rotation. Because of rotation, quality tended to remains static. The division retained the basic excellences developed in 1951: good weapon handling, superior communications, and superb artillery and superb artillery direction. But the troops were shot through with green men and remained somewhat clumsy and heavy-footed to the last, and their patrolling left something to be desired.

The new men arrived with legs unequal to the steep Korean slopes, and by the time they had learned to patrol the windy hills and deep valleys of no man’s land, they had become casualties, or had enough points to go home.

A firm foot should have been kept on the Communist neck

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

By 1953, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), almost every troop leader in the Far East held the opinion that continuing the war under present conditions was not only wasteful but verging on criminal:

Now generals said freely that it had been a mistake to remove the terrible pressure from the Communist armies in 1951. They did not say the U.N. should have marched to the Yalu — though many believed it — but they agreed that a firm foot should have been kept on the Communist neck until a signature was on the dotted line at Kaesong.

In retrospect, it seems beyond question that because the West brought naivete concerning Communist motives and methods to the conference table thousands more men that necessary were maimed and killed. If the U.N. had approached the table with a hard eye instead of a sigh of relief, in fighting stance instead of immediate relaxation the changes are high that peace could have been attained in 1951.

The dangers were demonstrated to great effect a few years ago during a unit exercise

Friday, March 26th, 2021

At Fort Bragg, 1st Special Forces Command is building an Information Warfare Center that will specialize in “influence artillery rounds”:

“Cyber is another delivery system. It’s a platform, like an artillery piece that you can deliver influence rounds through,” Croot said. “There’s an information revolution that has occurred, and things move faster than we’ve ever seen before, and it’s hard to change mindsets of people and systems and processes to be able to move at the speed of information.”

It also has a more defensive role, described in more down-to-earth terms:

This also includes training forces on how to reduce their digital attack surfaces while deployed and even in garrison in the U.S.
The dangers were demonstrated to great effect a few years ago during a unit exercise, Croot explained. Prior to deploying to the exercise in the U.S., the commander told his unit he wanted everyone off social media a full month prior.

One day into the exercise, the commander laid out how many people the unit had deployed, what base they came from, where they were going, what their mission was and where their families lived, all from their digital footprints, Croot said.

“If you want to be terrified, sit and see and watch a picture of a family member up on a Facebook post talking about you and where you work and where you’re going,” he said. “This is real, and it absolutely is something that we have got to take seriously from a home station force protection perspective, let alone at the edge.”

Pinpricks next to the wounds of the world’s great battles

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Compared to Gettysburg, Bastogne, or Verdun, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), the outpost battles that erupted across Korea from time to time were skirmishes, pinpricks next to the wounds of the world’s great battles:

But on the bodies of troops actually engaged the casualties were exceedingly high. When companies are reduced to forty men, and platoons to six or seven, to the men in them it is hardly limited war.

The hill battles along an unmoving line were costing the United States casualties at the rate of thirty thousand a year.

This number was still less than the annual traffic toll. But while Americans are well conditioned to death on the highways, they are not ready to accept death on the battlefield for apparently futile reason.

The Korean War poured billions of American dollars into the Japanese economy

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

In Japan, the Korean War was always close, T. R. Fehrenbach says (in This Kind of War), but always far away:

While the Korean people were inevitably the real losers of the war, the Japanese became the true winner. The Korean War poured billions of American dollars into the Japanese economy.

Millions of Americans passed through Japan, moving to and from the combat zones. These had money in amounts unbelievable to the Nipponese — and the Japanese, among the world’s most industrious people, soon found Americans would spend it for almost anything, if given the opportunity.


All Americans, passing through, found that good Canadian whisky was $1.50 a fifth, and drinks a quarter U.S. a throw. As one officer said, happily, “At these prices I can’t afford to stay sober!”


The Japanese could not be blamed for turning their nation into a huge red-light district, for what the customer with money wants, he always gets.

The big money, and the prosperity that flushed the Japanese economy, however, came from American arms expenditures. American military procurement officers found Japanese industry — far more capable and efficient than it is generally given credit for — could produce almost anything needed at the front — and much cheaper than it could be made in the States and sent across the Pacific.

Thousand of American military vehicles, damaged or worn out in Korea, were rebuilt in Japanese shops, some as many as three times, far more cheaply than they could have been replaced. The Japanese, under contract, could manufacture ammunition, tools, equipment, almost anything. They could produce millions of tons of food for Koreans and Americans in FECOM. All in all, the Japanese economy hummed. They made big money.

The benefits did not all accrue to the Japanese, however.

Without its solid industrial base in Japan, in privileged sanctuary from the battles, the United States would have found it as difficult to fight the Korean War as it would have been to land on Normandy on D-Day, had Britain not been there.

(This Kind of War was originally published in 1963.)

This has always been the defensive weakness of a mercantile society

Sunday, March 21st, 2021

The average man of the infantry companies was a selectee, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), and rapidly, he was becoming a special sort of selectee:

The first draft call, in the summer of 1950, was a vacuum cleaner — sprung without warning, it took skilled and unskilled alike, high-school senior and college teacher together; there was no time to escape.

The Army got a great number of highly skilled men, which it badly needed. Throughout all history, only the pinch of poverty or the pressure of the draft board has made men in large numbers enter the ranks; this has always been the defensive weakness of a mercantile society, whether Carthage, Britain, or America. But by 1951, there was little poverty, and the draft pressures had relaxed.

Thousands of young men, with no stomach for infantry war, entered other services to avoid it, generally in the following priority: Coast Guard, which could pick and choose the best; then Navy and Air Force, where skills were more at a premium, and combat dangers — in this particular war — less. The Marine Corps, which had written some of its most glorious history at Changjin, and which kept its standards high, had difficulty recruiting up to authorized strength. For as one high-school student, who had been at the reservoir as a reservist, returned to his old school and said: “For God’s sake, watch where you enlist — the Marines will kill you!”

There was exemption for students, and anyone who could get into college and keep his marks up, or join ROTC, had it made. Parenthood — even ex post facto — was a good out.

Understandably, with an unpopular war that had little public enthusiasm or support, the quality of men left over for the Infantry declined.

By May 1952, of over 5,000 new trainees entering the 1st Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, slightly over half had Army General Classification scores of 80 or under — by Army standards unfit for training at any Army school, including cooks and bakers. It seemed an unmistakable trend that only those too stupid to figure an out were coming into the ground forces.

The General Classification Test was designed to have a mean score of 100, like an IQ test, but with a standard deviation of 20, rather than 15.

They often preside, wisely and temperately, over their liquidation

Friday, March 19th, 2021

Pragmatists create no new ways of life, T. R. Fehrenbach reminds us (in This Kind of War):

[T]hey found no new religions, nor do they become martyrs to them. They believe in balance, compromise, adjustment. They distrust enthusiasms; they trust what works.

They make good politician, excellent bankers, superb diplomats.

They never build empires, either of the earth or of the spirit.

They often preside, wisely and temperately, over their liquidation.

Pragmatists did not land at Plymouth Rock, nor did they “pledge their lives, property, and sacred honor,” at Philadelphia.

Containment, forged in the forties and carried through the fifties and into the sixties, was a pragmatic policy. It was necessary, for there is a time for defense, even as there is a season for all things. But it was sterile; it could afford only time, and time, of itself, solves some problems, but not many.

Days of work led to the decision to do nothing at all

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

Nada Bakos explains (in The Targeter) how the CIA and SOF followed different paradigms:

Or, by simple process of elimination, would going after a certain target automatically finger the source on the ground who’d provided us the information, thereby blowing an Agency asset? Sometimes days of work to identify a target led to the decision to do nothing at all.


Couriers don’t have the same ability to hide as their elusive superiors do. Those middlemen made easier targets for the less experienced staffers to identify.


We had been watching him for months and had decided that he was more useful outside of our custody because of the intelligence we were collecting. He had a few dating profiles in the various countries in which he was working.


Just as the CIA — the most hallowed intelligence agency in the world — responded to the attacks by stepping outside its established comfort zone and growing its paramilitary capabilities, McChrystal wanted SOF to expand its intelligence capabilities.


Actionable, life-threatening intelligence collected by the CIA can be immediately shared with the military. But in order for the Agency to share strategic intelligence derived from human assets, CIA protocol dictates that the information has to be scrubbed clean of any detectable clues that might give away the source’s identity. Adhering to that standard is something the Agency takes very seriously — and unlike, say, supplementing official cables with a little back-channel communication to a teammate in the field, jeopardizing an asset’s safety is a line you simply don’t cross.


The military doesn’t recruit and train its intelligence personnel the same way the CIA does.


They had terrific soldiers, and we were eager to use whatever information they could gather by kicking down doors, but they simply weren’t seeing the same information we were.


I wanted to disrupt and degrade Zarqawi’s group systematically in as few steps as possible. In most cases, I led my team to find shura council members, operations leaders, access players — bomb builders, mission planners, regional leaders, couriers, and perhaps some of Al Qaida in Iraq’s recruiters. In 2003 we had already developed a good idea of who those people were using multiple sources, and it was only a matter of time before we pinpointed where they were as well.


SOF was taking a more horizontal approach, looking for insertion points where they could find them. Boom-boom-boom: they were daisy-chaining, grabbing a player and then going after the next viable target that guy knew.


Burrowing through to an inner circle like Zarqawi’s, I believed, required the insight that Agency teams achieve only after years of analysis, human intelligence gathering, technical collection, and assistance from foreign partners.


We saw very quickly that the SOF military-style vision led to their misunderstanding individuals’ roles within Zarqawi’s network — if those individuals were part of the network at all. SOF commanders later told reporters that they were hitting the right individuals and raiding the right homes only around 50 percent of the time — and that they were satisfied with that.


By late 2004, we could see SOF approaches in Iraq becoming a quintessential example of how a tactical military operation can directly oppose a larger counterterrorism strategy. By necessity we had to allow some bad guys to continue to operate, because a slash-and-burn approach does not make trust and intelligence sharing possible. This meant keeping bad actors in place for the time being so they could inadvertently continue providing the CIA with valuable intelligence.

I understand that highly trained operators find that approach disagreeable. But my team got equally tired of SOF complaining, “Why don’t you have any new information for us?” and having to respond, “Well, the other day you killed the guy we were getting the information from.”