A toy, suited only to make pretty scars for girls to admire

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

Our Slovenian guest recently suggested that I take a look at the traditional German sword-fighting art called Mensur, which reminded me that I’ve discussed Germany’s odd fencing fraternities before, but I didn’t mention where I’d first heard of their unusual style of fencing, in Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road, his not-quite-fantasy novel, where the protagonist, fresh from fighting in Southeast Asia, comes home with a scar across his nose — “little brown brother hadn’t sterilized his bolo” — and the surgeon says, “You’re going to get well, son. But you’ll be scarred like a Heidelberg student.” Our hero decides to try going to Heidelberg:

Hell, I would fight a couple of student duels and add real Heidelberg scars to back up the dandy I had. Fencing was a sport I really enjoyed (though the one that counted least toward “sweeping the gym”). Some people cannot stand knives, swords, bayonets, anything sharp; psychiatrists have a word for it: aichmophobia. Idiots who drive cars a hundred miles an hour on fifty-mile-an-hour roads will nevertheless panic at the sight of a bare blade.

[...]

I rather looked forward to trying a Heidelberg duel. They pad your body and arm and neck and put a steel guard on your eyes and nose and across your ears — this is not like encountering a pragmatic Marxist in the jungle. I once handled one of those swords they use in Heidelberg; it was a light, straight saber, sharp on the edge, sharp a few inches on the back — but a blunt point! A toy, suited only to make pretty scars for girls to admire.

That verbal description doesn’t quite paint the picture:

German Academic Fencer

The whole thing seems a bit contrived, but it has a certain logic to it:

A form of noble duel — mensur fencing — was widespread in Germany during the 16th century among young people, particularly in the student community. (The word originated from German Mensurfechten — fencing in confined space). Duelists wore protective eyepieces with metallic netting. The chest and neck were protected by a leather chest guard and a thick scarf. They wielded prototypes of the saber — “schlagers” with sharply pointed ends. Opponents faced each other and took turns at hits, aiming for the only unprotected body part — the opponent’s face. When fatigue set in or one of the opponents let down his guard, his opponent broke through his parries, leaving a cut on his face, which eventually scarred over. As we know, scars are said to give a man’s face character. As a result, both duelists left satisfied: the winner with a sense of triumph, and the loser with a sign of courage on his face.

[...]

During the first half of the 19th century and some of the 18th century, students believed the character of a person could easily be judged by watching him fight with sharp blades under strict regulations. Academic fencing was more and more seen as a kind of personality training by showing countenance and fairness even in dangerous situations. Student corporations demanded their members fight at least one duel with sharp blades during their university time. The problem was that some peaceful students had nobody to offend them. The solution was a kind of formal insult that did not actually infringe honour, but was just seen as a challenge for fencing. The standard wording wasdummer Junge (German for “young fool.”)

The Nazis suppressed the fencing clubs, which is mildly ironic, since dueling scars now evoke the image of an SS officer, like Otto Skorzeny:

Otto Skorzeny

Chinese began to infiltrate over the low hills, carrying pole and satchel charges

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

The Chinese infiltrators had success, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), with some unorthodox tactics:

But after nightfall, flares soared high all around the southern rim of Chipyong-ni, and the brassy noise of bugles beat on the defender’s ears. Chinese began to infiltrate over the low hills, carrying pole and satchel charges. They poured into George Company, killing many men by dropping explosives in the foxholes.

This is where the drones came in

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Before the war, on a tactical level the Armenian army was superior to the Azeri army:

It had better officers, more motivated soldiers, and a more agile leadership. In all previous wars with Azerbaijan, this proved to be decisive. But Azerbaijan found a way to work around it. This is where the drones came in: they allowed the Azeris to reconnoitre first the Armenian position and then the placement of reserves. Armenian positions then could be extensively shelled with conventional artillery, weakening their defences. Drones then guided the onslaught towards the Armenian reserves, bringing in artillery, multiple-rocket systems with cluster munitions, their own missiles, or using Israeli-made LORA ballistic missiles to destroy bridges or roads linking the reserves with the front. Once the Armenian side was incapable of sending reserves into battle, the Azeri army could move in any number it wished to overwhelm the isolated Armenian positions. This procedure was repeated day after day, chipping one Armenian position away each day and resupplying artillery during the night.

This tactic also worked well in mountainous territory the Armenians thought would be easy to defend. In the mountains, there is only one road connecting the front to the rear, which made it even easier for drones to spot targets. When the battle over Shusha demonstrated that the Armenians would not stand a chance even in this territory, the Armenian army started to disintegrate and Yerevan had no choice than to agree a ceasefire on adverse terms.

Plot-fusion is essential to detecting small and low-observable targets such as advanced drones or stealth aircraft

Saturday, November 28th, 2020

One of the military lessons from Nagorno-Karabakh is that computers and networks matter:

Like in Syria and Libya, Russian air-defence systems proved to be ineffective against small and slow drones. This has inspired a debate in the West about whether Russian air-defence systems are generally overrated. But this verdict would be premature.

Armenia’s most ‘modern’ air-defence systems, the S-300PT and PS series and the 9K37M Buk-M1, were both developed in the 1980s. While the missiles are still potent, their sensors are designed to detect, identifiy and track fast-moving fighters, and their moving-target indicators disregard small, slow drones. Like many 1980s systems, a lot of computing is predetermined by hardware layout, and reprogramming requires an extensive refit of the entire system, which the Armenians had not done. These systems are also incapable of plot-fusion: accumulating and combining raw radar echoes from different radars into one aggregated situation report. Plot-fusion is essential to detecting small and low-observable targets such as advanced drones or stealth aircraft. None of the export versions of Russia’s air-defence systems that it has sold to Syria, Turkey, North Korea, and Iran are capable of plot-fusion. (In the latter two cases, these are disguised as ‘indigenous’ systems like the Raad or Bavar 373.) There is therefore a huge difference in performance between Russian air-defence systems protecting Russian bases in Armenia and Syria and those Russian air-defence systems exported to Armenia and Syria.

Azerbaijan’s drones roamed free because Armenia had no jammer able to interrupt the signals linking the drones to their guidance stations. Only in the last days of the war did Russia use the Krasukha electronic warfare system based at the Armenian city of Gyumri to interdict Azeri deep reconnaissance in Armenia proper. Still, the Azeris also used the Israeli Harop loitering munition, which was able to work under adverse conditions (although at reduced effectiveness) as it does not, unlike drones. require a guidance link. Hence among armies that are likely to prepare to fight wars in the future – not only the US, China, Russia but regional powers such as Turkey, Israel, and South Africa – this experience will certainly prompt further research into artificial intelligence and autonomous lethal weapons systems. Rather than banning this class of ammunition by a prohibitive arms control treaty, as envisioned by Europe, they will experiment with how to make use of the new technologies and best integrate autonomous lethal weapons systems into their combined-arms manoeuvre forces, thereby increasing their operational tempo and effectiveness.

The information war has been just as fierce as the actual war

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

The information war has been just as fierce as the actual war in Nagorno-Karabakh, with both sides posting daily combat footage to proclaim victories:

Disinformation and propaganda, spread through official and unofficial accounts, have made it difficult to objectively assess the course of combat thus far. Furthermore, the relative accessibility of combat footage — whether from drones, cellphones, or cameras — paints a stylized picture of the battlefield for any analyst. They are official propaganda, and it is worth noting that on the modern battlefield, some systems have cameras or live video feeds, while many do not, distorting perceptions on combat effectiveness. A social media feed composed largely of drone video footage could lead one to believe in the dominance of such systems, even in a conflict where many casualties are still inflicted by armor, artillery, and multiple launch rocket systems. This tactical footage has led to familiar debates on the utility of tanks, the prowess of drones on the battlefield, or the proliferation of sensors.

There is a thirst for drawing lessons from contemporary conflicts that feature modern weapon systems. However, the result is often generalizing from a few cases, and at times, learning things that are not true. What can be discerned from this war is hardly revelatory. Remotely operated systems offer the utility of tactical aviation, close air support, and precision guided weapons to small nations, and to even relatively poor countries, for a cheap price. They saturate the battlefield with disposable sensors, shooters, and sensor-shooter packages in the form of loitering munitions. Notably, they enable precision artillery and strike systems to engage fixed positions, as has been seen across modern conflicts from Ukraine to Syria. Furthermore, tanks are vulnerable to counters, as they always have been, but it is unclear what other vehicles offer a better combination of firepower, protection, and maneuverability on the battlefield.

The war illustrates that in an offensive, or counter-offensive, the only thing worse than being in a heavily armored vehicle is being outside of one. If anything, the tank appears to be the most survivable vehicle, given the small warheads on drone carried munitions. These munitions often disable or mission kill the vehicle, but the crew can still survive anything other than a direct hit. Much of the hand-wringing in Western circles that comes from watching these conflicts stems from the epiphany that there is no way to avoid casualties on the modern battlefield, especially among an expensive force, replete with boutique capabilities that cannot be lost in large quantities. Furthermore, the ratios of support to maneuver units are important. Compared to forces like the Russian military, Western ground units feature poor availability of air defense and electronic warfare, and the expectations that existing air defenses or tactical aviation may be easily adapted to counter unmanned systems are probably unfounded. Armenia’s performance illustrates this problem. Drones are relatively cheap, and this military technology is diffusing much faster than cost-effective air defense or electronic warfare suitable to countering them.

That said, Azerbaijan’s unmanned air force has been operating against an opponent with incredibly dated short-range air defenses which are neither suitable nor effectively employed to defend against drones. Armenia does not have layered air defense, effective electronic warfare, or a large amount of tactical aviation. It has situated its air defense systems in relatively exposed fixed positions, in a mountainous region where air defense is even more difficult by virtue of the terrain. In truth, both sides are demonstrating tactical deficiency in their offensive and defensive tactics. While attaining some kills using optical sights, Armenia’s modernized Soviet systems (essentially technology that dates back to the early 1970s) were never meant to engage combinations of small drones, loitering munitions, precision artillery, or unmanned combat aerial vehicle systems. More advanced air defense capabilities like Tor-M2s are few, and have been intentionally held in reserve, although Azerbaijan has been reticent to use its fixed wing or rotary aviation. Armenia’s older S-300PS systems appear to have had no role in the conflict, and some launchers may have been destroyed early on, having never even been deployed.

The lessons from this conflict are consistent with those of other wars in the latter 20th century: It is much better to have a smaller ground force that is well defended from the air, than a vast armored force that is completely exposed to sensors and airpower from above. Well prepared defenses, if insufficiently protected or camouflaged from the air — which is increasingly difficult — are naturally vulnerable. The diffusion of remotely operated systems will outpace that of air defenses or specialized counter-drone systems, rendering older generations of air defense largely obsolete. Drones and loitering munitions will be, for some time, cheaper to acquire than the requisite defenses. And one can distribute forces, but they should be concentrated for assaults. There is no way getting around canalizing terrain, at least not until the battlefield features hover tanks. That tanks are vulnerable to anti-tank weapons should come as no surprise, but other vehicles, which trade survivability for maneuverability, seem to fare no better against anti-tank guided missiles. Vulnerable or not, it is unclear what other vehicle can achieve the tank’s mission on the battlefield.

The football shape was not considered practical for further development

Monday, November 16th, 2020

It always seemed to me that a hand grenade should be the size and weight of a baseball, since most (American) soldiers have — or used to have — a lot of experience throwing baseballs, but I assumed the size and weight wouldn’t work. A baseball weighs 5 to 5.25 ounces (142 to 149 g). The classic pineapple grenade weighs 1 lb. 5 oz. (595 g). But they did try to make a baseball grenade in World War 2:

During World War II, the service, together with the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, had experimented with fragmentation grenades that were the exact same size and weight as regulation baseballs…. Those grenades, designated the T-13 and nicknamed the “Beano,” never entered service owing to their use of a dangerously sensitive impact fuze that killed two people and injured 44 others in the course of testing.

The other form factor that made sense to me was, of course, a football grenade, which, apparently, the Army considered for an anti-tank grenade, well after World War 2:

Test on the football shape indicated it also had a low tendency of nose-on impact. In addition, both the spring wire and soft aluminum placed on the nose to cause the “football” to rotate upon impact, so the nose would be perpendicular to the tank surface, did not work as envisioned. The “football” would bounce away before the nose rotated any significant amount. In addition, the “football” never attained a stable trajectory. This was apparently caused by the mass of the grenade type “football” being near the longitudinal axis while a real football has all its weight in the “skin.” The football shape was not considered practical for further development.

The modern M67 grenade has a “spheroidal” shape and weighs 14 oz (400 g).

The Army wants the first casualty of the next war to be a robot, not a human being

Thursday, November 12th, 2020

The Army wants the first casualty of the next war to be a robot, not a human being:

Army studies of recent conflicts — Russia vs. Ukraine, Armenia vs. Azerbaijan — show you can have a dramatic impact by adding a small infusion of 21st century tech to a largely Cold War force, [Maj. Gen. Patrick] Donahoe said. How? One approach the Russians have employed to devastating effect is to use drones to spot targets for rocket launchers. Likewise, while the US Army is developing a host of new missiles, armored vehicles, and aircraft, most units will be using Reagan-era hardware for years to come. In essence, Donahoe wants to organize these existing weapons in new formations and add drones and ground robots to scout ahead.

[...]

Historical data on direct-fire engagements “shows that our enemies generally shoot first 80 percent of the time,” Sando said. “We don’t like those odds, [so] we want to avoid the close fight if we can. If we can’t avoid it, we want to enter it under conditions that are favorable to us.”

But how? Current Army doctrine prescribes “making contact with the smallest element.” In layman’s terms, if you must stumble upon the enemy and get shot at (the formal term for this is a, “meeting engagement”), then do it with the smallest vanguard possible, giving the main body time to prepare and maneuver without being pinned down. In the future, Donahoe said, the goal will be to make first contact with an unmanned element.

Cold War doctrine envisioned engaging the enemy along what’s called the Forward Line Of Troops, or FLOT. In the new concept, according to a briefing at the conference, a Forward Line Of Unmanned Aerial Systems (FLUA) will fly ahead through no-man’s-land into enemy-held territory, followed by a Forward Line Of Robots (FLOR) on the ground, followed in turn by the Forward Line Of (Human) Troops. The unmanned systems will flush out the enemy, stumble into meeting engagements and ambushes, take and receive the first hits, and map the enemy position for the human troops coming along behind them.

Of course, the Army can’t do this today. To execute the concept in reality, they need a lot more unmanned systems, so they’re going to build them.

On the first day of hostilities Azerbaijani drone strikes focused heavily on short range air defense vehicles in Nagorno-Karabakh

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

Sebastien Roblin looks at what open-source evidence tells us about the Nagorno-Karabakh War — that is, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia:

Video after video depict drone strikes setting military vehicles ablaze and unsuspecting troop formations abruptly vanishing in spasms of artillery fire. Photos reveal urban apartment buildings torn apart by massive rockets, and corpses piled up like cordwood after deadly ambushes in narrow valleys.

[...]

Azerbaijan’s primary aerial combat system in the conflict are an unknown number of Turkish-built Bayraktar TB2 drones, which can deliver precision strikes from a relatively safe altitude using small laser-guided micro-missiles, or help guide deadly artillery barrages.

However, Azerbaijan is also using its fleet of Israeli Harop and smaller Orbiter-1K loitering munitions, which can both surveil targets and kamikaze into choice targets like a missile.

Azerbaijan is also operating domestic drones, including antiquated An-2 Colt “biplane” transports fitted with remote-control systems. Ostensibly used to draw fire from Armenian air defenses, at least some of these Colts appear to have been carrying FAB 250-kilogram bombs. Armenian videos document the destruction of 7 of the pokey drone biplanes, often using man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

[...]

On the first day of hostilities Azerbaijani drone strikes focused heavily on short range air defense vehicles in Nagorno-Karabakh. These 1970 and 1980-era Soviet systems designed for use against airplanes may have lacked resolution to consistently detect and engage drones at long range and higher altitude. Later, more powerful S-300 and 2K12 air missile batteries and long-range air defense radars were also struck.

The flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

U.S. Marine Corps’ new anti-tank rocket is its old anti-tank rocket, the M72 Light Assault Weapon (LAW), upgraded to destroy buildings and bunkers:

Equally significant, the M72 Fire From Enclosure (FFE) is designed to be fired from inside buildings, without the flash revealing Marine positions. [...] “When firing at night, the flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol. The ability to fire from an enclosed position combined with reduced noise and flash allows Marines to maintain a covered and concealed position, reducing the enemies’ ability to identify the point of origin.”

The M72 FFE will come in two versions. The M72A8 anti-armor round will feature improved armor penetration. The M72A10 multi-purpose round is designed to destroy buildings and bunkers.

“The M72A10 incorporates an advanced warhead design with a multipurpose explosive and a self-discriminating fuse that operates in either fast- or delay-mode based on target construction,” said Richard Dooley, a Marine Corps project officer. “These advancements enable Marines to engage various targets, such as structures, bunkers and enemy personnel.”

We must be strong there just as we are on earth

Friday, August 21st, 2020

In June 1965, the Directorate of R&D of the Future Weapons Office in Rock Island, Illinois published The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Such as the Moon:

The purpose of this brochure is to stimulate the thinking of weapon people all the way from those who are responsible for the establishment of requirements, through those who are responsible for funding, to the weapon designer himself.

“If space is truly for peace,” it reads, “we must be strong there just as we are on earth.”

It presents early thoughts and then corrected thinking, like this:

Although the widely advertised temperature of from –250° to +250° F. are actualities on the moon, they are the approximate extremes reached on the surface at midday and midnight. (Days and nights are two weeks long.) The surface of the moon is a poor conductor of heat, consequently a little shade during the day and earth light during the night, plus  a reversible white and black umbrella may be sufficient to keep the temperature in the vicinity of the space suit within limits of from –65° to +125 to +160° F. Assuming a direct proportion to the reflecting area, earth light on the moon will be sixteen times greater than moonlight on the earth.

The discussion involves some calculations. A “5 to 95 percentile” man has an unrestricted maximum line of sight of from 1.4 to 1.6 miles on the moon, with its mean radius of 1080 miles:

Any object propelled horizontally from the shoulder of a man six feet tall (shoulder approximately 5 feet above the surface) would impact the surface after an uninterrupted flight of 2.73 times its velocity. For a velocity of 3000 ft/sec the impact point would be 8190 feet or about 2500 meters. [...] Therefore, the maximum range of a projected object at a velocity of 3000 ft/sec is about 320 miles when propelled at an angle of 45 degrees with the lunar surface. Its maximum ordinate is approximately 80 miles above the surface.

Orbital velocity at the moon’s surface is 5,600 feet per second — totally doable.

Pages 10–16 could have come from an early 1980s sci-fi roleplaying game:

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p14-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p15-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p16-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p17-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p18-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p19-normal

The-Meanderings-of-a-Weapon-Oriented-Mind-When-p20-normal

The flesh-head bolt cuts more than flesh

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Tod Cutler of Tod’s Workshop shot a medieval crossbow (350-lb draw weight) using three different bolt heads (needle bodkin, flesh head, plate-cutter), against three types of flexible medieval armor (gambeson, aketon, and mail):

(Tod and his friends previously showed that medieval longbow arrows explode on impact with a breastplate.)

Grunts in the Sky

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

I don’t remember Grunts in the Sky from when it was leaked in 2015 or officially released a couple years after that:

Actual underwater combat occurs silently with very little reaction time

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Submarine movies such as Crimson Tide and Hunter Killer use torpedo chase scenes for dramatic effect:

The reality is that a torpedo maneuvering and hunting submarines that are frantically trying to evade is the least likely scenario in a modern submarine attack. As already noted, in a 21st Century torpedo attack, the target will likely never know it’s about to be destroyed. Modern submarine torpedoes have sound silencing built into their design and, unless they use their active sonar modes, they may not be detected until the moment before detonation.

A common event observed in naval exercises is two submarines passing within a few hundred meters of each other, detecting each other at the same time, and racing to get a shot off before the other. The other type of engagement is when one sub detects the other sooner, and often at range, resulting in a first shot, first kill. So, the underwater prolonged dogfights that are such beloved set pieces of modern submarine thrillers are just not the reality. Actual underwater combat occurs silently with very little reaction time to fend off an impending attack.

[...]

65cm Wake homing torpedoes, like the Russian 65-76A, are large long-range torpedoes designed to search for a ship’s wake and follow it. 65cm torpedoes have enough fuel to travel in excess of 100 kilometers at 50 knots for just over an hour. This makes evasion a very time-consuming affair, allowing the attack submarine time to evade and re-engage. There are ways to actively defeat a wake homing torpedo, but a salvo of this kind of weapon is a carrier killer.

Sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

I recently started listening to the audiobook version of Sharpe’s Tiger, the first novel of the series that inspired the show starring Sean Bean (Boromir), and it’s so comically grim and cynical that I sought out its TV tropes page — which hardly emphasizes what stood out so much to me. 

This first story takes place in India, at the siege of Seringapatam, in 1799, and I was surprised to learn that British sergeants carried halberds regularly until 1792:

Fading as a battlefield weapon, the halberd stayed in military usage as a symbol of a sergeant’s rank. Gervase Markham wrote in 1625 that in England “halberds doe properly belong to the serjeants of companies.” For two centuries, halberds were closely associated with sergeants in European armies. Havildars, the equivalents of sergeants in the Indian companies of the army of the British East India Company, also carried them. Expressions such as “to get a halberd” meant receiving promotion to sergeant. By the late 17th century, if an English sergeant was demoted his dishonor was intensified by the confiscation of his halberd in front of the assembled company or garrison.

Sergeants straightened their formations, set distances between the ranks, or prodded men into line with the halberd. François-Apolline de Guibert wrote of the Prussian Army in 1778, “The sergeants’ halberds are sixteen feet long …. The divisions are closed at the right and left by sergeants; who, when there is occasion, hook their halberds together, and by this means enclose their platoons, so that the soldier cannot make his escape, but is obliged to fight.”

Because they could serve as measuring rods, halberds were useful for surveying the layout of a new camp. In a more macabre function, halberds were used to drag the dead from the ranks during a battle.

British Sergeant with Halberd

Some armies allowed sergeants to strike soldiers with the staffs of their halberds. For more formal punishment, sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts. Often, three were placed together as a tripod, while the prisoner was lashed to the staff of a fourth halberd tied horizontally across two of the other ones. In the British Army in the 18th century, to be “brought to the halberds” meant to get a flogging.

Sergeants of British grenadier and light infantry companies carried fusils instead of halberds. But, in battalion companies, sergeants carried halberds until 1792. In that year, sergeants took up pikes or spontoons.

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics

Friday, March 20th, 2020

After failing to impress the king of Brob­­ding­­nag, Gulliver tries another tack:

In hopes to ingratiate myself further into his majesty’s favour, I told him of “an invention, discovered between three and four hundred years ago, to make a certain powder, into a heap of which, the smallest spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment, although it were as big as a mountain, and make it all fly up in the air together, with a noise and agitation greater than thunder. That a proper quantity of this powder rammed into a hollow tube of brass or iron, according to its bigness, would drive a ball of iron or lead, with such violence and speed, as nothing was able to sustain its force. That the largest balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole ranks of an army at once, but batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down ships, with a thousand men in each, to the bottom of the sea, and when linked together by a chain, would cut through masts and rigging, divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all waste before them. That we often put this powder into large hollow balls of iron, and discharged them by an engine into some city we were besieging, which would rip up the pavements, tear the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side, dashing out the brains of all who came near. That I knew the ingredients very well, which were cheap and common; I understood the manner of compounding them, and could direct his workmen how to make those tubes, of a size proportionable to all other things in his majesty’s kingdom, and the largest need not be above a hundred feet long; twenty or thirty of which tubes, charged with the proper quantity of powder and balls, would batter down the walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute commands.” This I humbly offered to his majesty, as a small tribute of acknowledgment, in turn for so many marks that I had received, of his royal favour and protection.

The king was struck with horror at the description I had given of those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. “He was amazed, how so impotent and grovelling an insect as I” (these were his expressions) “could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner, as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines; whereof,” he said, “some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver. As for himself, he protested, that although few things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy to such a secret; which he commanded me, as I valued any life, never to mention any more.”

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his subjects, should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people! Neither do I say this, with the least intention to detract from the many virtues of that excellent king, whose character, I am sensible, will, on this account, be very much lessened in the opinion of an English reader: but I take this defect among them to have risen from their ignorance, by not having hitherto reduced politics into a science, as the more acute wits of Europe have done. For, I remember very well, in a discourse one day with the king, when I happened to say, “there were several thousand books among us written upon the art of government,” it gave him (directly contrary to my intention) a very mean opinion of our understandings. He professed both to abominate and despise all mystery, refinement, and intrigue, either in a prince or a minister. He could not tell what I meant by secrets of state, where an enemy, or some rival nation, were not in the case. He confined the knowledge of governing within very narrow bounds, to common sense and reason, to justice and lenity, to the speedy determination of civil and criminal causes; with some other obvious topics, which are not worth considering. And he gave it for his opinion, “that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics, wherein they must be allowed to excel. But the last of these is wholly applied to what may be useful in life, to the improvement of agriculture, and all mechanical arts; so that among us, it would be little esteemed. And as to ideas, entities, abstractions, and transcendentals, I could never drive the least conception into their heads.

No law in that country must exceed in words the number of letters in their alphabet, which consists only of two and twenty. But indeed few of them extend even to that length. They are expressed in the most plain and simple terms, wherein those people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation: and to write a comment upon any law, is a capital crime. As to the decision of civil causes, or proceedings against criminals, their precedents are so few, that they have little reason to boast of any extraordinary skill in either.

They have had the art of printing, as well as the Chinese, time out of mind: but their libraries are not very large; for that of the king, which is reckoned the largest, does not amount to above a thousand volumes, placed in a gallery of twelve hundred feet long, whence I had liberty to borrow what books I pleased. The queen’s joiner had contrived in one of Glumdalclitch’s rooms, a kind of wooden machine five-and-twenty feet high, formed like a standing ladder; the steps were each fifty feet long. It was indeed a moveable pair of stairs, the lowest end placed at ten feet distance from the wall of the chamber. The book I had a mind to read, was put up leaning against the wall: I first mounted to the upper step of the ladder, and turning my face towards the book, began at the top of the page, and so walking to the right and left about eight or ten paces, according to the length of the lines, till I had gotten a little below the level of mine eyes, and then descending gradually till I came to the bottom: after which I mounted again, and began the other page in the same manner, and so turned over the leaf, which I could easily do with both my hands, for it was as thick and stiff as a pasteboard, and in the largest folios not above eighteen or twenty feet long.

Their style is clear, masculine, and smooth, but not florid; for they avoid nothing more than multiplying unnecessary words, or using various expressions. I have perused many of their books, especially those in history and morality. Among the rest, I was much diverted with a little old treatise, which always lay in Glumdalclitch’s bed chamber, and belonged to her governess, a grave elderly gentlewoman, who dealt in writings of morality and devotion. The book treats of the weakness of human kind, and is in little esteem, except among the women and the vulgar. However, I was curious to see what an author of that country could say upon such a subject. This writer went through all the usual topics of European moralists, showing “how diminutive, contemptible, and helpless an animal was man in his own nature; how unable to defend himself from inclemencies of the air, or the fury of wild beasts: how much he was excelled by one creature in strength, by another in speed, by a third in foresight, by a fourth in industry.” He added, “that nature was degenerated in these latter declining ages of the world, and could now produce only small abortive births, in comparison of those in ancient times.” He said “it was very reasonable to think, not only that the species of men were originally much larger, but also that there must have been giants in former ages; which, as it is asserted by history and tradition, so it has been confirmed by huge bones and skulls, casually dug up in several parts of the kingdom, far exceeding the common dwindled race of men in our days.” He argued, “that the very laws of nature absolutely required we should have been made, in the beginning of a size more large and robust; not so liable to destruction from every little accident, of a tile falling from a house, or a stone cast from the hand of a boy, or being drowned in a little brook.” From this way of reasoning, the author drew several moral applications, useful in the conduct of life, but needless here to repeat. For my own part, I could not avoid reflecting how universally this talent was spread, of drawing lectures in morality, or indeed rather matter of discontent and repining, from the quarrels we raise with nature. And I believe, upon a strict inquiry, those quarrels might be shown as ill-grounded among us as they are among that people.

As to their military affairs, they boast that the king’s army consists of a hundred and seventy-six thousand foot, and thirty-two thousand horse: if that may be called an army, which is made up of tradesmen in the several cities, and farmers in the country, whose commanders are only the nobility and gentry, without pay or reward. They are indeed perfect enough in their exercises, and under very good discipline, wherein I saw no great merit; for how should it be otherwise, where every farmer is under the command of his own landlord, and every citizen under that of the principal men in his own city, chosen after the manner of Venice, by ballot?

I have often seen the militia of Lorbrulgrud drawn out to exercise, in a great field near the city of twenty miles square. They were in all not above twenty-five thousand foot, and six thousand horse; but it was impossible for me to compute their number, considering the space of ground they took up. A cavalier, mounted on a large steed, might be about ninety feet high. I have seen this whole body of horse, upon a word of command, draw their swords at once, and brandish them in the air. Imagination can figure nothing so grand, so surprising, and so astonishing! it looked as if ten thousand flashes of lightning were darting at the same time from every quarter of the sky.

I was curious to know how this prince, to whose dominions there is no access from any other country, came to think of armies, or to teach his people the practice of military discipline. But I was soon informed, both by conversation and reading their histories; for, in the course of many ages, they have been troubled with the same disease to which the whole race of mankind is subject; the nobility often contending for power, the people for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion. All which, however happily tempered by the laws of that kingdom, have been sometimes violated by each of the three parties, and have more than once occasioned civil wars; the last whereof was happily put an end to by this prince’s grand-father, in a general composition; and the militia, then settled with common consent, has been ever since kept in the strictest duty.