We didn’t have from nothin’

March 9th, 2019

Roy F. Dunlap almost followed McBride’s example (A Rifleman Went to War), but instead he joined the US Army and worked on small arms:

Even before Pearl Harbor I had ideas about getting free board and room with my shooting and was toying with the notion of joining the Canadians, who cordially recommended the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the “Princess Pats,” who I gathered consisted mostly of Americans who couldn’t wait.


In the spring of 1942, Mister, the U. S. Army was in sad shape. We didn’t have from nothin’. They were in a hurry to get us on our way — four weeks’ basic. After three and a half a large percentage, including me, were transferred into the “cadre school,” or school for noncoms. A big honor or something, but I didn’t like it, since I was very sick of close-order drill and calisthenics, which was what the basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground amounted to, except for short lectures given by officers who had learned them by rote, apparently.

He belonged in the ordnance unit:

The first thing he asked me was how to put in a front sight on a .45 pistol. I knew I’d arrived.


There wouldn’t be a thing wrong with the gun [M2 Aircraft machinegun] except it wouldn’t work. All you could do was switch parts here and there till it did. Then you had to change it over to feed from the opposite side and do it over again. And so on ad infinitum.


Anyway, we suddenly were issued helmets (most of us got new ones but a few lads caught the old 1917 soup dishes). This was the first time any of us had seen a helmet. I told you the army was short of stuff, remember? We were all armed with Remington-made 1903 rifles, with straight stocks.

These were fairly well made, since they came out before the stamping mania hit the production lines, and all parts were as made on regular pre-war service Springfields. Of course, the floorplate would probably pop out if you dropped the butt more than two inches when lowering it to the ground, and the safety usually flew off when you slammed the bolt open on inspection, but we could cure little things like that, being an ordnance outfit. Machine work wasn’t bad at all, compared with later stuff.

Gunfire has its own language

March 8th, 2019

I was listening to the audiobook version of Outlaw Platoon, when Sean Parnell (or his ghostwriter, John Bruning) made the point that gunfire has its own language:

Suppressing fire, the purpose of which is to pin you down, sounds undisciplined; it wanders back and forth over you without much aim. It is searching and random and somehow doesn’t seem as deadly.

Accurate, aimed fire is a different story. It has a purpose to it. You know as soon as you hear it that somebody has you in their sights. The shots come with a rapid-fire focus that underscores their murderous intent. Somebody is shooting at you. It becomes intimate and fear inducing…

The enemy machine gunners hammered at us with accurate bursts. As their bullets struck home, they spoke to us infantrymen as clearly as if they had used our native language. Message received: these were not amateurs in the hills on our flanks.

Riflemen are hard to discourage

March 8th, 2019

Roy F. Dunlap was a competitive shooter before he went to war, and, as he explains in Ordnance Went Up Front, he came back still enamored of guns and shooting:

Fort Sheridan, Illinois, was our “home” range. Forty (now fifty) firing points, all the way back to a thousand yards, and the army manned the telephones and the pits for us, costing us anywhere from thirty cents to a dollar an hour per target, depending on the number of targets rented. After the day’s match or matches we’d rent a few on our own hook and have our fun and practice. Our gang used to go down to the short ranges and practice rapid fire (small wagers here and there, etc.!).


And not one of all the men I know is tired of guns. Rather, the opposite — we’re more anxious to shoot than ever. One ex-platoon sergeant of the Rangers, for fifteen months a prisoner in Germany, spent his furlough Sundays before discharge on the firing line at Fort Sheridan, back in the matches! Another, who fought the Japs under very messy conditions for a couple of years, worried in every letter that he hadn’t greased his match rifles well enough in 1941. A third, who finished the war a Major, after seeing Burma as one of the leading lights of Merrill’s Marauders promptly traded one of the boys back from Germany out of two Mausers. A man I knew in New Guinea, who eventually collected a couple of Nip bullets in the chest, is irritated mainly because he can’t shoot any gun with heavy recoil until he heals up a little more. I have rheumatism or something in my right elbow and shoulder (and the rest of my joints, too, for that matter) so that I may have to do my future pistol shooting lefthanded, but don’t believe it will affect my rifle holding. Riflemen are hard to discourage.

You don’t have to be curing cancer

March 7th, 2019

Charles Duhigg — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Power of Habit — went to Harvard Business School and found that most of his classmates were pretty miserable 15 years later:

What I found was that my classmates were hardly unique in their dissatisfaction; even in a boom economy, a surprising portion of Americans are professionally miserable right now. In the mid-1980s, roughly 61 percent of workers told pollsters they were satisfied with their jobs. Since then, that number has declined substantially, hovering around half; the low point was in 2010, when only 43 percent of workers were satisfied, according to data collected by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization. The rest said they were unhappy, or at best neutral, about how they spent the bulk of their days. Even among professionals given to lofty self-images, like those in medicine and law, other studies have noted a rise in discontent. Why? Based on my own conversations with classmates and the research I began reviewing, the answer comes down to oppressive hours, political infighting, increased competition sparked by globalization, an “always-on culture” bred by the internet — but also something that’s hard for these professionals to put their finger on, an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.

This wave of dissatisfaction is especially perverse because corporations now have access to decades of scientific research about how to make jobs better. “We have so much evidence about what people need,” says Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (and a contributing opinion writer at The Times). Basic financial security, of course, is critical — as is a sense that your job won’t disappear unexpectedly. What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and your family, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to worker satisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.

And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

One of the more significant examples of how meaningfulness influences job satisfaction comes from a study published in 2001. Two researchers — Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and Jane Dutton, now a distinguished emeritus professor at the University of Michigan — wanted to figure out why particular janitors at a large hospital were so much more enthusiastic than others. So they began conducting interviews and found that, by design and habit, some members of the janitorial staff saw their jobs not as just tidying up but as a form of healing. One woman, for instance, mopped rooms inside a brain-injury unit where many residents were comatose. The woman’s duties were basic: change bedpans, pick up trash. But she also sometimes took the initiative to swap around the pictures on the walls, because she believed a subtle stimulation change in the unconscious patients’ environment might speed their recovery. She talked to other convalescents about their lives. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” she told the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I like putting on a show for them.” She would dance around, tell jokes to families sitting vigil at bedsides, try to cheer up or distract everyone from the pain and uncertainty that otherwise surrounded them. In a 2003 study led by the researchers, another custodian described cleaning the same room two times in order to ease the mind of a stressed-out father.

To some, the moral might seem obvious: If you see your job as healing the sick, rather than just swabbing up messes, you’re likely to have a deeper sense of purpose whenever you grab the mop. But what’s remarkable is how few workplaces seem to have internalized this simple lesson.

The rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em

March 7th, 2019

A few months back, commenter Bruce mentioned Roy F. Dunlap’s Ordnance Went Up Front. It’s an odd mix of lighthearted stories about Dunlap’s time in World War 2 and dry details about the weapons fielded by both sides in both theaters:

This [book] isn’t really my fault: I was parked peacefully beneath a coconut palm splitting a banana with a monkey and wondering if I’d live through the coming invasion of Japan when some hopeful soldier who had attended mail call threw me a letter from T. G. Samworth, “who gets out the books on firearms,” starting everything. The monkey ate the envelope, and since he looked smarter than I felt, I asked him what I should do — tell the man the truth, or write him a gory story.

(Mr. Samworth had the idea I was the Second Rifleman to go to War, à la McBride.)

Anyway, I wrote and explained that I was usually the snipee instead of the sniper, and that there wasn’t much I knew to write about except small arms, which would be OK but for the fact that a batch of other guys had been doing the same thing all through the war, though it was evident that two-thirds of them never handled the items they publicized. Besides, I had to work for a living, instead of fighting — most of the time anyway — so I wasn’t glamorous. The answer was, in effect, “Write it up anyway, you’ve seen enough guns, in enough places, and know enough about them to make a book.” Besides, he offered money. So I then had a post-war project. This is it.


If the following manuscript can be classified at all, it must be as an elaborated technical diary of an American gun nut through the rifles, pistols and machine guns of World War II, both enemy and allied.

Dunlap was a competitive shooter before the war and an armorer during the war:

I’m the rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em.

Again he cites McBride’s A Rifleman Went To War, one of the first great books about sniping by one of the first great snipers.

Most of the book is wry commentary, not dry gun specs:

  • We had a lot of good stuff and a lot of stuff not so good, but as a rule only about half the quantity or quality the home front thought we had.
  • The propaganda this country swallows would make Goebbels roll in his grave. In envy. He had suckers, but not so many.
  • I have a fine battle dress jacket so covered with insignia and bars and brassards it looks like a military store window showpiece, but I am now so wide I can’t wear it any more, so, as the man said, what price glory?
  • I’m satisfied. My malaria hasn’t bothered me for eight months; I wasn’t hurt too much by jungle rot although my ankles and feet and legs are now sort of a purplish-brown color; I didn’t get a Purple Heart, for which I am very happy, and though my joints complain sometimes that I slept on the ground a night or so too often, I’m not bad off. A lot of things could have happened to me that didn’t. I hated the army, but I didn’t mind the war so much.
  • This probably really started when I was about three years old, since somebody is pretty sure to have given me a toy gun about then. Business picked up when I grew up to six years and enough strength to operate an air rifle. At nine I altered one of them into a workable pistol, and have been maltreating guns ever since.

The tattoo has a profound meaning

March 6th, 2019

Theodore Dalrymple was once consulted in the prison in which he worked by an inmate who was the proud father of two:

I asked him whether he still saw them: continued contact with their biological offspring being something of a rarity among the imprisoned paternal community. Instead of answering me directly, he rolled up his sleeves and pointed to two tattoos on his forearm, red hearts with scrolls across them bearing the names of his children — two tattoos among many others, needless to say. He hadn’t seen either of his children for years, and had never contributed anything to their upkeep. Indeed, the idea that he should have done so was so completely alien to him and to the mores of the world in which he moved that the thought had never crossed his mind, even fleetingly. By contrast, he obviously believed that his tattoos were a sign of genuine devotion to his children. Their names were engraved, if not on his heart exactly, at least on hearts painfully engraved on his skin, and one could easily imagine a touching deathbed scene in which he would be reunited at last with his children and would there show them the tattoos as proof that he had never really forgotten or abandoned them. They would probably accept this as having been true, and therefore forgive him his dereliction of duty.

In fact, more than 95 percent of imprisoned white British criminals are tattooed. The statistical association between tattooing and criminality is very much stronger (with the exception of that between criminality and smoking) than that with any of the more conventionally investigated factors, such as broken homes, drug addiction, low intelligence, and poor educational attainment.


Why do members of the middle classes now adorn themselves in this savage fashion? The author draws not only on her own experience, but also upon that of tattooists and their customers. She believes that tattoos have philosophical meaning for those who bear them. The philosophy in question is a witches’ brew of new age “spiritualism,” ecological paganism, elevation of the primitive, and vegetarianism. It is the kind of philosophy that emerges when religious feeling is no longer disciplined by religious ritual that is established by tradition and upheld by social pressure.

It is perfectly possible, however, to be a vegetarian, or even to believe in witchcraft, without resort to the tattoo parlor. What makes individuals choose to undergo the painful, expensive, and virtually irrevocable process of tattooing? Having listened to an unspecified number of tattooed members of the middle classes, the author identifies several motives, all of which struck me as unflatteringly revealing of the soul of modern man.

First there is the assertion of individuality. One of the author’s informants says,

[Being tattooed] separates me from anybody else. No one else has anything like what I have. I feel a little bit different from Joe Shmoe in the street, and I guess it makes me feel special.

This is infinitely sad. That a person’s individuality should be made to depend upon so crude an outward sign as a tattoo is in fact an indication of the fragility of that person’s identity. He must feel simultaneously overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people around him who make it so very difficult for him to differentiate himself from them, and an urgent necessity to do so. This necessity is all the more imperative in an age of celebrity, when fame and public notoriety are to so many people the only goals worth pursuing: indeed, when public adulation itself seems almost the sole guarantor of true personal existence. But their reach exceeds their grasp.

Of course, such outward signs of individuality as tattoos are inherently self-defeating. It cannot ever be long before someone has himself tattooed in a yet more startling, more “original” fashion (indeed, tattoo conventions regularly offer prizes for the “most unique” tattoo). But there is a deeper reason why such efforts at asserting one’s unique individuality are pathetically bound to fail: for true individuality does not arise from a decision to be an individual. A man who decides to be an eccentric, and therefore to behave eccentrically, is not an eccentric at all, but an actor, and usually a bad one at that. A true eccentric is a man who behaves eccentrically because it simply does not occur to him to behave otherwise.

“Personal growth” is cited as another important motive for having oneself tattooed. It is said to be “empowering.” A woman who had a bad marriage had herself tattooed with a wolf.

I ended up getting this wolf, which to me was power and strength over all the abuse and all the things that went on in my life. It was a sense of freedom… . I wanted it … to become myself.

Another woman said that her tattoo was something she did, that she brought into being, as if the fact that it was hers were a sufficient guarantee of its worth.

What is striking about these “tattoo narratives” (as the author calls them) is their vacuous egoism. The interlocutors speak, and appear to think, in pure psychobabble, that debased and vague confessional language that allows people to imagine they are baring their souls when in fact they are exposing their shallowness. This is something the author does not notice because she herself belongs to the psychobabble culture. One cannot but feel sorrow for people who think that by permanently disfiguring themselves they are somehow declaring their independence or expressing their individuality. The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man’s existence.

The author entirely misses the cultural significance of the spread of tattoos into the middle classes, even though one of her interlocutors, a teacher at a university, gives her a strong clue:

I was saying, “Fuck you, school, and I don’t really care if you know I have a tattoo.” I also at this time started getting pierced because basically I’m taking my anger out on this school… . I knew it would freak them out, which gave me no small amount of pleasure.

Here we see the bodily consequence of an intellectual climate that has long extolled opposition and hostility to what exists as the only honorable and ethical stand to take towards it. Of course, such an attitude is fundamentally ahistorical and lacking in respect for the achievements of the past, and only people who live in an eternal, egoistic present moment could adopt it. (The eternity of the present moment is, of course, the key to modern shallowness.) The tattoo is thus the art form of the cultural vandal, and it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that the cultural vandal’s views should almost always be expressed with inarticulate sub-demotic vulgarity.

It is also no accident that some members of the middle classes should have adopted a typically proletarian form of bodily adornment as a badge not only of independence, but also of liberal virtue. A tattoo establishes them as tolerant, open-minded, and sympathetic towards those below them in the social scale: the highest virtues of which they can conceive. The tattoo thus appeals to the kind of modern bourgeois who believes that foulness of language is a token of purity of heart, or at least of sincerity. The tattoo, like the constant resort to the swearword, is an attack on bourgeois propriety, and as such a demonstration of largeness of heart and generosity of spirit.

Of course, this antinomianism (itself so tiresomely bourgeois) has a tinny ring. I am reminded of the recent obituary of a British pop star in The Daily Telegraph (the fact that this newspaper, once the favorite reading matter of retired admirals pickled in port, should carry obituaries of pop stars at all is itself a cultural shift of some significance). The subject of the obituary was said to have been so irritated by what he considered the false gentility of the school he attended that he forever after used the demotic speech of South London. In other words, he adopted, in the name of authenticity, a form of language that was not his own and did not come naturally to him. The fate of all people who imitate others to achieve authenticity is to live a lie.

Besides, the bourgeois who has himself tattooed is, as this book indicates, at least as anxious to distinguish himself from the real proletarian as he is to identify with him. The tattoo is thus to the modern bourgeois what playing shepherdess was to Marie Antoinette. The woman whose tattoo was supposed to say “Fuck you” to her university did not really want to become the janitor of her faculty building, and probably would have very little to say to him. Egalitarians usually have a very strong sense of hierarchy.

Wealthy republics do not last long

March 5th, 2019

Jerry Pournelle wrote Mercenaries and Military Virtue as a preface for a David Drake novel and then rewrote it into a standalone essay for There Will Be War:

A nation which despises its soldiers will all too soon have a despicable army.

The depressing fact is that history is remarkably clear on one point: wealthy republics do not last long. Time after time they have risen to wealth and freedom; the citizens become wealthy and sophisticated; unwilling to volunteer to protect themselves, they go to conscription; this too becomes intolerable; and soon enough they turn to mercenaries.


For mercenaries are a dangerous necessity. If they are incompetent, they will ruin you. If they are competent there is always the temptation to rob the paymaster.

Why should they not? They know their employers will not fight. They may, if recruited into a national army, retain loyalty to the country—but if the nation despises them, and takes every possible opportunity to let them know it, then that incentive falls as well—and they have a monopoly on the means of violence. Their employers won’t fight—if they would, they needn’t have hired mercenaries.


As Montesquieu put it, “a rational army would run away.” To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike, to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King, to be rear guard at Kunu-ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead drill; these are not rational acts.


On the evidence, peace is a purely theoretical state of affairs whose existence we deduce because there have been intervals between wars.


When Appius Claudius told the Senate of Rome that “If you would have peace, be thou then prepared for war” he said nothing that history has not repeatedly affirmed. It may be wrong advice. Certainly there is an argument against it. But I think there is no argument at all against a similar aphorism: “If you would have peace, then understand war.”

Which is to say, understand armies; understand why men fight; understand the organization of violence.


We lost in 1965, when we defeated the guerillas, but failed either to take North Viet Nam or to isolate the battlefield. We tried to defeat hornets by swatting them one hornet at a time, a tactic that cannot possibly work. You must either burn the nest or retire behind window screens.


History has never been kind to wealthy republics. We can hope we are an exception.

People who work together don’t need diplomats

March 4th, 2019

It’s a lot harder to pull off a twist ending today than 60 years ago. I was reminded of this while reading Philip K. Dick’s “The Defenders,” in There Will Be War. World War III has continued, with all the humans living deep underground, while an army of radiation-shielded robots, or leadies, continues the fight on the surface. Eight years in, some suspicious humans come to the surface to survey the devastation:

“As soon as you left, the war ceased. You’re right, it was a hoax. You worked hard undersurface, sending up guns and weapons, and we destroyed them as fast as they came up.”


“You created us,” the leady said, “to pursue the war for you, while you human beings went below the ground in order to survive. But before we could continue the war, it was necessary to analyze it to determine what its purpose was. We did this, and we found that it had no purpose, except, perhaps, in terms of human needs. Even this was questionable.

“We investigated further. We found that human cultures pass through phases, each culture in its own time. As the culture ages and begins to lose its objectives, conflict arises within it between those who wish to cast it off and set up a new culture-pattern, and those who wish to retain the old with as little change as possible.

“At this point, a great danger appears. The conflict within threatens to engulf the society in self-war, group against group. The vital traditions may be lost—not merely altered or reformed, but completely destroyed in this period of chaos and anarchy. We have found many such examples in the history of mankind.

“It is necessary for this hatred within the culture to be directed outward, toward an external group, so that the culture itself may survive its crisis. War is the result. War, to a logical mind, is absurd. But in terms of human needs, it plays a vital role. And it will continue to until Man has grown up enough so that no hatred lies within him.”

Taylor was listening intently. “Do you think this time will come?”

“Of course. It has almost arrived now. This is the last war. Man is almost united into one final culture—a world culture. At this point he stands continent against continent, one half of the world against the other half. Only a single step remains, the jump to a unified culture. Man has climbed slowly upward, tending always toward unification of his culture. It will not be long—

“But it has not come yet, and so the war had to go on, to satisfy the last violent surge of hatred that Man felt. Eight years have passed since the war began. In these eight years, we have observed and noted important changes going on in the minds of men. Fatigue and disinterest, we have seen, are gradually taking the place of hatred and fear. The hatred is being exhausted gradually, over a period of time. But for the present, the hoax must go on, at least for a while longer. You are not ready to learn the truth. You would want to continue the war.”


“It’s a certainty that the Soviets have been tricked, too, the same as us. But we have found out. That gives us an edge over them.”


“With a hundred top-level men, we could take over again, restore things as they should be! It would be easy!”


“As you can see, the Tube has been shut. We were prepared for this. As soon as all of you were on the surface, the order was given. If you had gone back when we asked you, you would now be safely down below. We had to work quickly because it was such an immense operation.”

“But why?” Moss demanded angrily.

“Because it is unthinkable that you should be allowed to resume the war. With all the Tubes sealed, it will be many months before forces from below can reach the surface, let alone organize a military programme. By that time the cycle will have entered its last stages. You will not be so perturbed to find your world intact.

“We had hoped that you would be undersurface when the sealing occurred. Your presence here is a nuisance. When the Soviets broke through, we were able to accomplish their sealing without—”

“The Soviets? They broke through?”

“Several months ago, they came up unexpectedly to see why the war had not been won. We were forced to act with speed. At this moment they are desperately attempting to cut new Tubes to the surface, to resume the war. We have, however, been able to seal each new one as it appears.”


“People who work together don’t need diplomats. They solve their problems on the operational level instead of at a conference table.”


“It is the goal of history, unifying the world. From family to tribe to city-state to nation to hemisphere, the direction has been toward unification. Now the hemispheres will be joined and—”


“Hundreds of centuries of bloodshed and destruction. But each war was a step toward uniting mankind. And now the end is in sight: a world without war. But even that is only the beginning of a new stage of history.”

Captain Marvel

March 3rd, 2019

Back in 1939, artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker created a superhero called Captain Marvel, who first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (cover-dated Feb. 1940), published by Fawcett Comics. You’ve probably never heard of that title or that publisher, but based on book sales, the character was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, outselling even Superman.

Whiz Comics No 02 Cover Captain Marvel

So, naturally, Superman’s publisher — which was National Comics, at that point, not yet DC — sued, alleging that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. It was a ludicrous claim, but Fawcett eventually agreed to cease publishing Captain Marvel-related comics in 1953, when superhero comics weren’t selling well, anyway.

In the late 1960s Marvel Comics gained the trademark “Captain Marvel” — which makes a certain kind of sense — and legally had to publish a Captain Marvel title at least once every two years in order to retain it, which led to a number of half-hearted efforts with a rather uninspiring new character, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Imperial Militia, who is sent to observe the planet Earth as it is developing technology to travel into space. This Captain Marvel was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan and first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967).

Marvel Super-Heroes No 12 Captain Marvel

Then, in 1972, DC reintroduced the original character under the new trademark of Shazam — which was originally the name of the wizard who granted young Billy Batson his powers and the magic word Billy had to say aloud to transform into the (adult) superhero, with the powers of the “gods”:

The wisdom of Solomon
The strength of Hercules
The stamina of Atlas
The power of Zeus
The courage of Achilles
The speed of Mercury

Meanwhile, Marvel Comics cycled through a few more uninspired captains, before settling on Carol Danvers, formerly known as Ms. Marvel, as their Captain Marvel and the basis for the upcoming movie.

Captain Marvel No 01 Cover Carol Danvers

One more illustration of the utter moral worthlessness of both Spain and Germany

March 3rd, 2019

The Spanish Civil War came up here recently, so I was attuned to the topic when Jerry Pournelle brought it up in the preface to his own “His Truth Goes Marching On” in There Will Be War:

The Spanish Civil War was, to a generation of American liberals, a matter of evil vs. good. The Falangists were evil; the Republicans were good; and there were no compromises. Hemingway tried to show that it wasn’t that stark, although his sympathies remained with the Republicans. George Orwell went into more detail. He showed the naked cynicism of the Communist elements of the Republic, but no one wanted to hear his message, and to this day most believe that his (largely unread) Homage to Catalonia condemns only Franco.

The world could never forget Guernica, and to prove it we had Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Guernica was a Basque fishing village bombed by units of the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion. The town was largely destroyed, and the incident was seen as one more illustration of the utter moral worthlessness of both Spain and Germany. Picasso’s violent painting, showing men and animals disjointed and scattered, was very effective in stirring up sympathy for the Republicans and hatred for both the Germans and Franco.

Picasso's Guernica

Later it came out that the town had been occupied by Republican military units, that at least part of the destruction came from the detonation of Republican munitions stored there, and there was a strong suggestion that retreating Republican engineers had dynamited other structures not damaged by the air raid. Whatever the truth of Guernica, the destruction there was not large compared to the damage sustained by Sidon, Tyre, and Beirut during the 1982 Israeli campaign, and was trivial compared to the damage done Tokyo in the fire raids, or the devastation of Hamburg and Dresden.

The story mirrors the Spanish Civil War, but in a sci-fi setting:

By the next morning two men had toes shot off and had to be evacuated.

They lay on the hill for a week. Each night they lost a few more men to minor casualties that could not possibly have been inflicted by the enemy; then Stromand had two men with foot injuries shot by a squad of military police he brought up from staff headquarters.

The injuries ceased, and the men lay sullenly in the trenches until the company was relieved.

Nitric acid poured over cores of powdered aluminum in a rubber matrix

March 2nd, 2019

One of the stories in There Will Be War features an Israeli missile launch, and the technical details stood out to me — particularly since I read Ignition! recently:

In thirty eight sealed chambers, far overhead, nitric acid poured over cores of powdered aluminum in a rubber matrix. Solid fuel boosters roared to life. At a forty five degree angle, all of the missiles, save one, soared upward.

At two hundred feet, the missiles leveled off. Robot control surfaces adjusted themselves. Jet engines caught the wind and fired into keening life. Although they had all been launched in the same general direction, as winds caught ailerons and rudders, they began to turn.

In-space attacks are likely as a prelude to war

March 1st, 2019

Jerry Pournelle took the Soviet strategic threat from space quite seriously. He discussed it in There Will Be War:

In order to compensate for severe inferiority in guidance technology for its first generation ICBMs, the Soviets during the 60s and early 70s developed very high yield hydrogen bombs which didn’t need to land close to their targets to accomplish their mission.


During the 1960’s, the United States chose to halt strategic missile production and deployment.


Instead, the Soviets took the opportunity to achieve numerical parity but with much larger boosters; and when parity was achieved, showed little inclination to halt weapon development and deployment.


With two or three times as many warheads on missiles as the U.S. has — all of them of substantially higher yield and comparable targeting accuracy as the U.S. ones — the Soviets will be able to wipe out all U.S. land-based forces (including all 4000 MX aim-points) with well under half of their ICBM order-of-battle.


Nuclear reactor-powered Soviet naval reconnaissance satellite capability has posed a major threat to U.S. sea-power for most of the past decade. What is little-recognized is that these intensively powered (100 kilowatt level), massive military satellites also provide an ideal platform for rapid, entirely covert deployment of advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) systems, exploiting a wide variety of radar, optical, and other non-acoustic technological advances of the last several years. The U.S. has no analogous capabilities — either operational or in serious development.


The U.S. cannot put a 10kW electric power supply of any kind into orbit until the mid-80s (and only if development begins promptly could we do so then), but the Soviets have had a routinely exercised order-of-magnitude greater capability since the mid-70s.


There is no credible evidence which suggests that the Soviets would hesitate to use such demonstrated capabilities to wage space-directed nuclear war-at-sea against U.S. military forces, even if the geopolitical situation were substantially short of all-out-war; indeed, all available evidence supports the thesis that the Soviets consider U.S. Navy forces to be ‘pure’ military targets, useful for demonstrations of Soviet strength and resolution in times of crisis without generating the massive civilian casualties which would require a U.S. president to escalate or capitulate.


Soviet anti-satellite capabilities also have no analog in U.S. capacities. As was widely publicized two years ago, the Soviets have demonstrated a capability to attack (or at least effectively confuse) our strategic warning satellites. These satellites give warning of a ballistic missile attack against the United States by detecting the very strong infrared radiation signals given off by the exhaust plumes of ICBMs rising through the atmosphere from their silos. According to open literature accounts, the Soviets were able to blind them and thus negate their warning capability.


The Soviets have also repeatedly demonstrated the ability to use ‘killer satellites’ to intercept and destroy essentially any type of satellite in reasonably low Earth orbit.


In-space attacks are likely as a prelude to war on not only U.S. strategic reconnaissance satellites, but also on command, control, communications, and intelligence satellites which are increasingly vital to the ability of the National Command Authority to direct U.S. forces in the event of hostilities. Unlike the Soviet Union, the U.S. has committed a critically large fraction of its war-waging assets to the space environment. However, we have not taken commensurate action to defend these assets from any but implausibly trivial types and levels of threats — and the Soviets know it.


When operating in pulsed mode, beam weapons load the surfaces of their targets with destructive amounts of energy on time scales of a millionth of a second or less; the surfaces evaporate with forces far greater than that of a comparable thickness of TNT, usually destroying the structures under them in the process.


Deployed in high Earth orbit, one such station could potentially burn down all the missiles launched from whatever locations by one side during an all-out nuclear war, and then leisurely burn down all enemy bombers for an encore.


If such a space laser battle station could defend itself from all types of attack which enemies of its owners could direct against it, its ownership would confer the prize of a planet — just as soon as it was put into orbit.


On the other hand, pulsed space lasers energized by nuclear weapons exploding nearby — lasers which have been demonstrated by the U.S. in underground tests and in whose development the Soviet Union is widely believed to be several years ahead — may be effectively impossible to countermeasure. They deliver too much energy of too penetrating nature in too short a period of time to defend against by any means known at present.


These defensive weapons are kept in hardened silos, to be launched as soon as an enemy ICBM attack is detected.


A dozen such bomb-energized laser systems — each launched by a single booster — could shield their owner’s home territory from enemy attack for the half-hour period necessary for its owner’s ICBMs to be launched at, fly to, and destroy the enemy’s missile and bomber fields.


Strategic-scale war in the closing sixth of this century is thus likely to conclude with the total and quite bloodless triumph by the nation owning the space laser system(s); the winner’s ICBM fields are part-empty, while the loser’s missiles and bombers are totally destroyed. The loser’s cities are held hostage for the surrender of his submarine force, whose remaining missiles are impotent against the space laser weapons of the winner in any event.


The large present and near-term Soviet advantage in the ability to place large payloads into a variety of Earth orbits and to generate large amounts of electric power with space nuclear power systems may well be decisive in the on-going race to first deploy the first-generation space beam weapon battle stations.

I honestly had no idea that the Soviets had nuclear reactor-powered naval reconnaissance satellites:

Launched between 1967 and 1988 to monitor NATO and merchant vessels using radar, the satellites were powered by nuclear reactors.

Because a return signal from an ordinary target illuminated by a radar transmitter diminishes as the inverse of the fourth power of the distance, for the surveillance radar to work effectively, US-A satellites had to be placed in low Earth orbit. Had they used large solar panels for power, the orbit would have rapidly decayed due to drag through the upper atmosphere. Further, the satellite would have been useless in the shadow of Earth. Hence the majority of the satellites carried type BES-5 nuclear reactors fueled by uranium-235. Normally the nuclear reactor cores were ejected into high orbit (a so-called “disposal orbit”) at the end of the mission, but there were several failure incidents, some of which resulted in radioactive material re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

The US-A programmer was responsible for orbiting a total of 33 nuclear reactors, 31 of them BES-5 types with a capacity of providing about two kilowatts of power for the radar unit. In addition, in 1987 the Soviets launched two larger TOPAZ nuclear reactors (six kilowatts) in Kosmos satellites (Kosmos 1818 and Kosmos 1867) which were each capable of 6 months of operation. The higher-orbiting TOPAZ-containing satellites were the major source of orbital contamination for satellites that sensed gamma-rays for astronomical and security purposes, as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) do not generate significant gamma radiation as compared with unshielded satellite fission reactors, and all of the BES-5-containing spacecraft orbited too low to cause positron-pollution in the magnetosphere.

The last US-A satellite was launched 14 March 1988.

No one quite knows where the great captains come from

February 28th, 2019

Jerry Pournelle included Poul Anderson’s “Marius” in There Will Be War and wrote this preface to it:

In every generation there are those who can lead men to Hell. There are never many, for the secrets of that kind of leadership have not been written in books. No one quite knows where the great captains come from. They appear when needed — or they do not, and homelands die.

The great captains are not immune to the temptations of power; indeed, for those who can lead men to Hell, there is always the suspicion that they might be able to lead them to Heaven. If the generals do not think this way, we can be certain they will have followers to suggest the possibility.

Great soldiers are not often great governors. Sometimes they are: Julius Caesar was certainly preferable to most of his immediate successors and predecessors, Washington was certainly an able president, Mustapha Kemal was the best governor Turkey ever had. England has had able soldier kings. Napoleon reformed French society and developed a code of laws that has spread throughout the world, making one wonder what might have happened had the Allies left him in peace after his return from Elba.

Far too often, though, the habits of military power have been ingrained, so that the great captain becomes tyrant or incompetent — or both — as head of state.

The story involves a coup, in post-World War III Europe, to replace a benevolent dictator, before strongman politics become too ingrained. The academics behind the coup understand symbolic sociology — something like Asimov’s psychohistory.

Pournelle felt that the usual understanding of the story, that the scientific faction’s win was a win for humanity, was a misunderstanding:

Pareto, whose theory of the circulation of elites makes more sense than most contemporary sociology (and is worth a great deal more study than it receives), died in 1923. He was more interested in the description of society than in prescriptions for its change; to the extent that he was on record as favoring any social scheme it was classical liberalism of the sort espoused by Dr. Milton Friedman in this era.


Pareto wrote: “Had Aristotle held to the course he in part so admirably followed, we would have had a scientific sociology in his early day. Why did he not do so? There may have been many reasons; but chief among them, probably, was that eagerness for premature practical applications which is ever obstructing the progress of science, along with a mania for preaching to people as to what they ought to do — an exceedingly bootless occupation — instead of finding out what they actually do.”


Fourre and Valti are more concerned with theory — such as how many representatives shall be sent to the United Nations — than with such practical matters as rats and plague. And thus Fourre slays his oldest friend. Which of them is Marius?

Spoil its power and break it, so they can’t trust anything

February 27th, 2019

I hadn’t even heard of James Warner Bellah before I came across his short story “Spanish Man’s Grave” in There Will Be War.

“This story is not science fiction,” Jerry Pournelle explains, “but it has its place in this anthology, for this is one of the stories that inspired Robert Heinlein to write Starship Troopers.” The connection is not obvious, but Bellah and his writing are inspiring:

Bellah was the author of 19 novels, including The Valiant Virginians (the inspiration for the 1961 NBC television series The Americans), and Blood River. Some of his short stories were turned into films by John Ford, including Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande. With Willis Goldbeck he wrote the screenplay for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

In World War I, Bellah enlisted in the Canadian Army, and served as a pilot in the 117th Squadron of Great Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. These experiences formed the basis of his 1928 novel Gods of Yesterday.

In the 1930s he worked as a journalist for the New York Post.

During World War II, Bellah served in the United States Army, starting as a lieutenant in the 16th Infantry, was detailed to the General Staff Corps before Pearl Harbor, and was later assigned to Headquarters 1st Infantry Division, later with the 80th Infantry Division. Later he served on the staff of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten in Southeast Asia. He was attached to General Wingate’s Chindits in combat in Burma, and to General Stillwell and to Colonel Cochran’s 1st Air Commando Group. He left the service with the rank of Colonel.

He was a member of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California beginning in 1952.

His short story “Spanish Man’s Grave” is considered by some to be one of the finest American Western stories ever written. His last script was A Thunder of Drums. Bellah’s depiction of the Apache is protested by some and lauded as realistic by others.

In the early stages of his career, Elmore Leonard modelled his style closely after Bellah’s writing.

He died of a heart attack in Los Angeles during a visit to his friend James Francis, Cardinal McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles.

None of his works appear to be in print.

I collected a number of interesting passages:

  • “The experience of war never quite leaves a young man or woman. A great many are utterly destroyed by it. All are indelibly and subtly marked by it, because, for good or evil, the memory never quite leaves any of us.”
  • The fears of man are many. He fears the shadow of death and the closed doors of the future. He is afraid for his friends and for his sons and of the specter of tomorrow. All his life’s journey he walks in the lonely corridors of his controlled fears, if he is a man. For only fools will strut, and only cowards dare cringe.
  • Never the same route, for fear of forming military habits hostiles could depend upon.
  • For there are no soft-handed girls on the lone plains; only the echo of their laughter in dreams.
  • And a plains uniform is a poor badge of glory. Worn leather, reeking of horse sweat and body sweat. Shirts bleached to the blue of distant rain, the armpits white with salt rime. Battered gray beaver felt, threadbare on the head, with the sweatband stinking when you ease up the brim.
  • And no violins. No flowers. No band music. Only the dreariness and the loneliness and the final knowledge that you have flung down your youth into this empty void and that there your youth will die, far from the lights of cities, wasted forevermore.
  • “Effen it’s a homestead,” Tyree said, “it’s burnin’ down.”
  • Brown acid smell of horses. Green acid smell of men.
  • His fleshless hands at fifty-six were gray talons, and there was not enough blood left in him, after the years of his service, to take the iridescent blue from his lips.
  • A worn-out man, old before his time, drained by the Colors, sitting his mount a thousand miles down the wastelands, staring at distant smoke with his eyes closed.
  • “Mr. Pennell, there are only three things to remember out here. Always make them think you are in force, or will be soon. Always frighten them until they stop thinking and take refuge in Medicine. Then turn it against them, spoil its power and break it, so they can’t trust anything. And always treat your luck with respect, so that it will never turn against you.
  • This far the gods will let a man go—to a cairned grave on a lonesome downslope where he may lie in sleep forever. But here another man takes over, for there is always smoke still ahead and the march goes on.
  • Your first man dead in violence is a sick thing in your mind for many suns and many moons, until the others fade its picture.
  • But you never forget the first white woman you see that the Apaches have worked over.
  • They saw the two halves of the dog first, and the dust and hair and clotted abomination of the ax, flung under the broken wagon. Flies were there, green and translucent, glutted lazy.
  • The man was roped and arched in final protest at the little field’s edge.
  • He had fought, like a panther. The ground was lacerated with his fight.
  • Corporal Bartenett found the woman—“Alice Downey Graeme, his Wife.” And there it was, and how can you say what it was?
  • Thirty Apaches, by the pony marks, blood-drunk and beast hot. Reeking to defile. Hair-tearing hands, grease slick. Fetid-breathed and shrieking with obscenity.
  • “A two-day start on us they got, and the girl they got, about ten, eleven years old. See there,” and he pointed. “Her go-to-meetin’ dress.” He shook his head at Pennell’s question. “No,” he said. “I don’t think the girl, yet. Only the mother. But I sure hope the girl ain’t big for her age, ‘cause we gotta long haul to catch up on ‘em, sir. I sure hope she ain’t—”
  • “Tyree,” he said, “you and Marcy fix Mrs. Graeme decently for burial. I want her to have something on. Unmarried men clear out of the area…
  • The book tells you how to force the march, but a good sergeant is better than the best of books, and deep anger is better than a sergeant. Space out to fifty-five paces and stagger the odd files twenty yards to the right. That keeps the dust down and gives the mounts air to breathe. Unbit to graze on all halts, even the shortest. Halt ten minutes in the hour, and forty minutes every sixth hour for watering. Trot twenty minutes every second hour, and lead for the full hour before watering call. And talk up the horses. Tell them what you want out of them, for you can always bring a horse in on your side with the right kind of talk.
  • On the day the first Apache fire spot was still warm when Ross Pennell put the palm of his hand on it, the night of that day he put in his own fires. Squad fires. Fifty paces apart along the skyline. Enough fires to indicate two companies and their escort train.
  • Crazy is like fever. On and off. But every time it comes, it stays a little longer, until you die of it or it breaks.
  • At first you can’t believe it when you come to plains’ end, for no painting can ever show it as it is. The frost blues and the silken yellows of the tablelands. The reds that are watered out to the color of broiled lobster claws. The purples that have distant church music in them. The greens that you can smell for sweet mown grass. All worked into one breathlessness and swept across the horizon. At dawn, there is a golden rim around it. At sundown, nothing contains its endlessness.
  • “For two days now, by daylight, they could have watched from the high ground and seen that there were no two companies behind us! If they had done so, they would have circled wide to try to hit us from behind. But they didn’t do that, so that means they still believe we are two companies, and they have run to Medicine to get away from us, they’ve run to Spanish Man’s Grave for sanctuary… and that’s what I’ve been trying to make ’em do!”
  • “The louder the band plays the worse the shooting! The less brain the more flags! Only a trained soldier looks right in a bright uniform! Listen, Tyree. If we get up high ourselves—” and he pointed up toward the mesa tops “—Spanish Man’s Grave will stand out to you and me like a cut thumb, for it’ll be a bottleneck on a route that no well-trained soldier would ever think of taking through the tablelands.”
  • “Those dead Spaniards,” Pennell said, “came through the easiest route. The fact that they were all killed means they must have laid themselves wide open to tactical murder. They’ve done it all through their history; that’s why they’ve got no history left to make.”
  • The Apaches sat about their fires, safe in the ancient power of Medicine. Sat on the robes of their long-dead warriors, robes that were sewn with the symbols of the massacre story. Robes that boasted and lied and gloated in their needle tracery. Robes that had been used so long that they were no longer thick enough to hold smells in them for long. They sat frozen in fear when they saw Pennell, their faces turned toward him, or rose in white, unbelieving panic as he called through cupped hands and his voice rang in the narrow defile like the voice of doom: “The little Graeme girl! Lie flat where you are!” Then he saw her… “She’s by the fire on our left, Tyree! Hand these bastards the bill!”
  • “And are you all right, Alice?” She curtsied again. “Yes, sir; I am now, sir.” She walked toward them slowly with the ancient and solemn dignity of all of womanhood. And she said, “But I’m awfully glad you came, for I was very frightened…” not to Pennell alone, but turning her head to all of them, looking at their red eyes and their scraggly beards, their haggard faces, but knowing them for her own, with silent gratefulness that seemed to reach out and touch them with warm hands, and soft. And the way of their own hard living was suddenly more worthwhile in that moment than all the emeralds of Hind and all the gold of Cathay.

Skip the ice

February 26th, 2019

Icing postworkout became practically mandatory after physician Gabe Mirkin coined the term RICE — Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation — in 1978, and its popularity continues today in marathon medical tents and professional locker rooms:

Ice is meant to slow blood flow, which reduces inflammation and pain. But, it turns out, that also can be counterproductive, as it inhibits the rebuilding of muscle and the restoration process. “Instead of promoting healing and recovery,” Aschwanden writes, “icing might actually impair it.” And that’s led to a growing backlash against icing, which even Mirkin has joined. Instead of rushing to the cold stuff, Aschwanden advises athletes to wait it out and leave time for the body to heal.

This isn’t a new discovery:

As early as 2006, exercise physiologist Motoi Yamane and researchers at Chukyo University in Aichi, in Japan, found that icing leg muscles after cycling or forearm handgrip exercises interfered with performance gains. Recently Yamane published a follow-up study at Aichi Mizuho College — again, using weighted handgrip exercises — that corroborates his earlier results: RICE is disadvantageous after training and messes with both muscular and vascular adaptations of resistance training.

Exercise physiologist Jonathan Peake and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia agree. They’re among the latest researchers to test ice baths on athletes. In a recent study presented as an abstract at the 2014 American College of Sports Medicine conference, the researchers put two groups of young men on a bi-weekly resistance-training program. The first group took ice baths after each training session (ten minutes in water at around 50 degrees), while the other group did a low-intensity active warm-down on a bicycle. It turned out that icing suppressed the cell-signaling response that regulates muscle growth. Three months later, the scientists found that the ice-bath group didn’t gain nearly as much muscle as the bicycle warm-down group.

Peake concluded that it’s probably not a good idea to be using ice baths after every training session, particularly when athletes are in season. In a parallel study presented March 30 at the Experimental Biology meeting, Peake also looked at muscle biopsies in a rat contusion injury model (researchers dropped weights on rats’ leg muscles to cause bruising). An ice bath on the bruised muscles was enough to suppress inflammation and delay muscle fiber regeneration. For the minor muscle injuries, icing was detrimental rather beneficial, prolonging the healing process that inflammation brings.

The two new studies hammer a couple more nails in the RICE coffin, according to Dr. Gabe Mirkin. He was the sports medicine doctor who originally coined the acronym, which stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation, in 1978, and has since quit recommending it to athletes. “We never rest or ice athletes anymore. RICE is fine for someone who doesn’t need to get back to training quickly, but it’s terrible for competitive athletes.” he said.

More movement, Dr. Mirkin says, as shown in Peake’s research, is the best way to speed up muscle recovery. The new research is an extension of a growing body of evidence over the last several years that now makes clear that the only advantage of icing muscles is for temporarily pain relief. “About all icing is good for is a placebo effect,” Dr. Mirkin says. “There’s no evidence that icing speeds healing or makes you stronger; in fact, it makes you weaker so you can’t do your next hard workout.