The Chinese learned what they wanted to know

November 16th, 2020

On 25 November T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), men of the 1/7 Marines took a prisoner, a subdued, wounded Chinese, who said he was a private soldier:

Under interrogation, this humble POW became a fount of information. Among other things. he described the CCF plan of battle.

[...]

Marine field grade officers hardly knew as much of their own battle plans, and the Chinese information was greeted with suspicion or ironic amusement. It was never credited. Unfortunately, it was correct.

[...]

Hardheaded and quick-tempered, Sung had driven his men across the terrible mountains from the Yalu in fourteen nights of marching. By any standards, it had been a prodigious feat for the Chinese hordes to clamber across the icy mountains unseen. Unable to bring across his heavy artillery, Sung gambled. He drove the men, with rifles, mortars, and machine guns, on ahead, leaving his big guns behind.

[...]

Chinese advanced until they drew fire, then retired. One officer, realizing that the enemy was trying to smell out American positions, ran up and down shouting, “Don’t fire — don’t fire!” But he was too late. Nervous, the men had fired at the slightest sound, and the Chinese learned what they wanted to know.

[...]

When darkness fell across the bleak, icy landscape, Task Force Faith began another night of battle. Alone, exposed to the full weight of the Chinese assault pouring against its front, flanks, and rear, after more than one hundred hours of incessant combat Task Force Faith dissolved. Colonel Faith was killed by a hand grenade.

Any conflict in space will be much slower and more deliberate than a Star Wars scene

November 14th, 2020

When considering how to control space , Rebecca Reesman and James Wilson lay out the ways in which space combat is counter-intuitive for policymakers and strategists:

Satellites move quickly, but predictably:  Satellites in commonly used circular orbits move at speeds between 3km/s and 8km/s, depending on their altitude. By contrast, an average bullet only travels about 0.75km/s. They are here, and then gone.

Space is big: The volume of space between low-earth orbit and geostationary orbit is about 200 trillion cubic kilometers. That is 190 times larger than the volume of Earth.

Timing is everything: Within the confines of the atmosphere, airplanes, tanks, and ships can nominally move in any direction. Satellites do not have that freedom. Due to the gravitational pull of Earth, satellites are always moving in either a circular or elliptical path, constantly in free-fall around the Earth. Getting two satellites in the same spot is not intuitive. Therefore, it requires careful planning and perfect timing.

Satellites maneuver slowly: While satellites move quickly, space is big, and that makes purposeful maneuvers seem relatively slow. Once a satellite is in orbit, it requires time and a large amount of delta-V to perform phasing maneuvers.

Given all of this, for engagements in space, maneuvers and actions will have to be planned far in advance, Reesman said in an interview. “Any conflict in space will be much slower and more deliberate than a Star Wars scene,” she said. “It requires a lot more long-term thinking and strategic placement of assets.

[...]

Radio signals can be used to jam an opponent’s satellites, or spoof them by sending harmful commands. This would be an extension of electronic warfare already used in naval and air battles.

Some nations, such as France, have gone so far as to talk about deploying weapons in space to protect their own satellites. However, the authors suggest that satellites using kinetic weapons to shoot down opposing satellites seems unlikely for now, given the extraordinary energy required to maneuver an orbital weapon into a proper trajectory. More likely would be a “T-bone” collision between satellites, which does not require plane matching but rather occurs when two orbits cross.

Nations do have a strong incentive to not destroy other satellites because of the potential to create hazardous debris that would potentially affect all nations’ assets in space—and debris generated in space has a lasting effect. However, in the immediacy of war, a nation may decide it is worth permanently losing access to some slots in geostationary orbit, due to debris, in order to win a ground-based war.

Winter came early, howling off the roof of the world, screaming across the frozen Yalu

November 13th, 2020

Beyond Chinhung-ni the road rose 2,500 feet into cold, thin mountain air, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and from Kot-o-ri the road crept through mile-high hills to the city of Hagaru, near the southern tip of the thirty-mile-long Changjin Reservoir:

And here, in November 1950, winter came early, howling off the roof of the world, screaming across the frozen Yalu, the worst winter the world had seen for a decade.

[...]

Korea is not sheltered by the surrounding seas from the cold that sweeps the northern land mass of Asia. On a parallel with climes that are moderate in Europe or America, Korea is arctic when winter comes.

[...]

The mercury dropped to ten below. At the first shock, men became dazed and incoherent. Some grew numb, others cried with pain. No amount of clothing, even good GI issue, could entirely keep the cold out.

Many Americans were used to much worse weather — but not to fight in, without fires, shelter, or warm food. Water froze solid in canteens; rations froze in their cans. Plasma froze; medical supplies could not be stored more than eight feet away from a roaring stove at any time. Vehicles, once stopped, would hardly run again. Guns froze solid — all oil had to be removed from them; and many automatic weapons would fire but one shot at a time.

[...]

The ground froze eighteen inches down. To dig a hole with chapped, numb hands was prolonged agony; each night each man had to dig his shelter nonetheless, and lie shivering in its shallow length through thirteen hours of darkness.

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

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.

It was standard practice for the Air Force to destroy abandoned equipment before the enemy could profit from it

November 11th, 2020

One of the persistent myths of American arms in the middle of this century, T. R. Fehrenbach argues (in This Kind of War), is that technicians somehow are not and should not be soldiers, before telling the grim tale of the 9th Infantry’s medics, bringing up the rear as their convoy stopped:

When the regiment debarked at Pusan, the medics were issued rifles. As Schlichter put it later, this caused a certain amount of consternation in the ranks. For here they were told that the North Korean enemy considered any man in uniform fair game, whether he wore medic’s armband or the chaplain’s silver cross, and they should govern themselves accordingly.

[...]

Then an officer — for there were young men wearing bars among this convoy who were never soldiers, either — ran along the stalled line of trucks, shouting: “It’s every man for himself! We’re trapped! Get out any way you can!”

Men got down from the trucks and began to run for the circling hills — and the officers and sergeants followed. Here, thought Sergeant Schlichter later, we committed a grievous error. Here we broke faith with our fellow soldiers, and fellow men.

There were 180 wounded men in the trucks, and no one said anything to these men as they were abandoned.

[...]

All night the medics, none of whom possessed any infantry training, wandered aimlessly through the hills fringing the road.

[...]

Undamaged, the vehicles stood starkly by the road, in column, easily visible from the air. Before Schlichter’s party reached them, Air Force planes screamed out of the south, shooting, bombing. It was standard practice for the Air Force to destroy abandoned equipment before the enemy could profit from it. The pilots could not know what cargo those deserted trucks still held.

Schlichter was too far away to do anything, but close enough to hear the wounded men aboard the vehicles scream. Then the Air Force dropped napalm, the drums bouncing from the frozen ground and engulfing the dusty trucks in flame.

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

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.

Breechblocks went dark from heat

November 9th, 2020

The road west was unfit to move howitzers by night on a fighting withdrawal, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), so the cooks, clerks, and drivers of the 15th Field Artillery formed daisy chains from the ammunition dumps to the guns:

Only a few thousand yards beyond, Chinese were pressing down from the hills in column. With every man in the artillery bearing a hand to bring up the ammunition, the gunners opened fire.

In twenty minutes, the battalion sent 3,206 rounds through the tubes; the earth before the advancing Chinese trembled and exploded in fire and death. Paint burned and peeled from the guns; breechblocks went dark from heat. Then, the ammunition gone, Keith’s gunners’ removed the firing locks and sights and thermited the tubes, and made for their trucks.

But the hail of explosives had saved the regiment. Running into such unprecedented fire, the Chinese stopped — and believing they were about to be counterattacked, they dug in.

On life in the shadow of the boomers

November 8th, 2020

In his 2017 book Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, Yuval Levin maintains that 21st century Americans largely understand the last decades of the 20th century, and the first decades of the 21st, through the eyes of the baby-boomers:

Because they were born into a postwar economic expansion, they have been an exceptionally middle-class generation, targeted as consumers from birth. Producers and advertisers have flattered this generation for decades in an effort to shape their tastes and win their dollars. And the boomers’ economic power has only increased with time as they have grown older and wealthier. Today, baby boomers possess about half the consumer purchasing power of the American economy, and roughly three-quarters of all personal financial assets, although they are only about one-quarter of the population. All of this has also made the baby boomers an unusually self-aware generation. Bombarded from childhood with cultural messages about the promise and potential of their own cohort, they have conceived of themselves as a coherent group to a greater degree than any generation of Americans before them.

Since the middle of the twentieth century they have not only shaped the course of American life through their preferences and choices but also defined the nation’s self-understanding. Indeed, the baby boomers now utterly dominate our understanding of America’s postwar history, and in a very peculiar way. To see how, let us consider an average baby boomer: an American born in, say, 1950, who has spent his life comfortably in the broad middle class. This person experienced the 1950s as a child, and so remembers that era, through those innocent eyes, as a simple time of stability and wholesome values in which all things seemed possible.

By the mid-1960s, he was a teenager, and he recalls that time through a lens of youthful rebellion and growing cultural awareness—a period of idealism and promise. The music was great, the future was bright, but there were also great problems to tackle in the world, and he had the confidence of a teenager that his generation could do it right. In the 1970s, as a twenty-something entering the workforce and the adult world, he found that confidence shaken. Youthful idealism gave way to some cynicism about the potential for change, recreational drugs served more for distraction than inspiration, everything was unsettled, and the future seemed ominous and ambiguous. His recollection of that decade is drenched in cold sweat.

In the 1980s, in his thirties, he was settling down. His work likely fell into a manageable groove, he was building a family, and concerns about car loans, dentist bills, and the mortgage largely replaced an ambition to transform the world. This was the time when he first began to understand his parents, and he started to value stability, low taxes, and low crime. He looks back on that era as the onset of real adulthood. By the 1990s, in his forties, he was comfortable and confident, building wealth and stability. He worried that his kids were slackers and that the culture was corrupting them, and he began to be concerned about his own health and witness as fifty approached. But on the whole, our baby boomer enjoyed his forties—it was finally his generation’s chance to be in charge, and it looked to be working out.

As the twenty-first century dawned, our boomer turned fifty. He was still at the peak of his powers (and earnings), but he gradually began to peer over the hill toward old age. He started the decade with great confidence, but found it ultimately to be filled with unexpected dangers and unfamiliar forces. The world was becoming less and less his own, and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he might be past his prime. He turned sixty-five in the middle of this decade, and in the midst of uncertainty and instability. Health and retirement now became prime concerns for him. The culture started to seem a little bewildering, and the economy seemed awfully insecure. He was not without hope. Indeed, in some respects, his outlook on the future has been improving a little is he contemplates retirement. He doesn’t exactly admire his children (that so-called “Generation X”), but they have exceeded his expectations, and his grandchildren (the youngest Millennials and those younger still) seem genuinely promising and special. As he contemplates their future, he does worry that they will be denied the extraordinary blend of circumstances that defined the world of his youth.

The economy, politics, and the culture just don’t work the way they used to, and frankly, it is difficult for him to imagine America two or three decades from now. He rebelled against the world he knew as a young man, but now it stands revealed to him as a paradise lost. How can it be regained? This portrait of changing attitudes is, of course, stylized for effect. But it offers the broad contours of how people tend to look at their world in different stages of life, and it shows how Americans (and, crucially, not just the boomers) tend to understand each of the past seven decades of our national life. This is no coincidence. We see our recent history through the boomers’ eyes. Were the 1950s really simple and wholesome? Were the 1960s really idealistic and rebellious? Were the 1970s aimless and anxious? Did we find our footing in the 1980s? Become comfortable and confident in the 1990s? Or more fearful and disoriented over the past decade and a half? As we shall see in the coming chapters, the answer in each case is not simply yes or no. But it is hard to deny that we all frequently view the postwar era in this way—through the lens of the boomer experience.

The boomers’ self-image casts a giant shadow over our politics, and it means we are inclined to look backward to find our prime. More liberal-leaning boomers miss the idealism of the flower of their youth, while more conservative ones, as might be expected, are more inclined to miss the stability and confidence of early middle age—so the Left yearns for the 1960s and the Right for the 1980s. But both are telling the same story: a boomer’s story of the America they have known. The trouble is that it is not only the boomers themselves who think this way about America, but all of us, especially in politics. We really have almost no self-understanding of our country in the years since World War II that is not in some fundamental way a baby-boomer narrative.

As T. Greer summarizes it:

Many of the associations we have with various decades (say, the fifties with innocence and social conformity, or the sixties with explosive youthful energy), says Levin, had more to do with the life-stage in which Boomer’s experienced these decades than anything objective about the decades themselves.

Again Turner blacked out

November 7th, 2020

T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War) Lieutenant Tom Turner’s incredible afternoon:

Earlier, while directing fire against attacking Chinese, a rocket blast from friendly air knocked him unconscious in the ditch, where he lay for more than an hour as the motorcade ground past.

Coming to, bruised and shaken, he had walked more than a mile south, moving along stopped vehicles whose drivers and riders were down in the ditches, fighting. At the head of this mile-long column he found a small truck standing idle, clear road opening before it, while its crew engaged in rifle duels with the Chinese in the hills.

Turner got this truck on its way — then, under heavy fire, he moved back along the road, getting men into their trucks and moving again. It took tremendous effort, and great courage. Finally, with the trucks moving, he leaped on the running board of a two-and-a-half ton, only to fall into the ditch again as the bit of metal to which he clung was carried away by a machine-gun slug.

Again Turner blacked out.

When he crawled from the ditch once more, he saw the column had braked again approximately a thousand yards to the south. But as he stood erect, he felt a Chinese rifle in his back.

He was in the midst of a Chinese squad, some of whom were rendering first aid to American wounded lying along the road. Limping from a badly sprained ankle, Turner was told by the Chinese leader, in good English, to sit down.

Then, after a few minutes, the Chinese asked him if his ankle was good enough for him to walk back to his own lines. Surprised,Tom Turner answered, “I think so.”

The Chinese then searched him — but politely, asking if he objected. They took two letters from him, leaving his money intact. More important, they missed the bottle of I. W. Harper that Turner stowed in his jacket.

Then the Chinese leader ordered him to move down the road, collecting American walking wounded as he went. Limping, his ankle afire with pain, Turner walked away, fully expecting to be shot in the back. Instead, the Chinese faded into the hills.

Turner began to collect American wounded men who could walk, and he passed his bottle around. With three other men, all hurt, he approached the north end of the pass. Here a machine gun opened fire on the little group, and they hit the ditches. Resting, Turner passed the bottle once more.

There were wounded men all around, crawling, groaning, trying to move south into the pass. Tom Turner took another swig from his bottle, then got up. Hardly feeling his ankle, he trotted forward, under the embankment. And here American soldiers shouted to him to get down; a Chinese gun was dug in only twenty-five yards above him, spraying the road.

Turner asked for a grenade, but none of the men near him had any. Shaking his head to clear it, he then asked, “Who’ll join me in rushing that gun?”

The suggestion went over like a lead balloon. One soldier told him, “You want it, you go take it, Lieutenant.”

Somebody else said, “Take it, and shove it up your ass.”

Giving up on the Americans, Turner went back the way he had come, shouting for any ROK or Turk who could talk English to come forward. He found one ROK who could. The man brought more than thirty other ROK’s with him. Turner explained what he wanted — and the ROK’s agreed.

He set some of them up as a base of fire to pin down the enemy gun, while he explained to the others that they would attack it behind him. Then he moved out. Looking back, he was shocked to see the whole group coming with him — they had not understood his orders.

Operating on his own genuine courage and the stimulus of the liquor, Turner figured what the hell. He yelled, “Banzai—Banzai!” and ran up over the covering embankment toward the enemy gun.

Turner’s group swamped the gun crew before they could swivel it to meet the charge. Eager to go on, Turner’s ROK’s wanted to rush another gun, but he held them back, trying to get them into some kind of fighting order first.

At this moment an aircraft whistled low over the ridges, firing into them. A rocket exploded, and once again Tom Turner, bruised and concussed, lost consciousness.

But while he lay on the cold dust, other men were beginning to take charge.

The sails will be made of steel and composite materials

November 6th, 2020

The Oceanbird transatlantic car carrier being designed by Swedish shipbuilder Wallenius Marine will be the world’s largest wind-powered vessel:

With capacity for 7,000 vehicles, the 650 foot-long vessel is a similar size to conventional car carriers, but it will look radically different. The ship’s hull is topped by five telescopic “wing sails,” each 260 feet tall. Capable of rotating 360 degrees without touching each other, the sails can be retracted to 195 feet in order to clear bridges or withstand rough weather.

The sails, which will be made of steel and composite materials, need to be this size to generate enough propulsive power for the 35,000-ton ship.

Although “the general principles of solid wing sails is not new,” designing the Oceanbird’s sails has been a challenge, says Mikael Razola, a naval architect and research project manager for Oceanbird at Wallenius Marine.

That’s because these are the tallest ship sails that have ever been constructed. “This ship, at the top of the mast, will be more than 100 meters (328 feet) above the water surface,” says Razola. “When you move up into the sky that much, wind direction and velocity change quite a lot.”

To better understand the atmospheric conditions at this height, Wallenius mounted sensors on top of its existing vessels, while they were crossing the Atlantic, and gathered data on wind velocity and veer (a clockwise change in wind direction), up to 650 feet above sea level. “All of this information has helped us design an efficient wing and hull system, that can make the most of the power available in the wind,” says Razola.

Oceanbird Car-Carrier

It won’t be completely emission-free, however, because it will still rely on engines for manoeuvring in and out of ports and for emergencies.

With a projected top speed of about 10 knots, Oceanbird will be slower than standard car carriers, which can travel at 17 knots. It will take around 12 days, instead of the standard seven, to cross the Atlantic.

These were the men who screamed most shrilly

November 5th, 2020

It was not until the Korean War was many months old, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), that new Army trainees began to live half their time in the field, and to undergo a third of their training by night:

Slowly, commanders then began to restore the old hard slap and dash that had characterized Grant’s men in Virginia, Pershing’s AEF, and Patton’s armored columns.

[...]

There had been the same arrogance in the march north that had characterized Braddock’s movement against the French and Indians, Dade’s demonstration against the Seminoles, and Custer’s ride to the Little Big Horn. And it was the same conditions of terrain, low cunning, and barbarian hardihood that brought all these forces to defeat by an intrinsically inferior enemy.

It was almost as hard for minds trained on the fields of Europe to adjust to Korea as it had been for British generals to learn to fight colonials — who threw the book of civilized warfare away.

But the most ironic thing, in those bitter days of December 1950, was that the commentators who cried havoc the loudest were the very men who had done most to change and destroy the old 1945 Army. These were the men who had shouted for the boys to be brought home, who had urged the troops to exert civil rights. They were the ones who had hinted that leaders trying to delay the frenetic demobilization, or the reform of the Army, were no better than the Fascists.

And these were the men who screamed most shrilly when some young Americans on the field of battle behaved more like citizens than like soldiers.

The lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent

November 4th, 2020

Back in 2005, Bryan Caplan noted that Hong Kong has had the freest economy in the world and had since 1970, the earliest year covered by the Economic Freedom of the World data set:

Indeed, it’s higher now [in 2005] under the Communists than it was in 80’s! And it’s hard to deny that Hong Kong has been an economic miracle since World War II. So even though Hong Kong was not a democracy before the Communist takeover, it’s very tempting to believe that the people of Hong Kong would have voted to retain (if not initially adopt) the free-market policies they had.

[...]

But it turns out that Hong Kong’s support for laissez-faire is only skin-deep. As soon as you ask people their opinions about specific interventionist policies — all of which, note the authors, “have either not been performed by the government or performed only very light or rarely,” they show their true statist colors.

[...]

To be blunt, it looks like the lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent. The policies worked wonders, but they never became democratically self-sustaining. In politics, people often resist policy change just because “things have always been this way,” even if the results were never very good. But free-market policies apparently labor under a greater political handicap. Even if “we’ve always left these things to the free market,” even if leaving things to the free market has worked in the past, it just isn’t enough to win over public opinion.

Countless market-oriented intellectuals idolize Hong Kong but I’ve never heard of, much less met, a Hong Kong libertarian. Google confirms my impression, returning no relevant hits for “Hong Kong libertarian.” I’d like to think, then, that Hong Kong’s problem was a shortage of libertarian intellectuals to transform freedom by default into freedom on principle. But sadly, I suspect that wouldn’t have been enough either.

The Turks hardly knew what the Americans were talking about

November 3rd, 2020

After the Turkish Brigade routed the enemy, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), it became clear that they’d routed already-fleeing South Korean allies. Then things got worse:

Then, still at Wawon, the main strength of the Chinese burst over them. The detail of what happened will probably never be reported; the essence has been: The Turkish Brigade was destroyed.

Tall, pale-eyed men with dark faces, in heavy greatcoats, wielding long bayonets, the Turks refused to fall back. There were observers who said some officers threw their hats to the ground, marking a spot beyond which they would not retreat, and, surrounded by the enemy, died “upon their fur.” There were others, all else failing, who threw cold steel at the enemy in bayonet charges. Rarely has a small action, dimly seen, sketchily reported, sent such intimations of glory flashing across the world.

But the Turks died. On 28 November, when the Turkish Brigade at last fell back southwest and linked with the 38th Infantry, only a few of its companies were combat-fit.

It was deeply ironic later, when the American Government, badly concerned with Turkish public opinion concerning their losses, sent quiet apologies to Turkish authorities. The Turks hardly knew what the Americans were talking about. The Turks, however badly used, had come to fight, and above all else Turks were proud of what their men had done.

Americans had forgotten that only a generation before one of their own generals, Pershing, could stand on the soil of France and say to Clemenceau: “We are here to fight and be killed. Do with us as you will, without counting.”

Almost every parent is horrified by the idea of unschooling

November 2nd, 2020

One popular variant on homeschooling, Bryan Caplan explains, is unschooling:

The practice varies, as practices always do. The essence, however, is that the student does what he wants. He studies what he wants. He studies for as long as he wants. If he asks you to teach him something, you teach him. Yet if he decides to play videogames all day, the principled unschooling response is: “Let him.”

Almost every parent is horrified by the idea of unschooling. Even most homeschoolers shake their heads. Advocates insist, however, that unschooling works. Psychologist Peter Gray defends the merits of unschooling with great vigor and eloquence. According to unschoolers, the human child is naturally curious. Given freedom, he won’t just learn basic skills; he’ll ultimately find a calling.

On the surface, unschooling sounds like Social Desirability Bias run amok: “Oh yes, every child loves to learn, it’s just society that fails them!” And as a mortal enemy of Social Desirability Bias, my instinct is to dismiss unschooling out of hand.

One thing I loathe more than Social Desirability Bias, however, is refusing to calm down and look at the facts. Fact: I’ve personally met and conversed with dozens of adults who were unschooled. Overall, they appear at least as well-educated as typical graduates from the public school system. Indeed, as Gray would predict, unschoolers are especially likely to turn their passions into careers. Admittedly, some come across as flaky, but then again so do a lot young people. When you look closely, unschoolers have only one obvious problem.

They’re weak in math! In my experience, even unschoolers with stellar IQs tend to be weak in algebra. Algebra, I say! And their knowledge of more advanced mathematics is sparser still.

Staunch unschoolers will reply: So what? Who needs algebra? The honest answer, though, is: Anyone who wants to pursue a vast range of high-status occupations. STEM requires math. CS requires math. Social science requires math. Even sophisticated lawyers — the kind that discuss investments’ Net Present Values — require math.

Won’t kids who would greatly benefit from math choose to learn math given the freedom to do so? The answer, I fear, is: Rarely.

[...]

Mainstream critics of unschooling will obviously use this criticism to dismiss the entire approach. And staunch unschoolers will no doubt stick to their guns. I, however, propose a keyhole solution. I call it: Unschooling + Math.

Each company fought alone

November 1st, 2020

There was massive American weapon power, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), in the hills of Korea:

There were regiments, battalions, a whole division. But only companies fought, and each company fought alone, out of sight, often out of knowledge of any other American unit. The battle boiled down into how long individual companies, singled out and enveloped on all sides by overwhelming numbers, could hold out.

It was weird fighting, such as the United States Army had not seen since the days of Fort Phil Kearney, the Washita, the Little Big Horn. And what the Army had learned on those fields had long since been discarded on the battlefields of Europe. Unable to maneuver where its wheels could not go, unable to emplace and effectively use its big guns, unable to see or communicate in these hills, the United States Army was being bitten to death rather than smashed down by numbers.