Sunday, November 29, 2009

Decisive Battles: Huaihai 1948

Huaihai Dates: November 6, 1948 - January 10, 1949Forces Engaged: Nationalist Chinese (Kuomintang)

- 2nd Army (GEN Qiu Qingquan), 6th Army (CEN Li Yannian), 7th Army (GEN Huang Baitao), 8th Army (GEN Liu Ruming), 12th Army (GEN Huang Wei), 13th Army (GEN Li Mi), and 16th Army (GEN Sun Yuanliang), approximately 900,000 troops all arms of the Suppression General Headquarter of Xuzhou Garrison.

It's worth noting that these troops were among the best the Nationalist government could field. 2nd Army in particular were hard-core, veterans of the war against the Japanese in Burma. Much of their equipment was American and new, and many of the officers had been trained by American advisers. If these guys couldn't win against the Reds, the Nationalist generals must have thought, who can?

Communist Chinese (PLA): East China Field Army(華東野戰軍 GEN Su Yu) and the Central Plains Field Army(中原野戰軍 GEN Liu Bocheng), roughly 600,000 all arms regular PLA soldiers. Included, at various times, up to 500-600,000 guerrilla and irregular troops and several million labor/service auxiliaries.The Powers and Their Intentions: At this point in China's history the ancient imperial house of cards had thoroughly fallen. China's late 19th Century history was one of increasing humiliation, defeat and even invasion by, first, the Western Powers and then - perhaps the crowning insult - the modernized industrial armies and navies of Meiji Japan.The Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) that began in October 1911 brought the abdication of the last direct Manchu (Qing) Emperor Pu Yi in February, 1912. As you might suspect, however, the fractious coalition of students, soldiers, businessmen, local magistrates, Chinese expatriates, farmers and intellectuals fell apart almost as soon as it had won. The soldiers of the Beiyang Army, the first to receive a modern technical military education, found themselves in position to gain power either as advisers to warlords or as warlords themselves. The commander of the Army, Yuan Shikai, even declared himself Emperor briefly. By 1920 China was a mess, with the country north of the Yangtze divided into military fiefdoms, or worse, anarchic chaos and the south under the turbulent rule of the Kuomintang (KMT) and its leader, Sun Yat-sen.Sun was in interesting guy; terribly bright, dynamic, a magnetic personality - he's still venerated as the pater patria in both Taiwan and the mainland, which gives you some idea - but also a prickly sonofabitch and a man with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. And he married a Soong sister - you will need to remember that.

One of his critical errors was demanding a personal loyalty oath of his followers in 1914 while in exile after trying to overthrown Emperor Yuan. Many of his old homies of the Tongmenghui (中國同盟會), the United Allegiance Society that had been central in the overthrow of the Manchus were pissed - they hadn't overthrown an emperor just to have to bow down to this mook.

This was the first real crack that broke the weak bonds that held the 1911 revolutionaries together. Sun tried ineffectually to suppress the warlords and unite the country but made little headway. He used the Soviets for military aid and managed to keep the Chinese Communists (CCP) in the KMT, but he was suspicious of them and never really managed to unite the factions. All in all conditions in the south were sketchy in 1925 when Sun made matters worse by dying. leaving the KMT to his military chief, Chiang Kai-shek.

If Sun was a twisty sort of lad his protege' Chiang was a fucking double-helix corkscrew. He was a survivor first and foremost, and an accomplished intriguer. He may or may not have been personally corrupt but his wife, her family, and many of his supporters were thieves who would would steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes. I doubt if he ever had a simple, direct, uncomplicated thought once past childhood.

As the commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy his connections to the Chinese military ran wide and deep - the "Whampoa Clique" became an important part of his KMT/Army support. He seems to have had some ability as a commander, and managed to bring off the "Northern Expedition", which had been Sun's dream of reunifying the nation by force, starting in July of 1926. But with the job still unfinished he turned on his Communist buddies and started flaying them; KMT troops killed as many as 12,000 in the so-called Shanghai Massacre in April, 1927. The relatively small group that escaped fled to the mountains of northwestern China in the now-famous Long March.Chiang and his National Revolutionary Army (NRA) finally "conquered" the north in 1928. But this "conquest" was accomplished in great part by either buying out or co-opting local warlords. These thugs just put their bullyboys in KMT/NRA uniforms, blabbed out party doctrine and went on merrily looting, raping and killing as before. These warlord fights helped keep the KMT weak through the 1930s along with the continuing skirmishing with the Communists and the forest fire of corruption in the KMT government.

Despite the increasingly rapacious activities of Japan Chiang's direction was to "solve the internal problems first" by pursuing the Communists and whatever warlords got in his way. The situation changed in 1936, when the Communists and the Kuomintang officially "reconciled" after an extremely weird episode known as the Xi'an Incident.In this oddity two officers, a north China warlord and a disaffected NRA commander, seized the Generalissimo in December, 1936. This apparently caught both the Communists and Nationalists by surprise; the parties spent considerable time dithering before a compromise was reached. The Communists and the KMT/Nationalists officially declared the Japanese the Great Satan and announced their loving buddyhood - which lasted less than five years, it should be said. But the Japanese invaded in earnest in 1937 and the KMT spent the next eight years losing hundreds of thousands of troops fighting back. By 1945 both the NRA and the Chinese nation was devastated.The thing was...Chiang never really seemed to see the Japanese as his REAL problem. Observers at the time and historians since noted that the KMT expended as much or more effort trying to crush the CCP than it did fighting the Japanese. "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell - not an unbiased source, mind you, he commonly referred to Chiang as "the Peanut" and estimated that the KMT lost or stole something like $380,584,000 (in 1944 dollars!) during his tenure as Chief of Staff to the NRA - went to Washington repeatedly claiming that much of the supplies delivered to the Nationalists were hoarded in advance of the war they really wanted to fight, the war against the Reds. Chiang himself said:
“You think that it is
important that I have kept the Japanese from expanding all these years….I tell you that it is more important that I have kept the Communists from spreading. The Japanese are a disease of the skin; the Communists are a disease of the heart."
So for the Nationalists, 1945 didn't mean the "end of the war" - just the end of the foreign military distraction. It was the beginning of their civil war, and their intent was to prosecute it until they had a monopoly on force in China. This mean military defeat, first for the Communists (the most formidable armed force outside the government) and then for whatever warlords remained outside the KMT fold.

The CCP, the Reds, obviously had the same objective. Their forces had been primarily lightly-armed guerrillas in 1946, but a combination of Soviet maneuvering in Manchuria, captured Japanese materials and, most importantly, deserting Nationalist troops brought some technical parity by 1948. In Mao Zedong they had a charismatic leader, in Zhu De a competent army commander, in men like Zhou Enlai and Lin Biao clever and effective political operatives. By the late 1940's the Communists were ready to take control.

The real strength of the CCP was in it's policy of "land reform". To "Old Hundred Names", the poor tenant Chinese farmer, the notion that fighting - or just aiding the Red Army meant that they would take their farmland from their landlords was like crack cocaine. In practice this meant an almost unlimited supply of manpower for the PLA, both for combat as well as logistic support. Look at the numbers above; five million laborers. Five MILLION.

Offstage the two Great Powers concerned approached the Chinese Civil War very differently.

The Soviets supported the CCP, but kept things pretty much on the down low. GEN Marshall reported that U.S. intelligence could find no direct evidence of Soviet supply running to the Chinese Communists; Stalin directed his CIC in Manchuria to aid the comrades there to take what they could...but he also temporized with Chiang and made no overt moves to threaten the KMT borders. The bottom line for Stalin was his desire to secure his rear while confronting the Western powers in Europe; a Communist China allied with the USSR was great...but a weak Nationalist state was fine, too. The Russian fear of terror from out of the East is strong; a weak China was more important than a Red one.The U.S. had invested heavily in Chiang while he was fighting Japan, but Stilwell wasn't the only American disgusted with the warlordism and insane corruption of Nationalist China. On the other hand, the Red Menace was still very much a bogeyman of the great American middle. The Nationalists had influential friends in the U.S. as well, many of whom were infatuated with Madame Chiang, the youngest of the lovely Soong sisters and living proof that public policy is best not made when mooning over someone's wife.The New York Times said of her:
"As a fluent English speaker, as a Christian, as a model of what many Americans hoped China to become, Madame Chiang struck a chord with American audiences... She seemed to many Americans to be the very symbol of the modern, educated, pro-American China they yearned to see emerge - even as many Chinese dismissed her as a corrupt, power-hungry symbol of the past they wanted to escape."
Truman's Administration found Chiang an unloveable ally at best and a weak and needy liability at worst.

The Campaign: In reality, Huaihai IS a campaign, the final campaign in the two-year war for the control of China north of the Yangtze River. Most of the sources I reviewed treat the campaign as itself taking place in three phases or local campaigns, the pattern I will follow as well.

The Sources: Both sides had survivors, and the Huaihai campaign has been well documented. The obvious difficulty is that both sides were not just enemies but partisan factions in a civil war, with no compelling need to present an unbiased account. Communist sources should be taken with skepticism when they discount treachery and betrayal of the KMT side. Nationalist accounts, however, tend to overestimate the effect of subversion and understate the fragility of Nationalist units and the incompetence of Nationalist commanders.

In English, perhaps the single best source on the engagement is Gary Bjorge's Moving the Enemy, a Command and General Staff College paper (published in book form in 2003) although your enjoyment of the work will depend greatly on your delictation of FM IS an Army professional paper, after all.

Otherwise, Tuchman's Stilwell and the American Experience in China is a terrific work but also seems to me frankly slanted against Chiang; his faults are overemphasized and Stilwell's own failings (his inability to play well with others and bruising fight for command control in the CBI among them) are slighted. Westad's "Decisive Encounters (The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950) is a decent primer but shows the author's unfamiliarity with both military strategy and tactics. Other worthwhile sources are Halberstam's The Coldest Winter, which examines the question that paralyzed U.S. Far East politics - "Who lost China?" as it played out in the Korean War. Newman's Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China does a nice job of dissecting the post-1949 ratissage of professional diplomats and soldiers (including GEN Marshall) by the moron-grade poltroons of the American Right.

The Engagement: Before going to the battlefields, we need to set the scene of the engagement. Let's walk back a bit o the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War...

August, 1945: Smoke over Hiroshima. Japan surrenders. The Chinese factions begin to scramble to pick up the pieces; in several places the Allies - yes, that's us - actually pay the Japanese garrisons to keep their bayonets fixed and the Chinese (read: Commies) face-down. Officially the uneasy truce between KMT and CCP holds.

December, 1945: GEN George Marshall arrives in China at the direction of President Truman to negotiate an agreement between the KMT and CCP. The initial stages of this mission are successful - a cease-fire agreement was signed in January, 1946.April, 1946: The USSR withdraws its occupation force from Manchuria. Machinations between the CCP and Stalin's envoys have ensured that most of the countryside is solidly behind the CCP; the Nationalists still hold the cities. Chiang pushes his troops into the region, and whatever lingering trust remained between the factions is shot to ribbons.

Part of the Marshall Mission's demands was demobilization of both sides. Many of Mao's mosstroopers were only part-time soldiers to begin with, but when Chiang demobilized many of the warlord troops he had taken into the Nationalist army after 1927 any Iraqi trooper could have told these guys what to do, and they did; most of them headed for the tall timber with their weapons to find Communist paymasters. This was a critical failure that led directly to the early Nationalist defeats.

January, 1947: Marshall had had enough; he threw up his hands in disgust and flew home. The civil war broke out in Manchuria in 1946, and by 1947 most of the north and northeast were in flames.

March, 1947: The Nationalist high-water-mark; the NRA takes Yenan, the Communist "capital".

Summer 1947-Spring 1948: The tide begins to turn; Nationalists lose Yenan, begin to fall apart in Manchuria. Numerous reasons for the decline of the Nationalist forces but the appeal of the CCP land expropriation policies, the corruption and brutality of the Nationalist troops and their government, and Chiang's often-inept intervention in tactical actions down to division level are among the most significant.September-November 1948: The Liaoshen Campaign secures Manchuria for the Communists.

So. We begin on September 24, 1948. The East China Field Army, moving down from Manchuria to the northeast, takes the town of Jinan and threatens the Nationalist forces concentrated in Shandong Province to the east as well as the major east-west rail line through central China. The Central Plains Field Army moves south to join with the troops from Manchuria.

This has a combined effect of pressuring the Nationalist troops in eastern Shandong to retreat through Xuzhou while mobilizing the bulk of the Nationalist forces to move north to defend the rail line as well as the Xuzhou salient, key approach to both Shanghai and the Nationalist capital of Nanjing.The Nationalist 7th Army moved west and north (note that the Wiki entry includes the 6th Army, which appears to be incorrect), and by early November was closing on the Xuzhou garrison from the northeast. There seems to be some confusion whether this move was a retreat by the 7th to escape the closing trap in Shandong or a reinforcement intended to keep the railway open and the Xuzhou salient intact; however, the sources agree that some combination of circumstances delayed the 7th and strung it out along its line of march. The 7th began to fall back across a canal towards Xuzhou, at which point the East China Field Army began its attack and two nominally Nationalist units deserted, taking 23,000 men and their equipment over to the Communists.

The 7th appears to have fought back in a spastic fashion, but command and control seems to have been lost within days. Relief attempts by the Xuzhou garrison (as well as 6th Army attacking north from Guzhen) were frustrated by the Central Plains Field Army (and possibly by a lack of interest on the part of the 2nd Army commander - supposedly GEN Qiu had a personal problem with GEN Huang). By the 22nd all resistance had ceased and the commander of the 7th killed himself to prevent his capture.The Nationalist GHQ demanded the area around Xuzhou be cleared; GEN Huang Wei's 12th Army was ordered to attack north and cross the Kuai River south of Guzhen, where the 6th Army had been driven back earlier in the month. On November 23-24 the 12th pushed through a Central Plains Field Army corps and crossed the river into the Communist kill sack at Shuangduiji.

The entire opening success had been an ambush; 12th Army was now encircled just as 7th had been. On November 26-27 the 12th Army tried to break out. The plan was modified from a multi-divisional front to a column of divisions led by one of Huang's division commanders who was a secret Communist. He led his unit over to the enemy, announced his swift passage through light resistance, and then watched as the Red troops butchered the following units. The 12th Army was isolated.To the southeast the Nationalists had two armies; 6th and 8th. Both were not in particularly good shape, physically or morally, and the caprioling of the Red forces before them so throughly intimidated them that they never really tried anything even mildly aggressive. The Nationalist GHQ had claimed to GEN Huang that 6th Army would support his breakout of the 26-27; in fact, that army never stopped moving southwards and by November 28 were some 40 miles southeast of Shuangduiji.At this point the garrison commander of Xuzhou, realizing that the last major mobile force available to break through had been itself trapped, mobilized 2nd, 13th and 16th Armies to breakout to the southwest. Between November 30 and December 4 the three divisions made it less than 40 miles before being ordered to turn south and relieve 12th Army.

Army group commander Du Yuming had made it clear during a general staff meeting in late November that he felt that his only chance of avoiding encirclement was to break clear to the southwest of the Communist forces. As he had predicted, his southeastward attacks were easily defeated, and his force was encircled near the village of Chenguanzhuang. His 16th Army was destroyed, losing 30,000 of its 40,000 effectives in a wretchedly botched breakout attempt on December 6th. The remaining two armies would be fixed in place for another month, losing men and equipment until the final attack overran the remainder in early January.

Back at 12th Army, things continued to go badly. Aerial resupply failed as badly as it had at Stalingrad and would at Dien Bien Phu. Nationalist soldiers deserted in ones and in battalions, led by their officers or just by promises of amnesty and land. In most cases these ralliers were inducted directly into the Red Army columns that they had been fighting the day before. Throughout the campaign the Nationalist high command was unable to find an effective reply either to Communist strategy or propaganda.

Finally in a nine-day battle the combined Red armies crushed the 12th Army perimeter and destroyed the entire force.

All that remained was Du Yuming's Army group, hanging grimly on until the 10th of January. An attack that began on the 6th smashed the 13th Army within 48 hours; airstrikes had little effect, and another pathetic breakout attempt was completely crushed. Du was captured (and held in prison for decades), the remainder of his force either captured as well, or killed.

The battle for north China was over.

The Outcome: Complete operational/strategic Communist victory.

The Impact: Secured all of China north of the Yangtze for the Communists. The five armies destroyed at Huaihai were among the best equipped and trained in the Nationalist force. Nationalist losses included 46,000 dead, 50,000 prisomers, 870 artillery pieces, 15 tanks, over 300 other motor vehicles. Chiang himself had lost the Mandate of Heaven; he was forced to resign 11 days after the fighting ended at Chenguanzhuang.The end for the Nationalist government itself came swiftly after Huaihai; Nanjing fell in April, 1949, Guangzhou in October, Chongqing in November and the last flight to Taiwan on December 10, 1949.

Touchline Tattles: Again, there is little winsome or humorous about the Chinese Civil War. It was all hell, as one of our generals said about our own. Perhaps, though, there is a sort of grim smile in the story of the "Dixie Mission", one of the sort of quasi-diplomatic, semi-military expedition to the Communist forces in Yenan between 1944 and 1947.Almost all the Dixiecrats, State and War Department alike, found the Communists hard to dislike. They seemed honest, active and engaged, as unlike the aristocratic and merchant grifters of the Kuomintang as could be found. The Dixie reports stated that the Chinese Communists might be useful wartime and post-war ally, and that the Yenan approach to governance was more people-centered and energetic, and less corrupt than the KMT. Their general opinion seemed to be that the U.S. could cooperate with the CCP, keep them out of bed with Stalin, and had the technological know-how to offer in exchange for moderation of their communist orthodoxy.

Just imagine if anyone had listened...

But instead nearly all the Dixie hands, particularly the State Department Asia experts defenstrated in the McCarthy purges, ended up disgraced and hounded.

And in the National Palace Soong May-ling - Madame Chiang Kai-shek - stitched and smiled and watched her family steal. "The only thing Oriental about me is my face" she said. And about her Eleanor Roosevelt commented "She can talk beautifully about democracy. But she does not know how to live democracy." She stumped the world trying to gather support for her husband and his government.

She painted, and plotted, and intrigued, and finally retired to obscurity on the east side of Manhattan where she died, peacefully, in her sleep six years ago at the age of about one hundred and five. In her last dreams did her thoughts drift perhaps back to the broad plains of China where, fifty-five years earlier, all those young men, old women, and children had died in the fighting - for or against her and her husband - in the dank river lowlands around Huaihai?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

(Clone Commander Turkey): "I have a bad feeling about this..."

The Peep and I are subject matter experts on the subject of "Star Wars - The Clone Wars.

So I was tickled when he brought this home and announced it to be a drawing of a Galactic Republic "All-Terrain Turkey Exterminator" or AT-TE walker, a centerpiece of traditional clone trooper celebrations.

I hope that all of you, republicans and separatists alike, enjoy a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving with those you love close around you.

Update 11/26: Just for the record, it was a truly awful, rainy, shitty day outside, so we stayed indoors from wakeup until dinner. The kids burned a lot of electronic media, including "Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen" which was the most awesome piece of Michael Bay used food I've ever seen but it had explosions in it so it totally worked for the 6-and-a-half-year-old. We'd had turkey earlier in the week so dinner was beef tenderloin. yams and greens with a fillup of tradition - pumpkin pie - for dessert. The Peep hated everything and had a bagel instead, and Little Miss chattered nonstop through the meal and did nothing but drink juice and ate two mushrooms out of the greens. Oh, well...

And then we went out to Michael's for some post-dinner craft shopping...

Anyway, nice day with kidlets. Hope yours was, too.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Doc Lawes and the L Word

Young men are foolish.

This is the reason for much of the world's domestic violence, about half of its wars and nearly all its venereal disease. It is also the reason for much of its great romantic poetry, a tremendous amount of its art and music and at least one great opera. The foolishness of young men is both the tender shoot and the dung it grows from.

I was no less foolish than any other young man.

For one, I thought I was immortal. Or, at least, I thought I was too smart and too tough to kill easily, not really understanding that high explosive and high-velocity metal had no way of detecting intelligence and toughness. This meant that they would, as Bill Mauldin said of artillery shells, "kill the smart soldier hiding in his foxhole as quickly as the dumb one standing on top of a knoll". Which explained why at the rollicking age of 27 I was sitting with a dozen other paratroopers in a dingy and rather worn deuce-and-a-half rattling down the MSR towards South Base Camp.The Sinai burned around us; the arid mountains to the right marking the edge of the central massif, the coastal strip curving asymptotically before and behind us down to the blinding glitter of the Gulf of Sinai. Dusty black, the asphalt terminator of the coast highroad divided land from sea, deserted save for our convoy and the occasional frightening Egyptian bus. These, rocketing past in their frantic haste to leave the vast nothing behind them and get to the nowhere up the road ahead, looked like the restless rolling dead of rural Alabama coach routes, battered fenders and paint scars testimony to past victories in Egyptian traffic.

We had come 5,000 miles to this place, involuntary tourists in one of the great wastelands of human history, to show the flag and maintain the peace between Egypt and Israel, a peace that both sides publicly tolerated while secretly loathed and embraced. We were ambassadors for the United States, a visible commitment to World Peace - our opinions on thin thighs were not solicited. We were hostages, of a sort, expected to die in place rather than tolerate trucebreaking. We were "soldiers for peace", the Salvation Army but with a more lethal range of persuasion.We reacted to this with the respectful discipline that American footsoldiers have always been known for; that is to say we mocked the land and its people, speculated endlessly on the chance of acquiring intoxicating spirits, the merits of various popular musics, and the carnal versatility of the female of our species actual, hypothetical, and fantastical.

We passed through the land where the Pharaohs and the Israelites passed, where history was made, where madmen and visionaries and millions of common men just like us had come and gone. And we made crude jokes about the black-robed Bedu women and spat sunflower seeds out into the desert.

For another, I was in love.

Actually, I was in the midst of love, congeries. I was actually in...ummm..."loves". I felt blessed, despite my recent geographic celibacy, with a largesse of girlfriends, an embarras de richesses of inamoratas, an absolute harem of sweethearts. Not to mention the sultanesque prospects of concupiscent rapture! We were talking a sheriff's posse of poontang, a smack-down, pure-D torrent of tail, a plethora of the sweet poozle.

I had three girlfriends. Three young women who professed to each delight in me, were complete strangers to each other, and were so distant geographically that the possibility of my getting busted was mathematically incalculable.

I was a happy Specialist Fourth Class sitting that long ride back to South Camp.

Along with the usual dissipations of sunbathing, hot chow (or as hot as was tolerable in the alkaline sauna that was the edge of the Gulf), sunbathing, endless games of hearts and dominoes, scuba diving along the coral strand, sunbathing and working out there were the closest thing to home we had: the MARS radio-satellite telephones that allowed you to call back to the States.

During the returns to South Camp between periods "in sector" this normally meant a pleasant afternoon exchanging romantic nothings seriatim with my trio of houris. Given that I had little to say other than unobservant observations on the general desert-y quality of the desert and the peculiarities of my squaddies, and they had little more than the inanities of badly-educated, self-absorbed young American adults, the three conversations total contained about enough mental and emotional content of what I would come to realize later was one genuinely adult conversation. But they were all I had at the time, and I felt smug about them.

You see, I had been an awkward, socially inept child and adolescent, and my experience with women was still limited to an overmastering interest in them as possessors of genitalia designed to accommodate my own and the beginnings of a vague sort of appreciation for women as individuals, many of whose tastes and temperaments seemed delightfully different, and as a gender whose form and features seemed designed to please the male mind and eye. The notion that one woman, let alone three, would express a willingness to spend time in my company was an unaccustomed delight. I hugged my little trio of girlfriends to my ego like a little drake with his first ducks. I felt like Casanova, like Don Juan, like Mark Sanford would one day feel "hiking the Appalachian Trail" all the way to Buenos Aires...I felt fiendishly naughty.

This salacious anticipation lasted until we cleared the front gate and rolled up through the cheap metal buildings to the mobile homes that were our company area. There I climbed down and slapped the dust off my "chocolate-chip" uniform, slung my ruck into the sterile rectangle that served as my billet, showered and mooched up to the HQ Company orderly room to check my mail.

The first sign that something was wrong was no letters from Kissy.

Kissy was the Japanese-American girl I had been dating off and on since college, a plumptiously curvaceous nineteen-year-old with a helium giggle and the sultriest sloe eyes I had ever lost myself in. Of the three I was perhaps the fondest of her, because she seemed like the most genuinely loving and kind of the three, because she was built along the lines of an Asian Dolly Parton, and because her mom made the best shrimp-and-vegetable tempura this side of the Ginza.

Beauty won't 'elp when your rations is cold, mate.

She was the longest-running of my then-girlfriends, and she was also a manic letter-writer, filling pages of awful high-school-writing-class glurge that seemed to flow from her in a completely unfiltered fashion. In the Sinai I had received letters from her that kept me entertained for days simply jiggling the puzzle-box of her mind trying to figure out how french fries, sheet music, her period, kissing, her brother's skateboard and step-dancing related to one another.

But there were no letters.

(I didn't know it but this was the beginning of the longest "off" period of out off-and-on dating. She simply drifted off without animus but without any real explanation. We would reunite briefly a year later and then part for good without ever really understanding each other. She eventually did pop up in perhaps the single most peculiar incident in my entire life; literally running into my bride-of-one-day at a restaurant on our way to Europe for our honeymoon. We exchanged rather stunned greetings, I introduced my wife, and she said all the right, conventional things. But after my parents and bride had gone on ahead, she stopped me and asked, apparently seriously, why we had never gotten married. Because, I reminded her, she had never even evidenced any interest in having carnal knowledge of me, let alone marriage. That was because I was waiting for you to MAKE me sleep with you, she said conversationally, eyeing me with the fizzing coolness that had always been her way, and her charm. For a moment - just a moment - I felt the regret that I had missed her signal. But then I shook myself angrily.

That's called rape, darlin', I said to her, and people go to jail for it, and I passed her on after my family and never saw her again.)

But I think I knew, standing there in the noisy sunlight outside the orderly room, that my trio was now a duet.

Ah. Well.

Time to call Lizbeth.

The most recent and most passionate of my beloveds, Lizbeth was a local girl out of Carolina. We had met when she had come to Fayetteville with her friend, my friend Woodus' ex-wife. Minta and my pal had a professionally bizarre relationship. Woodus was a real good ol' boy. He liked drinking, he liked shooting things, and he liked fucking, in that order. Minta, a steel and kudzu Southern doll with ambition like a carbide-tipped ripping tooth, realized within moments of their marriage vows that if she didn't crave the life of a perpetually-pregnant slattern that she would have to drop Woodus and all his works like a live grenade.

She did so, but with enough remnant affection for the good ol' boy that several times a year she'd return to the piney woods of North Carolina from Atlanta or Charlotte or where ever it was she was trying to sack some corporate fortress, show up at my friend's door and within moments would have them horizontal, unclothed and indecent. This connubial gluttony would last the weekend with breaks for food, drink, and cigarettes and then she would leave. Woodus would sober up, swear never to take her back again, and the entire business would reoccur in a hundred days or so.

Lizbeth was her wingman; smaller, plainer, less...well, less everything than sleek Minta. She was a small-town girl from Dunn and enjoyed being a small-town girl from Dunn. She worked the night shift in the packaging plant there and lived in a shoddy second-floor apartment with a roommate who smoked clove cigarettes and liked stock-car racing and whose lover used to call for her by driving up to the front of the rental and throwing whatever debris was in the front seat of his car up at the windows. Since this was largely fast food rubbish the entire facade above the central door looked as if a large bird roosted on the eave above and shat ketchup, mayonnaise, french fry bits and hamburger condiments down the front wall.

Any Southerner would have pegged her in a glance: po' white trash.

But she was a bright, passionate young woman who wanted, or at least thought she wanted, to be more than a small-town girl from Dunn. We liked each other from the first, progressed to hand-holding and kissing and within two weeks I was staying over at her little rat-trap in Dunn. We ate dinners with her parents, a frightened little man and his awful wife, still holding some newlywed failure of his over him, we walked or jogged together, read, even went riding at some sort of local livery stable thing. She seemed like a good woman, and I really wanted to know her better.

Before I left for the Sinai I asked her if she would come live with me in Fayetteville. She didn't seem thrilled, and we had left it up in the air when I trudged up the boarding stairs to the charter jet to Ras Nasrani...but after about three weeks in-country I got a letter from her.

She was as poor a letter-writer as you can imagine the product of a bad Southern public school system to be. It took me a bit to decipher the message, but the gist was that she didn't want to wait - she wanted to get married. Now. Today. As soon as I came home. Whichever came first.

To say I was shocked would not be overstating the case. I was shocked. I wrote back, suggesting that I was open to the idea and that we should talk about it as soon as we could, over the phone or when I got home. Since then I had tried to call her several times when I got back in from sector but had missed her every time.

Perhaps now was a good time.

I plodded down to the battalion headquarters building through the heat I was already beginning to learn to ignore. The line for the phones wasn't long on a weekday afternoon, and I was soon seated in the spartan metal cubicle listening to the peculiar clicks, hums and buzzes that preceded the telephone connection to the United States, presumably as the electronic signal passed from antenna to satellite to antenna to undersea cable to transmitter to receiver to junction box to telephone.

But once again I didn't talk to Lizbeth. The person who answered the phone was her mother.

Not just her mother, but her mother in tears, almost hysterical, sobbing and moaning like a fundamentalist preacher getting worked up about the Day of Judgment.

I had never really known what to say to her mother, a hard-eyed slab of sagging muscle that I considered as mean as an adder and less trustworthy. I usually approached her emotionally armed and was utterly helpless to deal with the woman as a wretched mess.

My immediate thought was that something awful had happened to Lizbeth. She was a bad driver of legend, disregarding traffic rules and her own safety magnificently. But the heaving cries did not contain the words "killed" or "dead", so I settled myself in to try and untangle the emotional mess on the other end of the long, long line.

After a lot of soothing and coaxing - imagine soothing and coaxing some large, frightening beast that you are not confident won't attack you once you've got it down out of the tree it's stuck in and you get some idea of both the process and my enjoyment of it - mom's sobs subsided enough for me to start getting some sense of her.

"She...she's run that...that..." barked Mom. I cursed silently. Well, shit, I've been dumped. Oldest story in the world. Goddam it. I wonder if it was that guy Kevin she used to see..?

"...that...that lezzie slut bitch Rondalee from her shift at work!" wailed mom from the Hell that gapes only for conservative Southern Christian women fall whose only daughters hook up with out butch lesbians.At that second I had two thoughts: one, that I had been dumped for a woman, and, two, that the woman in question was the sexiest woman in Dunn (admittedly, not a deep gene pool, but still...) and I'd have dumped Lizbeth for her, too. God, I was a fool.

After that we didn't have much to say - we never had, really - and I hung up, rather rueful rather than angry, depressed or grieving. My main concern was getting my stuff back from her place. The first hint that things would not be that easy was at the staff duty desk on the way outside.

"Damn, Doc, tough luck..." commented the staff duty runner, a guy from B Company I barely knew named Horner. "At least you know that you're still the last man in her life..."

"Unh...what?" was all I could think of to say. Apparently Lizbeth's mom's voice had been louder than I had thought. A couple of the hangers-on waiting for the phones smirked in an unpleasantly superior fashion. I stomped out in my shorts and flip-flops, a particularly unmilitary and indignified exit.

By the time I made it back to the HHC company area the news had fled before me like winged Rumor, full of tongues. Three of the loudest mouths in the medical platoon met me at the steps of the billets.

"Heard your old lady dumped you, man." said one.

"Damn, that sucks, dude." commented another.

"Well, I guess at least you can say that when ol' Doc has a woman she never wants another man..." said the first, whereupon they all shouted;


I slunk away to the messhall, but not before checking to see whether the Egyptian hired messboys weren't hanging out by the fly-aerodrome trash bins to taunt me with my apparent ability to turn formerly douce heterosexual women into ravenous, rug-munching lesbians.

It would not have surprised me a bit to encounter a Bedouin hawking camel rides outside the perimeter fence who would greet me with the universal tongue-between-finger-vee gesture of oral-genital contact and the falsetto crow "'Ey, Doc! You woman, she like woman, yes? No like you man, no?"

For a day I was the butt of everyone's joke. I heard the Ten Thousand Names for Cunnilingus, and was roundly and loudly applauded as the Most Throughly Dumped trooper in the battalion. I was angry, and spend a lot of time in the gym working that off, and was foolishly surprised, as young men often are, that my infamy was the merest of passing entertainments and was forgotten within a sunset, replaced by newer news and fresher gossip. The hothouse innuendo about our Headquarters Company commander and his slavering lust for the lady lawyer from the AG detachment was a particular crowd-pleaser...And I had the last of my scattered trio of girlfriends, and another two weeks in sector coming, and young men to doctor, and the empty Sinai to explore, and a slightly wiser appreciation for the vagarities of life and love. Somewhat to my surprise, my foolish life went on pretty much as foolishly as before.

And the sun went down behind the mountains to the west.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Garden of Lost Tanks

Thus.In the Kuwaiti desert near Al Jahrah.

More at the site below; fascinating.

From Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

11 or better on 1d20 to save for "excessive media exposure"...

If you know or care nothing about Dungeons and Dragons, stop now.

Otherwise, you might want to wander over here and read this little take on Tundra Barbie's "autobiography" (if by "autobiography" you mean "dictated by me to someone who could write"...).

Best graf: "Plus, on every single page she bemoans her 8 INT build and blames her horrible playing on everyone else! It's her fault for putting all her stat points into Charisma!"

Quick read, good funny. Plus, you actually get to see the words "Sarah Palin" without something adjacent to them that that makes you want to throw up a little in the back of your mouth.

Cleats up

Saturday we had a nice break in the weather, so Little Girl, Big Man and I went to our little Portsmouth Park to have a kickabout. Let's say that Missy has the enthusiasm but not the technique quite down.But given her style, I suspect that she's well on the way to becoming a savagely brutal outside back or an all-in mixed martial arts fighter.

I'm not sure which one frightens me less...

Good night

Bad evening.

Mojo is sick, and even tho I've been trying to take most of the childcare she overdid herself at work this afternoon and was shot by dinnertime. I had several crises blow up at work, didn't get out on time, Mojo had to pick up the kids, who were tetchy and fussy. Thank god for Thai Ginger! At least I could get some hella good Pad Thai instead of fish sticks and mac-and-cheese (the Stearman-orange out-of-the-box Kraft variety, mind you - the tykes refuse anything remotely natural or wholesome). Frigging wireless goddam printer kept kludging up, going offline. Pissed me off, partially at Mojo, who insisted on the thing and then bought it at damn Staples. Fecking barsteward. I'd like to drop-kick the thing into the street.Then little girl wouldn't go to sleep, and had to have her toys replaced in the toybox and her little head gently laid on the pillow twenty minutes after bedtime with a stern admonition that Nine Thirty Is Too Late For Baby Girls To Be Up.

Then the Boy had some sort of emotional hissy about sleeping with his mom - it's Mom-and-Peeper Tuesday. Finally got him in bed with her and asleep after a twenty minute gabfest. That child is the King of First-Grade Drama.

So I had the house alone to myself. Tidied up a little, did the dishes, and got around to cooking the cabbage rolls I'd been meaning to for the past couple of nights. Mmmm. Some for the fridge for tomorrow, the others to freeze for cold December nights. Finally a moment here in front of the laptop, to record just another weekday evening, another in a seemingly endless string of them. Get up, kids to school and daycare, work, home to pickup kids, dinner, playtime/computer/TV time, bedtime.Wash, rinse, repeat.

I wonder if George Clooney's life is like this?

Oh - and I should note for the record that little man and I played a cutthroat game of Microarmor...which he won. Yes, the former infantryman with twenty-some years in was waxed by a six-and-a-half-year-old with the emotional range of an operatic diva.Jesus wept.

OK, I'm ready for tomorrow already...

Monday, November 16, 2009


OK: here's the deal.

I have no shame - I grew up in Chicago, where logrolling, deal-making and backscratching are a Way of Life. And I have someone I want you to consider helping. No, I have someone I want to flat-out try and push you into helping.

Her name is Maia, and her wonderful blog (which is bookmarked on this page) is Une Envie de Sel.Right now she's in the running for what sounds like a delightful trip to the City of Light. What she needs is for you and I to go over to the Yves St. Laurent website and vote for her.

I could tell you about what a brillantly artistic person she is, about her adorable little family and her precociously magical daughter QQ. But, what the hell. In the spirit of the great Mare Daley, we have a saying about participatory democracy: don't ask me about the gawddam issues, just vote early and vote often.So - why are we still standing here talking? Let's get over there and vote. Hizzonor would tell you: dose tickets ain't gonna win demselves.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bomben los!

As I was writing a comment to the preceding post on marriage and the state, a phrase returned to me from what may have to be one of the most wonderfully written sex scenes I've ever encountered for pure Bulwar-Lyttonesque delight.

The scene is set in the 1940's and takes place in the office of some sort of Allied military satrap. His secretary, who sees him as a skyhook to greater things, is trying to get his, shall we say, attention? She finally pins him down and makes it clear to him that she has other things in mind than increased War Production. Thus:
"'Take me!' she murmured, her lips burning against his ear, 'Oh, God, take me, use me, overwhelm me! Make me yours, ravage me, dominate me, devastate me!"

He bombed her like Schweinfurt."
Now that's entertainment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Marry me, darling!

I just came across another one of these damn news items about some sort of gay marriage/domestic partnership proposal that the voters in Washington State got to decide on last week.I'm really quite sick of this entire matter; with all the other things bedeviling our nation and our world, this bizarre obsession that certain groups - obviously, mostly religious groups - have about ensuring that never, ever, not ever will two men or two women be able to call each other "the little woman" or "my hubby", ever.


Frankly, their religious obsession is their own business, and in the confines of their own home or where-ever it is that they do their religious business they are free to let their inner whack run free.Transfer your ownership of your daughter to her new hubby - don't forget the full disclosure and the extended warranty, dad. Do the "covenant marriage" thing, swear your woman to obedience and whatever, guy. Let your inner Jesus Freak hang waaaay out, man.

Just stop using my damn tax dollars to do it.

Look. What legitimate interest does the state - any state, Oregon, the United States - have in who moves in with whom?

It has a legitimate interest in the enforcement of legal contracts.

It has a legitimate interest in the prevention of preventable physical ailments that could result in a burden to the State as the caregiver of last resort.

It has a legitimate interest in the protection of legal minors and those unable to legally consent to the use of their property, including their bodies.And that's it.

When one homo puts his weenie into another homo Baby Jesus may cry. Or not - Baby Jesus and I don't talk much anymore. But that's not the State's problem. When one lesbian gives another lesbian crotch hickies, it may send Allah into a fucking heavenly tailspin. Or not - Allah and I don't even exchange Ramadan cards. But that's NOT the State's problem. When two women, a man and their pastor jump into a big, sweaty dogpile, it may offend everyone who thinks about it. But it's NOT THE STATE'S EFFING PROBLEM.

Laws that can't be enforced, aren't enforced or are unenforceable, ARE a problem. They help make the State look weak and foolish, and waste resources best applied elsewhere. That's why things like Prohibition and the "War on Drugs" are so foolish. That's why most sane people stopped agitating for sodomy laws and other bedroom legislation.

The state has no real business deciding what is or isn't a "marriage". "Marriage" is a loaded, theological term, anyway. I don't want my state deciding who can and can't "marry", or who is capable of "performing" a "marriage".

The state's interest in domestic partnerships is, and should be, limited to the legal and governmental aspects of them. Who pays taxes on what. Who are the parties to a mortgage, a contract, who owes who child support?

The state has not legitimate interest in who wants to knock boots with whom outside ensuring that some degree of consanguinity is preserved(although honestly? If some 60-year-old mother wants to "marry" her 40-year-old son, my only thought would be "Skweechy!" She's not going to be bearing his acephalic kid, so the only real objection is on the bounds of good taste. And when you start legislating good taste, well...)and that all the parties involved are able to legally consent to the arrangement.

So, for Ashtaroth's sake, people, let's take the axe of sanity to this tree and its rotten fruit.

There need be only one form of domestic contract needed in the legal sense: a "domestic contract". All parties need to be consenting adults. All parties need to be no closer than the third degree (second for the Appalachian states, let's not throw out tradition recklessly). You stop in to the registrar, you sign the document, pay your fifteen bucks, and, hey, la, you're an officially registered "domestic partnership". You get taxed that way, you can legally sign contracts for each other, you are immunized against your partner(s) testimony, you have visitation rights, your kids are yours until or if you break the contract. Then you see a lawyer about support, alimony...etc.

No, you can't "marry" your minor kid. No, you can't "marry" a goat. You want to "marry" both those hot college boys downstairs?Chocks away, Romeo! (or Juliet!) - knock yourself out...just make sure you know who's name(s) is/are on the lease, and who gets the ottoman and the "Runaway Bride" DVD when you break up.

But let's stop this idiotic argument about something the state has no business deciding, anyway.

Sweetgeezmarie, what a frigging goatrope. It took me, what, 200 words? to solve this problem. Th'fuck IS wrong with you people?